August 28th, 2015
Capt. Mateo's Archive
Best Tacos in Costa Mesa SWELL's Gastro Guest Blogger Tackles Tacos in Ground Zero of the Surf Industry
Our 3rd installment of Destination Taco takes us to the backyard of the surfing industry in sunny Costa Mesa. This town has been called home by companies like RVCA, Volcom, and Hurley. This SoCal town is a place I called home for a short time and miss having some of the most amazing and authentic Mexican food just blocks away.
Now I know that the hipsters have tried take claim of Costa Mesa and they’ve done some good, but I was happy to come back and fall in love all over again with the amazing local spots this Latino-rich community has to offer and know that some things don’t change.
As always, I will be rating and awarding each experience accordingly on a scale of 1-5 Cleavers. That said, pop open a Corona, Victoria, or Modelo and check out the best taco’s in Costa Mesa. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened to the dress code section – this is Costa Mesa, as long as you’re polite, you can wear whatever you want.
Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, Costa Mesa is where owner Wing Lam Started it all, the original home to his now famous fish taco empire serving simple Mexican favorites with transcendent Polynesian flavors that keep the empire growing.
Choice of the Day: Grilled Fish, Shrimp, Banzai Veggie
Best Choice: The grilled fish isn’t over-indulgent, over-powered by heart-stopping sauces, no it’s just a good old fashioned combo of tortilla, fish, cabbage, cheese and pico. Squeeze the lime, drizzle the Tapatio, and you’re set.
Tortilla/Toppings: Again, everything is basic in the best of ways.
Salsa Bar: No salsa bar but the Tapatio and Cholula are readily available at every table.
Perfect Pairing: Beer of the Month – Heineken.
Wait: Nothing major.
Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: No, but the $1.99 monthly beers are always a win
Verdict: This is not for the foodies. This is for the people who crave inexpensive delicious tacos in a setting that will almost always make you reminiscent of your adolescence. Look at the stickers on the wall, the skate decks and surfboards on the walls,the hard working staff that will always give you a chorus of “Thank You” as you leave, and come back again and again. Wahoo’s is purely Californian is the best of ways.
El Toro Bava Tortilleria is what really brought me back to Costa Mesa. This place is heaven. There’s nothing bad I can say – to me this is pinnacle authentic Mexican food. Now I guess I should mention how out of place the average white taco enthusiast might feel in this place, but both the staff and locals know why you’re there and are always kind as you fumble your first order and look awkwardly at the standing-only bar where you’ll eat. Don’t sweat it, just enjoy some of the best tacos on the planet.
Choice of the Day: Pork Cheeks, Spicy Goat, Roasted Chicken
Best Choice: The pork cheek tacos are so good, so savory, fatty, greasy, and dripping with absurd amounts of flavor.
Tortilla/Toppings: Tortillas are fresh and the toppings of onions and cilantro are beautifully minimalistic.
Salsa Bar: No but available upon request.
Perfect Pairing: Horchata
Wait: 2-10 minutes depending if the line is out the door.
Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Not that kind of place.
Verdict: I really don’t want to say any more. Just go there and thank me later.
Best Choice: The Tiger Shrimp offers up a great portion of perfectly cooked, gently seasoned shrimp.
Tortilla/Toppings: The tortillas are flour, which I have mixed feelings about, but they are warm. The toppings of lettuce and cheese should thank the salsa bar for its existence.
Salsa Bar: Best in town and one of the best I’ve seen period. An orchestra of salsas.
Perfect Pairing: Diet Coke – because fresh fish always means crushed ice.
Wait: Dinner reservations recommended.
Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: No.
Verdict: This place is a sleeper. Nestled in the industrial side of Costa Mesa, you can easily miss it. But one you open the doors and enter the dimly lit, laid-back establishment, you’ll feel transported to some tropical getaway and be happy you wore your sandals.It’s just a nice break. In the end, the food is good and the staff is eager to help you make a great decision – find it and try it.
The last stop had some debate among my trusted circle of friends, foodies, and opinionated jerks I hang out with, but thankfully I decided to go back to Taco Mesa after years of missing their amazing food. That said, and having mentioning my debate, I can only speak for this location as I’ve heard poorer things for the others. Yes I know they’ve won things like “Best Taco in OC” – I don’t care about that crap. I do care about the warehouses of flavor they pack between tortillas, how they masterfully craft cohesive topping combinations, and how they deliver some of the best available. That’s all I care about.
Choice of the Day: Alambre Steak, Calamari, Al Pastor
Best Choice: The Alambre Steak is not a gimmick. It’s culinary chemistry that works. The fine nuts of steak, the pieces of bacon, the melted cheese and pickled onions. I was almost offended by it’s good-ness.
Tortilla/Toppings: Fresh, crisp, clean flavors that exemplify the craftsmanship.
Salsa Bar: Sriracha is there ready and waiting. That’s all you need.
Perfect Paring: House Margarita or Primo
Wait: Taco Tuesday can send a line out the door so come early and stay for the nightlife.
Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Nope.
Verdict: 10’s across the board.
Ok people, Episode 3 of Destination Taco is a wrap. I was happy to get back to these incredible place and share them with you. Costa Mesa is a special place in south Orange County, it’s a place where the stereotypes don’t always apply, where the hipsters have brought in some awesome music, and businesses continue to succeed because the owners don’t mess with the classics and the locals appreciate it loyally.
Thank you for reading and please share your suggestions – who knows maybe I’ll buy you some tacos as you show me the best of what your hometown has to offer? Until next time eat well, drink up, & adios!Thank you for visiting the Swell blog. Visit us on www.facebook.com/swell for more exclusive fan offers, giveaways and more.
The Best Tacos in San Clemente Guest Gastro-Blogger Hits Our Home Turf in Search of the Best Surf Grinds
This is Episode 2 of Destination Taco: a town-to-town expedition of all things cradled in a tortilla and known as a taco. Our second stop brings us to San Clemente – where SWELL has home-field advantage in a town packed with tacos so delicious, I considered moving there. Seriously. I literally fell in love with tacos. Multiple times. As always, I will be rating and awarding each experience accordingly on a scale of 1-5 Cleavers. So let’s get started in this surfside paradise of taco perfection.
Bull Taco has only called San Clemente home for 4 months and hit the ground running with an impressive and affordable menu and atmosphere. I won’t even bother trying to describe this place – it’s just awesome.
- Choice of the Day: Duck, Vegetarian, and Shrimp Bacon Chorizo
- -Best Choice: The Shrimp Bacon Chorizo brings the term “mouthgasm” to mind.
- -Tortilla/Toppings: The tortillas are buttery and toppings are brilliantly thought out.
- Salsa Bar: No salsa bar but they’ve got a great selection of carefully crafted hot sauces
- Perfect Pairing: Pacifico (on draft).
- Suggested Dress Code: Like I said. Laid back: boardshorts, bikinis, & graphic tees
- Wait: Nothing more than a few minutes, if that.
- Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Changing the game with Taco Thursday – $1 tacos/$2 beers.
Verdict: This is not some kind of Taco Shop turned test lab. The flavors are carefully crafted and compliment each other beautifully. Hell, even the Vegetarian was good and I hate all that stuff. Simply said, this place will leave you excited to come back again and again.
St. Paddy’s Day Recipe: Corned Beef Tacos & Green Coronas Swell's Guest Gastro-Blogger Cooks Up A Cultural Combo with Suds & Style
This is how to make corned beef & cabbage tacos with baked potato chips & green beer. I’ve never made these before and wanted to avoid googling someone else’s recipe, so after some careful experimentation with old family recipes, my rigid traditionalism was able to shake hands with my new creation and spawn something truly delicious. I’m not exactly Julia Child’s but these tacos are a great take on the hearty classic that will help make your St. Paddy’s Day party legendary. Let’s get into it.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 Corned Beef Brisket (w/seasoning packet)
- 4-Pack of Guinness
- 8 Cups of Water
- 1 Bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey (optional…but it is really?)
- 1/2 Head of Green Cabbage
- 1 Sm. Bag of Baby Carrots
- 1 Serrano or Habanero (optional)
- 1/2 Yellow Onion
- 2 Tbl Spoons of Apple Cider Vinegar
- 8 White Corn Tortillas
- Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup of Deli Mustard (I prefer w/Horseradish)
- 1 8oz. Container of Sour Cream
- 10 gold fingerling potatoes
- 5 red potatoes
- 2 Tbl Spoons of Olive Oil
- _ Coronas (I’ll leave the amount up to you party animals)
- 1 oz. Bottle of Green Food Coloring
- Bag of Limes
PREP TIME: 45min
COOK TIME: 5hrs Total
STEP 1: Note: the Corned Beef needs at least 4.5 hours so plan ahead people. In a large stock pot, add the beef, seasoning packet, water, 3-4 cans of Guinness (depending on how thirsty you are), splash of Jameson, and a healthy pour of Kosher Salt. Cover and cook on medium heat. Cook to desired level of tenderness.
STEP 2: An hour before the beef is ready, dice the cabbage, onions, and carrots and place in large bowl. Add vinegar and pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until vegetable are evenly distributed, cover with saran wrap, and set in fridge till serving time. You can mince the Serrano or Habanero for a kick of heat.
STEP 3: Now in a small serving dish or ramekin, combine the deli mustard and sour cream. This is the sauce for you taco that is going to have your party silent with people chowing down and reaching for seconds. Chill till served.
STEP 4: You can’t have corned beef & cabbage without some kind of spuds on the side. Slice the potatoes close to and 1/8″ but don’t lose a finger over it. Use a mandolin if you have one. Toss the potatoes in a large bow with 2tbl spoons of olive oil until evenly coated and lay out on a cookie sheet. Dust the chips with salt & pepper and place in oven for 35min on 400°.
STEP 5: Right about now the the corned beef should be about ready. Fork tender is a good indicator. Now you can chop up the beef however you like, but I went for the taco-shop-chop and diced it up real small. I feel you get better bites that way.
STEP 6: Now it’s time to eat. Pile on the beef, veggies, and mustard cream sauce on a toasted tortilla, toss a handful of chips on the plate, and grab a beer, add just a drop or two of food coloring and a lime wedge, and enjoy being the St. Paddy’s day hero.
Now that you’re, as Metallica’s says, The Hero of the Day and assuming they don’t get all Napster on us…remember to go all out for St. Paddy’s Day, especially with your attire. Short of breaking into the clubhouse at Augusta and highjacking Tiger’s green jacket, SWELL has the perfect shirt, hat, and dress that will assure you get lucky.
This has been a great second venture with the SWELLBLOG and hope to keep things rolling so let me know what my next story should focus on. Is your town worthy of being featured on the next episode of Destination Taco? Be safe this St. Paddy’s Day and as always – eat well, drink up, and adios!
The Best Tacos in Laguna Beach SWELL's Guest Blogger Hits The Coast For a Culinary Quest to Find the Top Tacos
This is Destination Taco: a town-to-town expedition of all things cradled in a tortilla and known as a taco. I begin in my hometown of Laguna Beach to find out who’s serving up the sexiest tacos and share the experience. As SWELL’s guest blogger, I will be rating and awarding each experience accordingly on a scale of 1-5 Cleavers. Why cleavers, you ask? Because they look cool and anything close to a sombrero would be considered racist. So here we go – get excited.
When I began planning this piece, there was no question in my mind about including Adolfo’s, it’s a true Laguna institution among locals. This family owned & operated restaurant has been serving up authentic Mexican meals for decades. I can’t tell you how many summer days of my youth started on the beach and ended here.
- Choice of the Day: Carnitas, Carne Asada, and Shredded Beef
- – Best Choice: The fall-apart Carnitas is the most authentic and delicious in town.
- -Tortilla/Toppings: Classic and predictable So. Cal Mexican style.
- Salsa Bar: One of the best in Laguna with a wide range between pico and extra hot.
- Perfect Pairing: 32oz of Carta Blanca – like a big boy.
- Suggested Dress Code: No shoes, no shirt, no problem – boardshorts, bikinis, & graphic tees
- Wait: < 3min – if you’re too impatient for that, you don’t belong here.
- Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Nope, but the prices are some of the lowest in Laguna
Verdict: I don’t know what makes these tacos so amazing and at times comforting, but I keep coming back for more; whether I’m tired or hungry, hungover or sick, Adolfo’s has a way of making the day better.
Asada is the new guy to the group with only being open for the past 18 months, but make no mistake, they’re cooking to stay for good. With a price point that sits at the top of my list, these tacos are masterfully planned and crafted to almost overlook the bill and indulge.
- Choice of the Day: Beer-Battered Mahi, Short-Rib, Crispy Beef, and Chipotle Prawn.
- -Best Choice: The savory goodness of the smokey short-rib taco.
- -Tortilla/Toppings: Where I felt the tortillas fell flat, the fresh toppings bring their A-game.
- Salsa Bar: No. Available upon request no extra charge.
- Perfect Pairing: Frosty Victoria (on draft).
- Suggested Dress Code: Step it up a notch. Collared shirts and dresses.
- Wait: Varies – Dinner reservations recommended.
- Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Taco Tuesday – $2 tacos/$3 beers & sangria.
Verdict: This is not another over-priced Mexican restaurant, pushing out obnoxious twists on simple classics. Where the presentation was a little lackluster, the depth of flavor is incredible – combine that with the beautiful design and impressive bar, Asada adds another great option to the Laguna Beach taco scene.
Now I’ll admit that Las Brisas is not on my regular radar for getting my taco fix but it really is a classic Laguna Restaurant that has been shelling out tacos since before I was a twinkle in my Dad’s eye.
- Choice of the Day: Baja Style Mahi Mahi, Blackened Halibut, and Shrimp
- -Best Choice: The Baja Style Mahi Mahi – One of the best in town.
- -Tortilla/Toppings: Not sure how to put this nicely – everything tastes way better than it looks.
- Salsa Bar: Nope and the watered down salsa they provide lacks heat and flavor.
- Perfect Pairing: Their classic Bloody Mary is a delicious distraction from the patio noise.
- Suggested Dress Code: Leave your Yankees hat at home and try a collared shirt or dress.
- Wait: < 10min – Times vary with weather & seasons
- Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Happy Hour Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm
Verdict: The staff hustles very hard to make it work with the crowds and they do a great job. Despite the tourist-trap prices, the incredible panorama views of Laguna and Pacific, the 1950s tile reminiscent of its glory days – Las Brisas earns 3 cleavers in my book. If you’ve never been, go, be patient with the Disneyland-esque crowds, and enjoy.
La Sirena has become a place that just feels like home to me. When you walk in you’ll notice real Laguna families enjoying what I consider the best Mexican food in town. They’ve created a culture known as “Mex-Eco” by focusing on locally sourced organic food and doing it in a way that’s not shoved down your throat.
- Choice of the Day: Carne Asada, Fried Calamari, and Fish of the Day (Tilapia)
- -Best Choice: Calamari – try it.
- -Tortilla/Toppings: Fresh pillowy tortillas and stacked fresh toppings piled high.
- Salsa Bar: Yes. Great Selection to dial in the heat or chow down on spicy pickled carrots.
- Perfect Paring: House Margarita
- Suggested Dress Code: Basic tees, boardshorts, bikinis, collared shirts, jeans – as long as you’re not naked.
- Wait: < 5min. and worth every minute.
- Taco Tuesday/Happy Hour: Nope. They’ll come around.
Verdict: With consistently awesome food and a recent remodel that bought the addition of an amazing craft beer selection, this place will never do you wrong. I urge you to find this place, hang out, watch an Angel’s game, and enjoy it all.
As I wrap up this project, I can’t help but think of the places I left off the list: Coyote Grille, Taco Loco, Papa’s Tacos, Laguna Feast, The Beach House, and the new girl Carmelita’s. So that in mind, use this as a starting point and explore Laguna, find out how awesome it is and let me know what town Destination Taco should hit up next. Eat well, drink up, & adios!