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Friday, September 9, 2011
Soho Taco, Orange County and LA-California Taco Love
Like like good friend and partner in the reconquista de comida, Gustavo Arellano, I was skeptical about Soho Taco. I received an e-mail from one of the partners, Rico, to arrange a visit to the OC or to do a tasting up here in LA for myself and a small group of people. Soho is a catering company, and doesn't have a regular location.
I immediately looked them up and say things that are,well....red flags for a guy like me. Heirloom tomato pico de gallo? Chicken and mahi mahi? Mango salsa? Their set up looked good on their website, but I still needed to poke around a bit. I saw that Gustavo had praised them not once but twice in the OC Weekly's Stick a Fork in It. It was enough to accept the offer, but I was still worried I might find myself caught in a taco quagmire. It was too close to La Salsa.
They advertise a Mexican taco tradition with a gourmet edge, but I see them as more of a California style, or Mexican-American flavor. This has been improving lately with the likes of Cook's Tortas, Guisados, and other new Mexican-American restaurants serving a local style of food using quality ingredients. I'm excited about the new Mexican-American businesses moving away from combo plates and the bad tacos of the Mexican owned taqueria chains and trucks-- they're forging a local identity for Mexican cuisine.
Soho Taco is a very professional taco stand, with managing partners, a chef, Gabriel Zambrano, and an heirloom pico de gallo. In a way, they were beginning to resemble a business model I see often in Mexico, of a taco cart with an owner, and hired guns as taqueros.
The first thing I look for in a taco cart,taqueria, or stand is a well kept condiment area with interesting choices. There doesn't have to be a lot, but what's there should be meaningful. In Mexico, condiments tell a story--it tells me where I am and what I should expect. The vegetables should be fresh, the condiment area kept clean. At first glance Soho Tacos look ready for prime time:immaculate.
It's amusing that this would be called gourmet because in Mexico it's very common to have a fancy condiment display, but compared to what you usually see here in LA on traditional trucks, Soho is a step above.
The excellent heirloom pico de gallo and mango salsas reflect a California spirit. This is what California taco chains have tried to do, but not with this much care.
The other salsas and creams are emulsified with vegetable oil, following the lead of Tijuana based taqueria, Tacos Salceados. Salceados uses egg whites for its magical condiments, but Soho's luscious salsas are vegan friendly.
The unique luxury item on hand is the strips of queso añejo, aged cheese from Guerrero, Mexico--this is an unusual garnish. I believe it reflects a personal styling of the chef. I cheated a little and had some by itself. It's great on the carne asada, too.
Certainly, the Soho guys have put the fun back in the consumer experience at a taco stand, in finishing their individualized tacos with these fine condiments.
The guys ended up making two trips to serve lunch to my group. Both times, Steve Livigni and La Descarga hooked us up with a venue.
On the first visit I enjoyed the tacos but couldn't understand why they used store bought tortillas. Although they played it off as they left, I believe someone may have sweated profusely over this misstep, and perhaps lost a little sleep over this. I soon received an e-mail asking for another shot with fresh tortillas.The guys felt they hadn't put their best foot forward and wanted to correct the situation. I'm telling you, these guys are all in.
At the second tasting there was a nice woman making tortillas to order--I believe this is optional, but these guys should ONLY use fresh tortillas or tortillas from a quality tortilleria. It makes all the difference. Make sure to request fresh tortillas when you book Soho; it's worth the extra charge.
I still think don't think steak should be called carne asada unless it's fire roasted, but these steak tacos have a good flavor. Perfect for a bit of that tasty queso añejo.
The grilled and seasoned mixed vegetables is also very nice version of a California-style taco.
I had to get over the vision of Sharkey's I had in my mind with the mahi mahi taco, which was intensified by my choice of the mango salsa, but I acquiesced to a pleasurable end. The quality of the guacamole, fish , and salsa all refreshing--it's a new way to appreciate the California taste of Mexico. Why shouldn't California have its own style, it was once part of Mexico?
On our second visit, Chef Gabe introduced us to his homemade cecina, a salt-cured beef very popular in southern Mexico. This is the best taco on Soho's menu, and one that I would even call their signature taco. I ended up going back for a second taco de cecina. It has that classic smooth texture, and a full-flavored beef taste that is outstanding.
Soho Taco is a destination for shrimp tacos,too. Shrimp tacos are everywhere at the gabacherias(non-Latino owned taquerias), but they usually have cheap shrimp that are overcooked. Soho Taco use quality, flavorful shrimp that are ready for any condiment combinations your heart desires. Ours came with melted cheese and a squirt of chipotle sour. The shrimp taco was delicious no matter which salsas and vegetables I used.
Soho Taco have filled a missing link in the local taco scene. They are professional and organized and plugged in to the 21st century. You can e-mail them for your event--no need to chase down a street taquero, or lonchera and then call his pre-paid phone repeatedly until he recharges his account so he's able to respond. It's great tacos con customer service.
On the other hand, these guys are far superior to the non-Latino run luxe loncheros that are professional in every aspect except for the job of making good tacos.
The tacos they make are good for all crowds, from hardcore Mexicanos to those Brentwood types that wouldn't be caught dead eating a street taco.
I'm glad to know there's a reliable, and satisfying taco option for private events. It's a Mexican run taco cart from the OC, serving the best Cali style tacos around. Santa Ana..Uh! Long Beach,Hollywood where you at? Beverlywood, Beverlywood always up to no good. California Taco Luuuuuuuv!
Gourmet Taco Catering
902 West McFadden Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92707