Amid controversy, Pico Rivera eatery takes ‘The Mayor,’ named after Gregory Salcido, off the menu

January 29, 2018

Amid controversy, Pico Rivera eatery takes ‘The Mayor,’ named after Gregory Salcido, off the menu

A popular lunch special at Zapien’s Salsa Grill named to honor El Rancho High teacher and Pico Rivera City Councilman Gregory Salcido was pulled from the menu Sunday in response to videos Salsa Grill removes 'The Mayor' from menuthat surfaced two days prior in which he is heard making anti-military remarks.

Chef Marco Zapien named the enchilada plate the politician frequently ordered “The Mayor,” in his honor in 2015, when Salcido was mayor, his third, one-year rotation with the gavel since being elected in 1999.


“It was a dish — chile verde served over two enchiladas — that Mr. Salcido specially ordered every time he came into the restaurant,” Zapien said. “So I decided to put it on our menu of lunch specials.”

On Sunday and Monday, Zapien — who has co-owned the restaurant with his father, Jess, for 24 years — received the first of three emails asking him to remove the meal from the menu. At least one was from out of state.

He did so willingly.

“I am outraged by what he said against our military personnel and our veterans,” said Zapien, who for the past 15 years has donated his time to teaching aspiring chefs at local high schools. “I don’t condone or support anything Mr. Salcido said.”

In the videos posted Friday on Facebook, one of which has been viewed more than 6 million times, Salcido is heard saying the only reason a student would go into the military is because they don’t qualify for college, and that military members are “lowest of the low.”

A plate being named for someone is not unusual at Salsa Grill. Regulars who repeatedly order the same item often get their concoctions named after them, Zapien said.

“It’s just something fun we do,” he said.

Zapien — who last month initiated a program for all military personnel currently serving and veterans, as well as first-responders to receive 50 percent off their bill — responded personally to the emails.

“We 100 percent support our military servicemen and women and DO NOT, in any way, support Mr. Salcido’s stance or his comments made public from his classroom. I have great respect for all who serve and have served in our armed forces and I will remove that menu item immediately,” he wrote in response to one of the emails.

While the chile verde-adorned enchiladas won’t be called “The Mayor” anymore, patrons can get the dish made for them upon request, Zapien added.

The Family Grill

November 1, 2017

The Family Grill


In the beginning of the business venture, all the family members which included Marco Zapien’s parents and two brothers, were involved in the day-to-day business.  Although, each of the siblings had their own separate career paths, Marco Zapien was the one who was more interested in the culinary arts.  

Marco Zapien attended the Los Angeles Culinary Institute and graduated with honors in 1997. Soon after his graduation, he began his culinary career at a restaurant just up the corner, the Dal Rae. Later in his career, Zapien followed as a chef in the sports and entertainment industry. He became the sous chef at Edison International Field of Anaheim, now Angel Stadium of Anaheim.


Zapien’s Salsa Grill is unique to the City of Pico Rivera. Salsa Grill started out much like a whim. The opportunity presented itself over twenty years ago when the restaurant space became available. According to Marco Zapien, his father Jess always dreamed of owning a restaurant, so as the opportunity arose, the family came together and Salsa Grill opened its doors in 1994.


Building a solid culinary reputation in the Sports and Entertainment Industry, he soon worked for professional sports teams throughout the country including The Portland Trailblazers, the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, the Saint Louis Rams, the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland Athletics, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. During his career in professional sports, Zapien was present for two Laker Championships, the Angels World Championship, and the Anaheim Ducks run for the Stanley Cup. Zapien would leave his Executive Chef post at the Arrowhead Pond in 2003 to partner up with his father at the Salsa Grill.  

The Salsa Grill is a special place, a labor of love for all those involved. Zapien takes extra special care of all his customers, as does the staff. When you walk through the door of Salsa Grill, you are immediately taken back to a time when your own home smelled of home cooking as your parents toiled in the kitchen cooking secret family recipes. In fact, it’s the family recipes that are behind some of the most delicious dishes offered at the Salsa Grill. The menu is inspired by tradition, recipes that were handed down by Zapien’s parents and grandparents. It’s about Marco Zapien and the staff who bring traditional recipes from their respective homes and backgrounds. Recipes that are like no other, and are unique to any one family. While ingredients may be identical, it’s the way it is prepared, and perhaps the measurements and care that goes into the preparation.


Dishes at Salsa Grill are prepared with fresh ingredients and more importantly from scratch. According to Zapien, that is what sets them apart from the other restaurants. Everything is made in house, from the tortilla chips, to the dressings, it’s all is made carefully by the Salsa Grill staff. According to Zapien, he prides himself on making everything from scratch, creating that “homey” feel to the customers. Many customers have complimented Marco that it reminds them of their grandmother’s or mother’s cooking.

Just like any other restaurant, the menu is important to the success of any restaurant. Salsa Grill’s menu is unique and a testament to the steady clientele the restaurant serves on a daily basis. There are dishes in the menu that are traditional Mexican plates and are named after Zapien’s good friends or regular visitors, including “The Eddie Blanco Special,” “the Jack Thomas Omelet,” or for lunch, you may find a “Dionicio Morales’ Favorite,” or “Lizette’s Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Salad.” It’s the benefit of being the owner and Executive Chef. 

Zapien commented on having fun with food trends and dishes for special occasions. During these nights, a specialty item will be available that is not normally offered such as Ribs or Roasted Chicken.  

The most popular dishes are the weekend items, Menudo and Pozole. Zapien admitted that he sees an influx of customers on Sundays, especially after local church services. Zapien also sees many regular customers, some of which have been coming to the restaurant for decades. Because the Zapien family has been in Pico Rivera for such a long time, many customers are those the family grew up with. Many customers are former classmates and teachers of Zapien.

Being an Executive Chef and co-owner is not all about the cooking, “there’s tons of office work as well” quipped Zapien. It could be stressful, but according to Zapien, one of the greatest de-stressors is actually spending time in the kitchen. “My stress reliever is to get in the kitchen” said Zapien. “I’ll go in the kitchen and try and do something, create something that I have been thinking about in my head… that’s how I work it out.” Cooking is such a passion for Zapien that he often comes up with ideas in the middle of the night or on his way home and immediately writes it down or sends himself an email to remind him to try it out.

The support of the community is astounding. As much as the community has supported Salsa Grill, Salsa Grill has supported the community by sponsoring youth sports teams in the area, participating in charitable causes organized by local churches, bi-annual sponsorship of the El Rancho High School Golf Program, and donates to local schools, clubs and organizations.

Salsa Grill has been a family owned staple in the City for 23 years. Zapien added that there are talks about opening a second location however, right now nothing is concrete. Zapien also added that the current location isn’t going anywhere. “I’m definitely keeping this location,” said Zapien, “because it’s been so good to us and the community has supported us for so long. It’s where we will always be.”

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

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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,