Photos courtesy of Taco Maria.

The One Who Keeps the BookLos Angeles

How to Get Into Taco María, Southern California’s Acclaimed Mexican Restaurant


In the ten years since Taco María first opened, the Costa Mesa restaurant has earned itself a Michelin star, been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards, and helped spearhead the movement to bring heirloom varieties of Mexican corn to the U.S.

Chef Carlos Salgado’s prix-fixe menu reflects his Mexican American experience growing up in Orange County and his fine dining experience in the Bay Area. One evening at Taco María, you might experience a Dungeness crab tostada with avocado, kumquat, and habanero. On another visit, you’ll taste a white corn tamal with sunchoke and tomatillo. 

With only a handful of indoor tables, eight counter seats overlooking the open kitchen, and an outdoor patio, the atmosphere is decidedly intimate. “The greatest compliment we’ve heard from guests is that it feels like they’re at a dinner party at someone’s house. That’s what we’re striving for,” says Emilie Coulson Salgado, co-owner and general manager of Taco María. 

For our latest installment of The One Who Keeps the Book, we sat down with Coulson Salgado to talk about how to get a table at the hot spot, where to sit for an optimal dining experience, and more.

Chef Carlos Salgado Photo by Antonio Diaz, courtesy of Taco Maria
Chef Carlos Salgado Photo by Antonio Diaz, courtesy of Taco Maria

Resy: How many seats are there at Taco María?

Coulson Salgado: About 40. The majority are outdoors on our heated patio. We have four indoor tables in a very small dining room, and then eight seats at a counter that overlook the kitchen where the chefs are cooking. 

Can larger tables book a reservation?

You can book up to a party of eight. That being said, the size of the restaurant and the prix-fixe menu generally lend themselves better to a smaller group. 

When do reservations drop on Resy?

Four weeks in advance at 9 a.m. 

Are there certain days where there’s a better chance to get a reservation?

We’re open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays tend to book quickly, within a day or two of reservations becoming available online. As for middle-of-the-week reservations, there’s usually availability until a week or so before the date. 

More than just tacos.
More than just tacos.

How long is your Notify list? 

For weekends, there can be as many as 150 guests on the Notify list, but it varies. People have great success using the Notify feature on Resy, because another guest could book so far in advance, then something comes up and they cancel. We hear all the time that guests have gotten in last minute by using the Notify feature. 

If you want to come on a certain day, it’s always smart to check the day before. 24 hours before every service we confirm reservations and give folks the opportunity to cancel if plans change. And at that point, we do see some last-minute reservations get booked.

Are there seats held for walk-ins? 

I would highly recommend a reservation, and we put all of our available tables on Resy. Certainly, in theory, we would welcome a walk in — but it’s very unlikely we would be able to take one.

Are there other ways to get a seat?

Absolutely. All the tables are posted on Resy, but for some people who prefer in-person, on-the-phone, or email support, they can call us, they can stop by the restaurant during our open hours, or they can send us an email at reserve@tacomarí

What’s the best seat in the house? 

I think the counter is one of my favorite spots because we have a collaborative, hard-working team that pays great attention to detail, and it’s so fun to watch them while you’re eating your meal. There’s a woodfire grill, so you’re watching the grill cook tend the fire, and you can feel the warmth while you sit at the counter. Also, when the weather is great, you can sit outside on the patio — it’s the quintessential Southern California experience.

Can guests request a specific table?

On Resy, you book the location where you’re going to sit: patio, dining room, or counter. We honor whatever you select when you make your reservation.

You offer a four-course, prix-fixe menu. How often does the menu change?

It changes seasonally and it evolves over time. We don’t change all the dishes at once, but as different produce becomes available at the market and the weather and seasons change, dishes start to evolve and new dishes start to appear one at a time. So if you came now, and then came back in three months, you’d see quite a few changes to the menu.

What are some dishes on the current menu that you’re particularly excited about?

There are always two options for each of the four courses. What I think is a really fun way to dine at the restaurant is to come with at least one other person who is willing to order the opposite of what you order and share. That way, over the course of the meal, you’re able to try everything we have on the menu. 

In the past year we added dessert as one of the courses, which is really exciting.  It used to be that there was no dessert at Taco María. One is a pastel de requesón, which is like a cheesecake with the most delicious guava jam. The guava is from my mother-in-law’s tree. She is María, of Taco María. The other dessert is a light and airy citrus panna cotta with all types of seasonal fruits. 

Tortillas are made with heirloom corn.
Tortillas are made with heirloom corn.

It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Set the scene for me.

It’s busy, probably every table is filled. We have a very small team and a small space, so even though it’s busy, it feels very personal. The greatest compliment that we’ve heard from guests is that it feels like they’re at a dinner party at someone’s house. That’s what we’re striving for: welcoming people into our space and our home with Carlos’ food that’s very near and dear to his heart and identity. Our team is made up of the kindest people, and people that truly love hospitality. 

How would you describe the menu?

When people ask Carlos what region of Mexico his food is from, he would say California. His parents are from Mexico, but he was born and raised here in Southern California in Orange County. So his food reflects his experience growing up Mexican American here, but also working in fine dining restaurants in San Francisco and working with the beautiful produce, fish, and meats that we have available to us in California.

Any other tips or tricks for making the most out of a night at Taco María?

Think about the kind of dining experience you’d like to have. The counter is really fun if you want to watch the chefs work. The dining room is probably the most romantic and the coziest. The patio is beautiful when the weather is beautiful. The menu is celebratory and meant to be shared. If you’re excited to have a special night with the people you love, hopefully this is the place you come to.

Erin Mosbaugh is food and travel writer who has worked in kitchens in New York and L.A. and co-created the James Beard Award-winning food site First We Feast. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok; follow Resy, too.