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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fresca's Mexican Grill - Review #2

Fresca's Mexican Grill
41 Auto Center Dr
Foothill Ranch, CA 92610
(949) 454-0404

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Fresca's Mexican Grill -

UPDATE: This location has closed down.

Here's Johnny Automatic back in action with our first review of a place out in Foothill Ranch:

Dropped in on the relatively new location of Fresca's the other day. This one is in a new strip mall up in Foothill Ranch. Christian reviewed the Lake Forest location about a year ago. Like him, that location was a place I used to frequent when my work was nearby.

As Christian noted, this small chain is like a lot of other quick casual Mexican places. It's right in the same group as Baja Fresh, Rubio's and La Salsa. I find these places to be just enough Mexican to brand them as such but not enough that you can't offer it as a lunch option to a wide range of eaters. So it seems a lot of these places are intentionally corporate-think safe. You will not find lengua or buche offered at any of these places.

Fresca's Mexican Grill -

In fact this is the kind of place I don't really want to like. The menu looks like it was calculated by an MBA. It covers all the familiar territory with a token dish to cover the range of familiar Mexican dishes. It also Americanizes lots of stuff. Instead of tortas they serve Mexican subs on a Mexican roll, but with mayo, mustard and a side of chips. They also carry salads and the new trend, the rice bowl.

But over the years I've had plenty of satisfying meals here. This time I went with a suggestion of one of the comments here. I tried the Yucatan Fundido. It is described as "two grilled flour tortillas filled with a chicken/vegetable mix and topped with a jalapeño cream cheese sauce. This runs $6.50 as a combo with black beans and rice. Now as far as I can tell fundido is Spanish for fondue. So I suspect this whole concoction is made up out of whole cloth. Upon ordering you are handed a serving of tortilla chips. So the next stop is the salsa bar. And this is one of their strong suits. They have 3 really good hot salsas (as shown below) and some mild salsas that I didn't try, because what the point? The Japonesa, salsa arbol and en fuego were all good. But my vote goes to the excellent "en fuego" salsa. It is deeply smoky, thick as paste, and seriously hot.

Fresca's Mexican Grill -

They serve black beans as a side, which is a nice variation. Unfortunately they aren't terribly memorable but not bad either. The same is true of the rice, but I think of rice as a salsa vehicle. For all its questionable authenticity, the Yucatan Fundido is really quite a tasty item. I'd be hard pressed to find the jalapeño in the sauce, but it is flavorful and a nice compliment to the whole dish.

Fresca's Mexican Grill -

As a bonus, this location has a very nice patio that is perfect for a lovely warm November day like when I went. Fresca's fits firmly into the category they have intentionally picked for themselves. But there are places they rise above the pack. Careful selection from the menu will give you a good lunch choice and the hot salsas do not disappoint. But ultimately all of these type of places are about predictability and that they have in spades. Sodas, commercial agua frescas, beer and wine to drink. 3 and a half Speedys:

Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales

Thanks, Johnny!

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Vegasbuff said...

Their presentation looks too good to be "authentic".

ChristianZ said...

I've never been able to have anybody clearly explain to me what makes Mexican food authentic or inauthentic. I've been disabused of the idea that Mexican food has to come from a grungy, hole-in-the-wall to be authentic. That is only what Southern Californians think establishes authenticity. When you explore food in Mexico further you find that they have their own fancy restaurants, and not just to cater to tourists.

Johnny Automatic said...

and I'd add that "authentic" and good are not the same. I recently ate at a very authentic place near me. It was filled with Latino construction guys none of which were speaking English. But the food was just too greasy to be recommended. I don't think Fresca's is authentic but it does have some very tasty items if you know what to order. Bad non-authentic would be if they'd watered down all their salsas to play it safe. That is hardly true here. You want authentic, give El Moctezuma #3 a try

ChristianZ said...

So there are different aspects to Mexican food:

authentic/inauthentic (hard for anybody to define and for any two people to agree upon)

good/bad (largely dependent on individual taste)

hole-in-the-wall/upscale (probably easy to define)

Even getting that detailed is still oversimplifying things but any Mexican meal you get can fit on different points along each of those three spectrums. The general consensus is that:

hole-in-the-wall = authentic = good

and that is certainly true sometimes but not all of the time.

Johnny Automatic said...

As a gringo, I'm more and more trying to be atuned to the other variations are in classes of restaurants and the different regions the food can come from. We are pretty damned lucky in that we can support a range of Mexican places from taquerias upto high end places that would be the equivalent of hot dog stands up to say Five Crowns. And just we have Texas, Southern and California cuisine, we have all these great regional Mexican places. It's good to keep in mind when ordering - if you order the same dish whether the place is a taco joint, a seafood place or a birreria - you shouldn't be surprised if its not their best dish at each place. I tease my wife about this since she always wants the cheese enchiladas :)

Anonymous said...

We drove 15 miles each way in 98 degree heat with 2 toddlers to come to your restaurant on 6/21/08. We had a HORRIBLE experience:

1) we spent almost $40 for our family and ordered 2 kids' meals for our 2 toddlers...the clerk charged me for the 2 kids' meals even though they are free on saturdays. I mentioned it to her and she credited me only one back. I returned to her again and it took another 5 minutes to credit the other meal.
2) she did not have a pleasant attitude and did not apologize or take any credit for her 2 mistakes.
3)I also ordered an enchilada meal that was suppossed to come on whole wheat tortillas ( I have dietary issues). My order was not on wheat tortillas. I brought this to their attention and was told they do not have wheat tortillas. If that is so, it should NOT be on the menu.
4) Finally, the actual temperature in the restaurant was 96 degress!!! it was so hot, it was unbearable to eat in there. I AGAIN went up to the counter and showed the thermostat reading to the staff. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THIS RESTAURANT???? It was 98 degrees outside and 96 degrees inside! I want my money back!

ChristianZ said...

I'd hate to tell you this but nobody that works on the website here runs a restaurant, including the one you are complaining about. Sorry. We just do reviews here.