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.