To be a resident of Southern California is also to be a connoisseur of Mexican food. Well, that may not exactly be the case, but just travel to other places and you’ll quickly realize that Southern California has some of the best Mexican food restaurants that anyone could ask for. It’s not hard to find a greasy taco or an overstuffed, lard-infused burrito, they are plentiful, but getting your “fix” of Mexican food that tastes delicious and is healthy, too, is a little trickier.
Thrive & Dine’s latest find already has a loyal following and quite a reputation for fresh, mouth-watering dishes that elevate Mexican food to a whole new level. We’re talking about Taco Maria, located in the OC Mix at SoCo Collection on Hyland St. in Costa Mesa.
We’ve dined for both lunch and dinner. Two very different experiences, yet each delivers a meal that will keep you coming back for more. Michelin-starred chef Carlos Salgado opened Taco Maria in 2013 with the goal of honoring his family’s culture through Mexican inspired cuisine. He’s esteemed by some of the best culinary minds in both California and Mexico. They use ingredients and flavors that come from using the best quality produce available and recipes that combine a blend of Mexican and American influences. They use produce from local farms and humanely raised meat and fish from sustainable fishing practices. The heirloom hominy and masa are made in-house from organic, heirloom corn.
If you are adventurous and like a full dining experience, then go to Taco Maria for dinner. It’s a splurge, but the prix-fixe menu of four courses (with or without wine pairing) is worth it. The menu changes seasonally and each dish served highlights the season’s bounty.
If you are looking for a little more casual dining experience, then the a la carte menu available at lunch is recommended. This was our favorite. We sat outside on the small patio and shared a few plates. We started with the Betebeles a combination of beets, fennel, jalapeno, citrus, cucumber and avocado and the Quesadilla de Camaron which combines Mexican white shrimp with squash blossoms and Oaxaca cheese. Both were delicious. We ordered a variety of tacos: the Jardineros (shiitake mushroom and potato), Mole de Pollo with the ancho-almond mole and the Pescado Frito, a whole new way to enjoy fish in a taco. The tortillas are made with an heirloom blue corn that Salgado brings up from Atlacomulco, Mexico...wonderful! Not your typical lists of ingredients, but the flavor combinations were fantastic. No matter which one we tried, each bite made us want another.
The restaurant gets crowded at lunchtime, so go early or plan to wait. You won’t want to miss a chance to try all the wonderful flavors of Taco Maria. Not just another Southern California Mexican restaurant… this one’s a step above.