As a kid growing up in Southern California, Chef Aaron Hernandez fondly recalls the road trips he and his family took regularly across the border and along Mexico’s Baja Coast. Filled with visits to lobster shacks, taco stands, and a variety of low-key eateries celebrating the area’s bounty, the experiences helped fuel his passion for food and provided the perfect inspiration for Morita Taqueria (4260 Bosparklaan, 314-553-9239)a new concept that he brings to life with restaurateurs Michael and Tara Gallina.
Taqueria Morita is set on the front lawn of Gallina’s chic Cortex restaurant Vicia. According to Hernandez, the culinary director of Gallina’s Take Root Hospitality restaurant group, he and the Vicia team recognized the need for a permanent outdoor structure after being forced to dine al fresco during the pandemic. Not sure how long such a need would last or what the future of indoor dining might look like, he and the Gallinas decided to take advantage of their expansive outdoor space as a way to formalize the pop-ups they’d been doing. when the health crisis closed their dining room.
At the thought of the food he wanted to see in Vicia Gardenside, Hernandez fell for the nostalgic, easy fare of his childhood. Sunny, bright and ideal for alfresco dining, a taqueria made sense as the kind of light-hearted, casual fare called for in such an environment. It’s not the culinary path Hernandez thought he was walking, but it’s one he’s gladly embraced.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that I was opening a taqueria, I really wouldn’t have said it,” Hernandez says. “My background is in fine dining, but this has allowed me to take that knowledge of things like acidity, texture and spice and apply it to something more casual. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Although Taqueria Morita may differ from his work at Vicia in form, it is similar in content. In addition to the classic techniques that he has refined over the years, Hernandez also incorporates a significant number of vegetables into the dishes of the taqueria – one of Vicia’s central philosophies. In this vein, guests at Taqueria Morita will find dishes such as carne asada, pork carnitas, and fish tacos, but they will also see items such as carrot tinga tacos, a riff on chicken tinga, which combines the root vegetables with queso fresco, cilantro, and spiced seeds. Oyster mushroom tacos, another vegetarian option, feature cashews, epazote salsa cruda and queso fresco, and Hernandez’s green vegetable aguachile, a vegetable riff on ceviche, consists of kohlrabi, cucumber, Serrano chili and tomatillo.
In addition to food, Taqueria Morita serves a variety of cocktails meant to beautifully complement Hernandez’s dishes. Look for the Margmorita, the restaurant’s namesake on the Margarita, the blood orange, made with raicilla, mezcal, and blood orange juice, and the celeriac, which combines mezcal with artichoke liqueur and pineapple.
“It’s just a great atmosphere,” Hernandez says. “You order at the counter, get your drinks, have chips and salsa and your food comes to you. There’s no pretension; it’s just food that tastes good, and you don’t have to think too much.”
Taqueria Morita is open Thursday through Saturday from 5pm to 9pm. Scroll down for more photos of Taqueria Morita.
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