If you squint your eyes at the cactus-silhouetted sunset dropping behind the dusty patio at Salazar, you could almost pretend you're in Tijuana — and we mean that in a good way.
The latest concept to hit the L.A. River–adjacent community of Frogtown is Salazar — which opens for business today. The grill-centric, Mexicali-inspired restaurant is from chef Esdras Ochoa, the taquero who co-founded Mexicali Taco back when it was a smoky taco stand on the corner of First and Beaudry. At Salazar, there is that same smell of wood smoke, slightly fainter, wafting out of a former auto body shop repurposed into a kitchen and small bar, the latter brimming with mezcal and tequilas.
Much of the restaurant's seating is located outside, in a sprawling, desert-themed patio scattered with wooden tables and what look like chairs repurposed from your middle school auditorium. On a warm summer night, digging into tacos in the open air will be a transporting experience.
Former Walker Inn/Normandie Club barman Aaron Melendrez is slinging creative cocktails here, which range from a tart apple agua fresca made with celery-infused gin to a brown butter–washed old-fashioned variation made with corn whiskey, mezcal and huitlacoche. Fresh tortillas, patted out by hand, are filled with smoky carne asada, chicken, marinated adobada (another name for al pastor) or seasonal vegetables, which might be braised rapini and soft chunks of cheesy potatoes. House-made hot sauces — one crafted from chile de arbol, another from the darker chile morita — are on hand to add an earthy dose of spice.
But the most exciting aspect of what Salazar promises to offer goes beyond tacos. The kitchen will serve slabs of char-grilled rib-eye, thick-cut pork chops and whole grilled trout, piled on large wooden platters and served with sides like stewed pinto beans with pork belly and buttery mashed potatoes studded with chorizo. It's further proof that L.A.'s modern Mexican scene — places like Broken Spanish, Corazon y Miel and Guerrilla Tacos — is revealing a side of Mexican gastronomy that extends well beyond the humble taco. But hey, if you want to make tacos out of your steak at Salazar, they are more than happy to oblige.
Salazar, 2490 Fletcher Drive, Frogtown.