At first look, Mario’s Butcher Shop & Delicatessen seems to be a typical neighborhood spot for chops and filets. Inside is the usual grocery deli case, full of numerous cuts of grass-fed beef plus poultry, sausages made on the premises, and the occasional hunk of recreation meat. There are coolers touting quite a lot of takeout choices like pastas, soups, salads, and tamales ready by the chef’s mom, and one other space for sliced-to-order deli meats. Then, there’s the sandwich counter. That’s the place, with informal precision, chef Mario Llamas and his employees put together a number of the most well-crafted sandwiches in Orange County.
How can a shopping mall stop-off on Bristol Avenue in Newport Seashore, lined with lower than a dozen cafe tables exterior, make a number of the county’s finest sandwiches? The reply lies within the wood-burning grill behind the deli counter. The fiery, hulking case of metallic harkens again to Llamas’ time as govt chef at Corazón de Alcachofa, an upscale Argentinean steakhouse in Guadalajara, Mexico. The influences from that point within the chef’s life are unfold throughout the menu at Mario’s, however could be discovered most instantly within the choripan sausage sandwich with recent chimichurri. The Argentine-style chorizo sausage is ready in-house and the casing snaps upon first chunk. The seasoned pork mix melds properly with a freshly baked artisan roll, which soaks within the olive oil, parsley, and garlic within the chimichurri.
To place it merely: Llamas has been drawn to the flame for 20 years, and since August 2020 he’s put that pursuit to good use on the butcher store and sandwich restaurant that bears his first title.
Llamas, who lives in Laguna Seashore now, grew up in Gardena and Carson however spent a number of youth cooking overseas in Mexico. In 2001, not lengthy after graduating culinary college, he left California to start 14 months of journey along with his spouse. “We wound up staying for 14 years,” says Llamas with a chuckle.
The mustachioed chef discovered success at Corazon de Alcachofa, grilling meats as a part of Guadalajara’s vibrant meals scene. For years, Llamas honed his Argentinian-influenced craft, turning out South American cuts of beef alongside licensed Angus steaks from Nebraska and Kansas. Prized for its prime quality fats marbling and tender texture, licensed Angus beef grills properly and, on the time that Llamas lived in Mexico, was extremely regarded by cooks and unique resorts.
Llamas traveled round Mexico, consuming and studying and befriending different cooks, however he finally returned to the U.S. to set down extra everlasting roots. “My youngsters had been getting older and we wished them to go to highschool right here,” says Llamas. Since he already had household dwelling in Los Angeles, Llamas settled in West Hollywood; he took cooking jobs at just a few eating places, however couldn’t discover his groove. “I simply wasn’t completely happy,” he says. Ultimately Llamas landed a gig out of the general public eye, apprenticing at West Coast Prime Meats in Brea.
“The way in which a butcher handles meat is totally totally different from what we study as cooks,” Llamas says. “I didn’t wish to open a butcher store at that time. I simply wished to study.”
Llamas used his worker low cost to purchase quite a lot of meat cuts, working towards with totally different preparation strategies at residence to hone his expertise. But it wasn’t till 2020, when he was furloughed from work, that he started to contemplate opening his personal butcher store. With time on his palms and nothing to do however keep inside, Llamas started to consider the substances. He slowly perfected his recipes by preserving and curing his personal meats at residence.
“I’d purchase entire pigs and wine fridges,” says Llamas. “They’re the right measurement [for curing] … and I simply began working at it. To start with, it wasn’t so good. However, you understand what they are saying, you actually get higher [by] studying out of your errors.” It was exactly these early errors that led Llamas to persevere. He didn’t know precisely what he wished to serve at his new restaurant however he knew it needed to be an informal neighborhood spot centered round meat.
“We simply wanted to get all the pieces within the store and we’d see the place it’d go,” he remembers. He started crafting sandwiches that mirrored his time in LA and Mexico. He took options from the locals who wandered into the store. He considered what he and his small kitchen crew loved consuming. He stored tinkering along with his turkey sandwich, pastrami, and his traditional smash burger till they tasted simply how he appreciated. The profitable experiments have now discovered their means onto Mario’s menu or are served as off-the-menu specials.
Mario’s sandwiches are distinctive as a result of they’re not tethered to 1 area. Flavors stem from Argentina, Italy, Mexico, and California. Thinly sliced capicola, Genoa salami, and soppressata, the makings of an ideal Italian sub, are fastidiously crafted in-house by Llamas and his staff. There’s a small licensed charcuterie room simply off the principle deli space, with a window for purchasers to witness the slow-aging course of — a uncommon sight for a sandwich store in Orange County.
The most popular sandwich, although, is Mario’s smoked pastrami. Llamas tinkered with this recipe for the previous 15 years whereas working in Mexico, desirous to recreate the flavors he remembered from Los Angeles deli icon Canter’s. When he was dwelling in Mexico, he missed the flavors from the Jewish delicatessen a lot that he recreated his personal. For his model, Llamas smokes the meat and steam finishes it, a technique extra much like the one used at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York. However what actually units the sandwich aside is the usage of Mishima Reserve wagyu beef.
“It’s undoubtedly the upper high quality of meat that made the distinction,” says Llamas. The fats marbled within the American wagyu beef provides the pastrami a young however not overtly greasy texture. The fork tender meat exudes a smoky aroma, flavored with a salty remedy speckled with black pepper. The meat is thinly sliced to order and served with coleslaw, mustard, pickles, and rye bread baked by Bread Artisan Bakery, a family-owned Santa-Ana bakery based by Jonnie LoFranco in 2010. Bread’s head baker Yannick Guegan spent a decade baking in France earlier than becoming a member of LoFranco in 2011. Since then, the duo developed a number of the most coveted sourdough and artisan rolls served in Orange County.
It’s not solely about sandwiches (and steaks and deli cuts) at Mario’s, nevertheless. Llamas’ personal 11-year-old daughter swears by the smashburger, and the chef himself usually opts for the breakfast burrito with housemade chorizo seasoned with garlic and smoked paprika. “It’s not an enormous burrito,” says Llamas, although the tacky completed product does span two small-ish tortillas. “At some point we’re going to make our personal tortillas, however for now, we use Diana’s. They’re legendary in the event you’re from the Carson space.” The tortillas are made with a mix of corn and wheat flours, giving them the flavour of a corn tortilla with the suppleness of a flour tortilla.
The butchered meat case at Mario’s is heavy on beef — kabobs, dry-aged rib steaks, and chops. Whereas the clientele ranges from college college students to tech executives, and the car parking zone is full of modern vehicles, the store is uniquely utilitarian: an open kitchen, two lengthy butcher instances, a few stand-up fridges for take-home items, and a desk or two for dry items on the prepared. Mario’s may be very a lot nonetheless a marketplace for the folks, and its identification as a non-fussy neighborhood spot helps to normalize the upscale Newport Seashore road it lives on. Llamas won’t notice it but, however Mario’s Butcher Store & Delicatessen is properly on its method to turning into a neighborhood legend.
Mario’s Butcher Store, Plaza Newport, 1000 Bristol Avenue North, Newport Seashore. Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday by way of Friday, 8 a.m. to five p.m. Saturday and Sunday.