Los Angeles is home to so many Mexican restaurants that when another one opens, I really have to wonder why and hope that they have a unique angle. Do I really need that much guacamole and salsa? Unfortunately the answer is yes because a) I love guac and salsa, and b) the guacamole many places serves is often more like avocado puree instead of nicely spiced, chunky, avocado.
Enter Tinga. Tinga recently took over the charming indoor, outdoor space that was once Renee's Courtyard on Wilshire in Santa Monica. They're not technically a new restaurant as they've had a small outpost on LaBrea since 2010, but the menus are slightly different in each location.
If you're not looking for this place, you might walk right past it as it's a narrow slip of an entrance that takes you down a colorfully decorated, arched hallway before opening up to the bright courtyard with several unique rooms jutting off the sides.
I went with a friend during happy hour where you can get up to 30% off selected items, so we sat in the bar with high top tables and bright, monochromatic, plastic chairs.
I do think a good judge of a restaurant's character is the guacamole, so we put in an order for the slightly different bacon guac because that would either be a big hit or a huge miss. I was happy with the chunkiness of the avocados on initial glance, and liked the addition of the tequila salsa surrounding it. One dip of the chips revealed a wonderful smokiness from the Nueske apple smoked bacon, and the chewy bits of chicharones put the dish over as a big winner for me.
The flat iron steak and mushroom quesadilla was loaded with cheese. I like cheese, but I also like steak and mushrooms, and would have loved to see a better balance as the tastes of mushrooms I did get, were wonderfully woodsy and rich, but they were drowning in a sea of fromage.
The braised short rib tacos spent a bit too much time braising or without juice as they were a bit dry and in much need of the accompanying salsa.
Luckily there were innovative and refreshing drinks to wash everything down. The Laga-rita mixes tequila, lime juice and Negro Modello with a Mexican, Piloncillo syrup. Very easy drinking. What was even easier and as much fun to say was the Tipsy Jalapeño filled with tequila, lime, rosemary, agave and jalapeño - a nice, spicy punch combined with light sweetness.
The bill gave instructions to not try making these drinks at home, which is probably a wise note, as they may be the only items worth returning for, along with a side of that bacon guacamole. That said, a good drink and well made guacamole in a nice environment is a pretty decent reason to go to a restaurant for happy hour. We'll see if they can survive on that alone.