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SPECIAL TOPICS: Taco TuesdayDisneylandMenudoMexican Flavors on the High Seas

Friday, June 29, 2007

La Sirena Grill Coming To Irvine

In analyzing the site traffic here I have noticed people searching Yahoo and Google recently for "La Sirena Grill Irvine." There is no La Sirena Grill in Irvine so I thought at first that people didn't know it's really in Laguna Beach. But after I saw that numerous people were searching for the same thing I decided to look into it and found out that there really is a La Sirena Grill coming to Irvine. It will be part of the new Orchard Hills Village Center on the north-west corner of Culver Dr. and Portola Parkway. We will try to give notification here when it opens for real. For now, you can read our review of the original La Sirena Grill in Laguna Beach.

UPDATE (Saturday, June 30):

Went to my dentist earlier today and in the discussion that ensued I found out he had been to this new La Sirena Grill location so a couple hours later I went for an early dinner. Here's a few pictures from my visit, showing their nice outside dining area, their menu boards, and the taquito plate I ordered.









La Nueva Reyna de Michoacan

Date of Visit: June 26, 2007
La Nueva Reyna de Michoacan
300 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
(714) 835-0394

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Was contacted recently by Kathy Nguyen at The Orange County Register asking if I would like my site profiled in the paper. We agreed to meet over Mexican food, and since I've been meaning to get to the Mexican ice cream store known as La Nueva Reyna de Michoacan after reading about it in the OC Weekly, and knowing it was close to the Register offices Kathy and I agreed that it'd be fun to talk over some ice cream.


I arrived before Kathy did and waited for her to show up. When she did we both went in and started talking with the lady working there who was very nice but was reluctant to allow either of us to take pictures. Kathy and I then stepped outside to figure out what to do. She said that perhaps I looked like a stern health inspector or some other intimidating official sort of person. In my jeans and Hawaiian shirt I thought I looked pretty laid back but guess that just made me look like a health inspector in disguise. Since neither Kathy or I knew very good Spanish (although Kathy's has excellent Spanish pronunciation) she decided to call for some bilingual backup from the Register. She was able to get someone fluent in Spanish on the cell phone then handed the cell phone to the woman behind the counter to explain to her that we were friendly visitors there who meant no harm. The woman understood the explanation she got over the cell phone and eased up and explained to us all the frozen treats they serve.


I had heard the guava ice cream was good but found out they didn't have any when I was in. One ice cream flavor they had that I never knew existed as an ice cream flavor was cottage cheese. I sampled that and it just tasted like extra creamy, extra rich vanilla ice cream with a slight cheesy velvet-like texture to it, smooth not curdled. The only other kind I sampled before settling on a purchase to make was the cinnamon ice cream which was good and "cinnamony" but I couldn't really imagine eating a whole cone full of it.


I finally settled on one of these paletas, a fresh fruit popsicle, basically, that are made and packaged on location and sold there and maybe even sold elsewhere outside of the store.


While the whole discussion between Kathy and I is going on and during all our sampling and purchasing and unwrapping and enjoying Register photographer Leonard Ortiz was there to capture all the action. I'm not exaggerating when I say I think he took at least 200-250 photos. Some I hope are never seen by the general public, such as when I had to open my popsicle wrapper with my teeth and when I dropped all my change onto the ground and stooped down to try to pick it up. In the following shot Leonard and I are both capturing Kathy holding her cone of walnut ice cream:




I ordered the creamy strawberry popsicle that had a huge frozen strawberry almost falling out of the bottom and leaving very little of the popsicle stick left for me to grab onto. I wasn't complaining though. On a hot day this refreshing treat was exactly what I needed.


The writeup on this is supposed to be appearing as the lead article in the Life section of the Register on Monday, July 2, which will focus on several other food-loving people as well. I don't know exactly how the article is going to turn out. I was asked if I wouldn't mind having my picture taken for it. I struggled with how to handle that since, according to the 300-yr. old Food Bloggers Code Book, my appearance should be kept secret but at the same time I didn't want to reject the request. My solution was that maybe I could have my picture taken in such a way that readers would get some idea of what I looked like while still leaving me mostly unrecognizable to owners of restaurants I might visit in the future. So when the actual pictures were taken my best attempt to disguise myself was to put my sunglasses on. And maybe they'll use a picture with my back turned to the camera. At least I'll never be able to wear that same Hawaiian shirt to a Mexican restaurant again.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Maui Report

As promised, here's a brief photo report on some of the Mexican food I had while on my trip to the island of Maui in Hawaii a couple weeks ago before we return to our regularly scheduled coverage of Orange County Mexican restaurants. I went for several reasons. One was to get away from it all. One was to finally meet the editor of Hawaiian Style Magazine (I proofread their quarterly issues) in person for the first time. Another reason was to attend the Maui Film Festival. In fact, when I went to meet the editor it was at the Four Seasons where they had a press event going on honoring actors Claire Danes and William Hurt:




Another reason I went was to try out food at fine culinary establishments such as this smoothie truck:


And I went to try out Mexican food. You might not think they have Mexican food there beyond Taco Bell but they have so much I couldn't cover it all in one weeklong trip. I might as well start with the two pictures I had to take with a disposable camera after my digital camera pooped out on me:

Seascape

This is the casual sit-down restaurant at the Maui Ocean Center, which is like a smaller version of Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific. I got some fish tacos. Pretty standard stuff.

Hali'imaile General Store

Here's the picture I really wish I had my digital camera for. This is the Grape and Brie Quesadilla from the Hali'imaile General Store in upcountry Maui, served with basil pesto and sweet pea guacamole.


Even though it's called a "general store" it is actually a restaurant in the spot of an old general store. They sell a cook book you can get from Amazon with a few exotic, Mexican-inspired recipes such as "Asian Pear and Duck Tostada."

Jawz Tacos

Okay, now the picture quality starts getting better again. Named either after the famous Maui surf spot and/or the infamous shark movie and/or the muscles you chew your food with, Jawz Tacos in Kihei claims to have been voted by Maui residents as selling the best fish tacos on the island:


They are like a cross between a Rubio's and a Taco Surf and they had one of the most varied salsa bars I've ever seen.


The mahi mahi fish tacos I got were good but I'm not sure if they should be award-winning. I'll be going back though, if only to try their macadamia nut flan I saw listed on their menu board.

Compadres Taqueria


Compadres Taqueria serves food to mallrats and has a sitdown area and a takeout window. I went to the takeout window and ordered a seafood chile relleno and chicken enchilada. Then I went to the Orange Julius in the same food court there in the Lahaina Cannery Mall and got a strawberry julius to drink. The food was serviceable but not quite appealing enough to finish off, especially when I saw that my chile relleno was microwaved.

Royal Lahaina Resort

One night after a busy day I went back to my hotel room and ordered a Kahlua Pork Quesadilla from room service and watched Deja Vu starring Denzel Washington on Pay-for-Play. Kahlua pork is pretty much the Hawaiian version of Mexican carnitas.

Maui Tropical Plantation


The Maui Tropical Plantation is a large botanical garden in Waikapu that you can take tram tours of. They have a restaurant and gift shop on the grounds and you can also find a hut on the grounds that has a TV/VCR set up inside with a videotape constantly looping that tells the story of C&H Sugar. Does anyone else remember their old commercials from the 1970's? There's also a lagoon area (pictured above) that could be called Edenic.


I ordered the fish tacos, which were enormous and were served with an excellent papaya/strawberry tropical salsa:


So, that's my report on Maui Mexican food. Until I return and try some more, that is . . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gabbi's Quick Stop #3



Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Quesadillas de Huitlacoche

Stopped by Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen on the Orange Circle today for lunch. I go roughly once a month and they generally seem to have at least one new item every time I go. This time they had an excellent Quesadillas de Huitlacoche. This was recommended to me by their co-owner Ed, whose wife Gabbi was very busy being the new up-and-coming celebrity chef. I talked more extensively with Ed than usual this time and he explained that huitlacoche is a sort of Mexican truffle that grows on ears of corns. It destroys the corn it grows on but sells for considerably more than corn so the corn farmers don't mind too much if their corn gets attacked by this fancy, delectable mushroom. This dish is served as an appetizer with melted cheese in two corn tortillas in a poblano crema sauce.

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Quesadillas de Huitlacoche

Gabbi's was also recently named "Promising Newcomer in Mexican Cuisine" by the Southern California Restaurant Writer's Association. Also, I wanted to try their new banana cheesecake for dessert but for today I had other dessert plans. More on that later...

Follow the "gabbi's" label to read all our extensive coverage on Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen:

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tortilla Jo's - Review #2



Tortilla Jo's Taqueria
@ Downtown Disney
1510 S Disneyland Dr, Bldg. A
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 535-5000

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VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This review (Tortilla Jo's - Review #2) is only of their takeout window. We also have reviews of their sitdown service. CLICK HERE for our complete Tortilla Jo's coverage.

Tortilla Jo's - Logo

Tortilla Jo's - Takeout Window

A lot of the complaints I've seen about Tortilla Jo's at Downtown Disney center on the typically long wait (although I have had good luck a couple times there). If you get there and you find there's going to be a long wait you might want to consider going to the take-out window around the side of the building. It has an abbreviated version of the sit-down restaurant's menu but also has a few items that the sit-down section doesn't have. Case in point: the "Mexicone" I got yesterday served in a crisp corn tortilla shell that has been twisted into an ice cream cone shape. It comes stuffed with beans, rice, onions, cilantro, and cheese, and your choice of meat (or no meat, if you prefer). I chose the shredded pork which tasted a lot like the crispy carnitas from El Farolito Jr. I don't know if you're supposed to walk around enjoying your Mexicone in the heat of the summer day since it's in supposedly transportable form. It might've been my ineptitude but I had to sit down and eat it while it crumbled all over the place. That doesn't mean it didn't taste good.

Tortilla Jo's -

Surprisingly enough they also sell horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica aguas frescas, but, unfortunately, they are steeply expensive at $3.75 a glass. My guess is that this precludes many visitors from even trying it out and opting instead for a standard soda, which, of course, is still too expensive when you are at Disneyland, but at least cheaper than the aguas frescas.

The takeout window doesn't validate your parking ticket but you can go into the entrance of the sitdown section and show them your takeout receipt and they will validate your Downtown Disney parking ticket.

Since I had seen an ad before that showed that Tortilla Jo's Taqueria sold frozen fresh fruit popsicles I asked during this visit if they had those and the girl at the window said they used to but don't anymore but she wished that they still had them. They do sell flan, churros, and brownies for dessert though.

Tortilla Jo's at Downtown Disney earns a three "Panchito" and half Speedy Gonzales rating (whatever that means):

Panchito Panchito Panchito Speedy Gonzales

UPDATE (June 30, 2009): Here's some carnitas tacos I got as a takeout item recently:

IMGP0369

Friday, June 22, 2007

El Pollo Loco's New Barbecue Chicken

Earlier this month Irvine-based El Pollo Loco introduced its barbecue chicken flavor to be available for a limited time only (until September 4). This flavor is utilized in El Pollo Loco's traditional chicken dinners as well as a BBQ Ranch Chicken Tostada Salad and a BBQ Chicken Quesadilla.


The full description and photo of the salad can be found in the recently updated Salad Wars entry here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Los Cotijas - Review #1


Just barely walked in the door from a weeklong trip to Hawaii. I haven't forgotten the blog here at all. In fact, I'll soon be posting a review of a Mexican restaurant I went to a day before my trip as well as a report on the Mexican food I had while on Maui. For now, I reprint with permission a review by ElmoMonster of Monster Munching on his visit to Los Cotijas in Tustin:


Where else but Orange County can a trio of long-haired, Asian-American surfer dudes build an empire selling Mexican food. But as much I admire the homegrown success of Wahoo's, I do not like their fish tacos because of one very simple reason: the fish must be fried.

Charbroiling the fish over flames may cut the fat content and increase its heart-health quotient, but it makes for flavorless, lifeless, dry-as-dust tacos. Deep-frying is the only path to righteousness for tacos de pescado.

The folks at Los Cotijas operate on this tried-and-true, time-tested principle. And the result? Well let's just say that your cardiologist likely won't approve. But damn if it ain't one tasty taco!

A slender fillet of white-fleshed fish is dunked in batter, dropped into hot grease, and fried until it attains a golden brown crunch. Stop here and you'd have half of what the British serve in their pubs as fish and chips. But wrap it around warm corn tortillas, top with crunchy shredded cabbage, mound on a spoonful of spicy pico de gallo, squirt some tangy, milky-white mayo-sauce and you have the best invention to come out of our Southern neighbors since tequila.

Los Cotijas charges you a paltry two bucks for each. And even if the Rubio's chain might charge less per taco, theirs is also smaller in size and lacks the soulfulness of these beauties. And if you think you'll miss the faux thatched roof over Rubio's salsa bar, or the signs pointing south with the distance in miles to Ensanada and Los Cabos, take comfort in this: Los Cotijas' grimy and worn interior is more accurate to what a fish taco joint would actually look like in Mexico.

Thanks, ElmoMonster!

Be sure to check out the Monster Munching blog, which covers all types of restaurants in Orange County.

Here's a couple pictures I took myself in Sep. 2007:

Los Cotijas - Exterior


Los Cotijas - Interior


And another one from January 2010:

IMG00310-20100127-1256

Sunday, June 10, 2007

El Zocalo - Review #1

Date of Visit: June 8, 2007
El Zocalo Mexican Steak House
301 N Tustin Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 569-1179

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El Zocalo - Exterior Shot #1


El Zocalo - Exterior Shot #2

A little over a year ago, back in the Roundup #4 entry, I mentioned that a waiter at Black Sheep Bistro in Tustin said that one of his favorite Mexican restaurants was El Zocalo Mexican Steak House in Santa Ana. The mere fact that I made that mention means that anybody searching on "zocalo" is likely to find my blog in their search results, but then come here and not actually find any information on it . . . until now. This should show anybody that's ever made a recommendation to me that I follow up on all recommendations I get . . . even if it takes a year or more.

El Zocalo - Trumpeter
You can hear this trumpeter for miles around

In a location that used to be the Ancient Mariner restaurant in the 70's and several other restaurants since then, El Zocalo looks a lot like the Chili Pepper in Orange with more earth tones, less primary colors, and lots more jungly overgrowth. The tiki torches in their courtyard don't exactly further the Mexican theme but I'm not complaining.

El Zocalo - Fountain

Meeting up with friends Matt and Rhett who arrived before I did, we perused the menu and I made an offhanded remark that somebody should order a steak since we were technically at a "steak house." Matt, with very little prodding, ordered the top sirloin steak (medium rare), which was served with steamed vegetables, corn on the cob, and french fries:

El Zocalo - Top Sirloin Steak
Top Sirloin Steak

Rhett ordered a carne asada platter which was served with Spanish rice, salsa and guacamole on a leaf of lettuce, and beans in a little tostada-style bowl:

El Zocalo - Carne Asada Platter
Carne Asada Platter

I went for the chicken enchiladas in mole (pronounced "mow-lay") sauce, served with rice and beans and a little bit of salad fixin's that I probably should've asked for some dressing for. This was quite likely the hottest mole sauce I've yet experienced. Bitter, hot, and chocolatey: from reading it it might not sound so good but when you taste it your taste buds will counteract your mental reasoning on the matter.

El Zocalo - Enchiladas de Mole
Enchiladas de Mole

Matt and Rhett, my Zen masters and spiritual guides:

El Zocalo - Matt Olmstead


El Zocalo - Rhett Boyakin

Seeing as how Rhett and Matt actually have things called "jobs" that they had to get back to I was the only one left to enjoy dessert, the bunuelos with ice cream which ended up being a lot like the deep-fried ice cream that Azteca's in Huntington Beach serves but without the ice cream being deep-fried, if that makes any sense. These were six fried, sweetened tortilla wedges all pointing at two scoops of ice cream, everything drizzled with strawberry sauce with a mint leaf, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

El Zocalo - Bunuelos

I'm going to give El Zocalo a three and three quarters Speedy Gonzales rating, leaning towards possibly rounding it up to four, and if Matt and Rhett chime in with their assessment then I can average out our ratings:

Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales Speedy Gonzales