The chef’s hot new Santa Monica restaurant, Tallula’s, is churning out cheese-drenched nachos worth a red-eye flight.
“Cheese on every chip,” says general manager Mary Thompson when we ask about the presentation during a recent dinner at the new Santa Monica restaurant. She says it again, with emphasis, to make sure we truly understand: “Cheese on every chip.”
It’s a Tuesday night at the beach-adjacent hot spot, just off the Pacific Coast Highway. The 150-seat restaurant is completely packed—overflowing, actually. It’s been like this every single evening since Tallula’s opened on May 9. The place starts buzzing the moment doors open at 4 p.m. (300 to 400 people come by daily,) and even the parking lot feels like a party.
This is a restaurant where you come to share a bunch of modern Mexican food with a group, where you quickly learn that chile fundido, yellowtail ceviche, duck chilaquiles and lamb-and-beer birria pair well with palomas and margaritas. This is the kind of communal dining experience that L.A. adores in 2017, at a restaurant with the kind of chill but vibrant scene that makes leaving work early for mezcal and guacamole feel like living your best life.
Tallula’s is going to sell an insane amount of nachos this summer. And these nachos happen to be created by one of L.A.’s most respected culinary minds: Tallula’s partner Jeremy Fox, the Rustic Canyon chef who recently released his On Vegetables cookbook and who was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2008 for his work at Ubuntu in Napa.
“Nachos are just an iconic thing,” Fox says. “I grew up with nachos. I remember going places, and the top would be covered with all the good stuff. That might be 30 or 40 percent of the nachos, and then all you’re left with are chips. I don’t want to eat just chips. It feels almost decadent to have cheese on every chip.”
With the goal of “creating a perfect bite for the entire sheet pan,” Fox and Tallula’s executive chef Mario Alberto spread out a single layer of chips that they “blanket with snow.”
There’s a blend of sharp cheddar, jack cheese and fontina put on top before the nachos are baked. Then buttermilk crema is drizzled over the chips. The chips are also adorned with chopped spicy pickles, carrots and jalapeños, as well as house-made salsa and fresh herbs. And every single chip gets covered with finely-grated cotija cheese.
The nachos are listed as “nachos sencillo” on the menu. Sencillo means simple in Spanish, which is hilarious when you consider how much work has been put into assembling them.
“It’s almost a paradox,” Fox says. “This took the most trial and error, the most testing, to be able to execute this on a larger scale. It’s called sencillo for simple or easy. It’s anything but.”
The idea behind the name is that Fox didn’t want ground beef, avocados, chopped tomatoes or beans. You could say that the famous chef wanted to create a pure expression of nachos, but let’s not complicate things.
“I wanted them to be cheesy and spicy,” Fox says. “That was the goal.”