In our family, María is the proper first name of every mother, sister, tía, and abuelita going back generations. Ours are the flavors of their lost kitchens: traditions transplanted into Southern California's multicultural soils, alongside local produce and regional meats and seafood, by a chef trained in Michelin-starred kitchens and raised here in Orange County. 

We call it Alta California cuisine, a mezcla of Mexican and American cultures, a conversation between our generation and the generations of cooks and farmers who nurtured the traditions of our home table.

Photo by Antonio Diaz

Photo by Antonio Diaz

Chef Carlos Salgado

When Chef Carlos Salgado opened Taco María in 2013, he made a decision to honor his family’s culture and their hard work by making Mexican-inspired food with a reverence for its provenance. Using the best ingredients available and applying the techniques and values he learned in Michelin-starred restaurants, Salgado works to create a syncretic Alta California cuisine that represents Mexican food by putting real corn at the foundation.

At the heart of the restaurant is a Mexican saying: “Sin maíz, no hay país.” “Without corn, there is no country.” Recognizing the importance of corn to reinterpreting or evoking Mexican cuisine, Salgado nixtamalizes and processes all of Taco María's masa products in house from heirloom varieties of corn grown by small family farms in Mexico.

Prior to opening Taco María, Salgado spent a decade in San Francisco and Oakland, learning in many of the Bay Area's best kitchens, including Vernon Morales' Winterland, Daniel Patterson's Coi, and James Syhabout's Commis. He was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2015, as well as Chef of the Year in the Orange County Register. In 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, he was named a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: West. Star Chefs honored Salgado with their 2017 Rising Star Community Chef award for his commitment to the values and practices that make Taco María a responsible social institution.

For more about Taco María’s menus and story, we recommend the Emmy award-winning “Alta California” episode of KCET's television program The Migrant Kitchen.