Esdras Ochoa opened Salazar in Frogtown last summer, but the chef has been a champion of tacos in L.A. since 2009 when he introduced Mexicali Taco & Co.—and his famous vampiro quesadilla. Now with two successful restaurants and a new venture, Califas Taco at Smorgasburg, Ochoa is helping to shape L.A.’s modern taco scene. We asked the chef to dish on some of his favorite spots around the city.
Q: Dining at Salazar feels like you’re having a barbecue in someone’s backyard. Does being behind the grill make you feel at home?
A: Being behind the grill totally makes me feel at home. To me, manning the grill is the ultimate hosting duty of a backyard BBQ party. It's like the DJ at a club—he provides the vibe, the essence, the soul to the party. The key for a killer backyard BBQ is having enough meat to go around and some extra for seconds. Or thirds. Also, having some killer salsa and tortillas to go with it doesn’t hurt.
Q: What are some of your favorite restaurants in L.A. where you can get that al-fresco dining vibe?
A: Outside of Salazar, there’s no better place to catch a bite al-fresco than Daily Dose in the Arts District. It has an industrial, relaxing, romantic vibe that’s totally worth checking out. On top of that, Sarkis Vartanian, the owner, is a master at making you feel at home.
Q: Where are your go-to spots for tacos in L.A.?
A: My go-to spots for tacos completely depends on what I’m in the mood for. For a deep-fried crispy taco, I go to Mariscos Jalisco for their famous Taco de Carmaron. For carnitas, I stick to buche [pig stomach] from Los Cinco Puntos in East L.A. And if I want to eat street tacos in a fancy setting, I go to Mercado or Petty Cash Taqueria.
Q: You’re championing califas-style tacos at Califas Taco, which has a mash-up quality to it. What inspired you to introduce this at Smorgasburg?
A: Califas Taco is a total mash up. Besides having tacos in my blood, I grew up as a burger and fries kind of guy. Once I moved to L.A., I had the best of both worlds, plus a large array of other ethnic foods. We started Califas as a fun food project and started putting crazy food ideas together.
Q: Which food vendors do you regularly hit up at Smorgasburg when you’re not working behind Califas Taco?
A: When you’re at Smorgasborg or anywhere near where Guerrilla Tacos is, you must make a stop and chow down a sweet potato taco, tostada, or whatever Chef Wes Avila has on special. To finish off, stop by Jolly Oyster.
Q: What are some of your favorite Frogtown spots?
A: Frogtown is an oasis in this city. I am constantly surprised by hidden gems in the neighborhood. We have breweries, coffee shops and sandwich shops. I really enjoy the L.A. River bike path and its adjacent parks. My favorite part of living in Frogtown is the small town feel [while still] being 5 to 10 minutes away from Downtown, Koreatown and Hollywood.
Q: What do you crave first thing in the morning?
A: I’m not a coffee drinker so the first thing I crave in the morning is a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. If I have the time, I make my favorite Mexican breakfast—serrano, tomato and onion braised with butter, eggs and charred tortillas. One of my favorite brunch spots in the city is Frida’s in Westwood or Torrance. They have a great Mexican buffet on Sundays and live Mariachi to top it off.
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