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Most un-Chowhoundish OC Restaurants

In a style similar to the "worst restaurants of LA" thread, I was wondering what places you feel are the most un-Chowhoundish in Orange County. I think calling them the worst restaurants is a little too harsh - if they're still in business then they must be doing something right.

But there are some restaurants that just rub a chowhound the wrong way, be it the way the food is prepared and presented, or the service. So, fellow chowhounders, protect me from walking into a restaurant I'll be disappointed in. Which OC Restaurants should we try to stay away from?

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    1. re: JAB

      You've got to be kidding me... I haven't set foot in any of the so-called "Fresh Mex" places since I went to Taco Mesa. I love this place.

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        Oh, I'm dead seious but then again, I never step foot in Taco Mesa or any of the so-called "Fresh Mex" places. I'll take my Mexican food the authentic way.

    2. Mi Casa in Costa Mesa. Highly overrated Mexican food. When I went several years ago, I ordered a standard combo plate. Nothing good about it, the rice and beans were pretty bland, the enchilada was pretty tasteless. I use the SuperMex chain as my standard for Mexican food, and SuperMex is vastly superior in every way.

      Looks like the prices at Mi Casa are higher, too, with all of their combo plates over $10 now, at least according to their website.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Wonginator

        Quick story...went there with extended family who live in the area (and LOVE Mi Casa) and the waitress gave my then 2 year old a glass of milk. My daughter took one sip and put it right down. A few minutes later my daughter had a bite of very spicy salsa so I grabbed the milk to help cool down her mouth...well, she spit that sip right out. I then sniffed the milk and it smelled HORRIBLE (and was warm)!! We told the waitress and she said, "Oh yeah, another family mentioned that too"...could not have been less concerned. We should have at least had my daughter's meal comped! Never going back there!

        1. re: Wonginator

          I agree about Mi Casa. I went there with some friends after reading rave reviews -- it was horrible!

        2. I would eat at both of those before El Ranchito

          5 Replies
          1. re: Mr. S

            If you mean Avila's El Ranchito, I've had good meals there, at least at the Costa Mesa location. I've read people complaining about the Huntington Beach and Newport Beach locations, which I haven't visited yet.

            1. re: Wonginator

              I live blocks away from the Newport spot, dont bother.

              1. re: Wonginator

                I've eaten at the Costa Mesa location on Placentia a few times and thought it was acceptable.

              2. re: Mr. S

                We like the CdM location very much for price & quality. BTW, they are opening a new one in Laguna, right across PCH (south) from La Casa de la Camino Hotel (what used to be the Little Shrimp years ago & I'm spacing on it's most recent name....) Got to admit, the last thing Laguna needs is another Mexican restaurant.

              3. In my opinion, Taco Mesa is quite good. Especially when there are other well-known restaurants in the area, such as El Ranchito, Baja Fresh, or Las Brisas that I feel are ESPECIALLY unchowhoundish! But I have had an affinity for Taco Mesa since my teenage years - so I am undoubtedly biased. :) Someone should also define chowhoundish...

                1. Gypsy Den. I wanted to like it because of the "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks sign." It's nice that the staff is friendly and will let you loiter, and the options seem somewhat vegetarian-friendly. But I was disappointed when I first went in and every time since when I've tried to give it another chance.

                  There just appears to be no chef involved in designing the menu or preparing the food. Whoever is in charge has no particular respect for food (no appreciation of how best to prepare it, how to serve it, what combinations are complementary or the opposite, appropriate portion size for side dishes or melted cheese topping, etc.). I know Gypsy Den doesn't claim to be fine dining, but there are plenty of places who do a lot better without charging any more. And it's really not that cheap, given what you're served.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ksabbeth

                    gypsy den isn't even a restaurant though. it's just a little cafe, or at least it was last time i was there and admittedly that was a couple of years ago.

                    1. re: choctastic

                      It actually IS a restaurant, but at times it doesn't have full sit-down service.

                      I've been going to Gypsy Den for over 10 years and sadly, I have seen a decline in the service and quality control there, since it recently changed hands. I believe the owners sold it? Not totally sure.

                      However, the dishes you can ALWAYS rely on are the veggie lasagne, ice blended banana mocha and their tuna salad sandwiches. I also LOVE their adobe stew.

                      It may not be catching any stars on the Michelin ratings, but it is healthy, delicious food you can eat fairly quickly when you don't want to eat at El Pollo Loco or the other corporate chains in the Costa Mesa area.

                  2. Taco Mesa un-CH-like? If it served bad food and was a chain I'd agree but it's neither.

                    1. Elephant Bar in Irvine. So sad.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: OCGirl

                        omg, yes! made for families that can only spend $10 or less per adult. They might as well drop it across the way at Curry House for something more worthwhile, right??!!??

                        1. re: brekkie_fan

                          sometimes you just gotta have spaghetti curry

                      2. El Cholo in Irvine. It's really pathetic, and people still like it!!!! I'll take Mi Casa any day over Ranchito. I think Cheesecake factory is very un-Chowhoundish...

                        Has anyone tried El Campeon in Costa Mesa? I'm going to the one in SJC for the first time on Fri.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: High Maintenance

                          I have been to El Campeon, but it was years ago. I remember thinking it was decent.

                            1. re: High Maintenance

                              I like Taco Bell more than I like El Cholo...a lot more.

                            2. Hate to say it because I used to like this place. I had a bad meal at Wahoo's for lunch today. I didn't even finish it. Then I realized that the last few times there were kind of crappy also. I think I am done with this place.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: cdmedici

                                Wahoo's quality definitely went downhill after they opened up multiple stores. I still like their onion rings though. Their grilled fish tacos are generally pretty safe. What did you have that's bad?

                                1. re: notmartha

                                  I usually get the blackend grilled fish tacos. I then ordered the Wahoos salad a couple of times. The lettuce was still wet. Like really wet. Get a salad spinner or something. Same thing the next time. Today I ordered the Wahoo Bowl w/ blackend fish. The fish was so dry and overcooked it. They do not even give you a knife to cut it. I was wrestling it with my fork. For the money I should of gone to my favorite Vietnamese joint down the street in Tustin.

                                  1. re: cdmedici

                                    That's too bad. I would just take it back. Didn't have the problem (usually have fish tacos) but will stay away from the salads based on your experience

                              2. Beyond the obvious chain restaurants, the worst without a doubt that I had the misfortune of trying is Golden Star Chinese Restaurant on Whittier Blvd in La Habra.

                                It was a throw back to the pseudo-chinese from 30 or more years back. Sweetened black tea, dishes served on silver pedestral dishes, american-chinese dishes like almond pressed duck that tasted like syrupy toasted bricks. It's astonishing considering Rowland Heights is a hop-skip away over the hill.

                                1. Fox Sports Grill at the Irvine Spectrum- the food was some of the worst I've had

                                  1. El Cholo is horrible. I've had really good experiences with El Ranchito in Santa Ana. I love their chicken soup.

                                    1. Taco Mesa is a chain of sorts but I think they're all owned by the same family. And I've never had a problem with their food; I suppose it depends on what you order. I like the seafood enchiladas and the whiteboard specials.

                                      However, the service at their Lake Forest location can be inconsistent. If I'm on my way home from work, wearing a suit, they're attentive/respectful but if I stop by on a Saturday in shorts and flip-flops, I'm (sometimes) completely ignored-almost snubbed. And then when they finally realize that I'm ready to order, they seem to act like they're doing me the hugest favor in the world (snooty sighing and little or no eye contact). I don't get it...

                                      The guys at the Orange location are always pleasant and cool to me though.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: StivKaye

                                        Oops. I guess the location I was referring to is actually in Mission Viejo.

                                        1. re: StivKaye

                                          Have to jump into this old thread to defend Taco Mesa. Actually, I was searching for reviews of Avila's El Ranchito because my wife wants to got to the one in San Clemente tonight).

                                          We used to live near that MissionViejo Taco Mesa and I never EVER had a bad experience there...... except once, when they had run out of limes, and that was the only problem. At Taco Mesa you go up to the counter to order and we never had even a serious delay unless the line was long and someone was asking lots of questions. Their location in Ladera Ranch is just as good. Almost sounds like you're talking about a different place, though I suppose there's always the possibility of an off day or a staff problem on a specific day.

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            ["At Taco Mesa you go up to the counter to order and we never had even a serious delay unless the line was long and someone was asking lots of questions. Their location in Ladera Ranch is just as good. Almost sounds like you're talking about a different place, though I suppose there's always the possibility of an off day or a staff problem on a specific day"]

                                            Yes, I'm quite familiar with their ordering process and this was actually the 'salt in the wound', for me. [And no, it was not a different location.]When it's quite evident that you're patiently standing/waiting (to order) in front of the register and the seemingly two available young workers act like they're too cool to even look at you, it isn't exactly the best feeling in the world. This only happened to me twice but I'll never forget. On both occasions I was dressed in beach attire and I'm pretty sure it was the same two employees. Perhaps it was some freaky random fluke but it was off putting, nonetheless. And I chose not to make any kind of stink about it because that's just not my style but I did make a mental note of the incident.

                                            I've never had any other types of problems of any sort with this establishment. In fact, it's not even an issue anymore as I've moved away from San Clemente so I generally frequent their CM and Orange locations when I crave their grub. I will continue to be a loyal customer.

                                            And I don't harbor any significant grudges for those aforementioned young workers. When I was in my late teens, I went through a phase where I acted similarly. However, I never even thought of acting that way at work [especially with a customer]. I suppose everyone's different; for whatever reason(s), some people draw lines and others don't. It could stem from their upbringing but who knows?

                                            1. re: StivKaye

                                              I always feel badly when a spot I think is terrific is found lacking by someone else. All I can say is that I've been to the very same Taco Mesa location possibly 50 times and never had a service problem. If anything, by the way, the service seems a little less friendly when one of the owners is there. Probably gets the rest of the staff nervous.

                                              It's not like I've never had that same 'can't be bothered to interrupt my conversation for you' lack of service elsewhere. Just not there.

                                      2. Have to agree that El Cholo is no bueno! I have one coworker who defines Mexican food in terms of El Cholo, with that as the pinnacle!?!?!

                                        1. Since this thread got re-opened, I'm going to jump in here and say that, chains aside, it's a toss-up between two places in downtown Fullerton: Ziing's and the God-awful Tuscany Club. Whoever wrote the recipes at Ziing's apparently learned to cook Chinese from someone with a terrible sweet tooth, and the Tuscany Club has so much attitude that even though the food is middle-of-the-road, it'll be a cold day in Hell before I set foot back in there.

                                          1. Setting aside the obvious chain contenders:

                                            Beachcomber Cafe
                                            Melting Pot
                                            Las Brisas
                                            Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen
                                            Tortilla Flats
                                            Crab Cove
                                            Dolce Ristorante

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: OCBites

                                              Interesting that you should put Beachfire on your list. We've been to the San Clemente location several times and always found the service to be quite good, though I think the food is rather ordinary and over-priced. The menu reminds me very much of Cheesecake Factory which, though it's a chain, does a better job in my opinion.

                                              1. re: OCBites

                                                Oh, I wasn't really thinking of the beach cities -- gotta add Spark, Chimayo and Mosun Sushi, and second Las Brisas.

                                              2. I really despise Ho Sum Bistro. I can affirmatively say that I had the worst meal of my entire life there. It was so bad than when the food came out I had to force myself to take a bite. My tastebuds confirmed what my eyes had seen. I immediately requested the check, paid, and ran out the door, never to look back.

                                                1. Gypsy Den, overrated and not creative at all.

                                                  1. I may be causing some ruckus...but....Pacific Whey is not all that and a bag of chips. The Bakery items are excellent...but the pancakes, salads, and sandwiches are nothing to write home about. Champagne Bakery is another...both places the food is fair, service not great, but boy...always full of people. I keep thinking maybe its me...but every time I've given both places a chance I am disappointed in the flavors of the food.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Pinkwasabi

                                                      I'm usually very happy with their food, but their prices are ridiculous for a basically self-serve, self bus, get your own utensils, etc. kind of place.

                                                    2. Just because it's a chain doesn't mean it's "worst" or not potentially houndish. However, IMHO two offenders worthy of special (notorious) mention are Buca di B & Cheesecake. Wolfgang P Cafe is on the edge of mediocrity if not already there. Market Broiler is one big yawn. OTOH, chains with a modicum of socially redeeming value include Z Pizza, Cal Pizza & Claim Jumper, but even then ya better be pretty selective when ordering.

                                                      Weighing in on other nominees already mentioned, Taco Mesa rocks, what's not to like? OTOH, the chows at both Las Brisas & El Cholo are a disgrace. Avila's competes for the same dishonor. Wahoo's is on a downward spiral.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: bernardo

                                                        I don't mind Buca, just the one near me is on Harbor and, yeah, tourist central with all the attendant service woes.

                                                        Let's add Eurostation at the Block. The food's mediocre, the fry sauces all taste like salt, and a crepe takes an hour.

                                                        1. re: bernardo

                                                          I actually like Buca's Margherita pizza.

                                                          A chain I don't care for is BJ's Pizzeria.

                                                        2. Wow, this is an old post resurrected. I'd have to say Bluewater Grill. I've ate at their Lido Island and Costa Mesa locations, a few times for some reason, and both were horrible. It's a shame because there are some restaurants that you really want to like whether it be location or general vibe of the place. But I've given it enough chances and won't go back there.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: 1000steps

                                                            Guess I'm lucky, but out of dozens of meals at the Lido location, I've only every had 2 that were bad - and they were both off of the 'fancified' part of the menu. I usually order the mesquite grilled fish - swordfish, halibut, etc. & am rarely disappointed.

                                                            1. re: torta basilica

                                                              Me too. My wife and I go about four times a year and always enjoyed it except when we went for happy hour. We ordered off of the bar menu. Bad idea. Stick to the regular menu.

                                                          2. Sarducci's in San Juan Capistrano. I had just about the worst salad ever there. Thought the menu was pretty mediocre overall.