Taquitos Dorados de Camarón con Salsa Brava

September 15, 2014
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  • Serves 18 Taquitos
Author Notes

{This is a first person biography of a Mexican American restaurateur in Los Angeles that I published through AltaMed. It is one entry into a book that served as a fundraiser for uninsured individuals. The recipe is prepared by José Acevedo and served at Mercado locations and Yxta Cocina Mexicana.}

Yxta Cocina Mexicana
Jesse Gomez
601 S. Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: 213.596.5579

"My grandparents came over from Mexico about fifty years ago. My mother, Angelina Montes, started junior high school and my grandparents started El Arco Iris restaurant in Highland Park. It was originally my grandmother’s recipes from Queretaro but in the sixties, Mexican ingredients weren’t readily available so it became a bit Tex-Mex over time. They had to make due. Irene Montes is my grandmother’s name. I was born in Chinatown. I grew up in the business. I was always either at home or at the restaurant. My mom was a cashier, server, everything. All her siblings worked there as well. My grandparents had eight kids so they had a great army to work in the restaurant. When I graduated from high school, I went on to Princeton to study Psychology and Political Science. Once received from my undergrad, my dream was to be a lawyer so I went to Loyola Law. I stayed for a semester and decided that I didn’t want to work in an office for 14 hours everyday so I went back to El Arco Iris.

After some time, I wanted to learn more about how other restaurants operated. In 2001, I landed at Houston’s and started managing one of their restaurants. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to open the Houstons in Santa Monica. Since it was an eighty-branch chain and with them having approximately six capable managers to open such an important location, I was very proud to have been chosen to be the one to do the work. I was there for a bit over a year. I acquired great management training and a valuable set of skills. At Houston’s, they have a deep program for their managers. I was in the kitchen for two months before getting on the floor. I was grilling, making salads, working the line. I was very impressed by their focus on quality and standards. They sourced everything with tremendous care. I still keep that with me and in 2003, I went back to El Arco Iris to attempt to implement some of the many things I had learned. I was able to update the dining room a bit and modernize how we ran our family restaurant.

So, I was back at El Arco Iris for a little over a year when my old boss from Houston’s asked me to open a new concept called Taleo Mexican Grill in 2004 in Irvine. The idea was to build a Houston’s style restaurant but with Mexican food. I ran it like it was my restaurant but I left after about nine months. It took the community in Irvine some time to accept the concept of Mexican fine dining but it was a very special time for me because it was where I met Chef José Acevedo. I knew within a week that I wanted him to play a role in one of my future restaurants. He seems to be able to do things that others can’t do. In a short span of time, he can make you a dish that will blow your mind.

At around this time, my mother was basically getting ready to retire from El Arco Iris and she asked me to take over the management of the restaurant. I had wanted to make some bigger changes and it seemed the right time to make those decisions. I knew that I would make mistakes throughout but I wanted to try something new. I got a lot of heat from the community for closing El Arco Iris down because it was such a well-liked spot that people were freaking out not being able to have a meal when they wanted to. I stuck with my vision and asked the family and the community for a bit of trust. We closed for about three months. We created a sit-down bar to go with our liquor license. I changed the menu a bit to add a few things. It was a great success. We were able to keep the old customers happy and attract new customers as well. It was during that year of my life that I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to opening new restaurants.

I wanted a restaurant that was less Tex Mex and more Mexico City. I leased a space in Los Feliz but things fell through because of family matters. Eventually in 2008, the space where we are now became available. I named the restaurant after one of my professors at Loyola Law; a Latina named Yxta. 2009 was a very slow year but I was patient. There were many times when I wanted to hold back tears. I knew the location had limitations but I thought since the food was great and the design was great, it would take off. Well, with time and patience, it popped. 2011 was our best year to date. We have about 20 employees now and our sales continue to grow. At lunchtime we get a lot of suits, judges, and detectives, then at night we get more loft-dwellers and people from the westside who make it a destination restaurant. Since Yxta has been booming, I’ve been allowed more time to conceptualize new ideas. José, the chef that I met at Taleo, and I are opening one of those ideas this year: A new Mexican concept in Santa Monica called Mercado.

As for me, I have a few tattoos and they all mean something to me. One is for a friend in Highland Park, I called him the “Savior”. He died in a motorcycle accident and I wanted to pay tribute to him. Another one is for my grandfather who was in the Flying Tigers in World War II so I have his patch tattooed on me. I just got one that says, “Success is the best revenge.” I am also really into Ducati motorcycles. I try to ride as much as I can. I have a group of riders and we go out to Kernville, Palmdale and Angeles Crest. I like the touring aspect of riding. Ride for a while, stop someplace for a great lunch and then come back. But more than anything, I am just a young guy who is learning to be a great restaurateur. Some people think my restaurants are upscale but I think they are casual with a focus on friendly service and great food. I hope to open many more in the years to come."

{Note from the biographer: When Jesse did this interview in 2011, he had just opened Yxta which was his first restaurant outside the family circle. Today, he has Mercado Santa Monica, Mercado Los Angeles, Mercado Hollywood and Maradentro in Eagle Rock.}

Recipe Blurb:
This recipe will remind you of the Mexican coast, perhaps a vacation where you had tacos on the beach. Mexico’s has 6,000 miles of beaches, some with dramatic cliffs, private coves and white sandy beaches. Many of these beach areas, like Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca are known for their fish markets and the daily selling and buying of the day’s fresh catch. Remember that cooking seafood is quick and should only be done to develop its flavor. Some salsa bravas include the use of the smoked jalapeno chile called chipotle. The shrimp, spicy sauce and fried tortillas make this dish irresistible. The key here is making a delicious salsa, with plenty of onion, lots of spice and cilantro as the base. Once it is cooked, it has a sweetness to it that is offset by the peppers, add the shrimp and cook only for a few minutes. It is a good idea to buy very nice quality and somewhat large shrimp. But it might be a good idea to dice them up so they fit comfortably in the tortilla. A word of warning: these tacos are addictive and once you start, it’s hard to stop.

What You'll Need
  • 1 lb 16/20 Shrimp : Clean, leave tail on
  • ½ lb White Onion : Diced
  • ½ lb Tomato : Diced
  • 2 tbsp Jalapeño: Chopped
  • 4 tbsp Cilantro: Chiffonade
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 3 1/2” Tortillas x 18
  • 36 Toothpicks
  • 2 oz Guacamole
  • 1 tbsp Salsa Brava
  1. In a sauté pan cook onions, tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro for 5 minutes.
  2. Add shrimps and salt. Continue cooking for about another 3 minutes until shrimp are 3/4 cooked.(Make sure not to over cook shrimp)
  3. Warm up tortilla on a griddle.
  4. Place one shrimp in the middle of a tortilla with a spoonful of tomato mix.
  5. Place one shrimp in the middle of a tortilla with a spoonful of tomato mix. Roll and place two toothpicks on ends of taquito to hold ingredients in place.
  6. Fry taquito at 350 degrees for 2 minutes.
  7. Remove toothpicks, shake off excess grease and plate with 1 tbsp of guacamole and salsa brava.

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