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Review: Taco Maria goes beyond tacos at dinner

May 02, 2014|By Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic

The OC Mix is kind of a mini-Portland, Ore., within Costa Mesa's mammoth SoCo design complex, an enclosed warren of small shops devoted to spices, artisan cheese, baby clothes, funky jewelry, nut milks, chocolate and olive oil.

Analog, a vinyl specialist, stocks Led Zeppelin bootlegs you may not have seen since the glory days of Moby Disc in the mid-1970s. If you hit the ice cream counter on the right day, you may be able to score a scoop flavored with salty black licorice. Another store features both skinny jeans and fixie bicycles. Portola Coffee Lab is as consistent — and attitudinous — as any coffee roaster in Silver Lake and incorporates a micro-cafe, Theorem, that has been described as the El Bulli of coffee.

So it should come as no surprise that the OC Mix also incorporates a restaurant descended from a popular food truck, which happens to serve handmade hot sauces, foraged greens and natural, biodynamic wines. No retrospective of 2014 popular culture could be said to be properly curated without such a dining room, preferably with an open kitchen, a scattering of rough-hewn tables, a comfortable patio and piles of Mason jars.

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But the first thing you should know about Taco María is that it doesn't serve tacos, not at dinner anyway — although you will find a killer michelada, beer spiked with spicy tomato juice, if that's your thing. Taco María is a prix-fixe restaurant from Carlos Salgado, a local guy who cooked at highbrow places like Coi and Commis in the Bay Area before he moved back home to Orange County and started up his truck.

Four courses, plated as elegantly as anything you'll see at Alma or Providence, run $52, which is not expensive for this level of cooking: roasted beets arranged with tangerine wedges, herbs and a handful of nutty toasted quinoa, perhaps, or iodine-rich blood clams and chewy "chocolate" clams from Baja lightly marinated as a kind of ceviche.

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