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Friday, October 26, 2007

El Torito Grill - Review #5

Date of Visit: October 20, 2007
El Torito Grill
555 Pointe Dr
Brea, CA 92821
(714) 990-2411

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El Torito Grill -

Continuing my quest to cover every El Torito Grill in Orange County I went last Saturday with Chris and Kristanna (my regular El Torito Grill buddies) to what could be the oldest El Torito Grill ever, the one in Brea. At least Kristanna says she remembers it being there in the mid-80's, about ten years before I was aware of the El Torito Grill concept.

We started out with their excellent hand-made tortillas that come with honey butter and two types of salsa:

El Torito Grill - Tortillas and Honey Butter

And we couldn't resist ordering the guacamole made tableside again, once again brought to a medium spiciness with a helping of queso fresco on top, served with round tri-colored chips:

El Torito Grill - Tableside Guacamole

Kristanna went for Combination #4 again, "Grilled Chicken Roasted Corn Enchilada, Mesquite-Grilled Steak Taco and Two Chicken Taquitos."

El Torito Grill - Combo #4

Chris, sticking with his love of all things carnitas, once again ordered the Carnitas Yucatan, "Roasted marinated pork topped with red onions marinated with habañero chiles and lime juice. Served with red and black beans, rice, avocado relish and sweet corn cake."

El Torito Grill - Carnitas Yucatan

I went for one of their current specials, the Mesquite-grilled Salmon Quesadilla: "Fresh salmon mesquite-grilled with jack, cotija and cream cheeses, pineapple-mango relish, red onions, pasilla chiles and capers rolled in a grilled cilantro-jalapeño flour tortilla. Served with tropical and avocado relishes." Not your usual flat tortilla with melted cheese inside, this quesadilla is more like a cross between a . . . well, it's really more like a chimichanga that hasn't been deep fried.

El Torito Grill - Salmon Quesadilla

Before heading over there I had read about their "Pumpkin Chimi" online. Made with "Spiced pumpkin, cream cheese, marshmallows and pecans in a crispy cinnamon-sugar flour tortilla served with dulce de leche ice cream, glazed pecans, cajeta, chipotle-chocolate sauce, crispy cinnamon-sugar tortilla strips and a dollop of fresh whipped cream," this is the dessert Chris and Kristanna shared.

El Torito Grill - Pumpkin Chimi

I had wanted to order the Pumpkin Chimi myself but when I found out they couldn't make it without pecans I then ordered the deep-fried ice cream from their specials menu (it was on their specials menu in the restaurant but not mentioned along with the Pumpkin Chimi in the specials menu online). After I ordered it, the waitress-in-training came back to the table and asked if I had a nut allergy. While peanuts are fine for me I told her that walnuts, pecans, and coconut are out of the question. She then told me that the coating used for their deep-fried ice cream has walnuts in it and the waiter she was with showed me a cup of the coating. I then realized I couldn't get this dessert either. I should've thought to ask about it beforehand but I forgot but the waitress caught it and helped avoid a disaster. That's what I call personalized service.

When the two dessert items currently on their specials menu became out of the question I went for an old standby from their regular menu, the Molten Chocolate Cake, "Warm chocolate cake with a soft, creamy center drizzled with chipotle-chocolate sauce. Served with dulce de leche ice cream, strawberries and a dollop of fresh cream."

El Torito Grill - Molten Chocolate Cake

I like to say that El Torito Grill is corporate, but "corporate done right." My experience a week ago at their Brea location maintains a solid four and a half Speedy Gonzales rating for the whole chain:

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Read our other El Torito Grill entries:

Or click on the "el torito grill" label below to read our full El Torito Grill coverage:

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Taco Standups

Here's a product I found out about recently that I wish every Mexican restaurant would use, the Taco Standups:

Taco Standups

These are little stands that help in preparing tacos and with presenting them.

Taco Standups

They make it easier to prepare because you can set the shell in the holder and add the toppings in without having to hold the shell and they are better for presentation because they keep the taco standing up with all the fillings proudly on display. There's been too many times where I've tried to take pictures of tacos for this blog, only to have the tacos flopping over and showing nothing but their shells.

Taco Standups

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mollie's Country Kitchen

Date of Visit: October 23, 2007
Mollie's Country Kitchen
27932 La Paz Rd Ste M
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
(949) 643-9174

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Yes, It's Really Mexican Food

Mollie's Country Kitchen - Exterior

I've had a couple people recommending Mollie's Country Kitchen in Laguna Niguel to me and they always assure me that it has plenty of Mexican food. And they always recommend the huevos rancheros. Since I do follow up on every recommendation that is made I went to Mollie's yesterday for lunch and tried the huevos rancheros (over-easy fried eggs on a corn tortilla). You can get them without meat and with red ranchero sauce, or with pork and chile verde sauce. I opted for the latter option and got half beans, half potatoes, sour cream, and guacamole on the side. Highly recommended. This is a breakfast item that I will eat at any time of the day.

Mollie's Country Kitchen - Huevos Rancheros

On my way out I talked with the manager and he said the restaurant started roughly 25 years ago and was actually opened by a woman named Mollie. There were some Mexican items on the menu even then but when Mollie sold the restaurant to the current manager's father then more Mexican items were added. The late 1970's façade of Mollie's (and the whole strip mall it resides in) could use an update but the food found inside will fill you up and tantalize your taste buds while it does it.

Mollie's Country Kitchen earns a four Speedy Gonzales rating:

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

OC Fires

If you live in Orange County and are not breathing in smoke and ash right now from the various fires then you must at least be able to see flames and/or smoke. And if you can't see it then you must've at least heard about the fires. And if you live in Orange County and you haven't heard about the fires then you are either in a coma or blissfully out-of-touch. The point is that the situation is serious enough to affect lives, property, businesses and more.

Over at the, Nancy Luna, the Fast Food Maven, is keeping track of affected businesses as well as pointing out businesses who are doing a good deed and helping firefighters and victims with donations of food and other resources. At least four Mexican restaurants we have covered here are mentioned, including a little gem out in Trabuco Canyon. I was glad to hear they are safe, even though they are definitely near the danger zone.

If you were planning on eating out tonight and you find out the restaurant you were planning on going to is in a safe zone then bring your business in because some businesses may not be having customers show up because of the mistaken idea that the restaurant is in a danger zone. Even more importantly, do stay away from the actual danger zones. Keep safe!

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Review #1

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas
16952 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
(714) 842-2404

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Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Exterior

(UPDATE: As of March 18, 2009, Lucia's has closed down. It has been rumored that it will open in another spot. If anyone has anyone information please leave a comment.)

Reprinted here with permission is ChubbyPanda's review of Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas, originally posted at his Epicurious Wanderer blog:

ChubbyPanda IconLucia's Tacos and Mulitas (a.k.a. Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas) is one of those earthy, local joints that can be very intimidating to the uninitiated. Located at the end of a tiny strip of service stores and dwarfed by both the Valero gas station and the liquor store that share the same lot, it doesn't stand out. If you do happen to notice and decided to investigate, you'll be confronted by a cramped space featuring menus and specials heavy on Spanish, and a staff who are light on English. The clientele are a mix of day laborers, mechanics, blue collar types, and a few out-of-place office workers, such as yours truly. However, don't be scared by the rough customers, mismatched tables and chairs (often dirty), or the language barrier. For those who are adventurous enough, Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas offers a true taste of authentic Mexican street food that will delight the tongue and satisfy the stomach.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Limes

Here are some simple instructions for navigating Lucia's Taco and Mulitas:
  1. Secure a table. The place is small and they're in high demand during lunch. Bring a friend so one can guard the table and the other can order. You may need to wipe down your table and chairs, and bus any dishes from the previous diners.
  2. Check to see if your table has a salt shaker with salt in it. The salt is important, since the cooks prepare everything lightly salted so that you can adjust it to your liking.
  3. Figure out what you want to eat by reading the big menu on the wall. There are helpful English translations for most, but not all of the items. However, anyone who's lived in Southern California for a while should be able to suss out the rest.
  4. Step up to the cashier and order. Try not to mangle the Spanish bits too much. Pay immediately.
  5. Hit the salsa bar. Get lots of limes, containers of salsa, paper napkins, plastic cutlery, and salt packets (if you weren't able to score a salt shaker with salt when you got the table). Everything here is self-service. If you don't get it, no one will bring it to you.
  6. Wait and listen for the cook to call your order. It will be in Spanish and spoken very quickly, so listen carefully.
  7. When your order is called, go get it from the cook. It's eatin' time!
Sounds complicated, huh? Trust me, it's worth it. Good gods is it ever worth it. Don't believe me?

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Tacos

Take a gander at this gorgeous plate of tacos, each made using a fresh, flour tortilla hand-made by the cooks. On the right, a Taco Al Pastor. Spice-marinated pork is slow-roasted on a vertical rotisserie. Thin slices are shaved off, chopped, and used to generously stuff the tortilla. Powerful and piquant, it packs a pleasurable punch. I usually just hit mine with a squirt of lime before snarfing.

On the left is a Taco de Cabeza, which in this case consists of braised beef cheeks that are like none I've ever tasted. Rich with fat and gelatin, unctuously soft, and delightfully decadent, it flows across the tongue like the finest tendon and marrow. A little salt and lime juice adds a great counterpoint.

In the middle is a Taco de Lengua, filled with a juicy heap of chopped beef tongue that has been braised until meltingly tender, with a flavor like slightly rare rib meat. A dash of salt, some lime juice, and a little of their hottest salsa are all I need to make it perfect.

Those of you who are squirming can stop. Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas also offers the standard Carne Asada, Carnitas, and Pollo for any of their tacos, burritos, and platters. I'm just very fond of the nasty bits.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Mulita de Cabeza

If you like tacos, but want to try something a little different, I highly recommend the Mulitas. These are essentially kicked up, meat-packed quesadillas made with fresh Queso (cheese). This one was a Mulita de Cabeza.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Sope

You can also try one of the Sopes. Your choice of meat is piled on a fried flour tortilla, covered with shredded lettuce and cheese, smothered in sour cream, and topped with a few tomato slices. Undoubtedly good, but also definitely not for anyone with a heart condition. This one was a Sope de Lengua.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Meat Platter

The truly hungry should get one of the meat platters, which are essentially build-your-own-taco plates. You get a good-sized portion of the meat of your choice, Mexican rice, beans, a salad, a hefty wedge of queso, and a stack of five or six tortillas.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas -

In addition to the configurable tacos, mulitas, sopes, and meat platters, Lucia’s also offers burritos and Tortas (Mexican sandwiches). However, their best dishes are their specials, which are printed on separate sheets of paper and taped up under the menu. For example, this Camarones al Mojo de Ajo (Shrimp in Sauce of Garlic), which I rather enjoyed. The garlic, garlic, garlic, more garlic, and butter puree the shrimp were poached in may be a bit strong for some. However, I liked the kick, and made sure none of the sauce escaped the sopping power of my tortillas.

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Tortillas

My favorite special is their Menudo, which is quite possibly the best I've ever had. Menudo is a soup made of all four kinds of beef tripe (cows have four stomachs, ya know) slow-cooked in a strong broth of chilies and other spices. While it has great flavor, Lucia's menudo broth is surprisingly gentle spice-wise...

Lucia's Tacos y Mulitas - Menudo

...which is why I kick it up with lots of cilantro, onion, oregano, lime juice, and Chiles de Arbol (a common kind of small, dried chili). Ahhh... Heaven...

Lucia's Tacos and Mulitas - Authentic Mexican cuisine at amazing prices. Follow the steps and you'll be just fine. Don't forget to score some limes and salt.

Thanks, CP!

Read ChubbyPanda's Full Report

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gabbi's Quick Stop #4

Stopped by Gabbi's (Zagat-rated for 2008 as the best Mexican restaurant in the Greater LA area) today for lunch. I like how when I go every month or so there's usually a new item or two to try. Today they had at least four new items. Ordered the shrimp and crab chile relleno, (a special item for today) then found out they were sold out due to its popularity. So on co-owner Ed Patrick's suggestion I tried the Enchiladas de Langostino and Cangrejo (lobster and crab crepes in pipían sauce), a new item that recently appeared on their regular menu. This was one of the few Mexican seafood enchiladas where all the component tastes actually worked well together and there was plenty of the pepita sauce for me to scoop up with my corn chips.

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Enchiladas de Langostino and Cangrejo

For dessert I finally got to try their tres leches, the Mexican dessert comprised of a sponge cake soaked in three different kinds of milk and served in a cream sauce and chocolate sauce with a chilled strawberry on top. And I was told that an apple cobbler would be premiering tonight as a new dessert item.

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Tres Leches

And there's still no sign out in front of Gabbi's kitchen . . .

Click HERE or on the "gabbi's" label below to read our extensive coverage and to view plenty of photos of their food (including photos that are much better quality than the ones in this entry) and their still signless exterior:

La Fondita - Review #1

Date of Visit: September 29, 2007
La Fondita
111 E Chapman Ave
Placentia, CA 92870
(714) 528-3627

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La Fondita - Exterior

La Fondita is a place I saw last year when covering another Mexican restaurant in Placentia. I made a mental note to myself to go and eat there sometime and a year and a half later I finally made it back. Of course, one of the things that caught my attention back when I first saw them is their very colorful storefront.

La Fondita - Signage

This visit was with my friend James and his son Thomas, who has a real love for corn chips. You may remember them from other reviews. Lori was out of state on a family emergency.

La Fondita - Menu Board

One thing I liked about their salsa bar is that they have watermelon slices in it, a fact I took advantage of several times. Why can't more salsa bars be like this one?

La Fondita - Watermelon

La Fondita - Chips and Salsa

James ordered the Chicken "Guaca-Taco" Platter, which is probably what I'm going to get the next time I go. These are made with hand-made, somewhat thick corn tortillas, roasted chicken breast, fresh onions, cilantro, and guacamole.

La Fondita - Chicken Guaca-Taco Platter

I had ordered one chicken taco a la carte to go with my Caldo de Res (Beef soup), but my taco was lacking the guacamole, but it was still one of the best chicken tacos I've ever had.

My soup was in a hearty broth, with lots of cabbage, potatoes, onions, zucchini, and beef. Something to warm you up inside when the weather's cool outside.

La Fondita - Caldo de Res

La Fondita - Shrek
Thomas Shrek

The papaya shake I ordered was easily the biggest milkshake I've ever had. Probably a half-gallon of frothy, "papayan" goodness.

La Fondita - Papaya Shake

The service was slow but the food was worth it when it finally came. I suspect they are not always this slow. For now La Fondita gets a tentative 3¾ Speedy Gonzales rating:

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