Taqueria Morita Is Now Open in St. Louis' Cortex District


click to enlarge Taqueria Morita, from the minds behind Vicia, is now open in the Cortex Innovation District. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Taqueria Morita, from the minds behind Vicia, is now open in the Cortex Innovation District.

As a kid growing up in Southern California, chef Aaron Martinez fondly remembers the road trips he and his family would regularly take across the border and down Mexico's Baja coast. Filled with visits to lobster shacks, taco stands and a variety of low-key eateries that celebrated the area's bounty, the experiences helped ignite his passion for food and provided the perfect inspiration for Taqueria Morita (4260 Forest Park Avenue, 314-553-9239), a new concept he is bringing to life with restaurateurs Michael and Tara Gallina.

Located on the front lawn of the Gallina's upscale Cortex restaurant Vicia, Taqueria Morita is an outdoor, fast-casual concept that sits underneath a newly built pavilion called Vicia Gardenside. According to Martinez, who is the culinary director for the Gallina's Take Root Hospitality restaurant group, he and the Vicia team recognized the need for a permanent outdoor structure after they were forced to pivot to al fresco dining during the pandemic. Not sure of how long such a need would last or what the future of indoor dining would look like, he and the Gallinas decided to take advantage of their sprawling outdoor space as a way to formalize the pop-ups they'd been doing when the health crisis closed their dining room.

In thinking of the food he wanted to see at Vicia Gardenside, Martinez gravitated toward the sort of nostalgic, easy fare of his youth. Sunny, bright and ideal for outdoor dining, a taqueria made sense as the sort of breezy, casual fare called for in such a setting. It's not the culinary path Martinez thought he'd walk down, but it's one he has happily embraced.

click to enlarge Taqueria Morita features vibrant food in a beautiful setting. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Taqueria Morita features vibrant food in a beautiful setting.

"If you would've told me 10 years ago that I would be opening a taqueria, I would've said no way," Martinez says. "My background is in fine dining, but this has allowed me to use that knowledge of things like acidity and texture and seasoning and apply it to something more casual. It's the best of both worlds."

Though Taqueria Morita may be a departure from his work at Vicia in terms of form, it is similar in substance. In addition to drawing from the classic techniques he's honed over the years, Martinez is also incorporating a significant number of vegetables into the taqueria's dishes — one of Vicia's central philosophies. In this spirit, diners at Taqueria Morita will find dishes such as carne asada, pork carnitas and fish tacos, but they will also see items like carrot tinga tacos, a riff on chicken tinga, which pairs the root vegetables with queso fresco, cilantro and spiced seeds. Oyster mushroom tacos, another vegetarian option, feature cashew, epazote salsa cruda and queso fresco, and Martinez's green vegetable aguachile, a plant-based riff on ceviche, consists of kohlrabi, cucumber, Serrano chile and tomatillo.

In addition to food, Taqueria Morita serves several cocktails meant to beautifully compliment Martinez's dishes. Look for the Margmorita, the restaurant's namesake take on the Margarita, the Blood Orange, made with raicilla, mezcal and blood orange cordial, and the Celeriac, which pairs mezcal with artichoke liqueur and pineapple.

click to enlarge Chef Aaron Martinez drew inspiration for Taqueria Morita from his childhood in Southern California. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Chef Aaron Martinez drew inspiration for Taqueria Morita from his childhood in Southern California.

"It's just a great vibe," Martinez 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 5 to 9 p.m. Scroll down for more pictures of Taqueria Morita.

click to enlarge Taqueria Morita features several varieties of tacos, like fish tempura and carne asada. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Taqueria Morita features several varieties of tacos, like fish tempura and carne asada.

click to enlarge The carne asada tacos feature crispy chihuahua cheese, avocado and salsa negra. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
The carne asada tacos feature crispy chihuahua cheese, avocado and salsa negra.

click to enlarge Tempura fish tacos are garnished with red cabbage, chipotle crema, jalapeño and cilantro. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Tempura fish tacos are garnished with red cabbage, chipotle crema, jalapeño and cilantro.

click to enlarge The tacos are inspired by the dishes Martinez has experienced along Mexico's Baja coast. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
The tacos are inspired by the dishes Martinez has experienced along Mexico's Baja coast.

click to enlarge The green vegetable aguachile is made with kohlrabi, cucumber, Serrano chile and tomatillo. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
The green vegetable aguachile is made with kohlrabi, cucumber, Serrano chile and tomatillo.

click to enlarge Taqueria Morita is located in Vicia's new Gardenside outdoor space. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Taqueria Morita is located in Vicia's new Gardenside outdoor space.

click to enlarge The outdoor restaurant overlooks the hustle and bustle of Cortex. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
The outdoor restaurant overlooks the hustle and bustle of Cortex.

click to enlarge Guests order drinks and food from an outdoor counter. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Guests order drinks and food from an outdoor counter.

click to enlarge Taqueria Morita is now open. - CHERYL BAEHR
Cheryl Baehr
Taqueria Morita is now open.



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