There’s been a lot of excitement over the opening of Salazar, Chef-Owner Esdras Ochoa’s new venture in Frogtown, the quaint little neighborhood south of Glendale and north of Dodger Stadium.
Converting an old auto shop (the bar sits inside the garage), and featuring ~90% Outdoor Seating Only, it’s a curious venture. Initially the reports made it seem like this would be some… unpleasant, hipster-laden locale, with an emphasis on the outdoor dining with a party atmosphere. Showing up on our first visit: It really was like an outdoor party, laden with hipsters, but also locals and some families.
Horchata Cocktail (Rice Beverage, Cacao Rum, Becharovka):
They use a Housemade Horchata, and surprisingly the Cacao Rum and Bitters work quite well! This was a delicious drink.
FYI: Even though it’s not stated on the menu, they serve all of their Aguas Frescas “virgin” as well, (without alcohol), but they charge $7. So their $7 Horchata (without Alcohol) was very sweet, but also tasted very fresh and grainy (in a good way). But at that price point it felt overpriced.
They serve 4 types of Tacos, and their claim to fame is using Mesquite to grill most of their menu items. Naturally this was a chance to try their Carne Asada and see if it could deliver truly smoky, delicious flavors.
Pollo Asado Taco:
The Chicken is lukewarm. And it was really salty. Disappointing.
Al Pastor Taco:
Their Al Pastor is fatty, with chunks of Pineapple (yay). It is slightly warmer than the Chicken, but still about lukewarm temperature. The overall flavor was decent, but not as interesting or snappy as Leo’s Tacos.
Carne Asada Taco:
The first bite yields COLD Carne Asada meat. The Beef is cold, even though we saw them take it right out of the kitchen and over to our table. Clearly a sign they pre-made a large batch ahead of time and were just serving them when they could.
Besides that, there’s no smokiness! There’s a faint smokiness on my friend’s Carne Asada. I couldn’t taste any in mine.
The Handmade Flour Tortillas are pretty decent, better than Sonoritas, but probably on par with Loqui, and both of them not as good as stuff from Burritos La Palma’s Flour Tortillas.
Seasonal Vegetable Taco (Purple Potatoes, Broccolini):
It’s always nice to have Vegetarian Tacos, and this was probably the best Taco on the menu: Lightly seasoned Potatoes, and tender, sauteed Broccolini. It had a great balance of flavors and was warm as well.
Their Vegetarian Beans were served with chunks of Tofu and tasted… pretty average.
Their Frijoles with Pork were seriously just like their Vegetarian Beans except it was topped with a couple slices of dry, unappetizing Pork. The Pork slices were cold, and clearly not made with the Beans (they were just added on top). Seriously?
You can see the kitchen clearly bathed in smoke from the Mesquite Grill, so it’s sad and baffling why the smoke doesn’t infuse well in their Tacos.
2nd Visit: We were really hoping that the 1st night’s visit was a fluke, so we went back for a 2nd visit.
Jamaica (Hibiscus, Citrus Oils, Mexican Brandy, Mezcal, Creme de Casis):
Thanks to @TonyC for this rec, their Jamaica Cocktail was quite tasty. Really liked the pairing of some good Jamaica with the Mexican Brandy and Mezcal.
Carne Asada Taco:
The Carne Asada Beef was tender, with no gristle, but it was again, lacking smoke. It was lukewarm today (still not piping hot), so it’s clear they don’t cook the Carne Asada fresh to order.
Regarding portion size, their Tacos are $3.75 (+ tax and tip), and are about twice the size of Leo’s Taco’s $1.25 Tacos.
Catch of the Day - Trout Zarandeado:
Ever since reading our old board’s multiple threads on Mariscos Chente, its famous Pescado Zarandeado and going out and trying it years ago, I’ve been indebted to all our long-time FTC’ers for the great introduction! Seeing “Zarandeado” on the menu here, we were really excited!
Sadly, Sergio was not in the kitchen: The Trout was overcooked and borderline dry. This was a far cry from the heyday of Mariscos Chente and Chef Sergio’s famous version of the fish. That version was sublime and an eye-opener. Salazar’s version is pedestrian, overcooked, and kind of one note.
And it was littered with tiny fish bones, making it a major hassle to eat. I can’t even imagine the landmine / disaster this dish would be at night (when it was super dark outside), seeing if diners could see clearly enough to remove the bones.
Their Handmade Flour Tortillas served on the side for the fish was fine. Freshly cooked and piping hot (unlike their actual Tacos).
A tiny cup of Guac (shown with fork for reference) was $5. During our first visit, they were doing a $9 version made tableside, but they said they can’t handle it, and are canceling that option. They said the Guac was the same quality, though, and after tasting it?
I’d skip it. It tasted like underseasoned, fresh Guacamole. Nothing special. I’ve made better Guac at home and I’m not bragging. It tasted really pedestrian. And their Fried Tortillas that accompanied it were really oily.
Service was a disaster the first 2 visits, but it’s not surprising since they just opened. During our first visit, 2 different couples near us complained about waiting for over an hour to get a table (and then the front of the house completely skipped over one group (and we overheard the manager apologizing profusely for the mistake). They forgot 2 items from my order, and never delivered it (even after I asked about it nicely). In the end, we just had them take it off the bill.
During the 2nd visit, they forgot another dish, and another group near us complained about not getting their food at all and had waited for over 45 minutes!
Salazar seems like a potentially relaxing, kickback outdoors dining experience that looks wildly different in both visits: During a later dinner, the hipster, annoying quotient was high (60%+). During our 2nd visit, for an early dinner, it was like 95% families with kids and locals bringing their dogs.
For the quality of the food, there wasn’t a single thing that I wanted to return for (except for the solid Cocktails). If I was in the area, I’d stop by for a Taco perhaps, if they can start serving their Tacos warm (or hot) please. But for that smoky Carne Asada Taco, I’m sticking with Tacos La Carreta for now. For amazing Vegetarian offerings, I’d go back to Guerilla Tacos and Chef Wes Avila first, and for Al Pastor? Leo’s Tacos.
2490 N.Fletcher Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90039
I’ve been hopeful Salazar can turn things around. We returned back recently for our 4th visit:
One unfortunate side effect of al fresco dining where Salazar is situated is its proximity to the LA River. While we didn’t notice anything on our first 3 visits, on the 4th visit, we could smell a foul odor wafting in across the entire outdoor area, which was unpleasant to say the least.
The Roots - Juice Served Here (Carrot, Orange, Ginger, Maca):
Salazar is now serving Juice Served Here fresh-pressed juices. “The Roots” juice was quite refreshing, with the lovely blend of sweet and citrusy from the Carrot and Orange, and a bit of spicy with the Ginger.
Heirloom Tomatoes (Baby Heirloom, Corn, Radish, Watercress, Lemon, Garlic):
This was an OK Salad. Heirloom Tomatoes were sweet and fresh, the Grilled Corn added a bit of charred sweetness, and the Watercress had that herbal, vegetable backnote.
Al Pastor Taco:
The Al Pastor tastes better than our first visit. There’s a sweetness, and the chunk of Pineapple was nice. Overall, Leo’s Tacos’ Al Pastor is still superior in taste, texture and flavor. And at $1.25 (vs. Salazar’s $3.75 + tax and tip), it’s not something I’d drive over here for.
Carne Asada Taco:
By our 4th visit, we’re hoping their Carne Asada has improved. This time, their Carne Asada is actually warm (still not piping hot), there’s more gristle and chewiness than the last few visits, and there’s no smokiness! I clearly see the stacks of firewood, you can see the smoke suffocating the kitchen (through the window), but it tastes like an average Carne Asada Taco.
The Flour Tortillas have improved, but they are paper thin (you can see through them), and they aren’t as good as Loqui, let alone Burritos La Palma’s handmade wonders.
NY Steak (Off the Mesquite Grill):
Against my better judgement, we decided to try a large cut of meat from their Los Primitivos section of the menu, opting for a (usually) great cut of meat: NY Steak.
We asked for it medium-rare. It came out more medium than I had hoped.
And? We finally tasted some smokiness and wonderful mesquite flavor! I guess with a cut of meat this large they finally were taking in the flavors better.
Sadly, that was the best part of the NY Steak: The medium doneness made it tougher than we had hoped. It was still tender in parts, and they provided a bit of their Salsa Vaquera (Roasted Tomatoes, Serrano, Garlic, Black Pepper), which gave it a nice spicy-hot tinge, but in terms of great Steaks? This was so-so.
I’d rather save up a little bit more and go to a proper steakhouse to enjoy a better NY Steak.
Service was noticeably better (which is great), although with it being a dirt outdoor yard (for 90% of the tables), we saw one server go around and pet a few of the dogs, and then proceeded to start refilling drinks(!). We left before we could see if she went to go deliver some plates of food to other tables (without washing her hands).
Salazar seems to be a fun, relaxing spot if you’re in Frogtown and crave some good cocktails, and want to grab a few tacos. But we still can’t see ourselves returning for the purpose of their food unless we were in the area.
2490 N.Fletcher Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90039