Taco Maria Signals El Return of El Native

[Hole In the Wall] Carlos Salgado stuns Orange County with his wholly Mexican luxe lonchera

After sleeping under the proverbial cactus for far too long, Mexican-Americans in Orange County are finally entering the luxe lonchera game their wabby tíos pioneered. The famed Soho Taco catering cart debuted its wheels last week, and the Tamarindo Truck is already making waves with organic products and a truck with a color scheme out of Coyoacán.

But the most audacious Mexican-food truck out there is Taco María, the creation of Orange native Carlos Salgado. Like many of our creative types, he escaped our hellhole years ago, finding work and Michelin stars at some of the Bay Area's more-esteemed eateries, most prominent of which was Commis in Oakland. But unlike many of our exiled creative types, Salgado decided to return this year, ostensibly to work at his family's fine La Siesta Restaurant. But he surprised us all by debuting a luxe lonchera—then stunned us into slavish obsession with his food.

Salgado offers a limited menu from his shiny lonchera—just tacos, burritos, specials and dessert. He's still learning the trade, but already, Taco María brings alta cocina techniques that marry the best of the lonchera and luxe lonchera scenes. The quesadilla de tuétano has quickly become a cult item among local foodies: bone marrow played against queso oaxaca, creaminess on creaminess for umami overflow. Salgado's take on esquites—the ancient meal of roasted corn, lime, chile and cheese—can please as easily at the Ritz-Carlton as it can from the cart of a Santa Ana peddler. The jardineros taco is just stunning: roasted pumpkin as fleshy and sweet as pork, paired with black beans and a salsa concocted from semillas (pumpkin seeds) that takes you to the rancho. And a chicken mole burrito? ¡Sí, señor! Wash down whatever you order with a seasonal aguas fresca; currently on tap is hibiscus cut with Concord grapes, a Mexican-American Arnold Palmer of sweet-tart freshness.

Location Info

Map

SOCO: South Coast Collection

3303 Hyland Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Retail

Region: Costa Mesa

Details

Taco María can be found at SoCo Collection during its Farmers Market. Every Tues., Fri. & Sat. Follow Taco María on Twitter: @tacomaria; www.tacomaria.com.

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Since Salgado is a Mexi, I'll be extra-tough in my critique. The pinquinto beans, the pride of Santa Maria-style barbecue, make little sense in a burrito, possessing none of the earthiness or Proustian abilities of the humble pinto. Service can be slow, even though Taco María has a crew of three and Salgado's big sis taking orders. Requests for salsas produce a watery slop that I wouldn't wish on Javier's. And any proper lonchera needs multiple salsas and trays of pickled onions and jalapeños to top your tacos. Such quejas aside, Salgado is a damn great chef, and one can only salivate at his future in la naranja. Welcome home, cabrón.

 

This column appeared in print as "El Return of El Native."

 
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wallbangr
wallbangr

Wanted to try Tacos Maria on Saturday at SOCO. I gather that several of the farmer's market merchants and loncheras were wrapping up, as it was later in the afternoon. But my lady and I were in line behind a couple that was ordering and the lady told us that they could only serve one more customer. Seemed kinda' bunk to me, as the lad cooking seemed to be making some fresh eats for the customer in front of us. It did not appear that they were out of ingredients so much as perhaps on a deadline by the host property to close shop. But who knows? I don't want to slam an eatery without having tried their product, but I did not get the distinct impression they were eager for our business, which was a bit of a disappointment. With several other options around, it wasn't the kind of encounter that would make me eager to seek them out. Shame, too, because they had a very interesting pumpkin taco that had piqued our interest.

Carlos Salgado
Carlos Salgado

Hi Wallbangr,

This is Carlos, chef and owner of Taco Maria. I remember Saturday and I believe it was almost 3 - well past the 2pm closing time for the market - when we were, regrettably, turning customers away.

While our truck is powered down and we are cleaning up, our equipment is cooling rapidly, our food is stowed, and our tools are away. If we can scratch out of few tacos on the warm griddle, we will, but we must also be respectful of our hosts who must close down the market and clear the parking lot.

What's more, we are a mobile restaurant after all and must carefully keep a schedule given the travel and traffic, set-up and take-down time.

I apologize that you were turned away. We are, of course, eager to serve any and every one. Hope you have a chance to come by again while the market is open and give us a try.

wallbangr
wallbangr

Carlos, Thank you for the thoughtful response. The one issue with the farmer's market setup at SOCO is that there isn't a clear delineation of hours, etc. It struck us as curious that the person in front of us was able to be served, but it now makes sense in light of your lengthy explanation. Thanks again and best of luck. We will be sure to try to stop by again before closing time.

Newportblue65
Newportblue65

If you ever get a chance to get a taco off Taco Maria DO it.......They are artists !.......Greeting and smile no extra charge.........

Thom Hardly
Thom Hardly

The original «El regreso del nativo» is actually about a guy who started a fish & chippies place in Dublin called Colleen's. He didn't know from tacos.

Iris Gomez
Iris Gomez

"Welcome home, cabrón." He's got Tacos al Cabrón?

Good review -- I will certainly try it, soon.

 
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