Show 199, November 26, 2016: Chef/Proprietor Marco Zapien, Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueria

Posted on 

It’s our salute to Small Business Saturday and the backbone of small business, the family-owned, local dining destination.

Since 1994 Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueriahas been the standout Mexican restaurant in Pico Rivera. It recently underwent a major refreshening.

In 2003, Chef Marco Zapien joined The Grill full-time as the Executive Chef and partnered with his father, Jess, to become co-owner. Chef Marco has elevated the cuisine and enhanced its popularity well beyond the borders of Pico Rivera. He also operates a full-service catering firm creating dishes of global cuisine beyond the Mexican pantry.

Chef Marco has refined a unique style of cooking that incorporates two generations of his mother’s and father’s family recipes with the passionate creativity he has enhanced throughout his culinary career.

The Salsa Grill serves truly traditional Mexican food with items such as Lengua and Enchilades en Mole on the Chef’s Specialties menu, Camarones Mojo De Ajo and Tequila Fried Shrimp on its Seafood Specialty Menu, and fresh Menudo, Cocido and Pozole served daily.

They even make their own tortillas right there fresh throughout the day. This is the base of their addictive tortilla chips, too. Can’t get any fresher than this! Most everything (including all sauces) is created from scratch on site. That’s a genuine commitment to quality!

Chef Marco is our guest.

Pico Rivera chef, owner of Zapien’s, honored by Cal High culinary academy in Whittier

Chef Marco Zapien is honored by the California High School Culinary Arts Academy by naming one of their program “kitchens” after their long-time volunteer instructor during a special ceremony at the school. Zapien, owner and chef at Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueria in Pico Rivera, has been an active volunteer and donor to the program for over five years. Sept. 28, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)
Chef Marco Zapien is honored by the California High School Culinary Arts Academy by naming one of their program “kitchens” after their long-time volunteer instructor during a special ceremony at the school. Zapien, owner and chef at Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueria in Pico Rivera, has been an active volunteer and donor to the program for over five years. Sept. 28, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)

By SANDRA T. MOLINA | | San Gabriel Valley Tribune


WHITTIER >> The California High School Culinary Arts Academy named one of its kitchens after a longtime supporter during a ceremony Wednesday.

Marco Zapien, owner and executive chef at Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueria in his hometown of Pico Rivera, was praised for his volunteer work with students for the past 15 years.

“He’s been an integral part of this program,” said lead academy teacher Corey Duarte.

She thanked Zapien, who is part of the day-to-day operations of Salsa Grill along with his father, Jess Zapien, for his countless hours of volunteering to impart his professional wisdom.

“He shows them the fundamentals of cooking,” Duarte said.

• PHOTOS: See Marco Zapien accepting the honor in the Cal High culinary school kitchen

He follows family recipes, prepares the dishes in front of the students and shows them what it takes to be successful in the culinary industry.

“I love to teach,” said Zapien, who is a graduate of the Los Angeles Culinary Institute.

He also tries to let students know they can achieve their dreams because he is just like them.

“I’m just a kid from Pico,” Zapien said.

Zapien said he wants students to know they, like him, can serve as head chef at Angel Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and other sports and entertainment venues, and serve as the corporate chef for Melissa’s Produce.

“He is so inspiring,” said student Alex Anchondo, 17. “He shows that not everyone starts at the top, but with hard work you can achieve anything.”

“He’s taught us that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but the hard work you put into making your dreams come true,” added fellow senior Jayla Beltran, 17.

The academy divides students into smaller individual groups or “kitchens” for more hands-on experience and an interactive learning environment. A few of the other chefs these kitchens are named after include Julia Child, Duff Goldman and Bobby Flay.

Pico Rivera restaurant boasts five years as best in L.A.

Gallery: Zapien’s Salsa Grill named Best Mexican Restaurant

PICO RIVERA – Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria is on a championship run that any sports team would be proud to own.

The Mexican restaurant, located at 6704 Rosemead Blvd., has once again been named the best in Los Angeles County.

More than 28,000 votes were received to determine this year’s winners in LA HotList.

About 6,600 businesses compete to win the title of Los Angeles’ best. The contest rates hundreds of businesses in different categories.

Winners receive spots on television and can use the honor on advertisements and business cards.

“I’m not surprised Zapien’s won again,” said regular diner Willie Bunton of La Habra as he enjoyed lunch with his employees Tuesday. “It’s the closest you can get to home cooking at a restaurant.”

“It’s great authentic Mexican food,” said Maggie Tamayo, of Downey.

“I bring people visiting from the home office in St. Louis here,” Jerry Lujan said.

These endorsements is what Pico Rivera native Marco Zapien had in mind when he opened the restaurant with his dad, Jess, 19 years ago.

“We have a great following, and get a lot of support from our customers,” said Zapien.

“It feels like coming home when you eat here,” said longtime customer Priscilla Martus, of Pico Rivera. “Their food is great and the service is very friendly,” she explained.

Zapien uses his family’s old recipe, along with a light, modern twist to those traditional Latino dishes.

That means having traditional enchiladas and burritos on the menu, along with grilled chicken cilantro salad.

As the corporate chef for Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Zapien has been head chef at Edison International Field – home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and other sports and entertainment venues.

Still, his heart is with his hometown.

For the second year in a row, he is offering a special holiday deal to those who bring in new and unwrapped toys to Salsa Grill.

Through Dec. 20, any child age 12 and under who brings in an unwrapped toy will eat for free.

Each adult with an unwrapped toy will receive 50 percent off of his or her meal.

The toys will be donated to Saint Hilary Church of Perpetual Adoration and St. Marianna de Paredes Catholic Church for distribution to struggling families.


Get `em while they’re hot: Pico Rivera restaurant cooks up homemade tortillas for all to eat, and see

Tortilla-maker Elvira Torres makes home-made flour and corn torillas for customers at the Zapien's Salsa Grill on Sept. 23, 2010. Zapien's Salsa Grill adds homemade tortillas to its menu, where customers can see tortillas being made live on Friday evenings, and all day Saturdays and Sundays.

By  | | San Gabriel Valley Tribune


PICO RIVERA – One of the city’s most popular Mexican restaurants, Zapien’s Salsa Grill & Taqueria, is adding a new item to its menu: handmade flour tortillas.

The past year, patrons to Salsa Grill, 6702 Rosemead Blvd., have devoured the handmade corn tortillas.

Now, in response to customer requests, owner and chef Marco Zapien has given them what they want.

The authentic Mexican restaurant, which has been named twice the “Best Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles” in a local viewer-voting contest, offers handmade corn and flour tortillas Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday.

“We have made the corn tortillas the past year in the kitchen,” Zapien said. “But we wanted the consumers to experience the cooking process, so we have moved it out to the dining area for the weekend.”

Tortillas are prepared on the restaurant floor Friday evenings and all day Saturday for customers to see.

The preparation moves to the kitchen on Sundays when space is needed to accommodate the rush of customers coming in for brunch and dinner.

Two trained tortilla makers prepare the masa (tortilla dough) following the Salsa Grill’s family recipe.

Elvira Torres and Maria Ambriz, both of Pico Rivera, then roll and press the masa to the perfect size.

Each tortilla is placed on a large comal (hot plate), where the tortilla is warmed to perfection and is ready to serve.

“I love the happy faces of the people as I make the tortillas,” Torres said. “They really look forward to eating them.”

Having the tortillas cooked in the restaurant began as part of Salsa Grill’s Carnitas Feast Weekends – an all-you-can eat special offered on from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The special includes tender carnitas, fresh salsa, beans and handmade corn tortillas for $12 per person.

“It’s been very popular,” Zapien said. “People love making their own tacos.”

“I love how the fresh tortillas taste,” said Charity Galindo, of Huntington Beach. “My mom and I ate some last night, and the tortillas and carnitas together are great.”

For information visit or call 562-942-7072.

562-698-0955, ext. 3029

Pico Rivera restaurant back on top of voters’ menu


PICO RIVERA – After falling from the top spot last year, Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria, 6702 Rosemead Blvd., is again No. 1 in the appetites of Los Angeles area diners.

The family owned restaurant was named the “Best Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles” in a viewer-voting contest called MyFox L.A.’s Hot List featured on the local Fox Network affiliate KTTV (Channel 11).

“I guess our patrons voted more often this year,” said restaurant chef and co-owner Marco Zapien, 43.

The contest rates hundreds of businesses in different categories.

Winners receive spots on television and can use the honor on advertisements and business cards.

Zapien’s, which won the award in 2007, finished in second place last year.

“It’s great to be named No. 1 again,” said Zapien, whose business partner in the 15-year-old restaurant is his father, Jess, 70.

“It’s quite something to be named the best Mexican restaurant, especially considering how many there are in the Los Angeles area,” he said.

Marco Zapien, who was born and raised in Pico Rivera, was inspired to become a professional chef by watching his dad, mom and grandmother cook when he was a child.

“Those were the best dishes,” he said.

After graduating from the Los Angeles Culinary Institute, Zapien has been head chef at Edison International Field, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Dodger Stadium, Staples Center and other sports and entertainment venues.

He likes serving fresh creative dishes in the city where he grew up and still resides.

“People I grew up with and have known all my life are some of our most loyal customers,” Zapien said.

Assistant restaurant manager Martin Mundo, 25, calls Zapiens’ Salsa Grill a “neighborhood restaurant.”

“Our customers like the comfortable atmosphere and our homemade recipes,” he said. “Everything is fresh daily.”

Tom Neal, 43, of Orange County, said the fresh ingredients in the “great authentic” meals has kept him coming back the past three years.

“The menu has a lot of variety, and you can tell the effort they take in preparing their dishes,” he said. “It’s all delicious.”

(562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029

LA Times


Don’t look for chile verde on the menu at Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taquería in Pico Rivera. Instead, ask for Dionicio Morales’ Favorite, named for a guest. Morales apparently liked both chile verde and chile colorado, which is beef in red chile sauce, so the special is either one. There’s no need to choose, though. A plate called chiles divorciados has them both. Unlike occasional specials, Dionicio Morales’ Favorite is available every day. Look for it on the menu under “traditional dishes,” then specify red or green.

It’s the chile verde that excels, with its brilliant, fresh tomatillo flavor. The recipe isn’t secret: Chef Marco C. Zapien, who is co-owner of the restaurant with his father, Jess, explains each step in the cooking demos and classes he gives quarterly at the restaurant. The meat is pork butt, which simmers first in chicken broth. Then jalapeños, bell peppers, tomatillos, onion, garlic and cilantro are sautéed and puréed with stock from the meat. The final step is to cook the meat with the vegetables until it’s fork-tender.

“Everything we do in the restaurant is from scratch,” Zapien says. This includes the tortilla chips that come with salsa and a chipotle bean dip. and the handmade corn tortillas that accompany the chile verde, rice and beans. Weekday lunch specials also include a bowl of soup and a drink.

6702 Rosemead Blvd., Pico Rivera. (562) 942-7072,

It’s Hatch Chile Time at The Salsa Grill

Hatch Chile season is here and The Salsa Grill is ready with three events surely to take advantage of the bright green, glossy pepper’s annual availability.

Hatch Chile Festivities at The Salsa Grill
For the seventh year, Chef Marco Zapien is hosting a Hatch Chile interactive cooking demonstration, Hatch Chile roast and Hatch Chile brunch.

Every summer, New Mexican Hatch Chiles are ripe enough to enjoy and Chef MZ is making a late summer celebration out of it.

The cooking demo on Thursday, Aug. 10 from 6 -8 p.m. is where participants will learn how to make items such as roasted Hatch Chile Tortilla Soup, Hatch Chile Enchiladas Suizas and Hatch Chile Verde. The later is a special recipe as Chef MZ’s Chile Verde was just voted the best in Los Angeles by the L.A. Times. Now imagine it with a twist of Hatch Chile.

Recipes for seven different Hatch Chile dishes, including dessert, will be demonstrated and then served for all to enjoy. Class goers will take home recipes and step-by-step directions. The cost is $45 per person, click here to view menu, and here to reserve your spot.

This year’s Hatch cooking demo will give class attendees a taste of what the Hatch Chile roast is all about; Chef MZ will do a live roast at the cooking demo. And what would a cooking demo be without a raffle – the raffle prizes are cases of roasted Hatch Chiles.

The parking lot in front of the restaurant will be filled with roasters and cases of chiles on Saturday, Sept. 9 beginning at 8 a.m. The Salsa Grill has worked closely with Melissa’s Produce to ensure the most flavorful peppers for the roast, cooking demo and brunch. Reserve your cases of Hatch Chiles here.

Chef MZ’s Hatch Chile brunch is also on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 9 a.m.  to 2 p.m., and includes a complete Hatch Chile inspired menu. Each adult brunch includes Champagne and Mimosas.

Chef MZ Part of “Chefs & Champagne” event in NY

Chef Marco Zapien will be one of the acclaimed chefs participating at the 2017 James Beard Chef MZ Part of "Chefs & Champagne" event in NYFoundation’s Chefs & Champagne on Saturday, July 29 at the Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, New York (Hamptons). 

Chef MZ will be representing Melissa’s World Variety Produce, where he is a long-time consulting chef. Along with Chef, Tom Fraker, he will be sampling Endive Leaf with a heaping scoop of Dungeness crab, topped with Hatch Chile Salsa.

Zapen is one of about 40 chefs, beverage masters and artisanal purveyors featured, along with flowing Champagne and Wolffer Estate wines. 

The Chefs & Champagne main event will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, and is open to the public—reservations are $200 for James Beard Foundation members and $275 for non-members. General admission includes all tastings, silent auction bidding opportunities, and a gift bag. VIP premium admission, beginning at 5 p.m., is $375 for James Beard Foundation members and non-members. Reservations can be made by calling (212) 627-2308 or at

Salsa Grill Participates at East LA Meets Napa

Zapien’s Salsa Grill is participating, for the fifth straight year, at East LA Meets Napa Friday, July 28 at Salsa Grill Participates at East LA Meets NapaLA Live.

The event gathers 80 of Los Angeles’ top restaurants and premium vintners, including The Salsa Grill.

Chef Marco Zapien and his team will delight guests with their Posole Tostada – all the elements of posole on a tostada. The dish includes shredded pork, hominy, lime juice, pickled onion, cilantro and radishes served on a crisp tostada shell.

The food and wine festival also features live entertainment, including OZOMATLI and Poncho Sanchez, and a celebrity lounge.

Proceeds from the event help uninsured patients get primary health care. AltaMed is the event organizer.

Click here to purchase tickets. 


Salsa Grill hosts all-day fundraiser for Football for Life

The Salsa Grill is hosting an all-day fundraiser for Football for Life, a non-profit organization that promotes suicide prevention through the game of football, on Saturday, July 8.

Salsa Grill to Host Football for Life Fundraiser

Co-owner and head chef, Marco Zapien is generously allowing the organization to fundraise from open to close, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.  

This fundraiser coincides with a current GoFundMe campaign organized by Football for Life, which seeks funds to help teens living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. According to Joe Pina, a volunteer at the reservation, 2015 was declared a state of emergency on the reservation due to a rash of teen suicides.

On Pine Ridge, 97% of the population lives far below the U.S. federal poverty line, and the high school dropout rate is 70%. The unemployment rate is upwards of 90% due to the lack of industry, technology or commercial infrastructure on the reservation.  

Football for Life looks to take the life lessons learned on the football field to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The Football for Life group is comprised of former coaches and players who believe the game of football was instrumental to the success they have achieved in life. The founders and directors of Football for Life know from personal experience the vital impact of youth sports participation. Specifically, participation in football can provide the tools to successfully transition to adulthood.

Salsa Grill patrons and football for Life supporters should mention the fundraiser to their server and a portion of that bill will be donated to the organization on that day. No flyer is required.

Chef MZ is an avid supporter of many non-profits, including sports organizations and schools in the Pico Rivera community, and the support for the reservation in another state shows his overall commitment to helping others.

Click here to view The Salsa Grill’s menu.