Cafe Maíz de El Cholo|
27567 Puerta Real
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
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(UPDATE: Cafe Maiz has closed.) Stopped earlier today for lunch at a soft opening of Cafe Maíz, the new fast casual concept from the El Cholo chain and met up there with Nancy Luna, the OC Register's Fast Food Maven (click here to read her report of the visit). They were getting ready for their grand opening to the public tomorrow. The interior was mostly finished and is very clean but also with a very traditional Mexican theme. Outside the construction workers were working on taking down the temporary banner and putting up the permanent sign.
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Nancy placed her order first then me and we both found out later that we had each ordered an al pastor taco, made with slow-cooked, pulled, marinated pork. I believe this was the first al pastor taco I've had that was garnished with strips of pineapple. Generally, having al pastor tacos on the menu makes a Mexican restaurant's authenticity go up a notch. If you get them at Cafe Maíz try them with the Medium salsa. I also had very good carnitas taco that I gobbled down really quick but now that I think back on it I believe it had two kinds of pork in it. And that went good with the medium salsa too . . . and so did the nachos that Nancy and I shared. Actually the medium was the only kind I got but it was really, really good and I think it must've had some citrus kick to it. I even asked for the recipe on the way out but that remains El Cholo's secret.
Nancy's blog had mentioned a guacamole kit for large parties to create their own customized bowl of guacamole with. I found out today that that concept is being tested first at the Irvine El Cholo location and, if it's successful, it'll be added to Cafe Maíz.
The El Cholo family of restaurants was one of the first places that helped Mexican food catch on in Los Angeles and Orange County back in the 1920's and when I was at their newest location today I saw many of the members of the family that have kept the tradition alive. The owner, Ron Salisbury, pointed out to me a picture of his parents on the wall who were the second generation of El Cholo managers.
Good to see El Cholo adapting with the times while also holding onto their traditions. Four Speedy Gonzaleses:
The Legend of the Nacho TableI've just been informed that each El Cholo location has a "Nacho Table." It's typically one of the "worst" tables in the house, and when people get seated there they get complimentary Carmen's Nachos to make up for the location. Now, the locations aren't terrible. You're not in the bathroom or getting hit in the back with the kitchen door, per se, but it's just a high traffic area outside the kitchen or something. Guests can actually ask for it if they know about it - there is often a wait for those tables even if other tables are available. So, if any readers sit at the Nacho Table leave a comment here and let us know.
UPDATEHere's two photos taken when I went back a while after they had been officially opened:
Click on the 'el cholo' label to read our complete coverage of the El Cholo chain in Orange County (we have a separate review for each of their locations):