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Opening a popular new Mexican joint in SoCal is a long shot, since the neighborhood is already blessed with so many quality restaurants. 

This said, we?ve got high hopes for the new Blue Plate Taco in Santa Monica, and not only because it?s been crowded since its recent opening. As the long-awaited sister act to neighborhood hits Blue Plate and Blue Plate Oysterette, it comes with a pedigree of serving fresh food in a handsome space. 

The place had us at a glance: patterned tile floor, cowhide chairs and hanging wicker lights designed by decorator-to-the-stars Tim Clarke. Then there?s the matter of the food. We found the fresh tortilla chips with salsa ($2) awfully addictive and the vodka-laced prickly-pear-and-hibiscus agua fresca ($12) relaxing and flavor-packed. The mixto ceviche ?small plate? of meaty shrimp, octopus and lobster ($15) is a whole meal, but you wouldn?t want to miss the perfectly balanced tacos ($3.50 to $10), which range from chicken to lobster. Other than a bland $9 guac, everything we tried was a hit.

Blue Plate Taco is the newest addition to the year-old, glassy Shore Hotel, our recommendation for out-of-town friends--who are cool with us joining for dinner.

Blue Plate Taco, 1515 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; 310-458-2985 or blueplatesantamonica.com

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