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Friday, February 29, 2008

Avila's El Ranchito - Review #4

Date of Visit: February 19, 2008
Avila's El Ranchito
2800 Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 675-6855

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Taco Tuesday Photo Shoot

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On this leap year day I present some photos from when I met up recently with some co-workers at Avila's El Ranchito (for some reason a lot of people think it's called "Avila's Mi Ranchito" or "Avila's el Ranchero") in Newport Beach for Taco Tuesday.

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Admission is $5 which gets you unlimited food from the Taco Tuesday-only Taco Bar and good deals on drinks. I think my soda was $3 and it came with free refills. The taco bar has tacos with three different kinds of meat, chips and salsa, burritos, taquitos and quesadillas. The servers even get into the theme with special Taco Tuesday t-shirts.

When you make your trip to the Taco Bar the server there scoops your choice of meat into a corn tortilla (probably Mission brand) and from there you can top it off with fillings such as lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onion, shredded cheese and avocado sauce. I had one chicken taco and one carnitas taco. Since you get to make the taco yourself it'd be hard to complain if it wasn't to your liking. The meats were all tender and moist and spiced just enough for the predominantly gringo crowd. The burritos, taquitos, and quesadilla wedges are pre-made and they seem to move enough so that anything you grab will generally be pretty fresh. Definitely a good deal for five bucks (tax included) but I'd even pay $6 or $7 if they'd start using handmade tortillas.

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It's not really part of Taco Tuesday but I ordered the strawberry churros that I'd seen on the menu at another location. These come with lots of whipped cream (couldn't eat hardly any of it) and there's hardly any (if any) crumbly cinnamon/sugar mixture. The neat freak streak in me actually kind of liked that and they were certainly sweet enough with the strawberry filling.

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My rating is just based on the Taco Tuesday aspect of this Avila's location and taking into account that this is quite possibly the first Taco Tuesday I've officially taken part in since beginning the blog, so, without further adieu, I grant the Taco Tuesday at Avila's El Ranchito in Newport Beach a five Speedy Gonzales rating:

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Here's some more pictures:

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Click here to see the whole photo album at flickr.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Taqueria Mexico - Review #1

Taqueria Mexico
108 W Katella Ave Ste C
Orange, CA 92867
(714) 538-5772
Open 24 hours

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Here's our second guest review, reprinted with permission, by new food blogger Griffin Tamura of Griffin Eats OC:

When you walk into Taqueria Mexico, you approach a counter with a glass partition. Behind the glass are steam trays full or delicious looking meats. The setup kind of reminds me of fast food chinese. You order what you want and they assemble it quickly as you watch.

I decided to sample some of their tacos so I could try as many different kinds of their meats as possible. I ordered four tacos ($0.95 each). I got carne asada, lengua, al pastor and carnitas.

The guy threw down eight mini tortillas, (two for each taco) covered them in big scoops of meat and then topped them off with onions, cilantro and hot sauce.


I sat down and squirted a little lime on all my tacos, and added a pinch of salt. I decided to try the lengua first. It was fantastic. Perfectly seasoned and tender. I moved on to the carnitas. They weren't the best I've ever had, but they were pretty damn good. The carne asada was juicy and the hot sauce complimented it well. The last taco was the al pastor. I was excited about the al pastor. They prepared it here like you might see Gyros prepared in a greek restaurant. A giant log of meat, slowly turning on a vertical spit, basting itself with it's own juices. Unfortunately, this was my least favorite meat of the four. It was good, but not fantastic.

I will definitely return to this place when I am in the area. If I'm really craving tacos, I may even make a special trip. It's so hard to find good lengua tacos these days...

Read Griffin's Original Report Here

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gabbi's Quick Stop #6

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself and more quickly try out new Mexican restaurants and make more frequent visits to the ones I already know I like. But as a mere mortal there's restrictions on my movements and those restrictions currently make it hard for me to get to Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen in Orange as often as I'd like. After almost three months away though I did what it took to get back there for a quick lunch where I tried their Sopes Surtidos platter with one chicken mole sope, a beef one, and a chorizo one. This dish comes from the appetizer menu so I rounded it out with a cup of Sopa Tlalpe├▒o, "Chicken soup with vegetables, garbanzo beans, avocado & cilantro." The combined heartiness transported me from Orange County to a rustic ranch in central Mexico where after a long day on the range you could head back home, kick off your boots, and fill up on some real food made with an extra helping of tender, loving care.

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It might be hard to tell what's in the next picture but it's warm apple cobbler a la mode with a big cookie sticking in the center of it. I heard about this Winter-oriented dessert several months ago and finally got to try it. On a day that was colder than any day in the preceding week this dessert transported me from the aforementioned Mexican ranch to the snow-covered mountains, where after a long day of skiing or snowboarding you return to a log cabin, kick off your boots, and warm up with some cobbler prepared with lots of tender, loving care in a Dutch oven and heated in the fireplace. And then I snapped out of it and realized it was time to head back to my work at a desk making websites...

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While there I talked with Gabbi herself for a while and she told me the apple cobbler is about to disappear from the dessert menu and soon be replaced with more Spring-oriented desserts such as passionfruit souffle and white chocolate berry tres leches. Looking forward to trying those...

Gabbi and I also talked about a couple other Mexican restaurants in the county and found out we think alike on each one we discussed. We also agreed that sometimes you've just got to get away from Mexican food and have some good sushi.

Click on the "gabbi's" label to see all our extensive coverage on this key Mexican restaurant:

Monday, February 18, 2008

El Pollo Fino - Review #1

El Pollo Fino #2
714 W Chapman Ave
Placentia, CA 92870
(714) 524-7300

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I stopped in for lunch at El Pollo Fino in Placentia. This is their second location, the first being in Anaheim. They are located in the Bargain Basket Market shopping center just east of the 57 fwy. El Pollo Fino is the kind of place El Pollo Loco started as, years before it became the big chain it is today.


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They split grill whole chickens in a similar manner until they have glistening crispy skins that crackle when you bite into them.

The resulting chicken has crispier skin than El Pollo Loco and it is also a little saltier. I ordered the 3 piece combo which runs $5.73. It comes with rice and your choice of refried or whole pinto beans on the side. As you can see, I opted for the whole beans. They were good if a bit bland. So I spiced them up with the house salsa. The salsa is a thin red fiery concoction that is closer to pepper sauce than salsa. It has a good kick to it. The rice was very good and tasted as if it was cooked in the broth from the chickens. You also get a grilled fresh chile and hot tortillas. I went with corn tortillas and used them to make tacos with the chicken. They were great dipped into the salsa but you don't need it. The chicken is plenty flavorful by itself.


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The 3-piece combo is a good amount of food and left me full all afternoon.

Besides the chicken, they also serve a number of shrimp dishes, fajitas of shrimp, chicken or beef, birria, taco, burritos and menudo on the weekends. But most of the business in done in those chickens. They serve beer, soda and agua frescas for beverages.


El Pollo Fino - Wall Painting


One wall is decorated with a big mural of a fantasy Placentia of the past; a nice touch to make the room homey. They also have a jukebox filled with Mexican songs that one of the patrons seems to have going all the time. If you want to try the grass roots version of grilled Mexican chicken this is a good place to try. I give it 3 and ¾ Speedys:


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See the whole photo album at

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rosa's Cantina - The Non-Review


Why am I doing an entry on a restaurant that doesn't exist? It's because people are constantly searching for information on a restaurant called "Rosa's Cantina." Sometimes the searches are for "rosa's cantina trabuco canyon" or "rosa's cantina santiago canyon" or "rosa's cantina tustin." To my knowledge there is no restaurant in Orange County named Rosa's Cantina (although a "Rosa's Cantina" is mentioned in the famous Marty Robbins song "El Paso" and that could be influencing people's searches), but there is a Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill in Trabuco Canyon and there is a Taco Rosa in Newport Beach and one on the Irvine side of the Tustin Marketplace. We have plenty of information on each. Click either or both links to read more:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tacos & Co. - Review #1

Tacos & Co.
18092 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 653-8081

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Tacos & Co - Exterior

About a month or so ago I was contacted by Nancy Luna (The OC Register's "Fast Food Maven") asking what I knew about a small Mexican chain called Tacos & Co since she was just about to interview their owner. I replied that I'd been to their location in the food court at Westminster Mall a few times but not since I began this blog and that my memory of them was that they were a good overall generalized representation of Mexican food that would appeal to anyone having their first exposure to Mexican food while also pleasing anyone who'd been eating Mexican food all their life.

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Tacos & Co - Breakfast Menu

A day after Nancy's report appeared on line I had a chance to stop by the Irvine location of Tacos & Co. for some breakfast and to try out what else? the huevos rancheros.

Tacos & Co - Huevos Rancheros

With two eggs overeasy, rice, beans, chips, ranchero sauce, sour cream, and guacamole you can pick out one of five salsas from the salsa bar to go with your huevos rancheros and start your day out right.

Their salsa bar is strictly gradated from Very Mild to Mild to Medium Hot to Hot to Very Hot so you'll always know how much spiciness you are getting.

Tacos & Co - Salsa Bar

When you go to the Irvine location you have to find the hidden menu to order items "From the Stands of Mexico" such as the Torta Cubana with big cubes of ham in it:

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Or the sopes, which are like tostadas but on a thicker cornmeal "boat," rather than a crisp corn tortilla shell. I got one with chicken and one with carnitas meat:

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And I'm still wanting to go back and try out the shrimp ceviche which Nancy recommended.

Tacos & Co. also offers catering services and is versatile enough to be able to "cater" to all different palates, preferences, and dietary needs. Francisco explained that people of several different ethnicities have utilized his services to cater their weddings.

If you have a craving for Mexican food and can't decide if you want fast food or fast casual or fine dining or "hole-in-the-wall" food you are guaranteed to find something you'll like at Tacos & Co., which earns a four Speedy Gonzales rating:

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You can also read about a subsequent visit of mine at Griffin Eats OC, where new food blogger Griffin Tamura gives even more information about Tacos & Co.

Here's a few more pictures:

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Tacos & Co. - Fish Taco


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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Javier's at the Crystal Cove Promenade

Javier's Cantina & Grill
@ the Crystal Cove Promenade
7832 E Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92657
(949) 494-1239
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The Internet has been abuzz lately with people searching Yahoo! and Google for information on "Javier's Crystal Cove Promenade" or "Javier's Cantina & Grill at Crystal Cove Promenade" in Newport Beach (Newport Coast area) and this is the place to come for such information (keep scrolling down and you'll see what I mean). When I drove by the construction site on January 26 somebody there told me that it'd be opening up on February 9. Of course that is subject to change but that is the best information we have right now. (Don't get Crystal Cove confused with Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza. Also, it's not Crystal Grove or Crystal Cover as some people have been searching for.)

Here's two pictures from the construction site:

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This entry will be updated as we get more information on the opening and after I make a visit there at the restaurant and try the food.

UPDATE

Today (February 9) is opening day and I stopped by for lunch but found out they won't open until dinner tonight so I made reservations for later today. They then let me take a few pictures of their beautiful property, which more closely follows the visual theme and decor of their Irvine location than their old Laguna location:

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After the Dinner (The Grand Opening)
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I don't think I need to report on what Javier's was like once it finally opened up because I'm pretty sure every person in Orange County was there. What a madhouse it was. Anyways, Joy and Carter met me for dinner there and it was a good thing I had made reservations earlier in the day. I heard some people arriving off the street and being told there was a three hour wait.

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We started out with the queso fundido which was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Actually, it was so thick you had to cut it with a knife:

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Unlike queso fundido I've had before this kind came with warm corn tortillas to scoop it into. It was pretty good with the mushrooms and olives but we didn't notice the chorizo that the menu said would be in it.

I can't remember exactly what Joy got but I believe it was a lobster quesadilla which she said she enjoyed:

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While Carter got the carnitas platter:

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(As you can tell the lighting was very dim.) I went for the "Cabo Azul" which is basically a Mexican seafood extravaganza comprised of a lobster enchilada topped with a chili verde sauce, a shrimp chili relleno, and a fish taco, with my favorite being the fish taco:

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I finished up with the flan for dessert:

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I keep waiting for Javier's to come up with a snazzier presentation for its flan but food quality is even more important than presentation and on that account Javier's flan scores pretty high.

Considering the extreme hecticness of the evening the wait staff did an admirable job of handling the crowd (now that I think about it the crowd must've also included every person from Los Angeles County). I'm planning on going back when things simmer down a little bit to get some better quality pictures of their food in the daylight.

I should also mention that this location has the sort of high class restroom that has a full-time attendant who dispenses your hand soap for you and hands you towels when you're done washing your hands, and an array of breath mints and other niceties and accoutrements the likes of which I haven't seen yet during my experience writing this blog. I'm going to have to remember to tip for the giant Lifesaver I helped myself to on the way out when I go back for my next visit to Javier's. Of course, I have no idea how the women's restroom is run.

See the complete photo album with more and bigger and better quality photos at flickr. You can also View it as a slideshow (best option)



Apparently people are so taken by the design of this new restaurant that a lot of people are now searching on "javier's crystal cove designer." If anybody knows who the designer was please leave a comment.

CLICK HERE to read all our extensive Javier's Cantina coverage including information on their old location, this new location (that you just read about), their other location that is still open, and their location at a Mexican resort (includes a couple dozen photos). After that you can check out their official site (which, oddly enough, has less information than this site does . . . but is still worth checking out). UPDATE: Their official site does have a little bit more information on it now.

Official Site

I have to add that the overwhelming consensus I get on this place is that you go for the atmosphere, not the food. I actually think the food is fine and the servers I've had have all done a good job but the management is very snooty and has repeatedly ignored all requests for information, and I've been told they've said they think they are too good to talk to food bloggers, thereby earning them a Slowpoke Rodriguez:

Slowpoke Rodriguez

If you are more concerned about getting upscale Mexican food from a place that is similar to Javier's but more about the food (but still has a great atmosphere) consider checking out Taleo in Irvine.