Review of Taco Maria – an American Dream
Part 1 – Taco Maria Lunch Menu
Taco Maria is a rare unicorn of a restaurant that combines Chicano soul food recipes, modern culinary technique and and Chef Carlos Salgado’s penchant for artistry. Selling their food truck at the right time of the food truck hype, the brother and sister team of Carlos and Silvia Salgado scraped every last bit of cash to open Taco Maria restaurant in the OC Mix. They have been open for less than five months and have already been gaining regional attention.
At the helm of the kitchen is Chef Carlos Salgado who cut his teeth cooking under some of the top Chefs in San Francisco, including a two-star Michelin restaurant. While he may have learned culinary techniques from his fine dining experience, the heart of Taco Maria’s recipes come from family meals and experience from their parent’s 25 year old taqueria.
Taco Maria Lunch Menu
Taco Maria’s menu vastly differs from Lunch to Dinner. The dinner menu gives you the opportunity to taste a four-course “fork and knife” meal. In contrast, lunch is more casual and places a focus on gourmet tacos. This review will focus exclusively on their lunch menu and a future post will cover their dinner course menu.
The Lunch menu is clean and simple, a couple appetizers and a list of seasonal tacos made from local ingredients and handmade tortillas. Below is what we ordered:
After I took my first bite I sat back and said to myself, “That was really good.” I looked around at my table mates and they had the same reaction on their faces.
In a simple and elegant presentation, a filet of rockfish rests in a puddle of Serrano chile infused citrus juice alongside a dollup of watermelon jam. It is garnished with leaves of the spinach family, radish and cracked pepper.
The creamy texture of the fish gives way to a sparkly acidity of the citrus juice, followed by sweetness of the watermelon jam and finishes with a slight tingle from the Serrano chili. This dish was a flavor roller coaster.
“This is perhaps the best fish taco that I have ever eaten.” “I agree”, says another table mate as the burnt leek aioli runs down his chin.
Each ingredient, down to the house made tortillas are made with a flavor profile in mind. The sweet fish protein plays nicely with the house made savory burnt leek mayo sauce. The grapes provided cluster bombs of sweetness that cut through the savory flavor and kept the taco fresh.
The fish was fried perfectly crispy, with a very light layer of crispy dough, thus allowing the fish to shine. I agree with my table mate, this was one of the best fish tacos that I have experienced.
Like the Ocean, Taco Maria’s Mole has many mysteries
Tender dark meat chicken is paired with a remarkable mole sauce that is deep in flavor with hints of sweet and spice. This taco has an evolving flavor of smokey, sweet and ever so slightly spicy notes interacting with the rich dark meat chicken.
The pickled red onions bring a taste of acidity and the cheese provides a creamy contrast. Altogether the mole is an impressive taco. If you remember their mole tacos from their gourmet food truck days, this taco is a highly upgraded throwback.
The flavors of this dish are locked into the arrachera.
This taco is made with a deeply marinated arrachera (hanger steak) is grilled over a wood burning stove to a perfect medium and chopped and served with a tangy cream sauce, white creamy sauce, green peppers and quelites (cousin of spinach).
This is a delicious taco that provides an upfront savory beef flavor and smokiness. The greens level out the taco with an earthy flavors.
This taco was way too pretty to eat, but the artistry lies in the flavor layering.
The Jardineros Taco is made with shitake mushrooms, chile poblano, caramelized chives, and allium flowers (cousin of the garlic). The shitake mushrooms have a lemony zing, slight tingle and a garlicky savory finish. A remarkable taco.
Taco Maria is helping to shape the Orange County Restaurant scene. Orange County is often accused of either not having progressive food or being the honey pot for successful Los Angeles restaurants looking to carpetbag in the OC market. Taco Maria stands in contrast to this perception. Chef Carlos Salgado is creating food that is uniquely Southern Californian and has the potential to be a regional influence.
Just this past weekend, my brother’s girl friend told me that they have heard of Taco Maria all the way in San Diego. I am looking forward to trying their four course dinner next!
Where to find Taco Maria
3313 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa
(at the OC Mix, Located in the SOCO Shopping Center)
Four Course Prix Fixe ($44 prix fixe menu)
Thurs – Sat
5:30pm – 9:30pm.