In 2004, when Deborah Schneider released her cookbook, ¡Baja! Cooking on the Edge, opening her own restaurant was not on her agenda. But life has a way of making its own decisions. The book, a tribute to her love of the Mexican peninsula’s cuisine, caught the eye of two young entrepreneurs, Matt Baumayr and Rich Howland, who were looking to start their own Mexican restaurant concept. Five years later, in 2009, the three partners opened SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, a now-successful waterfront restaurant specializing in the food Schneider loves most.
As a Canadian-born blonde who was once known as la guera (“the blondie”) in the kitchen at a California-French-Italian restaurant in San Diego where she began her cooking career, Schneider has come a long way in the culinary world. She fell in love with Mexico and its cuisine, striving to master the immense breadth and depth of its indigenous ingredients and unusual techniques, finally settling on her own signature street food style. SOL is the embodiment of this journey, and now, Solita Tacos & Margaritas, her recently opened Huntington Beach restaurant, is carrying on the tradition.
Antojitos (a.k.a. starters) like the corn elote are the most reminiscent of the flavorful Mexican street food Schneider is intent on recreating. Grilled on the cob, the whole ear is covered in butter, chipotle salsa, California chiles, Cotija, and green onion – a flavor bomb any roadside stand would be thrilled to call its own. And the queso al forno, an iron cazuela filled with bubbling Mexican cheeses, green onions and serrano chiles is eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-the-head good when piled on corn and flour tortillas and accented with housemade salsas.
More food we can eat with our hands: the torta, a Mexican classic that often goes wrong when it makes the move north of the border. Solita’s, which we chose to have stuffed with carnitas, came served on a soft telera roll with cheese, lettuce and salsa fresca. We tasted the flavors and the busy streets of Mexico, the family-run taco stands and the salty air on the coast, which always tastes a bit different than our own. And we knew that Schneider had tasted it, too.
Executive Chef Deborah Schneider is more than an accomplished chef in the kitchen, she’s also the author of six cookbooks on Mexican cuisine. There’s The Mexican Slow Cooker, with 55 recipes for everything from mole to carnitas; Amor y Tacos, which focuses on modern Mexican cuisine; ¡Baja!, with 150-plus recipes inspired by the Mexican peninsula and the cookbook that inspired the opening of SOL Cocina, Schneider’s first restaurant venture; and Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta, recipes from the world-famous spa; among others.
Pass the Bacon
We’re all for the lighter flavors inspired by the Baja peninsula, but we all need a little bacon in our lives. And dessert. Solita combines the two with its chocolate-bacon roll-up, a chocolate flour tortilla that’s deep fried and filled with Nutella, bacon and banana, with vanilla ice cream on the side. Sweet tooth: satisfied.
Shake it Up
What’s Mexican cuisine without the requisite beverage? Solita’s bar program, overseen by Colin Pflugradt, includes a variety of cocktails and margaritas, including the grande margarita prepared with private-label, single-barrel reposado from Casa Noble shaken tableside with a choice of house or skinny preparation. As for non-alcoholic choices, the housemade horchata is sublime.
The Green Stuff
Antojitos: $3.50-$12.50; soup and salad: $6.75-$15.50; taco plates: $10.50-$15.50; main courses: $8.50-$21; dessert: $6-$8.50.
714.894.2792 :: solitatacos.com