There are no tacos on the dinner menu at Taco María.
This may come as a shock to fans of chef Carlos Salgado's now-retired food truck of the same name, known for its bone marrow quesadillas and pumpkin tacos.
For us, however, a meal at his intimate open-kitchen restaurant in Costa Mesa's OC Mart Mix provided a shockingly delightful revelation.
Salgado, the former pastry chef at Oakland's Michelin-starred Commis, moved to his hometown of Orange two years ago to work alongside his family. "Although we started with a truck, I always envisioned opening a fine dining restaurant," says Salgado.
The modern Mexican cooking at Taco María is like nowhere else in Southern California: a cerebral blend of haute technique with soulful Latin flavors that never feels derivative. At $42, the four-course prix fixe menu is a genuine steal.
There is fresh guacamole, given a twist with ripe figs and pistachios and scooped up with thick flaxseed chips. There are impossibly crisp huauzontle-quinoa fritters with green tomato salsa; braised shiitake mushrooms and poblano peppers floating in melted Oaxacan queso; and delicate filets of snapper, cured aguachile-style and paired with tart watermelon jam.
It's difficult to choose a favorite until the glistening arrachera arrives: two medium-rare slices of hanger steak draped over a pool of umami-rich onion-bone marrow broth.
The warm house-pressed tortillas served on the side are the closest you'll come to a taco--and that's just fine.
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