Puesto’s fresh take on Mexican cuisine has been the O.C. buzz since the first Orange County location in Irvine’s Los Olivos Marketplace opened (near Irvine Spectrum). Now with a second location at Park Place in Irvine, the fan base is mushrooming.

Looks like delicious fun! Right? Can you say tequila?

Puesto’s Cado-rita is made with Lunazul Reposado, fresh lime, agave, and avocado.

Or how about some ice cold Gelato – nopales and lime – with a shot of tequila poured on top?

And maybe some chilled cerveza, if you’re in the mood?

Tacos are at the heart of Puesto’s Mexican street food menu. Pictured below are the Filet Mignon Tacos (filet, crispy cheese, avocado, spicy pistachio serrano) and the Verduras Tacos (crispy melted cheese, rajas, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, nopales, avocado and zucchini blossoms). Keep reading to find out about that crispy cheese!

Many tacos showcase fillings wrapped in crisp cheese, a blanket of fried and melted queso Oaxaca and a Mexican melting cheese that is somewhat like mozzarella. The cheese wrapping is dubbed “costra” in Spanish. It translates as “scab” in English, not a very alluring appellation that is in fact appealing.

Katy Smith, executive creative chef at Puesto, is best known for her hip tacos, handmade blue-corn tortillas and craft cocktails, but those delicacies only scratch the surface of her talent. She offers dishes with irresistible twists.

Among her traditional dishes one of my favorites is Pescado Veracruzana, a dish that showcases fish fillets adrift in a scrumptious sauce primarily made with diced tomatoes, green olives, pickled jalapenos and capers. On the menu, instead of fish fillets, she often riffs on the theme and substitutes shrimp for the mellow white-fleshed fillets.

Watch Chef prepare this simple dish. In my home kitchen, she used black cod that she sautéed skin down to create a potato-chip crunch on the surface.

She started the Veracruz sauce by sautéing a sliced white onion, an onion variety that is most often used in Mexican dishes. That variety has a clean, interesting taste and is more tender and thin skinned than other varieties.

Fish Veracruz-style is a welcome recipe for home cooks to have in their arsenal. The sauce can be made in advance (capers should be added at the last minute to prevent over-saltiness). And it takes a very short time to prepare the fish right before serving. Accompany it with rice and maybe some ice-cold margaritas.

More about Chef Katy Smith …

Secret Skill: She sings and grew up acting in musical theater productions. When she attended University High School in Irvine, she played the lead in “Singing in the Rain.” Joyously, she jumped out of a giant cake.

Favorite Restaurant: Locally, she loves 370 Common. It’s walking distance from her small 40’s Laguna Beach cottage. She says that the restaurant feels like home with incredible roast chicken and “the best” french fries. She also adores Chicago’s Fat Rice, an eatery with an alluring Macanese menu.

Her drink: Rye Manhattan on the rocks.

Here’s the recipe:

Puesto’s Pescado Veracruzana
Yield: 2 servings
About 1 tablespoon olive oil
Medium-sized white onion, halved, sliced
1 quart diced fire-roasted canned tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 ounces green Manzanilla olives, quartered
2 ounces finely diced jalapeno escabeche, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons escabeche liquid (pickling brine)
2 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, see cook’s notes
Chopped Italian parsley
2 (4-ounce) skin-on fish fillets, snapper or black cod
Olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: Italian parsley and cilantro
Garnish: lime slices
Cook’s notes: Chef prefers jalapeno escabeche because the chilies are pickled with onions and carrots, but plain pickled jalapenos can be substituted. Remove any stems from oregano (and discard the stems). Rub the oregano leaves between your palms before adding to mixture.

Puesto in Los Olivos Marketplace is at 8577 Irvine Center Drive in Irvine. A second is at Park Place, 3395 Michelson Drive in Irvine.

Puesto at Park Place

For more, go to Orange Coast Magazine – http://www.orangecoast.com/cathy-thomas-friends/puesto-chef-katy-smith-pescado-veracruzana/

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”