Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria
“There’s nothing at the farmers market that can’t be prepared as Mexican food,” says Carlos Salgado. “It’s just a matter of fitting it into a memory about maize, chile, and citrus.” If Salgado’s Taco María had a mission statement, that would be it. But he knows well that it’s difficult to apply tidy definitions to anything as complex as food or identity. “To the Mexicans back in Mexico, I’m not Mexican, and to the Americans here in America, I’m not American,” he says.
Before opening Taco María in an unassuming storefront in a Costa Mesa shopping center, he worked for a decade in Michelin-rated restaurants around the Bay Area. While Salgado may have extensive experience in fine dining, his roots are in Mexican food. His family owned a combo-plate restaurant in Orange County, and Salgado says he still needs his pot of beans once a week.
Salgado’s thoughtful approach is evident in every item on Taco María’s menu, in dishes that filter eclectic ingredients through Mexican traditions. The mushroom-chorizo tacos come in tortillas made from dark blue heirloom corn from Atlacomulco, a couple hours outside Mexico City. His emerald green aguachile is electrically spicy and tart with serrano chile and lime. Instead of Pacific shrimp, there are scallops shipped from Hokkaido, Japan. But make no mistake about what you’re eating.
“I’m Mexican. I love Mexican food. So my food is Mexican,” Salgado says, using the same tone you would adopt in an effort to describe the meaning of life. He’s talking about great food, so, in a way, he is trying to describe the meaning of life.