If you love ice cream, blue velvet cake (not kidding) and French macaron ice cream sandwiches, you probably memorized the directions to Bret Thompson's shop Milk a long time ago. You probably also know that the Patina-trained chef has been working on a Mexican restaurant for a long time now too. Thompson and his wife, Lucy Thompson Ramirez -- whose family is from Guanajuato, Mexico -- have finally opened Pez Cantina.
Thompson has brought a number of family members and friends with him to the swank downtown restaurant, located in a former bank building on the ground floor of a high-rise building. (The restaurant is named Pez because it means fish in Spanish, by the way, not because Thompson has a fetish for the retro candy dispensers.)
Chef de cuisine Jose Estrada is a fellow Patina Group alum; Israel Ramirez is both Thompson's business partner and brother-in-law. And then there are the recipes, many of which come from Ramirez's parents.
Pez has been a long time in the making: Thompson signed the lease on the space in September 2013, and was trying out his tacos at last summer's local Tacolandia food festival. But the doors are finally open, and Thompson was there on yesterday's official opening day, happy and somewhat relieved ("I'm never opening a restaurant in a high-rise again") to have the restaurant open for business before the holidays.
The menu is seafood-centric, with dishes inspired partly by Thompson's travels to the Baja town of Loreto and partly by his in-laws' culinary heritage. Thus there are plenty of tacos, with an emphasis on fish and seafood, as well as chicken tinga, carnitas, beef tongue, carne asada and sweetbreads. There are fresh oysters; plates of grilled octopus and seafood coctels; pambazos (griddled Mexican sandwiches); main-course salads; soups and pozole; larger dishes, including cochinita pibil and guajillo-braised beef cheeks, and, of course, desserts.
The space itself is pretty roomy -- no vaults or obvious hipster evidence of its previous iteration as a bank -- with seating for 125 inside and a spacious patio outside. You can also look into the big open kitchen, where you can see the chefs making your dinner, and a very busy woman pressing and griddling tortilla after tortilla. There's also an extensive cocktail and beer and wine list, including, yes, margaritas made with mezcal. Something to toast downtown L.A.'s continued renaissance with, I suppose.
Pez Cantina, 401 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, (213) 258-2280, pezcantina.com
Lots of pictures of tacos on Instagram @ascattergood