tacos and ceviche at taqueria morita photo by michelle volansky

First Look: Taqueria Morita at Vicia in the Central West End

Taqueria Morita, the seasonal pop-up project from Vicia culinary director Aaron Martinez, held its first service Thursday, May 26. Located in the newly constructed garden pavilion at Vicia at 4260 Forest Park Ave., Taqueria Morita features tacos and other seasonal dishes inspired by Martinez’s Mexican heritage. There is also a special drink menu for the project, developed by bar manager Phil Ingram.

Tacos are the heart of the menu; options include oyster mushroom, pork carnitas and carne asada. The carrot tinga taco is a vegetarian take on chicken tinga made with smoked carrot and garnished with queso fresco, onions, cilantro and a seed mix that provides a textural complement to the carrot, Martinez explained.

The fish tempura taco, and the pop-up’s concept generally, reflects Martinez’s memories of traveling to Mexico’s Baja California region as a child. “It’s one of my favorites, just because I’m from southern California. Going down to Baja with my family, we’d always have tons of fish tacos.” Though St. Louis has great Mexican restaurants, “I miss that kind of Baja, kind of Northern Mexico style of Mexican cuisine,” he noted.

The tortillas Martinez uses for the tacos and other dishes, like the red beet tostada and the yellowtail crudo, are all gluten-free corn tortillas sourced from City Foundry STL’s Sureste Mexican, owned by chef Alex Henry. “We don’t have a facility right now to make our own [tortillas], and we wanted to use someone local,” Martinez explained.

Surrounded by edible landscaping by Custom Foodscaping that makes its way into many of Taqueria Morita’s dishes and cocktails, the pop-up offers a more casual way to enjoy the vegetable-forward, farm-to-table cuisine featured at Vicia. Seating is first come, first served – reservations are not available – and diners place their order at a small garden-side counter. “We built this space before we knew what we were going to do with it,” Vicia co-owner Tara Gallina observed of the garden pavilion, which seats 56. “We just knew that we needed more outdoor space, and then it kind of kept evolving.”

Vicia chef and co-owner Michael Gallina pointed out that the idea to launch an outdoor pop-up came out of one the restaurant’s many Covid-era pivots. “We did this al fresco kind of grill area outside, where we actually just moved all of our furniture from the dining room out here,” he recalled. “And I was just blown away by the food that he [Martinez] was doing. We just started having fun with some vegetable tacos and all the different things that we were tasting.” Giving what started as a pandemic-era experiment a larger platform to shine “just seemed like an obvious thing that we should try to do,” he continued.

Taqueria Morita is open Thursday to Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. (weather permitting) through the summer and into the fall – “as long as people are willing to sit outside,” according to Tara Gallina.