When Tacos Punta Cabras closed its first location in 2017, founding chef Joshua Gil was finally free to do what he really wanted, which was to cook around the world with his chef friends and make one-shot-and-done menus without the grind of running a restaurant. At the time, Tacos Punta Cabras was probably the best taco restaurant to ever open in the westside city of Santa Monica, traditionally not seen as a bastion of great Mexican cooking. Now, after three years traveling, Gil has finally settled into a more permanent role as the chef of Mírame in Beverly Hills. Even with just eight weeks under its belt, Mírame might be the most exciting new restaurant to open during this pandemic-riddled year in Los Angeles.
Opened in early July, Mírame debuted to modest fanfare adjacent to the swank Wally’s and Heritage Fine Wines on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, preparing not typical upscale Mexican dishes, but rather Gil’s salmon skin chicharron and grilled albacore asada tacos. The crowds have bought in already, with busy outdoor dining areas set up on the front and back patios and even spilling out into the sidewalk.
From the Spanish colonial period to the Chicanos of East LA, Pacoima, and other barrios in the post-World War II era, Mexican Americans have continually created and innovated with their cuisine. Mexican American cooking is inspired by multiregional plates from places like Jalisco, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Mexico City (CDMX), and characterized by combo plates and antojitos like tacos, tamales, stews, tortas, and enchiladas. By the end of the 2010s, Chicano chefs that grew up in the context of California cuisine — shopping at local farmer’s markets and employing LA’s multicultural flavors — began to form a provincial style of cooking that I coined Alta California cuisine.
Notable chefs like Carlos Salgado (who opened Taco María), Josef Centeno (Bar Amá), Eduardo Ruiz (Corazon y Miel), Christy Lujan (Cacao), Ray Garcia (Broken Spanish), Elena Vega (Maestro), and Wes Avila worked in many of California cuisine’s institutions, as did Gil. They incorporated elements of Mexican cooking techniques with California’s seasonal ingredients but leaned on the memories of their moms’ food. They added a modern Chicano twist to dishes they grew up eating in their moms’ kitchens: tacos filled with foie gras, ceviches topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin, and chilaquiles covered with wild boar.
The taco in particular has become a blank canvas for chefs to explore the possibilities of Mexican techniques, Californian ingredients, and Chicano themes. Examples include Ray Garcia’s bologna tacos made with charcuterie at the now-closed B.S. Taqueria, Wes Avila’s hard shell Pocho taco at Guerrilla Tacos, and Ricardo Diaz’s fideos loaded with items like cilantro chutney, spinach, and garlic shrimp at Colonia Publica. Alta California cuisine’s influence is so vast that it’s even inspired a modern taco renaissance in Mexico City. Aspiring young cooks are now as likely to call themselves taqueros or taqueras (taco makers) instead of “chef.” Alta California gastronomy is Mexican cuisine in which chefs like Gil are making their own rules.
Gil first made his mark on the LA dining scene as the chef de cuisine of Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, opened by the late Joe Miller (who died last year after a tragic accident). Gil started there as chef de cuisine in 2005, helping it to earn a coveted Michelin star in 2008, all while leading a kitchen full of Oaxacan cooks he’d put together during his tenure. He left abruptly later that year to chase a different kind of dining experience. In 2010, he and chef Daniel Snukal opened SLF, short for Supper Liberation Front, a casual, roving pop-up that was more his speed, serving inventive and playful dishes without fine dining mores.
In 2013, the two chefs opened Tacos Punta Cabras, named after a surf break near where Gil grew up in Rosarito, Baja California. Tacos Punta Cabras was part of LA’s Alta California cuisine movement, joining acclaimed restaurants like Taco María, Colonia Taco Lounge (which is now Colonia Publica), Guerrilla Tacos, Amor y Tacos, and Broken Spanish, among others. Gil and Snukal continued the history of culinary innovation with a modern Baja menu of ceviches and tacos inspired by Gil’s childhood in Rosarito.
Tacos Punta Cabras closed in 2017, having received acclaim from local food media and street cred from Latinos for inventive dishes like the cauliflower ceviche tostada. The end of Gil’s partnership with Snukal found him, once again, unsure of his place in the restaurant business and returning to the hippie chef life that’s always worked better for his personality. But this would again put a strain on his children, who were living in LA and wanted their dad to settle down. Gil did some restaurant consulting, traveling to places like Thailand, Mexico, and Ibiza to cook. “I thought it was [all] about hanging out with shamans, being creative, and the purity of spontaneous cooking,” Gil says.
Meanwhile, Snukal reopened Tacos Punta Cabras in a different space in Santa Monica against Gil’s wishes. Gil had asked that Snukal, a white man, not use the name. Though the newer Gil-less Punta Cabras didn’t raise any eyebrows just two years ago, the notion of cultural appropriation would certainly have been brought up in the current climate where the dining public is more aware than ever about who gets to profit from international cuisines. Less than a year after opening the second rendition of Punta Cabras, Snukal had to close the restaurant due to water damage, mold, and an uncooperative landlord.
Though Gil was still chasing a nomadic life, forces from the material world brought him back to LA, where he would eventually settle down. Gil’s two children had already expressed that they wanted him to be around more. And a random direct message on Instagram from someone he had never met offered him a position to be the chef of an upcoming restaurant in Beverly Hills. Matthew Egan, an experienced cinematographer, had read about Gil in my book L.A. Mexicano, which chronicled the Alta California cuisine movement. Egan was tired of being away from his family traveling for film production. The DM seemed fortuitous to Gil: “I surely didn’t want to open a restaurant, but the universe was placing us together for a reason.”
In 2019, to prepare for the restaurant’s opening, Egan and Gil took a three-week whirlwind food and mezcal tour of Mexico, from Mexico City to Puebla to Oaxaca. Though they had just signed a lease in West Hollywood, the owners of popular holistic vegan restaurant Cafe Gratitude made the two an offer they couldn’t refuse for the former Gratitude in Beverly Hills. The Canon Drive address is probably the last place you would expect to see a modern Mexican restaurant.
Egan brought on prolific LA restaurant designer Matt Winter, who added his signature vintage touch to the Gratitude space, and Mírame was gearing up for a May 2020 opening. “Towards the end of February, I was writing the menu for a mid-spring opening, and then it all shut down,” says Gil. The chef wasn’t concerned about the pandemic, and like many, he never thought the shut down would last as long as it has. Now Mírame was in trouble, along with virtually every other restaurant in the city. Thankfully, the restaurant got a helpful hand during difficult times. “Our landlord and the city of Beverly Hills have been amazing. [They] said just open, and we’ll work it out,” said Gil.
So Egan and Gil opened Mírame in early July, just after the Fourth of July holiday, a few doors down from the celebrity magnets of Wally’s and E.Baldi, and down the street from the big-money Mastro’s steakhouse and Spago. With the glitzy Golden Triangle restaurants in its vicinity, Gil’s cooking at Mírame is a stark contrast.
Instead of chips and salsa, Gil serves chicharron de salmon, or salmon skin crackling, a superbly light, umami-packed appetizer that you dip into a fermented garlic aioli. Its Asian flavors, applied to a Pacific coastal Mexican dish, and polished by contemporary Baja cuisine, are a theme in Gil’s plates.
There’s clearly a lot of Baja California influence here, too. There are fresh and grilled oysters, ceviches with Asian condiments, and beautifully dressed tostadas. The latter category includes a buttery pressed pig face tostada that lies somewhere between a gelatinous French-stye terrine, and a firm, meaty Tolucan queso de puerco (head cheese). Gil’s terrine snuggles into an ample spread of mashed avocado that fixes it to the tostada like a baby in a blanket, with briny pops of ikura balanced by a light char of salsa macha. There are some good surf-and-turf options like a grilled octopus with chicken chicharron, and firm heirloom ayocote beans that conjure the Mediterranean influence of restaurants in Ensenada and Puerto Nuevo.
Gil knows Angeleno palates are going to be more calibrated for zestier seasoning and higher spice levels due to the constant exposure to Thai, Korean, Mexican, and Chinese flavors. Taking on fried fish, a beach staple most Angelenos have experienced in San Pedro or at Sinaloan restaurants, is something you wouldn’t find on a modern Mexican menu in Mexico City or Baja California. But chef Ray Garcia made it a refined main course at Broken Spanish (before it closed earlier this year). Gil does something similar in a totally Alta California way. Fried fish in Mexican cuisine is typically oily and over-cooked tilapia, but Gil’s version fries up Baja snapper into unexpectedly light, almost fluffy flesh with crisp skin. It’s finished with a light marron chintestle (a chile paste used in Oaxacan cuisine) that pulls away easily with a pinched bit of torn Sonoran wheat flour tortilla. The snapper surfs atop a masa jus paired with a tart tomatillo salsa, adding layers of umami. Gil’s hanger steak entree comes with deep-fried, shrimp-stuffed squash blossoms supported by dots and swirls of Asian sauces. It yields a deep flavor completed by artisanal churritos — a crunchy snack sold by street vendors.
And there are tacos, too. Oregon albacore asada is mesquite-grilled and cooked medium rare, with avocado and salsa verde on Masienda red conica corn tortillas that feel like homemade tacos from a Mexican seaside cookout. Gil initially didn’t want to put tacos on the menu, but has come to terms with being a Mexican chef in Beverly Hills. Mírame’s more crowd-pleasing items are designed to welcome diners rather than patronize them, because mírame implies “look at me, cabrones” (look at me, fools). There are even corn blinis with caviar on the menu, and a $125 35-ounce prime cote de boeuf if you really want to live it up. Want a bottle of 1994 Chateau Margaux to pair with the steak? Mírame will run one door over to Wally’s — this is Beverly Hills, after all.
The best part is business seems to be booming despite the pandemic. At a time when some diners are hesitant to eat out, even outdoors, Mírame’s front, sidewalk, and back patios are full every weekend evening. With regard to pandemic dining, Gil says, “We are taking it seriously with our cleaning and safety protocols. Beverly Hills’s guidelines [are so strict] we get fined if we aren’t wearing face shields when serving or on the restaurant floor.” For diners not ready for al fresco dining, Mírame will soon be available for takeout once approved by delivery apps.
Consider for a moment how unlikely Mírame is: A prime Beverly Hills location, a pandemic opening, and a chef who has been reluctant to take up a permanent position. Yet Gil is not only fired up about Mírame, he’s doing the best cooking of his career, offering creative dishes with bold flavors across the entire menu at this thriving new outpost of Alta California cuisine.