The Unknown Mexican Chef

Sometimes in life, you meet a taco that changes you forever. One Sunday, in the parking lot of a country market, I met that taco. This is our story.

me and my taco
Just a girl and her taco.

On the Central Coast, there is a chef who simply goes by the name “The Unknown Mexican Chef.” Though primarily a private chef and caterer, once a week on Sunday mornings, he runs a popup taco stand outside the Los Berros Country Market. This is where I found the taco of my dreams.

At 10:45 am, 15 minutes before the stand opened, a line was forming. Grill’s burning hot, giant pots of beans and taco consume bubbling on the outdoor stove top. The scent, euphoric. For these are the tacos of legend. The Queso Taco.

queso taco combo plate with rice and beans
The tacos in question.

The Queso Taco is exactly as it sounds. Copious amounts of cheese are applied directly to the surface of the tortilla, which is then slowly melted before ~the flip~. Now, the cheese meets the surface of the hot flat top, searing to a crisp crunchy coating around the exterior of the taco.

Incidentally, I can’t eat cheese. My body just doesn’t tolerate it. So I ordered my Queso Tacos “sin queso” (without cheese). The result? Still totally, utterly delicious.

This, I’m sure, is because of the filling. Choose from carne asada, chile colorado (chicken), birria (pork), or al pastor (pork). My default is always al pastor, and this one one of the most delicious al pastor tacos I’ve ever had.

Thick chunks of pineapple provide a light sweetness to offset the rich pork, bites of onion and cilantro, the heat of the smoky chipotle salsa and a dash of acid from the squeeze of fresh lime. A perfect bite.

queso taco number 2 with beans and rice
Glorious Queso Tacos

I’ve tried countless tacos in my life, many off a taco truck on the streets of LA. This taco reminded me of those –authentic, delicious, made with love — but it gave me something more.

A container of consume (like a thin, saucey dip) in which to dunk my perfect taco. These tacos require a level of detail, the passion in which you can taste in each bite.

Too on the menu is a giant quesadilla. No, it’s not a cheeky name. It’s quite literally a GIANT quesadilla. Filled with your choice of meat, rice, beans, cilantro, and onion, it’s reminiscent of a burrito, flattened into a rotunda of tastiness.

giant quesadilla
The giant quesadilla

Finally, the pozole. Oh, pozole. Pork, hominy, that luscious broth. Top it off with some onions, cilantro and a spot of fresh cabbage. Like the tacos, and giant quesadillas, this pozole is worth writing home about.

pozole
Pozole topped with onions, cilantro, cabbage and a dollop of sour cream (not Daisy).

In this life full of turbulence, of tragedy and uncertainty, we must gather joy wherever we find it. I found joy in these tacos. This perfectly messy, dynamic, thoughtfully constructed food.

With food this good, The Unknown Mexican Chef is destined to become well-known before too long. Perhaps, someday, we’ll call him the Master Mexican Chef instead. These magical tacos, each made to order, are deserving of such recognition and appreciation.

If you’re on Instagram, give the Unknown Mexican Chef a follow. There I learned he is a man who cares passionately about his work, family, faith, and those glorious, glorious tacos.


You can find the Unknown Mexican Chef at Los Berros Country Market in Arroyo Grande on Sundays at 11 am. Check his Instagram page for more information about private parties and catering.

Ember Restaurant Review | Arroyo Grande, CA

Ember is a wood-fired farm-to-table fine dining establishment, that boasts a monthly seasonal menu change.

I recommend Ember to everyone I meet.

The two things I hear most: the wait is too long; and skepticism of a menu that typically is an equal balance of the familiar (deconstructed, reconsidered and rearranged), the foreign, and the never-been-done.

Now, here, on the Central Coast, a restaurant like Ember, with a California casual cool atmosphere, and dishes so artfully composed, like mini edible symphonies, is seriously worth the effort to experience.

And so I present to you an easy-to-follow guide to enjoy this SLO County gem…

HOW TO EAT AT EMBER (in five easy steps.)

Lobster and fried green tomato salad
Lobster and Fried Green Tomato Salad

1. EARLY BIRD GETS THE SEAT.

No, Ember does not take reservations. They open at 4 pm. Arrive at 5 pm on a Saturday night, and it’s already packed.

You have two options. One, arrive early, at 4:30 pm, take a seat next to the wood fired oven and enjoy the view.

Second, arrive at usual dinner time (5pm – 7pm) and expect to wait. Take a seat at the bar for a drink, or enjoy the beautiful Central Coast weather outside.

Burrata prosciutto and peach salad
Burrata, Prosciutto. and Peach Salad

2. SMALL PLATES = BIG VARIETY.

Ember’s menu, while ever-changing, is broken down into the same categories each month. You have your Salads, Share Plates, Pizza and Entrees. (Check out the full monthly menu on their site, here.)

Try one dish of each category, at least. June’s recommended salad: Grilled Peaches & Baked Goat Cheese (with Prosciutto and Marcona Almonds).

The pizza is always incredible (from the June menu we chose the Six Cheese & Pancetta) and the rib eye is cooked over an open fire by a meat master — but to me, the share plates are where Ember shines. The most delicate combination of flavors, textures, local ingredients and creativity.

Lets take, for example, the Wood-Oven Roasted Sea Scallops with Harissa. A pan is heated into oblivion in the wood fired oven. The scallops are then seared on this pan, and if you watch closely, you can see them dancing in the heat before being cooked in the wood fired oven for mere minutes. They melt like butter.

Wood fired oven scallops
Wood-Fired Oven Scallops

3. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND INTO THE TASTY ZONE.

Ember uses top quality, local ingredients. What does that mean for you? Well, that if there is a dish that includes an ingredient you don’t typically enjoy (let’s say cauliflower or fava beans for example) you should order it anyway.

You may say, “Why are you forcing me to eat those wretched vegetables, Lauren? I trusted you!”

Cauliflower steak with pine nut chili stuffing
Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut Chili Stuffing

Because, my friend, they will be the best wretched vegetables you’ve ever had. They may even, dare I say, convince you that wretched vegetable actually has potential and encourage you to eat it again. Wow!

Pictured here is the Cauliflower Steak with Pine Nut-chili stuffing. (The picture is blurry because I was too busy drooling over this bounty of food to slow down and take a nice photo…)

Similarly, you may encounter combinations that seem counterintuitive. Do not be afraid! Pink peppercorn in a dessert, on a meringue?

YES. It is so good I once ordered a side of it for dessert and they graciously obliged.

Oink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake and balsamic pearls
pink peppercorn meringue, strawberries, shortcake, balsamic pearls

4. DESSERT IS MANDATORY.

I’m all about supporting individual choices. You do you. No judgement.

Except when it comes to dessert.

Dessert is mandatory.

It is not uncommon that in a restaurant with a fantastic dinner, the dessert is notably weaker. Or, vice versa.

Not at Ember. The desserts possess the same creativity, attention to detail and quality of ingredients as everything on their dinner menu.

See something that sounds common? It won’t be. I guarantee it.

Best examples: Mascarpone Cheesecake (left) and Strawberry Shortcake (right).

I must mention it here: the Coffee Trifle is a crowd favorite. Served in a coffee cup, it’s a decadent layered mousse dessert of coffee and chocolate.

Coffee. Trifle
Coffee Trifle

5. JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY IT.

As with any fine dining experience, it’s important to sit back and simply enjoy the experience.

Sit inside with a view of the FOH kitchen, pizzas flying out of the oven, a mouthwatering spread of proteins on the open fire, pans precariously suspended above the flames, and the careful, delicate plating of salads and desserts.

However you eat at Ember, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I spent my 21st birthday dinner here, and recently, my 26th. 5 years later, I am a whole new person, the menu at Ember has changed over a dozen times and yet the things that remain unchanged — the quality of food, ingenuity of the dishes, and inviting atmosphere — are the steady constant that brings us back to Ember time after time.

Kori and I at ember

Wednesday, Thursday, & Sunday 4:00pm-9:00pm

Friday & Saturday 4:00pm-10:00pm