I haven’t been as excited about a new restaurant in a long time. PettyCash is the creation of Bill Chait and Executive Chef Walter Manzke who feverishly renovated the former Playa to open a Tijuana-style taqueria.
Chait has had a slew of successful restaurants with Sotto, Picca, Short Order, Short Cake, the newly opened Bestia and the forthcoming Republique that he and Manzke are planning to open this August in the old Campanile space on La Brea.
Manzke is one of my favorite chefs. After graduating from Mesa College in San Diego with a degree in Business and Restaurant Management, he worked in some of the most famous kitchens with top-notch chefs of Europe and America, including Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adrià, and Patina Group’s with Joachim Splichal. He then moved up to Carmel to work at Bouchee and L’Auberge Carmel. Returning to LA, Manzke opened Bastide and took over the kitchen at Church + State.
Not only did he just recently open PettyCash, Manzke and his talented Pastry Chef wife, Margarita, frequently fly to Manila to check on their newly opened Wildflour Café + Bakery. “Margarita is from the Philippines, and we have family there. It’s growing and becoming a much more prosperous city,” Manzke said.
Gone is the comfortable setting of Playa. Instead, Chait and Manzke roughed it up a bit. “We wanted guests to feel as if they are under a bridge in East Los Angeles,” he said. The industrial look offers hanging lights and an entire brick wall painted by the talented local street artist Retna.
Instead of the Playa wine cellar, there is now a beer cellar with great craft beers. On tap are two tasty brews from San Diego: Ballast Point Sculpin and Stone Brewing Smoked Porter.
Manzke had the idea for this type of restaurant for quite some time. In the 1980s, he enjoyed going down to Tijuana. “It was a wild place back then, but in a controlled way. It started to get more rough in the 90s.”
One night at The Key Club on Sunset, after hearing a band play Tom Petty and Johnny Cash songs back to back, the name PettyCash hit Manzke. “PettyCash is a play on both the small amount of discretionary funds every restaurant needs for expenditures and musical artists Johnny Cash and Tom Petty.”
The background music offers some Petty and Cash songs, as well as an eclectic array of 80s music, and even some 80s rap music from Mexico.
Chef Manzke kept Sedlar’s roof garden to use in many of his creative dishes. Nothing about PettyCash is your stereotypical Mexican restaurant. Our server delivered a tin cup holding salty tortilla chips and two bottles, not bowls, of salsas. The green is a less spicy verde sauce, while the red sauce has a kick to it.
The food at PettyCash comes out kicking. With our first bite of the cheesey churros ladeled with a green mole-corn sauce, we knew we were in for an exciting culinary adventure.
The snapping chicharrones (pork cracklings or pork rinds) continued to crackle for ten minutes on our table. They were cooked exquisitely without any greasy feel or aftertaste. Manzke serves them with a slightly sweet carrot and pineapple dip and a spicier avocado sauce.
Be sure to order the chunky guacamole. A dollop can be added to just about anything on the menu, especially the summer squash and shrimp tostada.
The ceviche Negro is blackened with squid ink and comes with fresh pieces of mahi-mahi, mango and peanuts.
Manzke’s signature dish – a chilled bowl of Mexican Aguachile en Moicajete– is a spicy seafood stew made with wild Sonoran chiltepin peppers grown in Mexico.
“Farmers can’t cultivate these peppers, they grow wild and sell for $100 a pound,” Manzke said. “It’s like a Schezwan pepper that tickles your palate with heat.”
The peppers are ground in a mortar and pestle with fresh tomatoes to make a homemade Clamato-style broth. Guests select the seafood to complete this dish. We chose Peruvian Bay scallops, live Santa Barbara prawns, sea urchin, lobster and octopus. A big molcajete arrived chock-full of seafood, chopped radishes and cucumber. WOW!
We didn’t have an opportunity to try the tacos on this visit, but we did meet tortilla master, Marisol. “She rides the bus daily from Huntington Park to make these fresh tortillas. It’s a real art to make tortillas that taste like this. She makes about 500 or more a day.”
Tacos cost $4 for one, $11 for three or 6 for $21. Manzke offers up to 10 different types of street tacos from prime beef strip loin carne asada to Baja fish and white prawn tacos.
We did have a little room left for Margarita’s desserts. Her leche flan is creamy and served with Pudwell Farms berries. Her bunuelos are dusted with cinnamon and sugar and sitting in a heavenly chocolate sauce.
PettyCash is open Tuesday through Sunday. Hours vary. Closed Mondays. Walk-ins welcome. No reservations. 7360 Beverly Blvd. (323)933-5300.