A few years ago, we showed our not-quite-3-year-old son how to hold a taco, tilt his head, and take a bite—“Keep it over the plate!” That memory stands out when I think about tacos today, because everyone who grows up in the West probably takes for granted our easy access to fabulous Mexican food. Tortillas, salsa, and guacamole are staples in our homes. And then I recall a visit to the East Coast when I was a teenager. My aunt and uncle took me out to dinner, I ordered nachos, and I couldn’t figure out what was actually presented on the plate. Was that cheese on the chips? Where was the salsa? When I asked for salsa, the waitress brought ketchup. “This is all we have,” she said.
I presume the Mexican food scene across the country has evolved, and we can say with certainty that tacos here are being taken to all-time highs, as you will read in our cover feature, “The Best 29 Tacos in Orange County” (Page 102). Whether duck, seafood, pork, or cauliflower, the options are as gourmet and varied as tacos are ubiquitous. I also plan to capitalize on the tips for upgrading tacos at home, though my brood is pretty happy with basic beef or shrimp with shredded cheese and sour cream on top.
All of this provided a good excuse to revisit Taco María. I hadn’t been there since it opened in 2013, which was when I read one of my favorite lines in a restaurant review. To describe the salsa negra at Taco María, the critic wrote, “It fills every inch of your body with heat, like sex for the first time with a new lover.” Happily for O.C. diners, the salsa negra is still spicy, and the handmade tortillas and chicken mole tacos are exquisite. Pick any of the places on our list, and delight in how lucky we are to live here.