Taqueria Morita hosts beachside taco night in the Central West End | Restaurant Reviews

Taqueria Morita is unlike any taqueria in St. Louis. It is unlike any restaurant in town, Mexican or otherwise. When you’re sitting here on a warm late summer evening, dropping half a dozen oysters zapped with tart yuzu and a teasing whisper of habanero pepper or wondering if your order of fish tacos will arrive at your table before the storm clouds gather, the space feels unreal – a beachfront joint on the shores of the Central West End’s Cortex campus.

As the pandemic dragged on, the team behind the famed Vicia and its sibling Winslow’s Table (the restaurant group now known as Take Root Hospitality) built a partially covered, two-level pavilion outside of Vicia. This opened in May as Taqueria Morita. The new venue has set up its kitchen in front of Vicia’s wood-burning fireplace, but essentially operates as a separate operation.

Taqueria Morita, on the Vicia terrace

Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

You place your order at a covered stand that doubles as a bar. It adds to the seaside vibe of Taqueria Morita, especially if the bartender whips up the Sandía, a watermelon-pink raicilla-based cocktail that whips up the fruit’s sugars with the bitter botanical notes of Bruto Americano and a tincture of chili pepper. If a table is free, you can sit down with your order number. If the restaurant is crowded, there is a small waiting room where you can sip your Sandía or the simpler MargMorita, with resposado tequila, curaçao and lime.

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To emphasize: Taqueria Morita does not offer indoor seating. When inclement weather is forecast, check the restaurant’s social media to see if it will open. If you happen to be seated at one of the uncovered tables when those late-blooming storm clouds overtake your fish tacos, as happened to me on a visit, the staff will help you rush to the covered area.

You should swoop down to Taqueria Morita for these fish tacos, a serious new contender for the best in St. Louis. Fried cod in tempura makes for crispy batter and chewy, flaky fish without a hint of fat. The kitchen paints the fish with two sauces, a smoky chipotle cream and a piercing jalapeño, and throws fresh red cabbage on top for extra crunch.

Taqueria Morita on the patio of Vicia

Chef Aaron Martinez runs Taqueria Morita, on the terrace of Vicia.

Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

Aaron Martinez, who Vicia founders Tara and Michael Gallina made a partner of Take Root Hospitality this year and also elevated to the company’s culinary director, runs the kitchen at Taqueria Morita. Martinez draws inspiration from his Mexican heritage, the Mexican food he ate growing up in Southern California and, as the former executive chef of Vicia, that restaurant’s forward-thinking approach to food. seasonal cuisine.

When I visited in August, the gushing sweetness of the ripe peach played against the meaty pork adobada taco and the dark, coiled heat of the ancho, guajillo, and pulla peppers. It was less contrasted than the courtship. The fruit collapsed into the succulent pork, which Martinez prepared as a carnitas-like confit rather than a traditional braise. The peach also helped bring out the fruity sweetness of the taco’s toppings: habanero-marinated onions and a salsa borracha infused with beer, mezcal and the restaurant’s eponymous morita pepper.

Taqueria Morita on the patio of Vicia

Barbacoa eggplant tacos at Taqueria Morita

Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

As in Vicia, the most fascinating alchemy of Taqueria Morita transforms the plants. For a play on barbacoa tacos, the kitchen roasted eggplant at low heat until barely cooked. The nightshade was then smoked and marinated before being grilled to order. The eggplant texture was creamy but firm enough to use as a taco filling. Its flavor had developed a sophisticated, smoky bittersweet that evoked a mole of chocolate and a hint of molasses.

Martinez understands the importance of texture. Rather than just sprinkling the soft eggplant with shishito mojo, he also sprinkled the tacos with Inca-style corn nut crumbs and a chunky peanut-based macha salsa that both loaded the eggplant of arbol pepper and intensified its flavor with fermented black beans. and black garlic.

Taqueria Morita on the patio of Vicia

Summer Squash Tostada at Taqueria Morita

Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

A seasonal tostada layered with zesty, zesty slices of marinated, compressed, grilled summer squash and marinated garlic scapes on a crispy tortilla spread with whipped goat cheese. The kitchen adds a luscious, charry tetamada salsa and drizzles the plate with queso fresco. The finished dish is a fun — and almost equally messy — homage to the classic nacho trio of fries, cheese, and pickled jalapeño.

Taqueria Morita has yet to succumb to the quesabirria craze, though its carne asada tacos might satisfy your craving. In homage to a carne asada taco he loved at a restaurant in Baja California, Mexico, Martinez pairs grilled beef with a serving of crispy Chihuahua cheese, adds avocado for creaminess and spics up the cozy arrangement. with a salsa negra. The carne asada and all the restaurant’s tacos are integrated into the excellent corn tortillas prepared by Alex Henry in Sureste in the City Foundry Food Hall.

Like Sureste, Taqueria Morita is not trying to reinvent Mexican cuisine. Here, the presentation of Mexican street corn is striking: a single ear of corn on a plate, its husk tucked into a makeshift handful. But the pleasures of this elote are as traditional as they are undeniable: the intense summer sweetness of grilled corn covered in a tangy lime-tinged mayonnaise and sprinkled with queso fresco and morita chili salt.

Taqueria Morita on the patio of Vicia

Shrimp aguachile at Taqueria Morita

Photo by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

Both restaurants, however, want to broaden the conversation about what a Mexican restaurant in St. Louis can be, both in the breadth of regional dishes and improvisations they offer and in the experiences they offer, from Food Hall counter of Sureste at the Taqueria Morita al. – fresco festival. With taqueria in its name, Taqueria Morita also implicitly challenges the assumptions of diners who still view Mexican and other cuisines as “ethnic” foods – a term outdated for many reasons, not the least of which is the frequent confusion between “ ethnic” and “cheap”. .”

Taqueria Morita isn’t expensive, especially compared to Vicia, but a couple ordering a cocktail or two each and sharing snacks and tacos and maybe dessert – the tres leches cake with grilled peaches and a zing of mezcal is terrific – will definitely consider it a night out. If nothing else, I hope the restaurant’s combination of playfulness, ambition and passion for its cooking will inspire more chefs and restaurateurs.

The unique configuration of Taqueria Morita raises a unique problem: the cold. In a phone interview, Martinez told me that he and the Gallinas had started discussing how Taqueria Morita would adapt to the inevitable change in weather. There are no definitive plans yet, but this restaurant like no other in town is not a seasonal pop-up but a real restaurant with, I think, a long future.

Where Taqueria Morita, 4260 Forest Park Avenue (outside Vicia) • More information 314-553-9239; taqueriamorita.comMenu Tacos and other Mexican dishes in an outdoor setting • Hours Dinner from Thursday to Saturday, depending on the weather

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