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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Taco Rosa Official Site

NOTE: This entry has been outdated. Please CLICK HERE to read ALL our extensive coverage of Taco Rosa, including dozens of photos, links to their official website, and information about both their locations.




While analyzing my site traffic yesterday I stumbled across the fact that there is now an official site for Taco Rosa. I don't know when it started but I think it's pretty new. Oddly enough it is not at tacorosa.com but is part of "The Orange Connection." Even stranger is the fact that they put four of the reviews from this blog into their testimonials section, which I guess we should take as flattery. The site is pretty comprehensive. It gives their full regular menu, their Sunday Brunch menu, their lunch menu, company info, and more press reviews. There are some pictures too of their food, their employees, and the restaurant itself. The Catering Menu and Promotions sections are currently waiting to be filled in.

I'm glad I found out about this because after everyone coming here trying to find the Taco Rosa menu I was just about to type it all up and post it here. Now if only they would e-mail me on a day when they are serving their elusive grape aguas frescas.

UPDATE (July 20, 2006):

Their official site can now be found at their own domain: tacorosa.com. The Catering section is now complete but the Promotions section still awaits content. The catering page mentions pastel tres leches and papaya cheesecake as desserts so I wonder if these will be added to their in-restaurant menu.

Friday, June 23, 2006

El Conejo - Review #1

January 24, 2008: El Conejo has closed down. Read more here.

El Conejo
14715 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 559-1176

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Listing on Ask.com's Citysearch

No known official website.

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El Conejo Exterior

Went to lunch at El Conejo the other day using a coupon that shows up in the Thursday edition of the Irvine World News. The most recent coupon is for a torta with your choice of meat for $3.79. El Conejo has another location in Santa Ana and a third location in Lake Forest called El Conejito. There may even be a newer location in Laguna Hills now but I have yet to confirm that. This Irvine location is in one of the area's oldest shopping centers (south-west corner of Jeffrey and Walnut) and the parking lot was obviously designed before everyone bought SUV's. If you go during the lunch rush prepare for some serious congestion and tight squeezes and people rolling down their windows to yell at each other. The inside seems much like the outside: old and cramped. I presented my coupon and asked for a torta with al pastor pork as my choice of meat then had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: And I'll have some bunuelos.

Employee #1: We don't have bunuelos.

Me: You mean you're out of them today?

Employee #1: Yes. But we have cherry burritos and flan.

Me: Okay, I'll try the flan.

Employee #1: We also have apple burritos.

Me: Well, I'll get the flan.

Employee #1 to Employee #2: Can you get him a flan?

Employee #2: We don't have flan. We have bunuelos.

Employee #1 to Me: We don't have flan. We have bunuelos.

Me: Okay, I'll have the bunuelos.

So, there you go. I got the dessert I originally asked for. I've never reviewed bunuelos for this blog yet but they are simply flour tortilla strips fried up then sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Simple yet delicious. Of course I had to eat my torta first. Filled with marinated al pastor pork, guacamole, onions, and cilantro this Mexican sandwich filled me up and left just enough room in my innards for half my dessert. It didn't even matter that they forgot to give me my free chips and salsa.

El Conejo Exterior
Don't throw the coupons away

El Conejo Exterior

El Conejo Exterior

The food is decent, they get a half Speedy Gonzales for having Orange Bang! to drink but then lose half again for being a tad on the dumpy side. Not awfully so but they could use a little renovation. Overall, El Conejo earns a three Speedy Gonzales rating:

Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Utah Report

As mentioned previously I took a trip up to Utah from June 7th to the 14th. I knew that there would be at least some Mexican restaurants there and I intended to do a little exploring. It turns out that there were more than I had been expecting and I was able to sample four or five of them.


Taco Del Mar

Taco Del Mar Exterior

Taco Del Mar is 80% Rubio's, 10% La Salsa, 5% Sharky's, and 5% every other fresh Mexican grill and they have a fish mascot named Carlos. The people there were very nice and told me the chain had begun in Washington State and is quickly expanding. I saw another of their locations while on a day trip up to Idaho. They also apparently have some locations in San Diego and are trying to figure out how to tackle the Orange County/Los Angeles market. They get extra points for having Choco Tacos.

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Taco Del Mar Interior

Official Site


Taco Maker

One place that I got nothing more than a taco from was Taco Maker. It shared its restaurant space with a smoothie place so I ordered a "Sunrise Smoothie." Or maybe it was a "Sunset Smoothie." They had both. Sunrise . . . sunset. Sunrise . . . sunset. Taco Maker seems to be a big chain up there; they even had one in the food court in the mall and billboards all over the state.

Official Site


Rumbi Island Grill

Rumbi's Island Grill Exterior

Rumbi is a tropical island-themed restaurant chain with a heavy emphasis on the Hawaiian part of "tropical islands" which, of course, meant that I had to go there. I really liked Rumbi. The decor was laid back but very neatly presented. The food was incredibly fresh with lots of options on the menu. I ordered their Tropical Chips and Salsa as an appetizer though and there seemed to be nothing tropical about it, just regular corn chips and standard tomato salsa. They were good but I wondered why they referred to them as "tropical." While sitting at the table munching away and perusing their takeout menu (reading about food can be almost as good as eating it . . . and a lot less fattening) I noticed that one of their entree items was topped with pineapple salsa so we asked them for some pineapple salsa for our "Tropical Chips and Salsa" and they very readily gave us a cup. Later that night I borrowed my brother's computer and e-mailed Rumbi suggesting that they serve "Tropical Chips and Salsa" with the pineapple salsa they already have on hand. Another Mexican-oriented item on their menu was the Bahama Mama's Tortilla Soup, which I would order if they could make it without coconut milk.

Rumbi is run by a couple former Jamba Juice bigwigs and has a very Jamba Juice sensibility to it: fairly health-conscious food without the stigma of health food. I don't know if "health food" is the proper term here but we should all be concerned about eating healthy but many "health food nuts" can make it look so unappealing. I don't have any inside information but don't be surprised if you see Rumbi Island Grill in California in the future.

Rumbi's Island Grill Exterior

Rumbi's Island Grill Exterior

Rumbi's Island Grill Exterior

Official Site


Taco Time

Now Taco Time is a place I've known about for years and have never actually visited (to my knowledge) until this particular trip. I went through the drive-thru and was overwhelmed with the number of choices on the menu. My only way to deal with it was to order one of their featured items: their new Mango Ranchero Burrito, which was fried chicken chunks and mango salsa and some other standard burrito fillings. I had heard almost twenty years ago from my brother-in-law that Taco Time was an even more plastic version of Mexican food than Taco Bell was and as evidence he mentioned the fact that they had cherry burritos as a dessert item, flour tortillas filled with good old American cherry pie filling straight out of the can. I couldn't wait to find out if they really had cherry burritos on their menu. They didn't, but they did have dessert empanadas and it said to ask the person ringing up your order what the current selections were. I don't even remember what the first two options were because as soon as I heard the third one, Bavarian cream, I knew that's what I wanted. I don't care how authentic or inauthentic it was because it was so good. And they made it fresh right there. I'd get each item again.

Taco Time

Taco Time


Official Site


The Garden Restaurant

The day before heading back to California we met my brother for lunch in downtown Salt Lake City at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (formerly the Hotel Utah). They have two restaurants on the top floor, The Garden (open for lunch and dinner) and The Roof (only open for dinner and slightly fancier than The Garden). It is mainly there for the convenience of nearby LDS Church administrative workers but is open to everyone and had a couple Mexican-oriented items on their menu including a Grilled Chicken Quesadilla and a Southwest Spicy Shrimp Salad.

The Garden

The Roof

The Roof

The Roof

UPDATE (October 21, 2007)

The Roof

I've actually been back to The Garden twice since this initial report. On the first revisit I got a Wild Boar Sausage Quesadilla which was basically the same as the Chicken Quesadilla I got the first time but with different meat. When I went a few months later for my third visit this item was no longer on the menu. I liked it but I can imagine the "wild boar" aspect turned a lot of people off. So I got the "Southwest Tortilla Wrap – Your Choice of Grilled Chicken or Fiery Steak, wrapped in a Chipotle Tortilla with Roasted Corn Salsa, Black Bean Salsa, Crisp Bacon, Guacamole and Lettuce, served with Tri-Colored Corn Chips." Just as good as the two quesadillas but a little less greasy, which I guess made it a little better.

Official Site


Mi Puebla

Mi Puebla Exterior

Mi Puebla is the very last place I went although I think it was the first place I noticed after arriving in Utah. They prominently bill themselves as Authentic Mexican Food" and since they are the only place I tried in my 8-day trip that had aguas frescas maybe they are justified in claiming authenticity.

I showed up at Mi Puebla at 8:58pm and checked their door for a listing of their operating hours and couldn't find it so I tried opening the door and it opened right up and I went in (although there was nobody, customers or employees, to be seen) and finally saw a girl working in the back of the kitchen. I asked, "Are you closed?" "Yes." "Okay, thanks." Then I stepped out and headed back to my car to search for a place that stayed open after 9pm when I noticed a man walking out of the restaurant and toward my rental car. I wasn't entirely sure he was coming for me but didn't want to drive right past him so I rolled down the passenger's window and asked, "Are you looking for me?" "Yes. Did that girl tell you we were closed?" "Yes." "We are open until 10." "In that case I'll come back in." So I parked the car and went back in. We had a good little chat and he told me that it was their second location (first one opened up in Ogden about five years ago) and that it had opened about a week earlier. I ordered an item I had never heard of before called a zincronizada which was like a quesadilla with a big slice of ham in it. They had strawberry, pineapple, and horchata aguas frescas. The horchata was almost gone, not enough to make a full cup out of, so I suppose people had been ordering it throughout the day. I ordered the strawberry and the manager (José) threw in a free flan.

Mi Puebla Food

Mi Puebla Interior

Official Site

There were a bunch of Mexican restaurants I saw there that I wanted to try but wasn't able to including Garcia's, Melina's, Cafe Rio, and others that I remember seeing but can't remember the names of. Other restaurants I went to in Utah include Noodles and Company, KFC, The Lion House, and my brother's house where we had excellent lobster tails one night.


Cafe Rio

Added October 21, 2007
When I was up in Utah for my first visit I noticed a place called Cafe Rio but didn't eat there. After that first visit I had numerous people telling me about Cafe Rio and that I "definitely have to try it." On my next visit I did eat there and took some pictures but those pictures were lost in the tragic "Christian Accidentally Deletes A Bunch of Photos from His Digital Camera While On Maui in June 2007" incident.

I tried the pork taco then that my brother recommended and loved it. I'd maybe even recommend a trip to Cafe Rio just to try it. I don't know how they packed some much robust, BBQy flavor into it but however they do it I'm sure it's illegal. What should also be illegal is their very hectic manner of rushing people through their line. You probably have to deal with at least six employees barking, "What do you want?" or "What did you order?" at you before you finally pay for your food and make it through the gauntlet/Subway-like food assembly line. I seemed to be the only person getting flustered by it though. Maybe I shouldn't complain; the food is good and I got the pork taco again on my next visit as well as a shrimp taco and their enigmatic chocolate-cheese flan (they also have a coconut-caramel flan), all shown below in pictures taken on my second visit. Now when people ask if I've been to Cafe Rio I can finally say, "Yes." I wear that badge of honor very proudly but still feel like I deserve a Purple Heart for dealing with that insane ordering line.

Cafe Rio


Cafe Rio


Cafe Rio
Superboy was there taking a much needed break


Cafe Rio


Cafe Rio

Official Site

Friday, June 16, 2006

Roundup #5

Just got back from a weeklong trip to Utah where I found more Mexican restaurants than I was expecting (report coming soon), so before I get settled back in to my "normal life" I've got a couple pictures to show from when I met up with Omar from SqueezeOC's OC in the OC blog, his brother, Elmo from the Monster Munching blog, and Joy and Carter at Honda-Ya in Tustin. This was the first time I'd been to Honda-Ya. It is the sister restaurant to Kappo Honda in Fountain Valley which I've been to on a handful of occasions.

Honda-Ya Exterior

Honda-Ya Cooks

Honda-Ya Food

Honda-Ya Food #2

And here's a couple photos of food I've made for myself recently. First is some wild caught Copper River salmon topped with honeydew salsa, then some strawberry shortcake. I kept trying to think of how to put a Mexican spin on strawberry shortcake and never came up with anything. I garnished this dish with some Teddy Grahams and it seemed to work out fairly well. Man doth not live by Mexican food alone. Non-Mexican restaurants I've been to recently include the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store, Kabuki (again), Yoshinoya (the location at Harbor and Adams in Costa Mesa recently underwent a rather classy remodeling), Charlie Kabob, Panda Express, and First Class Pizza. Mexican restaurants I've visited recently and already reviewed, and may still review again, but didn't visit for review purposes include Taleo, Azteca's and Taco Rosa. I asked the co-worker who went with me to Taco Rosa if they deserved a five Speedy Gonzales rating and he said, "No, six." And Kantina is featured in the Marketplace section of today's Orange County Register. Also, just got back from a non-review visit to Wahoo's Fish Taco at the Irvine Spectrum with some co-workers.

Copper River Salmon

Strawberry Shortcake

After posting my report on the four or five Mexican restaurants I went to in Utah (I saw oh so many more though) I'll be hitting the trail here again. I've also got some technical issues to work out including the somewhat pesky, somewhat flattering fact that the number of visits to this blog have been overloading my server, and I'm a little bit closer to adding a Google Map feature to the site.

Was just contacted by one of the team members from a new site called OC Food Review. It has a very crisp, clean look to it and I can see it becoming the number one Orange County restaurant site on the web. They need people to contribute to their database so check it out.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

El Torito - Review #1

El Torito
18512 Macarthur Blvd
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 833-8230

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Official Site

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Important note: This restaurant is not to be confused with the El Torito Grill just around the corner on Main St. in Irvine. The two restaurants are very close to each other, and even though they are run by the same chain they are separate places with different menus. I'm writing this because people often do Internet searches for "El Torito Grill Macarthur." So, to clarify: El Torito is on Macarthur. El Torito Grill is on Main St. Read our review of the El Torito Grill in Irvine .
Appetizer: Chips and Salsa
Entree: Tropical Shrimp and Grilled Steak Quesadillas
Dessert: Deep-fried Ice Cream

El Torito Exterior

El Torito Interior

This is going to be the last in my recent rash of rushed reviews. Made a trip to El Torito after seeing their latest monthly specials mailer. This is a good thing to pay attention to since often they point out your only chance to get some rare and unique Mexican food items. I ordered the Tropical Shrimp and Grilled Steak Quesadillas, "Sauteed shrimp, jack and cotija cheese, chipotle sauce and fruit relish in a flour tortilla. Paired with marinated grill steak, jack and cotija cheese, escabeche and serrano-pepita dip in a red chile corn tortilla." I was about to add a fish taco a la carte thinking the quesadillas wouldn't be enough but they filled me up plenty well. They usually have a special drink and a special dessert on their monthly specials menu; since they didn't this time I ordered their deep-fried ice cream off of their standard menu.

El Torito Tropical Shrimp and Grilled Steak Quesadillas
El Torito Tropical Shrimp and Grilled Steak Quesadillas

El Torito Deep-fried Ice Cream
El Torito Deep-fried Ice Cream

The El Torito chain has been around for just over fifty years now, which makes it the standard setter for sit-down Mexican restaurants. They've kept up with the times though by innovating and experimenting with menu items with much of their innovation being spun off into the El Torito Grill mini-chain and their Las Brisas standalone restaurant and the rest going to their monthly specials menu. And I don't know how they do it but their service as far back as I can remember has been consistently excellent. For doggedly maintaining tradition without ever slipping into stagnancy El Torito earns a four Speedy Gonzales rating:

Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales

Update (July 24, 2006): Went back a few days ago to El Torito. They still had the same specials menu but I got a different entree from it, the Combo Grande which included a steak taco, a shrimp taco, and a chicken enchilada. It was supposed to come with beans but they let me get sauteed vegetables instead.

El Torito Combo Grande