Jonathan Gold’s birthday and Taco María’s next chapter

Taco María owner-chef Carlos Salgado
Taco María owner-chef Carlos Salgado
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Carlos Salgado’s influence on Southern California cuisine, plus Bill Addison’s newest shawarma picks, breakfast memelas, “The Lincoln Lawyer” taco crawl, enigmatic doughnuts, a $600,000 wine heist, a hot new Korean-influenced sushi spot and a new Crazy Thai Burger. I’m L.A. Times Food general manager Laurie Ochoa with this week’s Tasting Notes.

A birthday wish

When word came this week that Carlos Salgado’s Michelin-starred restaurant Taco María would be closing until next year — as Cindy Carcamo reports, he and his wife Emilie Coulson Salgado hope to reopen in a larger, yet-to-be-determined space — I thought that it was somehow fitting that the news came in the week between the five-year anniversary of Jonathan Gold’s death and what would have been Jonathan’s 63rd birthday. Taco María has had many champions, including our own Gustavo Arellano, who was likely the first critic to both challenge and praise the chef back in Taco María’s food truck days — a relationship he details this week in a hilarious and insightful appreciation of the restaurant. (“Gustavo is the person who keeps me honest,” Salgado told me this week.) But Jonathan, in his position as restaurant critic for this paper, saw what Salgado was doing under various labels (Chicano cuisine, Alta California cuisine) and was thrilled to discover a chef who instinctively knew how to blend the traditions and working-class origins of Mexican cooking with the techniques and artisan ingredients of fine dining.

“By regarding tortillas with a seriousness familiar to any fanatical French baker, by using perfect seasonal produce and by treating regional Mexican dishes with both imagination and respect, Salgado has propelled California-Mexican cooking into the jet stream of abstracted modernist cuisine,” Jonathan wrote when he made Taco María the L.A. Times Restaurant of the Year in 2018. “And that he has done all this in an almost anti-luxurious dining room in a Costa Mesa hipster mall, an hour’s drive from many of his fans and colleagues, is almost a miracle. Taco María has given not only Los Angeles but his native Orange County a sense of place — a place where roasted guinea hens with mole, tortillas stuffed with sturgeon and asparagus velouté with spring garlic stand beside crocks of mushroom chorizo and marinated Baja blood clams.”


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At that point, the Restaurant of the Year choice made sense to most observers. But three years earlier, when Jonathan placed Taco María just below the No. 1 restaurant, Providence, on his 101 Best Restaurants for 2015, some were taken aback. “Number two is a surprising pick: Taco Maria, which isn’t even in Los Angeles but all the way down in Costa Mesa,” Eater wrote at the time.

But Taco María is exactly the kind of restaurant Jonathan hoped would evolve from the exciting, first-generation immigrant cuisines that emerged in Southern California during the 1980s and ‘90s. He knew it was only a matter of time before restaurant kids like Salgado would grow up and bring their own spin to the food their parents cooked.

Of course, it’s been 10 years since Taco María came on the scene, so a change of venue may be in order — Salgado, for instance, says the mall’s Tom Petty-heavy playlist has barely changed since he opened. Certainly, the restaurant scene itself has gone through dramatic changes in the five years since Jonathan’s death — and not just because of COVID-19. It’s hard to know what he would make of the changes, but I think he would be excited to find out what Salgado will be cooking up next.

Beyond gyro ... sensational shawarma

Owner Eyad Kawak shaves beef shawarma at Mama's Shawarma in Northridge on July 20, 2023
Eyad Kawak, owner of Mama’s Shawarma in Northridge, shaves beef shawarma.
(Shelby Moore / For the Times)

I love that restaurant critic Bill Addison talks shawarma with cookbook author Anissa Helou, who tells him that Greece’s gyro — its renamed yogurt-slathered adaptation of “what the Turks call doner kebab” — is the “most successful food marketing coup ever.” He then turns his attention to two Syrian shawarma spots in this week’s review Sincerely Syria in Sherman Oaks and Mama’s Shawarma in Northridge. “They deliciously exemplify the Syrian and Lebanese street-stand styles of shawarma,” he writes. Look for his pro tip on ordering shawarma wraps to get the best ratio of meat to pita.

‘The doughnut is very enigmatic’


I was in the Times Test Kitchen recently with our Food summer intern Camryn Brewer and design intern Zifei Zhang when they both started talking doughnuts. Turns out they share a doughnut obsession, especially for the culturally specific variations created by second-generation immigrants who have built on the Southern California doughnut scene pioneered by Cambodian refugee Ted Ngoy. Zhang had even made a spreadsheet of her favorite doughnuts. Clearly, they needed to pair up and deliver a guide to, as they put it, the best of the “doughnut shops that are adding a cultural spin to the classic dessert.” Under the guidance of assistant food editor Danielle Dorsey, they came up with a terrific mapped guide that includes Canoga Park’s Ring Baked Tofu Donuts and the hand-fried taro beauties from Santa Monica’s Holey Grail Donuts, whose owner Nile Dreiling says, “The doughnut is very enigmatic.”

“Our parents’ generation are either selling their shops or closing down,” says Jennie Fou Lee, who started overseeing the selection of more than 80 kinds of doughnuts at DK’s Donuts in 2021. “There’s a group of us that are taking over and taking everything into the next era.”

In the Kitchen

Guelaguetza's Bricia Lopez at Debs Park.
Guelaguetza’s Bricia Lopez at Debs Park.
(Carlos Jaramillo / For The Times)

We’ve been busy in the Times Test Kitchen with some of Southern California’s best chefs who will be appearing in September at our L.A. Times Food Bowl festival, which includes a three-day Night Market Sept. 22-24. Videos from their visits are starting to appear on our website and soon we’ll be posting recipes and stories with the videos. But in the meantime, check out the latest video that dropped this week. with Guelaguetza’s Bricia Lopez, who shows us how to make memelas — which she loves to serve to her kids for breakfast instead of pancakes.


Chef-owner Daniel Son holds a piece of grilled fish that's been coated in puffy rice crackers at Sushi Sonagi in Gardena
Sushi Sonagi chef-owner Daniel Son displays a course of grilled kuromutsu that’s been coated in puffy rice crackers.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Breijo’s Quick Bites column is jam-packed with news this week. First, she talks with Katsu Sando co-owner Daniel Son about his new Sushi Sonagi and blending Japanese and Korean traditions. Seats are already hard to reserve, but Son’s menu looks worth the effort. Breijo also reports on Josiah Citrin’s new Charcoal Sunset serving “coal-kissed vegetables and meats in a sprawling indoor-outdoor space” plus Kevin Bludso’s newest Bludso’s Bar & Cue in Santa Monica, the new pop-up series Arroz and Fun, the “modern American” A PCH from restaurateur Jordan Otterbein and film director Joseph “McG” Nichol, the new Gingergrass Mini Mart from Silver Lake’s Gingergrass, a new North Hollywood location of Granville and, from the family behind one of Thai Town’s most beloved sidewalk stalls, Crazy Thai Burger with larb and krapow variations on the American classic.

Illustration of a burger
(Zi Zhang / Los Angeles Times)

Also ...

"Lincoln Lawyer" star Manuel Garcia-Rulfo outside of Guerrilla Tacos in downtown Los Angeles.
“Lincoln Lawyer” star Manuel Garcia-Rulfo outside of Guerrilla Tacos in downtown Los Angeles.
(Andrea D’Agosto / For The Times)
  • Jenn Harris goes on a taco crawl with “Lincoln Lawyer” star Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. “Food is a big part of the show and my character,” the actor tells Harris during their interview at three downtown L.A. taco spots. “There is something about Mickey Haller where he’s always moving. Eating gives him movement and it’s part of how he focuses.”
  • Harris also writes about cooling off with Oaxaquena paletas from Viva Cafe and about the Pasadena Thai food spot Miya, which I’ve been ordering from a lot lately. Of course, she likes the fried chicken, as do I, but I’m also a fan of Miya’s plant-based Tuesdays.
  • Daniel Miller, Andrew J. Campa and Richard Winton just published a riveting report about “one of California’s biggest wine crimes” — some 800 bottles worth about $600,000 from Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice.
  • From our new De Los team, Diosa Femme writes about Peruvian restaurants in Downey.
  • Camryn Brewer reports on the Disneyland restaurants that will now serve alcohol.
  • We asked and many of you responded. Readers share their recommendations for eating and drinking in Mexico City after Food editor Daniel Hernandez’s comprehensive series on the Mexican metropolis.