Pineapple Carnitas at Cult Taco in Monterey
“California cuisine through a Oaxacan lens.” – Chef Michelle Estigoy
Welcome to Cult Taco in historic downtown Monterey, California! Please step up to the touchscreen to place your order. What are you in the mood for – tacos? An Ensalada? A Torta? We’ve got your homemade chips and salsa right here. You look like you could use a refreshing bebida, like an iced horchata cold brew or fruity aqua fresca. Are you vegan or gluten-free? No problem, we have options. And remember, this is a cashless restaurant, so have your card ready, then grab a Lotería table card and you’re all set.
Established in May 2019, Cult Taco is the self-proclaimed “renegade sister” of Cultura Comida y Bebida in Carmel-by-the-Sea, just down the coast. Contrasting the fancier, sit-down atmosphere of its sibling, this casual taco counter serves up a slice of Oaxacan culture like no other restaurant in town, from the food and decor to the welcoming hospitality.
Chef Michelle Estigoy‘s vision to bring the colorful art and street food of Oaxaca, Mexico to popular downtown Monterey began with commissioning the large, intricate murals you see below from featured artist Ricardo Angeles, a Oaxacan native. In the same vein, hand-woven fabric from a talented group of Zapotec women called the “Vida Nueva Weavers,” meaning “new life,” lines the back of each booth bench, embracing each taco-eating patron who sits against it in a rich, cultural hug.
(See glossary of Spanish terms at bottom of article.)
“(Angeles) is from a famed Oaxacan folk-artisan family, known for hand carved and distinctly painted alebrije figures from San Martin Tilcajete. Richardo followed his unique path of creating beautiful murals and street art, and is perusing education in architecture and visual arts.” (culttaco.com/our-story)
No, those aren’t tarot cards. Instead of boring table numbers, Cult Taco guests are encouraged to grab a Lotería card after placing their order. Lotería, the Spanish word for lottery, is a traditional Mexican card game similar to BINGO, where a caller reads off a clue and players rush to mark the answer on their tabla boards until a final winner completes a row and shouts “¡Lotería!“. For example, the clue “The street lamp of lovers” corresponds to the “moon” illustration, while the clue “The hat of kings” refers to the “crown” illustration.
Fresh verde and roja salsas with homemade guacamole and tortilla chips.
Patio mural by Ricardo Angeles.
A deliciously tender street-style carne asada taco and carnitas taco with pineapple salsa, paired with tart limes. This succulent meat was fired inside a Big Green Egg grill right outside the restaurant’s front doors.
Another tribute to hometown Oaxaca hangs cleverly above hungry lunch-goers’ heads. These blown-glass lamp shades were created by featured artists from Xaquixe, a glass studio in Oaxaca, Mexico. Each gorgeously delicate piece is formed using 95% recycled glass and alternative energies.
Feeling snacky? If you’re still hungry after chowing down on the tacos and quesadillas above, try a handful of zesty chapulines as a botana or in a taco – crispy grasshoppers toasted with garlic, lime juice, and salt. Are you brave enough to try this sour-spicy-salty Oaxacan specialty?
There now, you deserve an ice-cold cerveza Bloody Mary to wash down those grasshoppers.
The many friendly faces of Oaxaca, Mexico.
This drink will change your life – sweet horchata topped with a splash of cold brew coffee and dusted with extra cinnamon. Spicy comfort with a kick.
Plates for sharing and for sale! See a design you like? Illustrations include skulls, ants, cactus, beating hearts, mermaids, and more, all available to take home.
Glossary of Spanish terms:
- Taco – a small, hand-sized corn or wheat tortilla filled with meat and/or vegetables and other toppings
- Torta – a type of sandwich often made with a crusty white roll
- Horchata – a traditional Central American drink that tastes like cinnamon rice pudding
- Aqua Fresca – translates to “fresh water” and is made with water and different kinds of fruit, like hibiscus, watermelon, or tamarind
- Ensalada – means “salad”
- Bebida – means “drink”
- Cerveza – means “beer”
- Comida – means “food”
- Botana – means “snack”
- Lotería – a traditional Mexican group game, similar to BINGO
- Tabla – means “table” and is the playing board for the game Lotería
- Oaxaca – a state in southwestern Mexico
- Carne Asada – marinated and grilled beef, typically skirt steak or sirloin steak
- Carnitas – Mexican pulled pork
- Quesadilla – a type of grilled taco filled mostly with melted cheese, and sometimes meats and/or vegetables
- Verde – means “green”
- Roja – means “red”