Carlos Salgado spent a decade learning his craft in some of the best restaurants in Northern California. After returning to Orange County a few years ago, he started a food truck business with his sister Silvia using their parents' 25 year-old taqueria in Orange as a base.
After two years of selling prize-winning food, he opened a restaurant called Taco Maria (the same name as the truck) in the OC Mix, in Costa Mesa. He describes his food as "Chicano cuisine," an homage to the classic Mexican food of his mother, sisters, aunts and grandmothers, mixed with American and other nationalities, to create his own special fusion cuisine.
At lunchtime, he serves only tacos, but for dinner, Taco Maria offers a prix fixe menu of four courses with a choice of one of two items for each course. You may also select to have wine pairings with your food. The cuisine is sophisticated and delicious, and the wait staff is very pleasant and especially knowledgeable about the wine pairings.
Since there were two of us, we were each able to select something different for each course, so we had eight dishes to taste. We were delighted with an amuse bouche of fried crispy sunchokes that came with a wonderful chorizo aoli. It was accompanied by a glass of Prosecco with Meyer lemon, lime and grapefruit juice. A citrus peel floated in this delicious, bubbly concoction.
We began with beet, avocado, fromage blanc, pistachio and pea tendril salad. I am not a beet lover, but these were mild and very sweet. The avocado was mashed and had a little bite to it. The salad was finished with cara cara orange zest. It was a marvelous combination..
Our second starter was rockfish crudo. The fish was bright and fresh, accented with serrano chile, sweet guava jam and Ensenada olive oil. Tiny radishes provided a garnish. The dressing was oil and citrus juice with red hot sauce. Another winner.
Course No. 2 offered a unique version of a Caesar salad featuring Spanish mackerel, a few leaves of little gem lettuce, a cold, perfectly cooked egg yolk that oozed over everything and Parmigiano cheese on top. Toasted sourdough bread came on the side. It was good but not great.
The other selection was a sweet tamale stuffed with autumn squash sprinkled with queso fresco and pipian verde (green pepitas) then drizzled with lime blossom honey. It was irresistible.
Stinging nettles had been pureed into a bright green sauce and drizzled onto the plate. It was topped with excellent shiitake mushrooms, livened with shishito peppers and finished with a luscious queso Oaxaca cream sauce.
Next was a dish of small mussels that were a bit rubbery, served with flavorful heirloom hominy and dried leaves of kale for crunch, accompanied by cauliflower and tossed with a lime sauce. It was not as good as our other dishes.
Our next dish was more like an entrée. The Jidori chicken breast was tender and juicy. Some tasty toasted farro came with it, as did fennel fronds decorating the plate.
We loved the pork confit — slow-cooked pork cheeks that were falling-apart tender in a thin meaty jus. It came with big cannelloni beans and slivers of persimmon to add a touch of sweetness. It was so good.
A plate of almond cookies came at the end. No desserts were listed on the menu.
We had the wine pairings and found them to be very well chosen for each dish. As of this writing, the menu changes every month.
The restaurant has simple but pleasant modern décor but is quite small, although a heated outdoor terrace extends the space. There are a few indoor tables and tall stools at the counter of the open kitchen.
My guest and I were excited by the high quality and inventiveness of the food here. We will be returning soon for the new January menu. This is another wonderful addition to the expanding culinary delights to be found at the OC Mix.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: The OC Mix, 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa
When: Dinner, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Prix fixe dinner: $46
Wine pairing: $24
Lunch tacos: Under $10
Bottles: $20 to $60
By the glass: $5 to $15
Corkage fee: $40
Information: (714) 538-8444 or tacomaria.com