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Taco Maria brick + mortar 1st Report, Costa Mesa - Excellent Tasting Menu

r
revets2 Sep 9, 2013 12:04 AM

Holy Guacamole, did we have an unexpectedly awesome meal at Taco Maria in the OC Mart Mix last week or what?!?

As a residents of L.A., we don't have much purpose to make OC a culinary destination, but a day chock full of appointments left us hungry, wanting, and behind the orange curtain. This used to be a dilemma, but lately, not so much. With the addition of Nick Weber at The Cannery, some decent Asian fare in the north county and Irvine, and some of the best donuts in the U.S. at Sidecar, we actually look forward to our forays down south nowadays.

And now, with Carlos Salgado (Coi, Commis) opening his brick+mortar offshoot of his truck Taco Maria, we have even more reason to shoot down the 405 for something other than Manpuku.

Housed in the OC Mart Mix which is possibly cooler than anything we have going in LA (sorry Helms Bakery), OC Mart Mix houses Portola Coffee Lab, a nice little cheese shop, a wine and olive oil tasting bar, Shuck Oyster Bar, ARC Wood Oven Restaurant, Greenfield's, a rad climbing coop, and a handful of fun, well merchandised non-chain boutique stores - all dropped in the middle of SOCO - essentially OC's design center...oh, and they have an awesome Surfas Restaurant Supply.

We had eaten at the truck once before early last year and were frankly underwhelmed. Maybe because we were eating in a parking lot on a cold January evening. Maybe it was an off night. But the food we had at the restaurant is very different indeed.

The wine pairing by Thomas (Coi, Central Kitchen) was stellar. Leave the wine bags at home fellas. You don't even want to attempt pair-your-own here.

On the one hand, it makes sense to carryover the Taco Maria name, but it might be confusing to those expecting a tacqueria. This is high chicano cuisine hecho in Orange County, my friends. Think of it as Cocina Maria. Not a mediocre dish in the bunch. Always impressed when a chef can pull off every dish. The tasting menu is four courses with a choice of two, so we managed to order the entire menu.

The quality of the food was superb, the execution near perfect. It was akin to some of our best haute cuisine meals in Mexico City. Service was spot on. Come on...guacamole with figs and pistachio. Ah hem, rice and beans not included.

PALATE CLEANSER
cucumber, cilantro, acid
Wish I knew all of what was in this, but it was light, awakening, herbaceous.

PAPALO
cherry tomato, butterfly herb, queso fresco, radish, avocado, baby watermelon cucumber
2011 Eola Hills Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Oregon

GUACAMOLE
crushed avocado, figs, pistachio, flax chips
2011 Cachett Grenache Rosé Gard Languedoc -Roussillon France

HUAUZONTLES
quinoa fritters, goosefoot herb, ricotta, green tomato
2007 Damien Lareau Chenin Blanc 'Les Genet' Savennieres France

SOPA
corn soup with huitlacoche
2008 August Kesseler Riesling-Silvaner Halbtrocken Rheingau Germany

JARDINEROS
shiitake, rajas, queso Oaxaca, epazote
2010 Marcheti Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Marche Italy

PESCADO AL PASTOR
pacific ling cod, achiote, pineapple, cabbage
Vinho Verde, can't remember producer, slightly effervescent, we actually could have gone dyslexic with one or two of these tastings

MOLE
mary’s chicken, cocoa bean, chile, date, almond
1994 Blandy’s Malsmey Madeira Spain

ARRACHERA
wood-grilled hanger steak, nopalitos, corn, bacon
2007 Henry’s Drive Shiraz Padthaway Australia

$42 Four Course Tasting Menu
$24 Beverage Pairing

We'll be back before he changes to the Fall Menu.

  1. JAB Sep 9, 2013 06:21 AM

    Thanks for the report. Mole and Madeira! How'd that work for you?

    2 Replies
    1. re: JAB
      r
      revets2 Sep 9, 2013 09:46 AM

      We were a little confused when those tiny glasses came out. Okay, dessert course? Seemed a little earlier, but we're reaching our salient point. Then came the mole.

      It's a genius pairing.

      1. re: revets2
        JAB Sep 9, 2013 09:57 AM

        I'm thinking that the wife is going to have to fight me for her fair share of that course.

    2. JAB Sep 9, 2013 06:48 AM

      Hell, reservation made.

      1. m
        mrsjoujou Sep 9, 2013 02:38 PM

        I am glad you liked this place. We have been waiting for this place to open up for a few months now. We will try it this weekend.

        1. j
          js76wisco Sep 9, 2013 04:26 PM

          FYI they are only open for dinner right now. We made the mistake thinking they would have a similar menu to their truck for lunch. We settled for greenleaf across the fountain. They are working on lunch but didn't have an ETA when I spoke to somebody at the Taco Maria.

          10 Replies
          1. re: js76wisco
            r
            revets2 Sep 9, 2013 10:30 PM

            Sorry to not have mentioned that. Correct. Only a tasting menu and only dinner right now.

            Carlos says lunch is planned soon and may look more like the truck menu.

            1. re: js76wisco
              r
              revets2 Sep 10, 2013 06:56 PM

              BTW, how was Greenleaf?

              1. re: revets2
                j
                js76wisco Sep 11, 2013 09:52 AM

                The salad was great, same quality as the CM and BH location. My favorites are the cobb salad and Mexplosion with chicken. A little pricey for salads but a big portion and quality ingredients.

                I found this location a little hectic. Very crowded and hard to find seating. The staff was also still getting up to speed. We sat down and they give you numbers for your order. On 3 different occasions somebody came and gave us the wrong salad because they recycle numbers. I was there with a party of 8 and it took about 15 minutes for our entire party to get salads even though we ordered altogether. I'm sure they'll get better over time.

                1. re: js76wisco
                  r
                  revets2 Sep 11, 2013 01:04 PM

                  Good to know. Thx for the info!

              2. re: js76wisco
                s
                Stravinsky Oct 29, 2013 03:45 AM

                They're doing lunch now.

                Completely worth going.

                The place is spectacular.

                The Alma of OC.

                1. re: Stravinsky
                  r
                  revets2 Oct 29, 2013 09:17 AM

                  Thanks for the info. What's on the lunch menu?

                  1. re: revets2
                    s
                    Stravinsky Oct 29, 2013 09:58 AM

                    Tacos! I am sure it changes. But Mushroom Tacos, Chicken Mollo Tacos, Sablefish (battered), and Hangar Steak + Bacon.

                    Plus various apps. Huazontles. A very interesting guacomole with pistachios, and grapes, and flax chips. A salad of some sort, and a ceviche of some sort.

                    Everything to be eaten with knife and fork though really. It's not you average taco experience at all.

                    1. re: Stravinsky
                      m
                      mrsjoujou Oct 29, 2013 11:00 AM

                      I think their dinner is a better value than lunch. we had lunch there about 10 days ago and I felt the fish tacos at $15 was delicious, but a tiny portion. For that price they should give a side of something like veggies to satisfy you. The hanger steak tacos at $16 was a much better value. They told us they will start brunch soon.

                       
                       
                      1. re: mrsjoujou
                        s
                        Stravinsky Oct 29, 2013 11:09 AM

                        Did you order an appetizer?

                        I was pretty satisfied after 1 pp + tacos.

                        It's an expensive lunch, but this is also probably the best restaurant in Orange County. One should probably expect to drop $30 on lunch there.

                        I suppose dinner probably is a better value in that you'd get 2 more courses for another $20.

                        Still, it's nice to be able to sample the fare they are offering if you don't feel like putting down a full $50.

                        1. re: Stravinsky
                          m
                          mrsjoujou Oct 29, 2013 11:16 AM

                          Yes we had the Aguachile and it was delicious.

              3. JAB Sep 13, 2013 09:07 PM

                Really enjoyed our meal tonight. They changed the menu up somewhat from the sample menu on their web site and what revets2 posted above. Very comfortable and accommodating. A nice combination of updated classics and Alta Cucina. The Madeira and Mole is an inspired pairing. Get here before they raise the prices.

                6 Replies
                1. re: JAB
                  m
                  mrsjoujou Sep 13, 2013 10:47 PM

                  What did you have?

                  1. re: mrsjoujou
                    JAB Sep 14, 2013 07:49 AM

                    I wish that I had asked for a menu to take home. The Palate Cleanser was a drink that had some spice as well as a granita of melon a nice contrast. The first course was the Papalo as described above and a cauliflower dish with pumpkin seeds and dried blue berries. 2nd was the Guacomole and Hauazontles. 3rd was the Jardineros and Pescado al Pastor. The Jardineros were one of the best vegetable dishes I've ever had. 4th was chicken mole enchiladas with the inspired pairing with Madeira and pork chile verde which had the only pairing mistake of the night with a heavy red. We were given 2 pecan sandy like cookies for desert as well. Are you still going this weekend?

                    1. re: JAB
                      m
                      mrsjoujou Sep 14, 2013 10:05 AM

                      Thank you and I just made my reservation. Hopefully our experience will be as great as yours.

                      1. re: mrsjoujou
                        m
                        mrsjoujou Oct 2, 2013 09:36 AM

                        We have been customers of Taco Maria truck for a long time. We even went to their last truck service at SOCO and stood in long lines and because of high demand ended up with a couple of veggie tacos, since everything else was sold out. We waited a few months for their restaurant to open up and talked about them constantly. They opened right before we were leaving for vacation, so when we got back, we made reservation for their chef counter and were not disappointed. Right now they only serve dinner with brunch and lunch coming soon. We had read that they only offered a four course tasting menu for $42, but when we got there our waitress informed us that we could order À la carte also. Since this was our first time and we wanted to support them, we went for the tasting menu. For each course, you had two choices. My husband ordered a glass of Pinot Gris. We were surprised how small the pour was and when I mentioned it to our waitress, she informed us, that it was a five ounce pour. We started with Melon Granita and it was a very refreshing start. Papalo was Cherry Tomato, Butterfly Herb, Queso Fresco, Radish, Avocado. This dish was our favorite; the tomatoes were the most delicious and flavorful tomatoes we have had since Bestia. Califlor was Cauliflower, Sunflower, Dried Blueberry, Piloncillo Vinegar; it was very tasty and pretty. The roasted Cauliflower went very well with the sweet blueberries and the vinegar gave it a nice acidity. Guacamole was Crushed Avocado, Figs, Pistachio, Flax. It was a nice twist on Guacamole but it needed a little squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors. I really loved the home made Flax Chips that was served with it. So far we were up to a great start and were really impressed with the food. Huauzontles was Quinoa Fritters, Goosefoot, Ricotta, Green Tomato. It had a nice earthy taste and it went very well with the green tomato sauce. Pescado Al Pastor was Grilled Amberjack, Achiote, Pineapple, Fennel, Cabbage. We have never had Amberjack before and it was prepared on the wood burning grill. We really enjoyed the taste of the mild fish with the crunchiness of the cabbage and sweetness of the pineapple. Jardineros was Shittake Mushrooms, Rajas, Queso Oaxaca, Epazote. By this time I was kind of full and thought it was a nice dish, but nothing exciting. At this time we were treated to a taste of their Madeira and some other wine. We thought it was very nice of them to do that. We moved on to Chile Verde and it was Berkshire Pork, Tomatillo, Carrot, Crema, Warm Spices. I took two small bites and it was a very flavorful dish with a delicious Tomatillo sauce. I enjoyed the left overs the next day. My husband had the Mole Enchilada that was Mary’s Chicken, Chile, Chocolate, Date, Almond. I tasted the Mole and it was nice, but he said the chicken was on the dry side. We concluded our dinner with delicious cookies and went and shook Chef Carlos Salgado hand and thanked him for a wonderful dinner. We can’t wait for brunch and lunch to start. We finally have a Modern, high quality Mexican food in OC.

                      2. re: JAB
                        r
                        revets2 Sep 14, 2013 01:37 PM

                        Yup, seems like pork chile verde would need to go back to the Riesling.

                        Now you've got me itchin' to go back. I'm in LA, but it's totally worth the drive!

                        1. re: revets2
                          JAB Sep 14, 2013 02:46 PM

                          Or a Pinot Noir at the heaviest if they insist on a red pairing.

                  2. Porthos Sep 14, 2013 03:15 PM

                    Thanks for the report!

                    Sounds like a winner and will definitely be trying soon.

                    1. Melanie Wong Oct 5, 2013 09:01 AM

                      What a pleasure to have dinner here last night. Chef Salgado said he's trying to start lunch service next week.

                       
                      1. r
                        revets2 Oct 6, 2013 09:15 PM

                        Another great meal at Taco Maria for Chef Carlos Salgado's October menu. All the wine pairings were solid as well except for the last course. Probably just not our style of wine. Can't believe it's only $42 for the tasting menu and $24 for the pairing. Patchwork Festival was there at the same time and it made for a great food day.

                        This is very exciting for Orange County!

                        ESPINACAS
                        savoy spinach, pink grapefruit,avocado,coriander
                        2011 Bodegas Shaya Verdejo ‘Arindo’ Rueda Spain
                        or
                        AGUACHILE
                        pacific snapper, cress, watermelon jam, Ensenada olive oil
                        2007 Peregrine Riesling Central Otago New Zealand

                        GUACAMOLE
                        avocado,fig,pistachio, flax
                        2011 Paco & Lola Albariño Rías Baixas Spain
                        or
                        HUAUZONTLES
                        quinoa fritters, goosefoot herb, ricotta, green tomato
                        NV Casa Vinicola Zonin Prosecco Veneto Italy

                        JARDINEROS
                        shiitake, rajas, queso, alliums
                        2011
                        Marcheti Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Marche Italy
                        or
                        CALLO de HACHA
                        scallop, cauliflower, coconut, finger lime
                        2008 A. Kesseler Riesling - Silvaner Halbtrocken Rheingau Germany

                        ARROZ con POLLO
                        mary’s chicken, toasted farro, hosui pear,anise
                        2007 Damien Laureau Chenin Blanc 'Les Genet' Savennieres France
                        or
                        ARRACHERA
                        hanger steak, onion, quelites, bone marrow
                        2007 Henry’s Drive Shiraz Padthaway Australia

                        1. l
                          Lau Oct 7, 2013 03:29 PM

                          hmm sounds very interesting, will have to try next time im home

                          1. Porthos Oct 20, 2013 01:51 AM

                            Every bit as good as you said it was. Kinda like the Red Medicine of Mexican food. Chef trained in SF at Coi and Commis. The quality of the food reflects that. A small intimate space. Clean, classic, and confortable. Get a seat at the country so you can watch the chefs work.

                            Every dish was delicious. As a solid carnivore, the shiitake mushrooms with queso and poblano chiles was outstanding and may have been the best dish of the night along with the shellfish pozole.bthe kale leaves were dried/fried so they were crispy and savory like nori. Very clever actually.

                            As far as I know, LA has nothing like this and should.

                            http://www.tacomaria.com/menu_preview...

                             
                             
                             
                             
                             
                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Porthos
                              JAB Oct 20, 2013 07:03 AM

                              BYOB, pairing?

                              1. re: JAB
                                Porthos Oct 20, 2013 11:31 AM

                                Bring one buy one. Corkage waived for every bottle purchased.

                              2. re: Porthos
                                r
                                revets2 Oct 20, 2013 02:16 PM

                                Glad you liked it, Porthos. Thanks for the report. Agree, the shitake dish is transcendent.

                                Encourage all to give the wine pairing a try. At $24 it's a buy. Tomas does a great job with the pairings and I gotta give snaps to any restaurant that does pairings that elevate the food.

                                Someone who makes one of the great Sonoma pinots agrees the pairing is the best way to go...and the staff is well-trained and understands the wines. As said before, we have brought our own red for the red meat dish at the end as Aussie shiraz is not our fave, but if you're good with oak, you'll like it.

                                The menu has changed even from early October. Can't wait to get back.

                                1. re: revets2
                                  Porthos Oct 20, 2013 05:00 PM

                                  That's exactly what I did. The white selection has everything covered. The red selection didn't have anything I liked so I brought a red.

                              3. p
                                PHXeater Nov 21, 2013 10:42 AM

                                Complicating this post is that the menu which I painstakingly took notes on somehow ended up disappearing. Luckily the menu online seems to be accurate. This is still more of a general experience post, and not as detailed as I would like when disagreeing with what seems to be a really knowledgeable group of hounds.

                                General recap: kitchen seemed to be having an off night and be in the weeds, everything was cooked perfectly but actual seasoning/flavors were very disappointing. We disliked wine pairings but that was our own fault, we should have looked more carefully and realized the pairings were not our taste. We also left hungry. At $175 all said and done we just weren't happy.

                                Amuse: a beet granita concoction of some sort paired with what tasted like half prosecco(?) and straight lemon juice.

                                1. Rockfish crudo (we both passed on salad) - we both are a sucker for crudo, or raw fish of any kind. This says "citrus" and they aren't kidding. The citrus again was just over the top and overwhelmed the delicious watermelon jam and great rockfish. We actively tried to shake off any of the citrus juice on the fish before we ate it. Way heavy handed., with just a few squeezes or dabs of the citrus juice it could’ve been a really great dish.

                                2. Guacomole - pretty tasty and nice twist with grapes but it was still...guacamole. I didn’t love the flax chips but that’s more of a personal preference.
                                Kabocha squash tamale - again, tasty enough, moist, perfectly executed but still a tamale to me, none of the flavors shone and it didn't seemed elevated enough.

                                3. Cheesy mushrooms :) - obviously these were good. But at this point in the evening with the slow pacing we were starting to get a little down on the meal, tipsy off all the wine the server kept serving to keep us busy, and just really hungry.
                                Pozole – again with the heavy handed citrus! This was actually good and the citrus worked better here but just not quite filling enough for this point in the meal.

                                4. Chicken: I’d say it’s the best cooked chicken I’ve had since the French Laundry. But, also again, no flavors popped here, it was very bland.
                                Hangar steak: I don’t remember tasting any bone marrow here. From what I remember it was a well cooked steak. Period.

                                The almond cookies served after were good…

                                The complex, layered flavors I was looking for were not anywhere to be found. The food was very well executed as far as how well it was cooked but simply, nothing was memorable. I do like more “in your face” sort of flavors, which I expected to find here being Mexican food, but most items were either not flavorful or had one note (citrus) to them.

                                A couple points here:
                                -I have been to many prix fixe, tasting menu restaurants. I actually worked at one for two years. I despise when people complain about portion sizes because by the end of the meal you always find yourself very full. And despise the “I guess we should go get a burger” jokes. But really, we both left here very hungry.
                                - The kitchen seemed slammed. Our courses, and the surrounding tables, were definitely having pacing issues where courses had an extremely long wait between them. Whether the server wasn’t firing them at the right pace, or kitchen was busy, who knows. From the servers reaction it did seem to be unusual so perhaps I hit on the inevitable off night.

                                *Ready to have rotten eggs thrown at me for disagreeing with the consensus"

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: PHXeater
                                  p
                                  PHXeater Nov 21, 2013 10:44 AM

                                  AGUACHILE
                                  Rockfish crudo, serrano, citrus, watermelon jam
                                  2007 Peregrine Riesling Central Otago New Zealand
                                  ----
                                  GUACAMOLE
                                  avocado, concord grape, pistachio, flax
                                  2011 Paco & Lola Albariño Rías Baixas Spain

                                  or

                                  TAMAL de CALABAZA
                                  kabocha squash, panela, pipian verde
                                  NV Casa Vinicola Zonin Prosecco Veneto Italy
                                  -----
                                  JARDINEROS
                                  shiitake,chile poblano, queso, caramelized alliums
                                  2011Marcheti Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi Marche Italy

                                  or

                                  POZOLE de MOLUSCOS
                                  shellfish, hominy, brassica, young meyer lemon
                                  2011 Eola Hills Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Oregon
                                  -----
                                  ARROZ con POLLO
                                  Mary’s chicken, toasted farro, hosui pear, fennel
                                  2007 Damien Laureau Chenin Blanc 'Les Genet' Savennieres France

                                  or

                                  ARRACHERA
                                  hanger steak,onion, quelites, bone marrow
                                  2007Henry’s Drive Shiraz Padthaway Australia
                                  ----
                                  four course prix fixe 44
                                  beverage pairings 24

                                  1. re: PHXeater
                                    r
                                    revets2 Nov 21, 2013 11:23 AM

                                    Well, Aquaschile is supposed to be very acidic and certainly not a few drops of citrus. It's typically swimming in a pool of lime juice and green chile. Perhaps the expectation set by the crudo description would have explained that aquaschile is more ceviche style than crudo. Usually the complaint is that the serrano can be a wine killer.

                                    I would be worried if you tasted any bone marrow on the hangar. It's finished with marrow instead of butter.

                                    No rotten eggs. Everyone's experience is their own!

                                    $175 for how many people?

                                  2. re: PHXeater
                                    JAB Nov 21, 2013 10:51 AM

                                    No rotten eggs here. Perhaps, a combination of expectations combined with a slammed kitchen?

                                    Now, if you hadn't of liked the "Cheesy mushrooms"...

                                    1. re: PHXeater
                                      TonyC Nov 21, 2013 11:21 AM

                                      what did you go for afterwards? tacos?

                                      1. re: TonyC
                                        p
                                        PHXeater Nov 21, 2013 03:20 PM

                                        @TonyC - Haha! We just had more wine at home, bad idea!

                                        @JAB - Agreed. The disappointment really was a combination of sky high expectations, kitchen having an off night, us ordering the pairings when we should've just ordered by the glass, and them plying us with extra wine which then made us extra hungry! Perfect storm perhaps?

                                        And I just think "cheesy mushrooms" is a great description for a tasty dish, although I know it was far more complex than that! Now if only the bowl had been shaped to lick off the last drops.

                                        @Revets - The aguachile background helps explain things since it really was swimming in citrus. But I love ceviche and strong flavors and I just don't know if this was how it was supposed to be. Interested to hear if anyone else has the dish and their thoughts on it. The service wasn't bad throughout but the explanations were rushed which could be why I was wondering where my bone marrow was :)

                                        $175 for two. Which isn't a huge amount, but I expect to leave satisfied at that price.

                                        No eggs thrown, WHEW!

                                        1. re: PHXeater
                                          r
                                          revets2 Nov 22, 2013 09:53 AM

                                          Try aquaschiles at a place like Coni Seafood and you'll get the idea of how that dish should be.

                                          I don't think Chef Carlos is going for big, bold flavors for every dish which I think many tapas-type restaurants need to strive for (eg. Animal, SOG, Playground, T&R). I think the point of his tasting menu is to take your taste buds on a progressive journey. Not on the same level, but not so different than your experience at FL.

                                          For two tasting menus and pairings for two, your total must have included tax and tip, right?

                                          1. re: revets2
                                            Porthos Nov 22, 2013 10:00 AM

                                            I don't think Chef Carlos is going for big, bold flavors for every dish which I think many tapas-type restaurants need to strive for
                                            =======================
                                            The cooking is quite refined and refreshing. The shitake queso dish shows the skill in spades. Sure he can top it with bacon, fried pig ears, or a fried egg like everyone else but the restraint and focus is much appreciated.

                                            1. re: Porthos
                                              r
                                              revets2 Nov 22, 2013 01:20 PM

                                              Thanks, Porthos. "Restraint" was the word I was looking for.

                                          2. re: PHXeater
                                            k
                                            kevin Jan 27, 2014 06:22 PM

                                            Is it all just tasting menus here ?

                                            Or can you order individual dishes ?

                                            For some reason, this joint was not on my radar, but then again it's in the OC.

                                            1. re: kevin
                                              r
                                              revets2 Jan 28, 2014 12:22 AM

                                              Tasting menu only with a choice of two at dinner.
                                              http://www.tacomaria.com/menu_preview_dinner.pdf

                                              Lunch menu is salad, aquaschiles, tamal and tacos a la carte.
                                              http://www.tacomaria.com/menu_preview...

                                              The January dinner menu is terrific. Only thought the aquaschiles was a little spicier than it usually is and that can be a tough way to start dinner and a wine killer, for sure. All other dishes were stellat (and the aquaschiles with the guava jam usually is).

                                              You should hit that, Kev.

                                              1. re: revets2
                                                k
                                                kevin Jan 28, 2014 08:23 AM

                                                Interesting. And it's tasting menu only.

                                                And it's only well not only but you get my point about $45 for dinner but if you go for lunch it's already $35.

                                                Btw for the dinner tasting, is it possible to mention shit that I don't want to eat ? Or is it completely there way or the hwy ?????

                                                Also, would it work nicely for a meal dining solo ?

                                                I might have a meeting uo there in scopula weeks so it may just work.

                                                1. re: kevin
                                                  JAB Jan 28, 2014 08:43 AM

                                                  There's a counter with a view to the kitchen that would be great for solo dining.

                                      2. j
                                        js76wisco Jan 20, 2014 10:45 AM

                                        Had an amazing meal here on Saturday. One of the most memorable meals of the past 6 months (the other was Carbone in NYC). For $73 the four course tasting menu with wine pairing is an absolute steal for the quality. The chefs behind the counter work seamlessly together. A very quiet kitchen but meticulous in cleaning plates, warming them in the salamander and using tongs to place cilantro leaves individually on each plate.

                                        The aguachile was scallops with guava jam, serrano and lime. The balance of flavors, heat, sweet, citrus was amazing. One of the best preparations of a raw seafood dish ever. I could have drank up the liquid at the bottom. There was a nice lingering heat and numbness similar to Szechuan peppercorns.

                                        The corn tamale was the best tamale we've ever eaten. Moist, tender, sweet and delicious. Great balance with the spicy green salsa. I am not a huge tamale fan because most versions are very dense and dry. This tamale had the consistency almost of a sponge cake. So good.

                                        The crab rice porridge was good. There were 2 big pieces of meat. The rice itself had a very citrusy and seafood broth around the edges. We enjoyed the dish but the tamale stole the 2nd act.

                                        The 3rd act was a split between the papas bravas with mushroom chorizo and the veracruz snapper with cauliflower sauce. Both dishes were fantastic. It was almost like eating new foods we've never had before. The mushroom choriza was savory and had a great garnish of deep fried brussell sprout leaves. This would have been great as a taco. The fish was perfectly cooked with a great crispy skin. The cauliflower sauce was creamy and must have included a nice amount of cheese. You could have spread that sauce on a shoe.

                                        The last dish unfortunately was our biggest letdown. The pork shoulder pozole was actually a good dish but didn't wow us like the previous 3 courses. The pork was fork tender in a nice green tomatillo like sauce. The hominy had an interesting texture. There was a crispy radish which was delicious, never had radish in this way. If we ordered this dish at another restaurant we would have been very pleased. The other option was duck with rice which we regretted not sharing but my wife isn't a huge duck person.

                                        The only disappointment is no dessert. No dessert almost anywhere in the whole place. N'ice Cream closes at like 8. ARC does not have dessert. The only option was Iron Press so we decided to drive over to Fairview and get some confetti. All in all a fantastic meal.

                                        1. j
                                          josephnl Jan 26, 2014 11:16 AM

                                          What a great place! Had dinner there with my vegetarian partner a few days ago, and everything was terrific. This is really a unique place in many ways. First, the food is not at all like what you will find at most Mexican restaurants, it is far more complex and sophisticated in almost every way. Second, pretty much everything is prepared to order, and most dishes are very labor intensive…there are six persons working in the small open kitchen of this pretty small restaurant. Third, Chef Carlos, although of Mexican heritage, is classically trained, and has worked extensively in high end American/French restaurants. Fourth, at dinner the menu is unique and quite limited in that it is strictly a four course tasting menu with 2 choices for each course (8 offerings in all), but Fifth, unlike many contemporary chefs/restaurants Chef Carlos is most gracious and happy to adjust his offerings to accommodate guests dietary requirements whether they be vegetarian, vegan, or even gluten-free! Indeed, more than just accommodating…he personally cooked up two vegetarian dishes á la minute especially for my partner…and they were both delicious.

                                          There are so many flavors and things going on with the various offerings, and since the menu apparently changes with great frequency, I'll not go into specifics regarding the food other than to say that we had nothing that wasn't at least very good…indeed pretty much everything was delicious and terrific.

                                          The wine list is carefully thought out, and our service was excellent…warm, friendly and very knowledgeable about the food. The one "missing thing" is that they serve no desserts and/or coffee. We were told that "desserts are coming". Don't know about coffee, but the Portola Coffee Lab is adjacent to TM.

                                          Run, don't walk to this wonderful restaurant (but do reserve, and let them know if you have any special dietary needs)!

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: josephnl
                                            Porthos Jan 26, 2014 01:16 PM

                                            Glad you liked it. This place is truly special. On par with LA's best.

                                            1. re: josephnl
                                              f
                                              Fine Jan 31, 2014 07:57 PM

                                              I looked at web site and didn't see any way to reserve.

                                              I also didn't see any way to contact them re cilantro allergy.

                                              About how long would it take us from Fairfax district?

                                              Muchas gracias

                                              1. re: Fine
                                                JAB Jan 31, 2014 10:08 PM

                                                http://reservationgenie.com/391-taco-...

                                                Info@tacomaria.com

                                                1. re: Fine
                                                  r
                                                  revets2 Jan 31, 2014 10:20 PM

                                                  If you go to www.tacomaria.com, below the days and hours open, it says "Reserve Online" in blue. It's easy to miss.

                                                  You can also call (714) 538-8444 to reserve and explain your allergy.

                                                  From Fairfax, it would really depend what day you go and when you leave. We're in LA too and typically go when there's a meeting down south. We also leave early and work at Portola coffee. SOCO/OCMartMix is a great place to hang out. There's unique shopping, Surfas, good coffee and tea. It's a very unique space and though Helms is similar, we don't really have anything like it in LA.

                                                  1. re: revets2
                                                    k
                                                    kevin Jan 31, 2014 10:33 PM

                                                    Good point. You can take care of some work earlier with good coffee at Portila along with the siphon shit and then it's off to Maria.

                                                    1. re: kevin
                                                      r
                                                      revets2 Jan 31, 2014 11:05 PM

                                                      A nice paddle board around Newport Harbor to burn some pre-dinner calories is fun or champagne and oysters at Shuck works too ;).

                                                      Anything to distract from going to Sidecar, the destination of a million irresistible calories...for us anyways.

                                              2. c
                                                chrishei Jan 27, 2014 04:51 PM

                                                Any recent reports re: lunch? Planning to try in a couple of weeks, but aguachile + 2 tacos = ~$30 better be damn good.

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: chrishei
                                                  Porthos Jan 27, 2014 05:15 PM

                                                  I haven't been for lunch but judging from lunch pictures, I'm guessing it's not going to provide you with the experience dinner does. Would hate for you to spend $30 and ask what the big deal is when $44 at dinner is what makes it special.

                                                  Go for dinner or head over to El Cabrito for birria plate and consommé.

                                                  1. re: Porthos
                                                    c
                                                    chrishei Jan 27, 2014 05:36 PM

                                                    Thanks guys.

                                                    Yeah I know dinner is where it's at, but I have dinner plans that night in SD. Wanted to cross something off my to-dine list on the way down, and Taco Maria is at the very top. Any other suggestions? Doesn't have to be Mexican.

                                                    1. re: chrishei
                                                      Porthos Jan 27, 2014 06:03 PM

                                                      Birria at El Cabrito

                                                      Ramen Zetton for #4 special chicken shoyu.

                                                      1. re: Porthos
                                                        c
                                                        chrishei Jan 28, 2014 11:16 AM

                                                        Thanks Porthos. Will take a look at both.

                                                  2. re: chrishei
                                                    m
                                                    mrsjoujou Jan 27, 2014 05:17 PM

                                                    We tried their lunch menu twice and liked the steak tacos but their menu is very limited and I wish they offerd more than tacos and a couple of appetizers.

                                                    1. re: chrishei
                                                      Searching4Dunny Jan 27, 2014 05:20 PM

                                                      Lunch is very different from the dinner experience but is still quite tasty, although the price point is more than I typically like to spend on lunch. That being said, the agiachile and tacos (I tried the carne/bacon and co-pibil ones) are all really great.

                                                    2. a
                                                      anotherfatcow Feb 22, 2014 01:51 PM

                                                      Had the Feb menu last night. It was amazing. Uploaded the courses. Dinner is a steal for the quality and the price. They will begin to have a Sunday Brunch soon!!!

                                                       
                                                       
                                                       
                                                       
                                                       
                                                      1. s
                                                        set0312 Mar 13, 2014 01:07 AM

                                                        My gosh, went here tonight for the March menu. They are getting better and better.

                                                        Had the aguachile with kanpachi crudo. In my opinion, the kanpachi worked better than the scallops they had last month. Although I am not particularly well versed in aguachile, I will say this dish is superb. Compared to Coni's version, I would say the one at Taco Maria is more citrusy rather than spicy and a bit creamier. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

                                                        Then the tostada de cangrejo which was basically a crab-coated tostada with avocado and kumquat. Lighter than I expected it to be--very very good. Not sure what the "chip" was made of but I'm still craving it now.

                                                        Next up was the esturion which was a a wild sturgeon (caught on the Columbia river if memory serves me.) Also had a bit of caviar and small chunks of potatoes and some flowers--served in a crema. There was also some meyer lemon that gave the dish a bit of a zest.

                                                        Finally, I chose a pork cheek stew/soup instead of guinea fowl served in a mole poblano. The soup had cattle beans (as they call them) along with cabbage, orange, and chamomile. This was definitely a heartier dish--especially compared to everything else they served. But like everything else, it was really quite good.

                                                        This comparison might be a bit off, but the place reminds me of my one visit to Alma. Very seasonal, fresh-tasting food. Inventive without completely crossing the boundaries. Small, friendly place in a random area. The waitress remembered my girlfriend and I from about a month ago-- that definitely impressed me.

                                                        For a tasting menu place, Taco Maria does a really good job of balancing the amount of food. Not one of those places that makes you want to hit up a taco truck after, but also not one of those places (like Trois Mec IMO) where you can hardly finish the last courses.

                                                        In short, I cannot praise this place enough. And for 49 dollars or whatever it is (I think the price has gone up a bit since it opened) it is a remarkable deal. Get here now.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: set0312
                                                          b
                                                          BacoMan Mar 13, 2014 12:31 PM

                                                          "This comparison might be a bit off, but the place reminds me of my one visit to Alma. "

                                                          I felt the same way on my visit.

                                                          It's really a great place. I wonder if they will ever expand beyond their smaller tasting format. You can feel the potential in everything they do there.

                                                        2. Porthos Apr 4, 2014 11:20 PM

                                                          It just keeps getting better and better. The food is as refined and complex as anything in LA right now. For my tastes, runs circles around Rivera. Like Alma but better.

                                                          -Beets, satsuma, quinoa. A superior beet dish.

                                                          -Aguachile with hamachi and cherimoya. Better than the first time. I love the fact the heat and acid is not dumbed down. Boldly spicy and acidic. If you can't take the heat, take a larger swath of the cherimoya puree.

                                                          -Sopa de Chicharrone with asparagus veloute. Amazing. So fine.

                                                          -Tostata de camarones with kumquat, avocado, poppy seed. As delicious as it looks.

                                                          -"Chorizo con patacas" made with brussel sprouts, sunchokes, mushroom chorizo (mushroom with chorizo spices). Completely vegetarian and satisfying for this carnivore.

                                                          -Black cod with potatoes, peas, pea leaves, caviar. Perfect with the 2010 Pierre Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet 1er Les Caillerets we brought.

                                                          -Lamb birria and lamb chop. Lamb chop served on top a bed of spring peas. The epitome of spring.

                                                          -Guinea hen with mole and braised dates. Also better than the first time. Skin perfectly crispy, breast as perfectly cooked as the poulet fermier at Joel Robuchon or chicken stuffed with black truffles at Daniel.

                                                          -Mexican marshmallows.

                                                          Perfect with a party of 2 because you can try one of everything.

                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                           
                                                          18 Replies
                                                          1. re: Porthos
                                                            r
                                                            revets2 Apr 5, 2014 12:52 AM

                                                            Gotta get down there for this menu. Thanks for the beautiful pics.

                                                            1. re: Porthos
                                                              s
                                                              set0312 Apr 5, 2014 01:58 AM

                                                              Gosh this place is good.

                                                              Is this the April menu? Looks very similar to the March menu I had but it looks like a few different things are going on here. I specifically don't remember the lamb option.

                                                              Those tostatas are superb. I feel if Animal served them they would be hailed as one of the best dishes of the year.

                                                              1. re: set0312
                                                                Porthos Apr 5, 2014 04:27 AM

                                                                I feel if Animal served them they would be hailed as one of the best dishes of the year.
                                                                =============
                                                                Exactly how I feel! Except I don't think anything at Animal is this light and refined.

                                                                The beet dish would be raved about at Gjelina. The chorizo mushroom with brussel sprouts dish deemed genius if done by Josef Centeno. The cod with potatoes (slightly smokey) accented with pea leaves is something you could see at Hatfield's, Alma, or even Providence.

                                                                The leaves on the lamb are fava leaves. There is a nice texture to them a bit similar to nasturtium and a hint of lemony flavor that really makes it interesting. First time I've had fava leaves at any restaurant.

                                                                This level of cooking and focus on seasons reminds me of more of a top end restaurant in SF than anything here in LA. Makes sense given the chef's background.

                                                                1. re: Porthos
                                                                  k
                                                                  kevin Apr 5, 2014 08:54 AM

                                                                  How much was the meal per person ??????

                                                                  Thanks.

                                                                  1. re: kevin
                                                                    j
                                                                    josephnl Apr 5, 2014 02:17 PM

                                                                    Dinner is pre-fixe @ $49 pp + alcohol, tax and tip. There are 4 courses with 2 choices in each category. Menu might seem very limited, but Chef Carlos is extremely flexible in handling dietary requirements. This restaurant is a jewel!

                                                                    1. re: josephnl
                                                                      k
                                                                      kevin Apr 5, 2014 02:57 PM

                                                                      In that case, I'll hit it up.

                                                                  2. re: Porthos
                                                                    a
                                                                    anotherfatcow Apr 5, 2014 03:49 PM

                                                                    Hey I saw all this activity and to touch on what you said Porthos, I am in SF now, and yesterday had the Beef tendon puffs at Alta, they were good but the Chicarons at Taco Maria have them beat right now. You are correct this place is amazing esp for the pricing

                                                                2. re: Porthos
                                                                  JAB Apr 5, 2014 09:10 AM

                                                                  "Lamb, the epitome of spring". We could have used your vote for this month's DOM.

                                                                  1. re: JAB
                                                                    Porthos Apr 5, 2014 09:13 AM

                                                                    Wanted DirtyWEO to get her shellfish ;)

                                                                    1. re: Porthos
                                                                      JAB Apr 5, 2014 09:15 AM

                                                                      Aw

                                                                  2. re: Porthos
                                                                    k
                                                                    kdoc Apr 7, 2014 09:34 PM

                                                                    I love Taco Maria. Something that OC can really be proud of! Also, Colin Morey makes some incredible Burgs, on par with some of the the Grand Crus I've had. I really enjoyed their 2009 En Remily and Meursault les perrieres

                                                                    1. re: kdoc
                                                                      j
                                                                      josephnl Apr 8, 2014 08:54 AM

                                                                      Who is Colin Morey, and where do you get these "Burgs"?

                                                                      1. re: josephnl
                                                                        JAB Apr 8, 2014 09:04 AM

                                                                        Wine Club in Santa Ana.

                                                                        1. re: JAB
                                                                          j
                                                                          josephnl Apr 8, 2014 12:03 PM

                                                                          Sorry…I still don't get it. What is the connection with Taco Maria? Do they feature his wines? Do you think that Burgs go well with the food served at TM?

                                                                          1. re: josephnl
                                                                            JAB Apr 8, 2014 12:26 PM

                                                                            The only connection is that Porthos BYOB'd that wine to Taco Maria and stated that it paired perfectly with the Black Cod.

                                                                            1. re: JAB
                                                                              k
                                                                              kevin Apr 8, 2014 03:07 PM

                                                                              I see now too.

                                                                              Damn, I better it this shit up before it becomes $75 for the prixe-fixe instead of the still spendy $50 per.

                                                                              1. re: kevin
                                                                                b
                                                                                BacoMan Apr 8, 2014 04:21 PM

                                                                                Well, unless they start doing more courses, that seems unlikely. They're already pretty spendy. They are charging $12.25 per course. Compare that to Maude charging $8.30 per course, or even Orsa & Winston, at $12. It would be kind of ridiculous for them to go up any more.

                                                                    2. re: Porthos
                                                                      JAB Apr 8, 2014 06:42 AM

                                                                      "Perfect with a party of 2 because you can try one of everything." This really is the way to go.

                                                                    3. k
                                                                      kevin Apr 8, 2014 04:23 PM

                                                                      There's only four courses for $49 ??????

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: kevin
                                                                        j
                                                                        josephnl Apr 8, 2014 06:46 PM

                                                                        You're joking I assume. Considering the quality of the food, the complexity of the preparations, and the á la minute work of the multiple cooks/chefs, it's a bargain at $48 for 4 courses.

                                                                        1. re: josephnl
                                                                          JAB Apr 8, 2014 06:57 PM

                                                                          Agreed, sit at the counter, and it's dinner and a show.

                                                                      2. Porthos Apr 17, 2014 08:01 AM

                                                                        Wow. 2 weeks later and the menu has already changed again. So impressive.

                                                                        Amuse Bouche of unripe mulberries, pickles, salt, and some sort of delicious vinaigrette.

                                                                        Blood and Chocolate clam aquachile. The clams are so crisp and sweet. The blood clam silky and meaty at the same time.

                                                                        Dining companion had a shellfish allergy so they whipped up a hamachi aquachile on the spot.

                                                                        The rabbit with mole was excellent. Perfectly cooked roulade of white meat. Mini rabbit ribs. Served with carrots. Genius!

                                                                        On to the photos.

                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                         
                                                                        9 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Porthos
                                                                          k
                                                                          kdoc Apr 17, 2014 08:39 AM

                                                                          Nice report, but what I really want to know is what you had to drink with it! :)

                                                                          1. re: kdoc
                                                                            JAB Apr 17, 2014 08:41 AM

                                                                            Exactly, how can we live vicariously thru you without the gratuitous wine bottle line up shot?

                                                                            1. re: kdoc
                                                                              a
                                                                              anotherfatcow Apr 17, 2014 10:51 AM

                                                                              I went again last week, and had the wine pairing. It's worth it. They paired sake with the clam dish and i can't remember the rest

                                                                            2. re: Porthos
                                                                              k
                                                                              kevin Apr 17, 2014 11:54 AM

                                                                              i'll hit it up shortly.

                                                                              is there any way to make some requests/allergies like no feta and no pork, or that won't work ????????

                                                                              1. re: kevin
                                                                                j
                                                                                josephnl Apr 17, 2014 12:37 PM

                                                                                Chef Carlos is very amenable to handling food allergies or other aversions. If only TM served martinis, it would be absolutely perfect!

                                                                                1. re: josephnl
                                                                                  k
                                                                                  kevin Apr 17, 2014 12:40 PM

                                                                                  Exaclty.

                                                                                  I'll hit it up irregardless though.

                                                                                  1. re: josephnl
                                                                                    k
                                                                                    kevin Apr 17, 2014 12:40 PM

                                                                                    And it seems like his menus are usually very heavily seafood and veggie leaning, usually ??????

                                                                                    1. re: kevin
                                                                                      s
                                                                                      set0312 Apr 17, 2014 01:37 PM

                                                                                      Four courses: Seems like the last one is generally pretty meat based. The other three courses do seem veggie and fish leaning. But both times I've went, the last course has been meat-based.

                                                                                2. re: Porthos
                                                                                  k
                                                                                  kevin Apr 17, 2014 11:55 AM

                                                                                  bw, Porthos, how do we increase the size of the photo of the menu to be able to read it properly ???????????

                                                                                  thanks man.

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