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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Taco Rosa - Review #3

Taco Rosa
2632 San Miguel Road
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 720-0980

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Official Site

Okay, a reader named Joy posted a comment on my most recent review of Taco Rosa and her comments were so lengthy and in-depth I felt they could pass as their very own entry. I've been hoping for other people to submit reviews of restaurants and now we have the first such instance so you other readers don't feel shy. Hopefully we can have some good quality pictures to portray Taco Rosa with whenever there might be a fourth review.

From here on out it is Joy's words:

Hi Christian,

Love your blog! Mostly in response to your posts, I dragged my SO and friend to Taco Rosa last night (well, dragged isn't quite the word) and we LOVED it! They had canteloupe and honeydew aguas frescas, and I started with the canteloupe thinking I'd have honeydew for my next glass -- I didn't realize it was free refills, that's great! Okay, so I'll try the honeydew another time.

We got the complimentary appetizers and didn't think we'd get chips, so we ordered chips and guacamole. The guac was *great* - lots of avocado. But they brought chips and three salsas out beforehand. All three were pretty smooth rather than chunky, and one was a chile verde; do you know what the other two were?

We went overboard on ordering because I wanted to try everything. Between the three of us we got: chips and guacamole, chile relleno, flor de calabaza (zucchini quesadilla), a calamari taco, and two orders of carnitas pibil -- these each came with piles of escabeche, and some with more guac and sour cream. The corn tortillas were excellent: much thicker than usual, and steaming hot, very flavorful. I convinced the men to help me with a single order of sopapillas, although I had to do more than my share. All told, we paid $68 plus tip, and took home four full boxes of leftovers = four more servings/meals.

Loved the chile relleno (very eggy), flor de calabaza, calamari taco, escabeche, aguas frescas, and guac. The men found the carnitas not quite to their taste -- not dry, as is often the problem, but not as flavorful, with a somewhat pasty sauce. I tried it and thought it was okay but not great: maybe they were having an off night, or maybe other folks like it this way?

I didn't care for the sweet tamale that came with each entree, but my SO brought his home and warmed it up for lunch today. He still didn't like it, but I liked it just fine on the second try. Guess you have to know what you're getting (and eat it RIGHT away).

The sopapillas were far too large for one person -- it was almost too much for the three of us! Delicious.

Liked the setting a lot too, although we ended up on very hard seats, like picnic table benches. Great service, too.

We are *definitely* going back. Is there anything in particular you'd recommend we try next?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Blue Agave Southwestern Grill - Review #1

Date of Visit: February 25, 2006

18601 Yorba Linda Blvd
Yorba Linda, CA 92886

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Official Site

I'm going to mostly let the pictures do the talking here. The visit was a little rushed due to attending a birthday party immediately beforehand that I didn't know I would be going to. Then at the party I sort of stuffed myself with hot dogs and pork and beans and macaroni salad and Tiki Punch and birthday cake. Once my friends and I arrived at Blue Agave we didn't have much time for lunch before I was off to another engagement. My friends, James and Lori, tried going to Blue Agave on Valentine's Day and said it was so crowded that they gave up and went elsewhere but they were anxious to eventually give it a try and I had never been before myself so we squeezed our visit in today the best we could and we all agreed that it was definitely good enough to go back.

Blue Agave Exterior

Blue Agave New Mexico Grilled Chicken Salad

Blue Agave Taco and Enchilada Combo

Blue Agave Chicken Tortilla Soup

Blue Agave Blue Moon Salad

Blue Agave  Rice Pudding Tostada

Overall Blue Agave earns a four Speedy Gonzales rating:

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Taco de Carlos, RIP

No, I'm not reviewing Taco de Carlos because it doesn't exist any longer but I was mildly excited earlier today when I finally found an image on the web that showed their old logo with the Carls Jr. Happy Star holding a fast food drink and a taco.

Taco de Carlos Mug

Taco de Carlos was an experimental spinoff of the Carls Jr. chain in the 1970's and early 1980's that featured, what else? Mexican food. My family went several times to the one that was at Brookhurst and Warner in Fountain Valley (right next to a standard Carls Jr. that is still in business). I don't remember anything about the food but I remember being very intrigued by the kitschy Happy Star character sporting a sombrero.

Does anyone else remember Taco de Carlos?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Normita's Surf City Tacos - Review #1

Date of Visit: February 20, 2006

815 Indianapolis Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Listing on Yahoo! Local

No known official site.

This is the first place where I got to use my new digital camera. Three friends (Sherry, Bill, and Phil) were along for the experience and at various moments they either didn't know they were being photographed, knew it but tried to get out of frame, or knew I was taking a picture of something else and burst into frame.

Surf City Tacos has a definite surf city vibe (sorry, Santa Cruz), very much of a locals hangout. It is also very cramped inside and the only tables where there is room to put all your food are the two that are outside. But it was too cold to eat outside tonight so we ate with our food hanging off the ledges inside. I ordered the fish taco plate and it came on one of those styrofoam plates that has the two divisions for side orders that were filled with the requisite rice and beans, both very standard tasting. The tacos were very reminiscent of Rubio's fish tacos.

Sherry, Bill, and I all liked the place but Phil called it a cross "between Taco Bell and Las Barcas" and complained about their salsa. He said the only place that has worse salsa is some Mexican joint in Whittier run by Vietnamese people. I guess everyone has their own opinion.

Normita's Surf City Tacos earns a three and a half Speedy Gonzales rating:

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UPDATE: Here's a taco plate I got at a later date:


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Baja Fresh - Review #1

2540 Main St
Irvine, CA 92614

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Official Site

Baja Fresh Exterior

This review is going to fall victim to the fact that I am transitioning from using old-fashioned disposable cameras to my brand new digital camera. I used a disposable one at Baja Fresh and only one of the pictures turned out when I got the prints and the CD back and it wasn't even a very good one. I did a good job of arranging all the food back at my place for some photos and for some unknown reason they didn't turn out. I've had what were going to be good pictures from other restaurants not show up either and after it happened too many times I finally caved and bought a digital camera. It was a Wal-Mart special, 4.1 megapixels and it came with a bunch of accessories that you would normally have to buy separately.

There was nothing bad about the food at Baja Fresh but there was nothing really to like about it either. I also don't like that there are so many places whose name ends in "Fresh Mexican Grill." I don't even know who started it but, as far as I'm concerned, they're all at fault. The chicken tortilla soup was edible but it made me appreciate El Pollo Loco's even more. I think I'm going to actually have to PhotoShop a half Speedy Gonzales now and give Baja Fresh a two and a half Speedy Gonzales rating:

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UPDATE (August 29, 2008):

Here's a much better picture of the storefront taken about two and a half years later:


Also, you can read our subsequent Baja Fresh coverage by clicking the 'baja fresh' label:

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


14952 Sand Canyon Ave
Irvine, CA 92618

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Official Site

Knowlwood Exterior

Located in Old Town Irvine (same parking lot as the Tia Juana's), Knowlwood bills themselves as a "casual dining hamburger and American restaurant experience." The theme is "anything from early to mid-1900's rural American." They specialize in hamburgers and shakes, but have a number of other items on the menu.

This location looked like it might've been built into an old barn as there is a lot of "set decoration" that appears truly authentic. A clipping from the Irvine World News on their wall confirmed that this location did actually use to be a barn and a blacksmith shop. That would explain why the little room I ate in had sorting boxes with dozens of sizes of nails. It's hard to tell how many of the decorations used to create ambience were originally in place when the building operated as a barn and how many of the items were moved in when the building became a Knowlwood restaurant. Was the metal sign for "Green Arrow Steer Manure" around originally? Who knows? Suffice it to say there's a lot of old stuff in there. And some arcade games. And some pinball machines. And a pool table. And an old 1940's truck that looks like it was used to haul produce to the market.

The Truck Inside

I ordered the mahi taco combo. They also have cod, salmon, beef, and chicken tacos. The plate came with two tacos with mahi mahi and stuffed with plenty of green and purple cabbage, lots of chips, a wedge of lime, and a cup of salsa made with tomatoes so bland and unripe you'd swear they were stolen from Chipotle. Everything about the tacos was serviceable but they were about as Americanized (unsurprisingly) as the ones from California Fish Grill. Still, it made a good lunch.

For making serviceable Mexican-inspired food when it's not even their specialty Knowlwood gets a three Speedy Gonzales rating:

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Read ChubbyPanda's Review

UPDATE (December 20, 2007):

Went back recently and took some better quality pictures:




Roundup #2

No, I haven't forgotten this blog. I just haven't been to a Mexican restaurant in an unusually long time (for me that's one week). I could've taken my Valentine's date to a Mexican restaurant last night but we went to a French/Italian one instead. I still have pictures coming for a couple existing entries and I'm about to give in and finally purchase a digital camera soon, which will, of course, help me to have photos available as soon as an entry goes up.

Also, in my Taco Bell review, I mentioned getting Zesty Nachos from the location at Bushard and Talbert in Fountain Valley for 79¢. Well, when I went to another Taco Bell on Saturday last week they didn't have the Zesty Nachos so I had to order Nachos Supreme and ask for it with no beans (which, of course, completely threw off the guy taking my order) and it was $1.29 as I had guessed previously. So, apparently the FV store is a test store. I say they should roll the Zesty Nachos out to every store.

On another note, I may build a proper site around this so that the blog portion will be only one aspect of an entire site. I need to figure out what approach to take to it first. And, if anyone wants to suggest a zingier name for the blog/site and/or develop a logo for it I say, "Go for it." Couldn't guarantee that I'd use whatever might be submitted but I'm entirely open to suggestions.

And, almost but not quite off topic, I was perusing other food blogs (dangerous when you're hungry) and came across this recipe and actually made it about a week later and it turned out good.

Lastly, I'm open to posting reviews from other people. There's so many Mexican restaurants in Orange County that it's hard for one person to cover them all. I'll still do everything I can though, but if you think you might want to help out just let me know. If you only have one review to submit then I might just post it under my ID here and give you credit but if you think you might do a bunch of reviews then I might get you the ability to post here under your own ID. I'll have to figure out how to approach it if and when the opportunity presents itself.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Taco Rosa - Review #2

Click HERE to read ALL our extensive coverage of Taco Rosa. Includes extensive photography. This is the link to follow if you want to see tons of pictures of Taco Rosa's food. Also includes links to their official site, addresses for both their locations and more. If you are just looking at "Taco Rosa - Review #2" then you are not getting the big picture on Taco Rosa.
Taco Rosa
2632 San Miguel Road
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 720-0980

Appetizer: Sausage Chimichanga
Entree: Sopa tlalpeña and Alambré Taco
Drink: sandía (watermelon) aguas fresca
Dessert: Fried Sopapillas

My favorite Taco Rosa waitress served me this time and told me I had missed the grape aguas frescas by one day. I asked her how I would know when they might have it again and she said it is decided each morning what two aguas frescas to make for that day. So I'll have to try again another day. She did, however, bring me a free appetizer that I had never had there before: a sausage chimichanga.

Next up was a bowl of their soup listed on their specials chalkboard for the day and to the best of my memory it was called Sopa tlalpeña, and was basically a chicken soup with rice, garbanzo beans, and avocado slices.

After a big lunch earlier in the day, the chimichanga, the soup, and the prospect of dessert, I wasn't sure I would want a full dinner entree so I ordered an alambré taco (cubed steak grilled with bacon, red onion, pasilla pepper and Oaxaca cheese garnished with marinated serrano peppers and red onion) a la carte. It still came with a helping of escabeche and some of their orange/red corn chips, all of which helped to round out this perfect meal.

Taco Rosa Sopapillas
The sopapillas shone forth a heavenly light
(actually it was just bad photography)

After telling me several times in the past that they don't do half-size orders anymore on dessert I was told tonight that I could get the fried sopapillas half-sized and it was just the right amount for me. The dish came with two fried puffy sopapillas, a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream drizzled with chocolate (that hardened like Magic Shell), and a cup of chocolate and a cup of agave nectar (cactus honey) for dippin'. I don't know what caused the change or how long it might last but it really makes sense to have dessert portions that are the right size for one person, so, thank you, Taco Rosa, for doing that for me. Keep it up. I've been to Taco Rosa many times by myself but have also been on many occasions with as many as seven guests and just about everyone I have introduced Taco Rosa to has gone back and brought other people with them. So I have many times ordered one or more full-sized dessert platters but sometimes you just want a one-person portion. Okay, enough on that "half-size" topic. The final thing I would say about their desserts for this entry is that they now have a separate dessert menu that they bring to each table when the guests are done with their main entrees. It is all the same desserts listed on previous iterations of their full menu, with one exception being that there is a new dessert sampler platter featuring churros, flan, and chocolate-covered strawberries, pretty much some of everything except the sopapillas.

For excellent food and personalized service this Taco Rosa visit earns an unqualified five Speedy Gonzales rating:

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Click on the "taco rosa" label below to read all our entries on Taco Rosa, most of which include better photographs than this entry has.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Taco Bell - Review #1

Date of Visit: February 6, 2006

9480 Talbert Ave
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Listing on Yahoo! Local

Official Site

(UPDATE - March 19, 2007: The Zesty Nachos mentioned in this review that were only available in a few test markets at the time are now available at every Taco Bell.)

"Taco Bell?! Taco Bell?! You mean to tell me you're reviewing the least authentic, most McDonald's-like 'Mexican' fast food restaurant there's ever been?" Yes, yes I am. It may not be authentic but sometimes it fits just what you need at the moment. And I always see Mexican people eating there so if they don't have a problem with it then why should I?

This particular location used to be a Pup 'N' Taco that I would go to all the time with my family when we piled up in our old green van. Pup 'N' Taco had excellent grape slushes that I still miss. It was converted to a Taco Bell in the summer of 1984. Was that a good move? Who knows. A recent Internet search showed that there is still a Pup 'N' Taco somewhere in Texas. If that is true and they still have the grape slushes I might go there.

A new item on their menu that I noticed this time was their Zesty Nachos. I ordered these without hesitation because they seemed like the nachos supreme but without the beans. I used to always order nachos supreme without beans and the employees couldn't figure out why somebody would want nachos without beans so they would always take the beef off instead. Now I can just order the Zesty Nachos and have no fear of my order getting messed up. Also, they are only 79 cents, whereas, if my memory serves me well, the supreme nachos were $1.19 or maybe $1.29.

I also added a bean burrito. Why am I ordering a bean burrito if I don't like beans on my nachos? I guess it's my own idiosyncracy but beans just don't seem right to me on crisp corn chips but do seem appropriate on soft flour tortillas.

Mountain Dew's Baja Blast

Mountain Dew's Baja Blast
Mountain Dew's Baja Blast and Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza

Taco Bell also serves an exclusive Mountain Dew variety, Baja Blast, which they say has a 'tropical lime' flavor. Yes, that's true, you can only get this drink at Taco Bell. This helps to mix things up a little when making a fast food run.

Another plus is their caramel apple empanadas, a relatively recent addition to their menu. I've had these dessert empanadas a few times and they are sticky, gooey fun and a great way to finish off the meal and not at all bad for 99 cents. There was a brief period of time when one Taco Bell location had Klondike brand Choco Tacos on their menu as a dessert item, including the rare Choco Tacos that had strawberry ice cream. I wish they'd bring those back.

My whole meal came to only $4.16. That's pretty good for nachos, a burrito, a drink, and a dessert, all of which tasted very fresh.

I feel funny giving Taco Bell such a high rating but it earns a three and a half Speedy Gonzales rating for having enough unique items on their menu at a very reasonable price:

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Trivia Question:

Five Speedy Gonzaleses go to the first person who can tell what the original name of Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza was.

Update (August 4, 2006): Five Speedy Gonzaleses go to Chaz Lamrusco who correctly guessed that the original name of Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza was "Pizzazz:"

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