Fistful of Tacos

Petty Cash shotgun-marries Tijuana kitsch with refined street food

The Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" blasts overhead as you sit elbow-to-elbow at a communal picnic table, surrounded by walls emblazoned with red, white and green graffiti artwork.

You haven't stumbled into a circa-1980 Tijuana watering hole. It's simply a weeknight at Bill Chait's new Mid-City standout, Petty Cash Taquería.

The entrepreneur behind the now-shuttered Playa has assembled an odd but impressive collection of talent: chef and co-owner Walter Manzke, of the much-anticipated Republique, chef Guillermo "Oso" Campos Moreno, from the up-and-coming Tijuana food stall Tacos Kokopelli; accomplished barman Julian Cox; and food writer Bill Esparza, who helped curated a super-rare agave spirits collection.

Manzke and Campos Moreno's menu weaves Mexican street food with impressionistic bar snacks, and for those dreaming of Baja, there is much to lust after.

The pig's-ear nachos ($12), topped with guacamole and a poached egg, are the loftiest embodiment of crunchy, gloopy and utterly addictive drunk food. Briny seafood aguachiles ($23 to $56) are mixed to order, swimming in spicy-sour clamato broth inside weighty stone molcajetes.

Just don't neglect those tacos ($4), especially the charcoal-grilled octopus, sauced with pungent, burnt chile de árbol salsa wrapped in fresh-pressed tortillas.

If your dining partners want to debate "cultural authenticity," they might be missing the point. Your mouth has better things to do—like snacking on cheese-sprinkled churros ($5) with creamy green mole dip.