If you’ve eaten at Salazar any time in the past half-year (and really, who hasn’t at this point?), there’s a good chance you’ve come into contact with chef Jonathan Aviles’ cooking. The young chef has been the driving kitchen force for the restaurant for months now, though opening chef/partner Esdras Ochoa remained the face of the franchise, but now Aviles is branching out on his own.
That’s often how these things work: Opening chefs draw up the starter menus and show up for R&D nights, media check-ins, or when someone doesn’t show up for their shift on the line, but mostly it’s the lesser-known folks behind the scenes who are checking steak temperatures, ordering produce, and making sure a night where several hundred diners might stop in and expect fresh flour tortillas goes smoothly. That’s where Aviles comes in.
The former graduate of Le Cordon Bleu is now fully at the helm of Salazar, a GQ best new restaurant and still one of the hardest tables to land in under two hours on a Saturday night. He’s been working the grill and expediting food daily for months, slowly dropping in some subtle hints about his role with new non-Ochoa dishes on the menu.
Among them is the machaca, a traditional Mexican beef dish served with a fried egg and tortillas on the side for make-your-own tacos. There’s the increase in simple Mexican seafood as well, which is a direction Aviles sees the restaurant going in as summer comes roaring in. He’s also been the driving force behind the restaurant’s expanded brunch and lunch offerings, which move beyond the carne asada and al pastor tacos from their opening days.
A Pasadena native, Aviles spent time before Salazar working at Little Sister in Manhattan Beach, Wildcraft in Culver City, and the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. He hopes to ultimately open his own restaurant one day, though he’s not certain yet what (or where) he’ll be cooking. Until then it’s full steam ahead at the tiniest kitchen in Frogtown, turning out endless amounts of carne asada, steaks, and tortillas for a weekend waiting crowd that can stretch into midnight or later. Just don’t be surprised if you catch Aviles in the kitchen and he isn’t carrying a smile, despite the thousands of satisfied customers and the GQ nod — he’s too busy to smile.