Restaurant Review: Galaxy Taco
Top San Diego chef Trey Foshee fills a major gap in the Shores with Galaxy Taco
2259 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla
American restaurant-goers are racists. Or traditionalists. Or whatever “ists” applies to criticism based on a chef’s whiteness. If a Mexican or Thai chef puts a burger on their menu next to the menudo or the tom kha soup, the critical cognoscenti laud it as a thrilling “international spin!” on a tired American classic. If a Caucasian chef makes a taco, however: good lord, what a fake. Inauthentic, they scream. Just another gringo co-opting the thrill that is Mexican culture. No different than when Elvis stole black music or white Europeans mugged American Indians for their amber waves of grain.
Maybe this self-loathing food racism is a lingering, superficial strain of white guilt. It’s mostly white people who cry foul, after all. Maybe we’ve stolen enough, and now we’re critical of letting any white person play with nonwhite phenomena.
Actually, that sounds pretty racist. Let’s go with racist.
Trey Foshee is hearing plenty of food racism with his ambitious new taco shop in La Jolla Shores. A white man doing tacos! Pssht. A white man making his own blue corn masa tortillas from scratch! Charlatan. And the corn is non-GMO! Dilettante CIA grad!
Best I can tell, regarding the knee-jerking naysayers, Foshee doesn’t give a damn. He’s been in this game far too long to let people dictate what he can cook.
Ironically, what Foshee and his chef de cuisine, Christine Rivera (a real Mexican!), are creating at Galaxy Taco is food that’s more authentically Mexican than many “Mexican” restaurants where the meat and produce are bought frozen from giant American food corporations. Even at some of the street-side “authentic” taco carts in Tijuana, the tortillas come in a bag, commercially formulated by an American company for a long shelf life, not for flavor or food ethics.
Foshee and Rivera are doing the food at Galaxy the way Mexican families who lived in the backcountry would cook it. Completely from scratch, using the best produce from their gardens. It’s how Mexican food was before it became Big Industry’s version of Mexican food.
So, by all means, let a white man fuss with my taco. Let a Laotian lovingly destroy my idea of what a burger is. Let anyone with talent, desire, knowledge, and passion aim their creativity at the hallowed, the foreign, and whatever sets their imagination aglow.
The other backlash against Galaxy Taco is the “elevation” of a traditional street food. Tacos came from the streets, purists argue, and they belong on the streets at a very humble, affordable price. Well, I might argue that many of those “affordable” spaces are buying their meat and veggies from Costco. I’m absolutely fine with that, and will continue to shove them in my face with glee when I get hungry near their smoke. But do I want to see what a four-star chef, one of the best in the country, can do with a humble street food? What he can do using good, quality foodstuff, applying decades of high-end cuisine techniques to make it taste fantastic, then charge me extra? By all means.
It’s not that Galaxy Taco is getting too much backlash. This is just the scuttlebutt I’ve seen scuttling its butt around town. Almost everyone who’s eaten there has sent raves out into the ether. Not surprising. Foshee, long the chef-partner of George’s at the Cove, knows what he’s doing. To start their own masa program, he and Rivera consulted with two of the country’s masa experts, including Dan Barber (chef of the famous Blue Hill), and he also sent Rivera to work at NYC’s Cosme, which has one of the top masa programs. Yes, the corn is non-GMO and heirloom, because standard GMO corn tastes like a numbing mix of starch and sugar. Heirloom corn tastes like what corn used to taste like. (Namely, corn.)
Propose a Tostada: Grilled octopus with bean puree and avocado.
The tortillas at Galaxy are soft, blue-purple, and have a nostalgic, distinctly corny flavor. It’s like eating a tortilla before we messed tortillas up. One of the top Mexican restaurants in San Diego is now sourcing their masa from Galaxy. It’s special stuff.
Galaxy has taken over part of the former Shores Market space, joining Barbarella and Piatti as the standout eating options in sleepy La Jolla Shores. Foshee said he thought there wasn’t a good place for beachgoers to get a good taco and a cold beer or a margarita. And he was right. His tacos are very good, with a bevy of well-stewed or braised meats and fresh produce excellently chopped and diced. His grilled avocado with bean puree, creamy corn, and lime is phenomenal, a soft greatest-hits of natural fats and cream. His marinated, braised, and seared pork shoulder shows how top-end chefs build flavor. It’s topped with chicharrones (fried pigskin) and a jalapeño slaw to cut the meat’s fat. The Baja fried fish taco—a riff on the San Diego classic, with cabbage, pico de gallo, chipotle crema, radish, and avocado—isn’t as successful, though the crema is delicious. Our fish is fairly mushy, and the fried breading is soft, as if it sat a bit waiting for the other tacos to be ready.
I have two major complaints with Galaxy. The first is architectural. The main dining room is nice, with three comfortable booths under a massive, psychedelic maize mural, and one wall completely blown out. Now, in San Diego, you blow out a wall to create an indoor-outdoor space—letting the view and the sun pour in as awesome, free ambiance. But at Galaxy, that wide-openness is blocked by a secondary structure—a sort of giant alfresco shed—on what should be just a patio. It not only makes a potentially great indoor-outdoor space feel a touch claustrophobic, but it’s permanent shade in a city where sun soaking is practically a full-time job.
The second are the included salsas. Each table is equipped with a salsa verde and a tomato-based salsa. Both are tasty, but both have a distinct utter lack of heat that would make Scoville sneer from the grave. This is San Diego, Foshee! Fine, include a mild salsa for our visitors from Des Moines. But in this borderland, our mothers wean us from breast milk directly into sriracha agua fresca! I urge management to remedy this and include at least one option that hurts. (Until then, ask for just a touch of their spicy salsa brava.)
You can add uni to the made-to-order guacamole, a nice George’s-esque touch. Their quesadilla comes with huitlacoche (the Mexican truffle), squash blossoms, corn, Oaxacan cheese, and salsa de árbol, a nice up-do on a classically boring but immensely popular Mexican staple. The octopus tostada has perfectly prepared octopus (tenderized, then crisped on the grill with spice), but there’s not enough orange-habanero salsa, which you need for moisture. Our favorite salad is the grilled persimmon with goat cheese, endive, raddichio, almonds, and guajillo chili crumbs. Grilling the persimmons deepens their naturally sweet flavor, and the bitter radicchio plays counterpart to both that and the dairy fat of the goat cheese.
The best thing on the menu is probably the birria-steamed clams, a slightly different take on the San Diego classic chorizo-steamed clams. Birria is the delicious beef-based stew that you see at multiple roadside stands in Mexico, redolent of chili peppers and spices. With the aquatic, briny flavor of the clams, it’s one dreamy surf and turf. The wood-grilled trout, rubbed with adobo and paired with a shishito pepper and watercress salad and hoja santa (a slightly anise and peppery herb used in mole verde), is also excellently thought out and delicious.
The bar is Mexican, with tequilas and mezcals and raicillas (but strangely, no sotol). Try the Cosmic Punch, a dangerously smooth mix of tequila, rum, clarified coconut milk, pineapple, baking spices, lemon, and bitters. It’s the craft cocktail answer to jungle juice. Or the Surf Diva, with St. George chili vodka, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur), hibiscus, and lime—stunning in its red color and with just the right amount of heat.
For desserts, we find the flan a bit too dense, though the flavor of the caramel is pretty spot-on. The churros are fantastic—crisped and cinnamon-sugared on the outside, chewy and yeasty on the inside. For some reason, the crispy-chewy equilibrium is unattainable for most restaurants. With vanilla ice cream and Mexican chocolate sauce, it’s just about perfect.
So yes, a non-Mexican man is doing tacos. A very talented one. And it’s not as cheap as the stuff you buy on the streets. I’ll gladly deal with it. Can you?