Taco Joints VS.
Written By: Anna Tran
Photographed By: Erik Hale
We love to compare foods we eat with our hands. What better next stop than the taco? The shell/tortilla is essentially the plate. Wonderful ingredients are piled on top and once you pinch the middle you are left with a free hand to drink beer. Perfection.
You might have a local “Taco Tuesday” that you frequent or a Mexican food joint you dig. And if we missed yours, sorry. We picked ten places that we love, or in some cases that we smelled while driving by. We gorged ourselves on corn and flour tortillas, fish and cabbage, salsa and sauce. We ate at every place in the same day and we did all of this just for you. Taco Joints in Orange County
251 Pacific Coast Hwy
Newport Beach | 949.675.9800
Mon – Sun 11:30 am – 12 pm Taco Joints in Orange County
This is definitely the sultriest of all the restaurants we visited with its harbor views, wood and iron finishes and dimly-lit atmosphere. It was amazing upon completion of tasting the food, not the atmosphere, and was truly memorable. Chef Deb Schnieder held nothing back on the taco we scared down. It was by far the best use of the tortilla (as a chile-cheese filled quesadilla), the guacamole was fresh and held its own and the cheese topping lingered well after we finished our tacos. It was evident that a lot of time, love and knowledge had gone into The Vampiro, our originality winner.
Qué: Vampiro Taco – The taco vampire is a super spicy chile-cheese quesadilla wrapped around juicy, grilled carne asada and topped with creamy guacamole, a dash of chipotle sauce, pico de gallo and salty cotixa cheese.
Dónde: How many local restaurants can effectively mix an upscale, casual restaurant with an ultra-hip bar replete with a mind-numbing (no pun intended) selection of tequilas and a circular fireplace? Still thinking? How many of those are on the water?
Native Knowledge: They serve a tray of salt, lime and hot sauce with every dish so you can season to taste. The lime reduces the heat and their sauces brings it out.
Mon – Sun 6 am – 9 pm
Qué: Carnitas Taco – Pulled marinated pork, pico de gallo, freshly-made tortilla chips (they make them there!), and every taco is a HALF POUND.
Dónde: You will not know it was there unless your nose follows the lingering smell of the fresh tortillas baking at the little in-store factory. They’re the markers of the chips and shells served at most Mexican spots, but are also known for their big portions, and small prices. Taco Joints in Orange County
Native Knowledge: Impress your co-workers at your next pot luck by stopping for their homemade chips and a few pounds of carnitas.
TAQUERIA EL GRANEJAL
899 W 19th St
Costa Mesa | 949.645.4964
Mon – Sun 8 am – 11 pm
Qué: Taco de Pescado – Battered fish on doubled-up tortillas, sprinkled with Mexican white cheese, and served with chips and salsa, a jalapeño and a slice of lime on a paper plate. Taco Joints in Orange County
Dónde: In a parking lot that includes a liquor store, lavandería and a meat market, Taqueria el Granejal’s colorful-brick walk-up is what you’d expect to see in TJ. If you are near the beach, work in uber cool Westside Costa Mesa or are catching a show at Detroit Bar, you might add this to your agenda.
Native Knowledge: Their Kim’s Taco (barbecued beef or pork for $1.79) is worth trying – it’s their version of the Korean taco.
MI CASA MEXICAN RESTAURANT
296 E 17th St
Costa Mesa | 949.645.7626
Mon – Sun 11 am – 10 pm
When the front doors of a restaurant spells out “Mi Casa es Su Casa, ” it is an instant indication that you’ve come to the right house for some home-made grubbin’. This big family-style restaurant is spacious enough to house a fathering with the familia, a group of compadres for Happy Hour and cozy enough for even a semi-romantic date right. You may want to skip a meal before eating here. There are three things you can bank on at this restaurant: great service from a long-tenured staff, big portions brought fast and cheese (mounds of it!). The worn-in red leather booths are traditional for Mexican restaurants, and even though the steak house tables are not it just seems to make them that much more lovable. Taco Joints in Orange County
Qué: Beef taco – Deep-fried shredded beef, a bed of lettuce, Jack and cheddar cheeses, on a corn tortilla with the Mi Casa signature taco sauce drizzled on top.
Dónde: This restaurant-style eatery used to be a steak house, but is now a place you can call home. With “Mi Casa es Su Casa” carved on the front door, and its reputation being the “King of Queso, ” you must stop by during their deal-making Happy Hour menu that makes us want to stay the night. Taco Joints in Orange County
Native Knowledge: Stop by for their revamped Taco Tuesday with includes $1.00 street tacos.
3421 Via Lido
Newport Beach | 949.673.3474
Tues – Sat 11 am – 9 pm
Sun – Mon 11am – 8 pm
Qué: The Poke Bowl Taco – Fresh-off-the-boat chunks of sashimi on top of a grilled tortilla, with pico de gallo, cabbage and Tommy sauce (made of mayo, sesame oil, lemon, lime, Sriarcha and a little bit of heaven). Taco Joints in Orange County
Dónde: It’s expected that a fish company placed in Newport Beach would have fresh fish. Bear Flag Fish Co. has exceeded that expectation. Of course the fish tacos there are amazing, but wait ‘til you try their RAW fish taco – it’s like nothing you’ve ever had and too good to be true.
Native Knowledge: Three things. The Bear Flag hot sauce is mandatory. Buy some Poke to go. Make your drink a fresh coconut.
BAJA FISH TACOS
3664 S Bristol St
Santa Ana | 714.641.4836
Mon – Sun 10:30 am – 9 pm
Qué: Blackened Fish Taco – Semi-spicy blackened white fish, shreds of lettuce and pico de gallo on a flour tortilla.
Dónde: Bordering Costa Mesa in Santa Ana, Baja Fish Tacos is always crawling with suits (with loosened ties) during lunch hour, and is a local favorite for a quick-fix dinner. Consider this as more of an Americanized Mexican food place with all the right fixings – the salsa bar is awesome, the rice and beans are epic and the fridge with all that ice-cold beer is enough to call it a half day at work.
Native Knowledge: Get a free taco combo on your birthday!
WAHOOS FISH TACOS
3000 Bristol St
Costa Mesa | 714.435.0130
Mon – Fri 11am – 9 pm
Sat 11:30 am – 9:30 pm
Sun 11:30 am – 9 pm
What Orange County is known for is its laid-back vibe, highly-coveted miles and miles of coastal beauty, and of course access to fresh seafood and produce. It’s not surprise that OC’s home-grown Wahoo’s is the place to get the best bite. A fresh, warm corn tortilla sets the foundation. Shredded cheese is sprinkled over the tortilla and slowly melts. Golden-fried white fish is gently laid on top of the semi-melted cheese. A mound of cabbage and salsa tops everything off. Now all you need is a side of cilantro sauce, and behold – the tastiest fish taco in town.
Qué: Fish Taco – Fried white fish, lettuce, cabbage, salsa and cheese slightly melted on a fresh corn tortilla.
Dónde: Wahoo’s is synonymous with fish tacos and is an Orange County institution. With surf memorabilia, sticker-plastered walls and a laid-back beachy vibe, it’s no wonder why Wahoo’s continues to be a SoCal favorite, especially after a long day of surfing.
Native Knowledge: Their signature sauce should be served on everything. Called the “green sauce, ” this magical concoction is cilantro-based with a touch of amazing.
4533 W Coast Hwy
Newport Beach | 949.642.2458
Sun – Mon 7 am – 9 pm
Tues – Thurs 7 am – 10 pm
Friday – Sat 7am – 2 am
Qué: The Fatty Taco with Breaded Fish – Tecate beer-battered mahi-mahi (kinda spicy!) on a flour tortilla with all the fixings, including a couple chunky slices of fresh avocado.
Dónde: This is what one can consider the “alternative” taco stand with it’s cool, rocker vibe (stickers everywhere and music blaring) and chill ambiance (there’s an “It’s always 4:20” sign on the wall!), every Chronic along the OC coast will for sure satisfy those munchies.
Native Knowledge: The Baja sauce makes everything better!
MARISCOS LOS PRIMOS
2600 W Edinger Ave
Santa Ana | 714.437.1206
As you travel through Santa Ana, you realize that there is a jackpot of authentic taco stands. No talking Chihuahuas, no package hot sauces, no fuss. Mariscos is placed almost right on the sidewalk, with the “order” window so easily accessible it’s hard to pass up while walking by. Served on a white paper plate, Mariscos’ fish taco got us excited to eat with its perfect assemblage. The Tilipa was brown and crispy on the outside, and white and flaky on the inside. It is finished with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce piled on top with a swirl of their house-made crema fresca sauce. We couldn’t wait to devour it.
Qué: Pescado Taco – freshly fried Tilapia, mix of tomato dices and lettuce topped with a crema fresca and mayo sauce on a corn tortilla.
Dónde: In the heart of Santa Ana, you’re always a “stone’s throw” from an authentic Mexican food joint. The food truck opened in 2004 with a non English-translated menu and a few picnic benches to sit and grub.
Native Knowledge: They serve real glass bottles of 100% sugar soda including Sangria, Horchata and Limón flavors.
NORMITAS SURF CITY
815 Indianapolis Ave
Huntington Beach | 714.960.8730
Qué: Fish Taco – A huge chunk of Mahi battered and fried, assembled on two corn tortillas and topped with cabbage, pico de gallo and crema fresca. Served with a handful of chips and salsa too.
Dónde: On a little corner near downtown HB is a neighborhood-loved mini restaurant where Norma and her madre make one of the fattest tacos in town.
Native Knowledge: Generally a Mexican food joint, Normita’s other claim to fame is her (late) breakfast burrito – her doors open around “9-ish.”