From the pack of piñatas grinning on the walls to smoke-infused cocktails at the bar to secret ingredients in the kitchen, the new iteration of Punta Cabras seeks to balance fun-filled irreverence with a serious love for food.
More than a year after the popular hole-in-the-wall shuttered its doors, chefs Mark Mittleman and Danny Snukal have resurfaced on Broadway with a sleek, modern restaurant. While the decor and the menu feel much more grown-up, the duo want locals to know they haven’t forgotten their roots.
“The people who live here are our bread and butter,” Mittleman said while pushing around his latest invention: a ‘salsa Susan’ with six flavors of salsa encircling tortilla chips ($10). “Tourist season lasts a short amount of time and if we take care of our locals, the tourists will come too. A little bit of both would be nice but, again, I think the focus is (the surrounding) five blocks.”
The new restaurant inches closer to the beach, and thus the tourist bubble in the heart of Santa Monica, with its new location at 10th and Broadway. It still has a so-called ‘taco shack” with a quick service menu featuring fish, shrimp, scallop and tofu tacos ($4-$5). The restaurant also added chicken and steak after popular demand.
The corner shack also brought back a fan favorite – the cauliflower tostada ($5.50). In this interview, the duo revealed the secret ingredient behind the addictive flavor: fish sauce, giving the tostada a hint of umami flavor.
“You try to do what you can without making things too weird,” Snukal said. “Sometimes weird is great if it’s just a little bit. You don’t want a lot of weird. That’s my experience.”
“Approachable would be the word I would use,” Mittleman interjected. “You might not know why you’re having that feeling of ‘I need to eat more of this.’”
“An older Japanese chef has been teaching me these things,” Snukal said. “His explanation was that only pure form of umami is breast milk. A baby doesn’t want any other flavor. It is the most nourishing and warming. If you can capture that feeling, you’re the best chef in the world.”
Snukal has plenty of room to experiment in his new, full-size kitchen, and dinner menu to match. Those who come after 4 p.m. can order lobster, albacore, and squash blossom tacos ($6 to $9), salads and plates ranging from red snapper ($24) to pig’s head ($65), among other items. Many of the dishes would not have been possible to cook in the cramped space of the former location.
“The thing that’s nice is I get to do some stuff that isn’t in the very, very affordable range,” Snukal said. “I get to use some things that are interesting like live scallops, live lobster, anything that super fresh and expensive. Honestly, I would have gotten people sick trying to do it without air-conditioning. There were a lot of little things that hindered forms of expression or creativity that don’t exist here, so that’s the fun part.”
While they get used to the new, larger location, the duo welcomes feedback from local fans. If you ask for something, chances are you’ll get a ‘yes’ from Mittleman.
“I came from five-star fine dining hotels where you weren’t allowed to say ‘no,’” said the former chef at the iconic Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “If someone said, ‘Do you have this?’ and you didn’t have it, you went to the store and bought it for them. It’s always ‘yes.’”
Mittleman hopes his fellow Santa Monicans will give Punta Cabras a resounding ‘yes” in return.
Punta Cabras is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), with dinner service beginning at 4 p.m.