On the Line: Carlos Anthony of Taco Asylum, Part One

He may be sitting still, but that mind is working overtime.
He may be sitting still, but that mind is working overtime.
Photo by Duc Duong

A change in leadership prompted additional updates in this Costa Mesa kitchen, best known for some crazy stuffing ideas in their tortillas. I drop by the asylum early in the week, as Carlos Anthony divides his expertise between here and a San Diego spot. Hard-working and ambitious, it's no wonder Capricorn Carlos is a perfect fit for the industry.

How do you handle executive chef duties at two establishments? It's no question that running one kitchen is a large undertaking, let alone two. However, to run any kitchen you need an amazing team. I am lucky enough to have some really talented and driven people working under me. I wouldn't be where I am today without Natalie Tyler and Sam Masucci, my sous chefs, not to mention the countless other line cooks, dishwashers and prep cooks that help steer the ship. I think what we all share in common is a passion for cooking, and that helps drive us through the hardest obstacles.

Tell us about your first restaurant job. At the tender age of 15, I started tossing pizzas at the local pizza joint. I immediately fell in love with the thrill and pace of working on the line. I felt so comfortable in the kitchen, which is not a big surprise, since I was raised in a Hispanic family, helping my mother and grandmother in the kitchen from a very young age.

What do you suggest for first-timers? Embrace the asylum! When you come to Taco Asylum, you are going to see classic tacos mixed with a generous portion of "outside the box" taco creations. Savor your favorites, but stretch your boundaries. Try something new. Relish in the creative taco experience.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best: Vietnamese food! Little Saigon is incredible, and something we don't have in San Diego, to that extent.

Where was your most recent meal? Pork spring rolls at East Borough in The Camp.

Strangest customer request (and did you do it?). Reheat a meal they made at home. Initially I was offended, but after further investigation I realized it was for a small child with food allergies, so I happily took care of them.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Veal fries (cow testicles). Brian Malarkey called them "cowboy caviar", and they are actually delicious.

Favorite places to eat: When in San Diego, I love Carnitas Snack Shack. In Orange County, I finally made it over to El Toro Bravo in Costa Mesa for a spicy goat taco. If my mom didn't make the best Christmas tamales, I would probably order mine from those guys.

What is your beverage of choice? I stick to the classics and appreciate a nice Old Fashioned. I like to grab one after work at Ecco sometimes because, well, it's about 200 feet from Taco Asylum! I heard they have some great cocktails at Mesa, so someday soon I'll have to walk all the way across the parking lot (laughs).

One food you can't live without: Eggs. They are the building blocks of my craft, and without them I would feel very handicapped.

You're making breakfast; what are you having? Potatoes, eggs and a pork sausage.

What kinds of traditional cooking methods and techniques do you incorporate in your cooking? Wow. Where do I start? I was raised in a Hispanic household, so my grandmother's cooking is rooted deeply in who I am as a chef. Taco Asylum's menu is filled with many of her signature touches and recipes. Most notably, my duck mole. The mole is a recipe that goes back at least three generations in my family. That tradition is what makes Taco Asylum so unique-- the blend of traditional and modern techniques in the simplest of all vessels: a taco.

Best culinary tip for the home cook: Keep it simple. If you are using great ingredients, then you don't need much else. Less is more.

What have you learned from working alongside well-known chefs like Malarkey, Keller and Reddington? I think the most significant thing I have learned from these great chefs is respect for my craft, respect for the details, how important it is to know where your food is grown, and what it took to get to your cutting board. Caring for the details is what makes simple food spectacular.

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Taco Asylum

2937 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626



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