Maybe you know chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal from their Westside taqueria Tacos Punta Cabras, where they've been serving seafood and tofu tacos (yes, tofu tacos) since February 2013. Or maybe from their underground pop-up Supper Liberation Front, which they've been operating for close to five years now. Or maybe you know them from more upscale settings: Gil cooked at Joe's Restaurant in Venice, the Jonathan Club and BLT, while Snukal's resume includes LudoBites and Urasawa.
Since late last week, you can now find the chefs in an even more unlikely place: the Mexican burger joint they've just opened in about 460 square feet on Spring Street in downtown L.A.
"It's a hole in the wall," said Gil last Friday of Hamburguesa Punta Cabras, the kitchen and counter (together about the size of a walk-in closet) that was previously Mai's Mexican Kitchen. HPC officially opened last Thursday, though "official" is kind of a relative term. "We don't do soft openings," said Gil. "We just open and see what happens."
What Gil and Snukal are serving, official or otherwise, is old school hamburgers ("We're not trying to reinvent anything") in a very minimalist setting. Thus you walk up, past the one outside table, the red awning and a new, somewhat curious wall of moss and succulents, to the counter window inside, and order a burger and maybe some fries.
The burgers are thin patties cooked on the flat top, the meat hormone-free that they get daily from Premier Meat Co. There's a turkey burger option. There's cheese and lettuce and tomato and charred green onions. There are sauces that might seem familiar if you've eaten a lot of the tacos at Tacos Puntas Cabras, including green curry guacamole, bacon-tomatillo jam and a "salsa nopal molcajete." The fries can come buried under chorizo-cheese sauce, Mexican-style Thousand Island dressing and more charred onions.
As for the flat top method, Gil says that they thought about other options for the burgers. "Marinate it in bacon. Grind out our own meat. Sous-vide. We were gonna do all that — and then we thought, really? Every neighborhood dictates what it needs. It's a '50's-style place, but it's more Chicano than anything. It's nostalgia food."
"They don't have these," said Snukal, pausing between flipping burgers, of the flat top, "in Japanese restaurants or fancy French places."
(The name of both the new restaurant and the taqueria, if you're wondering, is a reference to one of the chefs' favorite Baja surfing spots, about an hour from Ensenada.)
Gil says that yes, it has occurred to them that this is a good prototype for more restaurants. Eventually. First they're working on getting regular hours, and then a downtown bicycle delivery service.
Hamburguesa Punta Cabras: 633 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3393, hamburguesaspuntacabras.com.
Because taking pictures of food is almost as much fun as eating it, I'm on Instagram @ascattergood.