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Orange county Mexican - what's best?

I have had several enjoyable meals at Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen in old town Orange, but have recently read a few favorable posts re Marsiscos Puerto Esperanza which I think is also in Orange. I would guess that MPE probably has more seafood than Gabbi's, but Gabbi's has some excellent fish dishes. Which of these two restaurants is better, or is there somewhere else in OC that wins the prize?

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  1. i think there are very many great Mexican restaurants in OC, but if you want the best i think you should stick with Santa Ana. here is one we really like. Good food great service and pretty cheap.

    Super Antojitos‎ - more info »
    2510 S Bristol St, Santa Ana, CA‎

    1. Are you also looking for nice atmosphere or strictly good food. Some of the best Mexican food are in the serious hole in the walls and taco trucks. The best taco I have had this year came from a taco truck....head and cactus taco!!!

      I have been to Gabbi's many times and and MPE once. Gabbi's is great for both food and ambiance and MPE is also pretty nice inside and I had a great meal there, but my wifes calamari taco was not good at all.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cdmedici

        I like both great food, and at least decent atmosphere where I can enjoy a nice margharita or other cocktail in a pleasant environment, and then enjoy good food served by a knowledgeable server.

      2. Well, if you've been to Gabbi's, go to MPE and compare the two! :)

        That said, it depends what you're looking for. Tacos al pastor? Neither. Birria? Not those either.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          My favorite taco lately is the lengua taco at El Toro Bravo in Costa Mesa, but it is far from a place to get a cocktail with a pleasant environment. I can't think a place for TRULY great mexican food that fits those standards.

          I have high hopes for a new mexican place that will be opening in Newport in the old Mama Gina's spot that will be called Sol Restaurant.

          1. re: cdmedici

            If it's the Sol that was at the Newport Hyatt, you're in for a letdown... here's hoping it's not.

            I don't think of Mexican restaurants as cocktail places, honestly -- but if you want a beer and a ceviche, MPE is fine. I agree, we don't have any high-end Mexican in OC -- have to go to La Huasteca for that.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              No. Sol is not open yet. It is going to be where Mama Gina was on PCH and Bayside next to 3-thirty-3 restaurant.

              1. re: cdmedici

                I have been to a place called Sol next to 3-thirty-3. I can't say if it is Mama Gina's spot, but Sol has been open for at least 6 months, since I went last year. The food was good, but it was way too expensive. The 'street tacos' were really superb, but they were about 1/2 the size of the ones I get from my local hole in the wall, and twice as expensive.

          2. re: Das Ubergeek

            Decided to try MPE this evening and arrived at 5:35 PM. The restaurant was empty except for one couple having dinner, and the sole employee in the restaurant was the cook/chef who was going in and out of the open kitchen. The dining room was otherwise deserted, and no server or host was visible, or approached us in the brief time we were standing right inside the door. We got cold feet and left. Honestly we felt uncomfortable by the total lack of business, and were especially worried because good fish/seafood must be fresh, and thus requires significant turnover. We were disappointed, and now wonder if we were too hasty. Has anyone been to MPE recently, and is all ok?

            We wanted fish, so drove about 15 minutes further to Taps in Brea which was crowded, and where the fish was terrific as usual. But we are still wondering about MPE?

            1. re: josephnl

              You really should give them a try - they're slowish these days, but so are most restaurants. This is precisely why they need our support. And you must also consider - it's 5:30 on a Tuesday... there aren't many places that would be busting at the seams.

              Give them a try.

              1. re: josephnl

                I had dinner there on Friday. It was as good as ever.

                1. re: josephnl

                  Too bad you didn't try them, I've been there three times now (twice at lunch, once - last Saturday night - for dinner) and it's been consistently excellent. This past Saturday, my wife was with me and she, too, was enamored of the food and the place. And she was hesitant (she's not quite the "gastronaut" that I am and hadn't ever had Mexican seafood outside of her safety zone of Rubio's or Wahoo's).

                  We had the calamari "chicharones" and it was delicious,as were my wife's shrimp dish and my striped bass. Unprompted, my wife remarked on their salsa, which is exceptionally tasty IMO. And, the margaritas, while not necessarily fancy (the waiter made them because there is no dedicated bartender), do the trick and they're all of 5 dollars. Can't beat that !

                  Oh, and on the way out we took a detour to give our compliments to the chef (who's also the owner BTW) and he seemed especially pleased and proud that we did. He mentioned that they were given a very nice writeup in this month's issue of Orange Coast magazine (the restaurant issue). So, hopefully that will help bring some more people in.

                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                  What is the actual full name for MPE?

                  Since moving to the OC we've only been to El Farolito based on suggestions from the board and we are thrilled with EF. If we were to try Gabbi's or this mysterious MPE what should we order?

                  Our favorite dishes at El Farolito are the carnitas, chips and salsa (the best ever), rice and beans and the hard shell chicken tacos.

                  El Farolito
                  2737 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006

                  1. re: js76wisco

                    Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, which sadly closed last fall/winter.

                    EDIT: btw, your favourite dishes @ El Farolito are also ours; we order them slightly crispy.

                    1. re: OCAnn

                      Oh too bad about MPE. Have you ever been to Gabbi's? Seems much more refined and higher end than El Farolito.

                      I'll ask them to make the carnitas crispy next time. I love those good crunchy end pieces.

                      El Farolito
                      201 S Bradford Ave, Placentia, CA 92870

                      1. re: js76wisco

                        Have not been to Gabbi's; thank you for the rec. =)

                    2. re: js76wisco

                      MPE is closed; it's been replaced by a taco shop.

                      If you want Mexican mariscos in these fair orange acres, my suggestions would be Mariscos Licenciado #2, in the plaza on the northeast corner of La Palma and State College in Anaheim, or Mariscos Mocorito on Katella in the city of Orange. Neither is as good as MPE was, but they are both quite good.

                      Mariscos Licenciado
                      1052 N State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92806

                  2. This is a actually a somewhat complicated issue - there are many different strokes in 'Mexican' restaurants. I do really like both Gabbi's and MPE, but obviously they are very different - I feel like you are probably already aware of how they're different, so I won't go into detail.

                    I will say, however, that in the divey, taco-truck-type vein, I do prefer El Gallo Giro, in SA, to El Toro Bravo. ELB is okay, for me, and it is where I often buy tortillas, since it is right down the street, but I do think EGG is a marked step above in most ways.

                    I think Super Antojitos has damn good chilaquiles, but the music is often so profoundly loud that it sometimes makes me think that they're just doing it to encourage the guerros (us) to leave.

                    Also, I think El Granjenal, just a little further west on 19th than El Toro Bravo, has some good tacos.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: georgempavlov

                      <<I do prefer El Gallo Giro,>>
                      one more vote for El Gallo Giro ,if you are looking for real corn tortillas made from scratch. They have great drinks too, (no alcohol).

                      1. re: georgempavlov

                        Used to go to Gabbi's all the time, as they had a nice combo of atmosphere and food. That being said, their prices are definitely on the high side, and the last few times we went, the service, particularly the front of the house,was particularly arrogant and snooty- think those recent comments about O. Mozza and you can get the picture. That is inappropriate anywhere, but downtown Orange? Food came out cold as well. At their price points, inexcusable. Tried to speak to a manager, sent an email- nothing... so that was it for us- off the list.

                        So where to now? There's a place in Santa Ana- sorry, I'm not even too sure of the name, off of Main and 17th that I've been to a few times, and I too will hit up El Gallo Giro, which I don't really feel is all that "divey" at all in comparison to other options I've been to!

                        MPE to me is a whole different animal (fish), as you go their for the seafood, though DU had quite a revelation over their chile rellenos. I've enjoyed my meals there, and although recent reports have them doing better, the atmosphere was always pretty sad, as were wer usually the only party there. The whole fish is the way to go there, as well as the langostinos, though be prepared to get your hands dirty. Ceviche fresh but too sweet for me. They offer lunch specials as well, though I've never been.

                        El Gallo Giro
                        1442 S Bristol St Ste 1A, Santa Ana, CA 92704

                        1. Get to El Rincon Chilango in Santa Ana for a DF style experience

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: josephnl

                              Distrito Federal -- Mexico's answer to D.C. "Chilango" is a slightly slangy term for someone from Mexico City.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                How dumb of me? I was thinking in terms of restaurants, and couldn't figure out which one!

                          1. I recently was aimlessly driving in the Anahiem area and found a small little taco shop on Lincoln called Tacos San Pedro. The place was packed so I decided to give it a go.

                            The tacos were excellent and the best I have found in Orange County. The tortillas were crispy and the red salsa was very tasty. The carne asada is probably my favorite followed by the chicken and then the al pastor. The cabeza could have been a bit juicier but still decent. The place also has some really really good flautas that are filled with the same carne asada as the tacos. The things were some of the best I have eaten.

                            The prices are very cheap. $1.75 for a nice size taco and $2.75 for a small order of flautas. I have to say, this place is now one of my favorite places to get tacos and especially flautas.

                            Just wanted to share this hidden gem. If you are ever in the area, definitely check this place out.

                            3240 W Lincoln Ave, Anaheim, CA 92801

                            First - Al Pastor
                            Second - Cebeza
                            Third - Asada
                            Fourth - Flautas

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: A5 KOBE

                              A5 KOBE,

                              Thanks for the recommendation! My wife and I went here last night and got three tacos - asada, carnitas, and pastor. We liked them all. My favorite was the carnitas (but I LOVE carnitas so I am a bit biased), and her favorite was the al pastor. We also followed your suggestion and got the flautas (a la carte order of 3) - you were right, they were great. We got ours with chicken and the meat was very flavorful, the flautas were hot and crispy but not greasy. The topping of shredded lettuce, guacamole, crema, and cotija (?) cheeses was superb.

                              One interesting thing to note is that this is the second Tacos San Pedro. The first is on the same street! Head West on Lincoln (until it turns into Carson street) and the restaurant is accross the street from Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

                              Thanks again A5 KOBE!


                              1. re: HB_Jeff


                                Happy to help a fellow hound. Now I am going to have to try the chicken flautas per your experience. Interesting that there is two locations, I might have to check the other place out since you say that this one is the second.

                            2. Well, since this thread has been re-opened, I want to advance a few more candidates.

                              1. El Moctezuma. Oaxacan food in, shall we say, gritty surroundings (three locations: one on Chapman just east of the 57 in Orange, one on Harbor and Lampson in Garden Grove, one on Fairview and Civic Center in Santa Ana). The clayuda sencilla is amazing.

                              2. Fonda La Meche on Katella and Western in Stanton. Not everything is wonderful here, but you want to go for the aporreadillo (shredded cecina, eggs and tortillas in chile sauce) or the mole de olla (a beef soup, not a chocolate-type sauce). They also have the best tortillas I've ever had.

                              3. Alebrije's, parked on Cubbon just west of Main in Santa Ana. Skip the entire menu and ask for one single taco acorazado. It's just epic. Great, great milanesa on a thick tortilla with rice, onions, peppers, tomatoes, nopales, cotija cheese, avocado, your choice of griddled or pickled serrano chiles. Add the incendiary green avocado salsa (isn't avocado supposed to be COOLING?) and a couple of bottles of "Coca mexicana" and you have lunch for two people for four bucks. Seriously.

                              Fonda La Meche
                              7483 Katella Ave, Stanton, CA 90680

                              El Moctezuma Restaurant
                              809 N Fairview St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                is El Moctezuma still open? Only reason I ask is if you search Google Maps it says it is "permanently closed"

                                Aside from that place and El Fortin, where are the best Oaxacan places in OC? I have seen a place on 1st Ave in Santa Ana, called something along the lines of "oaxacan restaurant." It looks dubious, but I'd keep an open mind...

                                El Fortin
                                700 E Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, CA 92831

                                El Moctezuma Restaurant
                                809 N Fairview St, Santa Ana, CA 92703

                                1. re: adamclyde

                                  I've been to the one on Harbor and Lampson within the last three weeks and been past the one on Chapman in the last month and it looked open enough. The original, on Fairview and Civic Centre, isn't easy to see if it's open or not.

                                  Those are my go-tos in OC for Fortin. I've seen that one you're talking about—it's between Bristol and Main, I think—and haven't stopped in.

                              2. JAVIERS in Newport and/or Irvine. The BEST! Another one of my FAVORTIES is El Tepeyac in East Los Angeles. I must say, you have to try it.

                                El Tepeyac Cafe
                                812 N Evergreen Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90033

                                15 Replies
                                1. re: cfam4

                                  El Tepeyac is fine for the burrito, but you can get a similar burrito at any of the Albert-type chains in OC (Alberto's, Alerto's, Alberta's, Albertacos, Alejandro's, etc.).

                                  Javier's has very serviceable drinks. Drink enough of them and you won't notice that you're paying Newport Coast prices for El Torito food.

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    Totally agree with you Das re Javier's...although, you may be doing El Torito a disservice. I think the food at Javier's is just a click better than Del Taco, and not as good as Baja Fresh!

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      Oh come on, don't hate the player, hate the game. Javier's isn't the same as it was when they were the hip little upscale Mexican upstart in Laguna Beach, but the food is way better than El Torito, Del Taco and Baja Fresh. Sure it is pricey, and yes, the crowds are maddening, and can represent the worst of OC, but the food is still pretty good.

                                      1. re: ocshooter

                                        Uff da... try Raya and tell me which you'd rather have for the same price.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          What is Raya? (please forgive the OC newbie questions... I promise they won't last long!)

                                          1. re: adamclyde

                                            It's the new spot that took over Restaurant 162 at the Ritz Carlton.

                                        2. re: ocshooter

                                          I wish you had been served the chips and salsa that was served to us the last time I was at Javier's. There was oil dripping from the chips! and the salsa was dreadful. I'm not kidding...but I've had better at Baja Fresh! It's really sad, because Javier's was really good when it first opened in Laguna years ago. Right now it's strictly an expensive pick-up bar with very mediocre food and high prices.

                                          1. re: josephnl

                                            I go from time to time, to both the Spectrum and Newport Coast. I get the Carne Asada Tacos with rice and beans. Good cubed steak, flavorful, no frills... as tasty as some of the stuff I had in Mexico when I was doing some work on the Gulf Coast. Margaritas are good there as well... It isn't the same semi-secret little spot with the great crab enchiladas from back in the day. And sure, it is expensive, but it is cheaper than Sol Cucina.

                                            1. re: ocshooter

                                              I go to Javier's quite a bit, more during the summer with houseguests. Agree it was better in the Laguna days, but I still don't think it's pricey for the area and we enjoy the food. I only wish I was one of the original investors:)

                                              1. re: BubblyOne

                                                Javiers is dreadful.The food is expesive,mediocre and with little flavor.The guacomole we had last week had the texture and taste of mayonaise,and even dumping in the entire plate of watery salsa couldn't save it.I can't believe Javiers is even included in this discussion of Orange County's best.

                                                1. re: stormin norman

                                                  Well, if you didn''t even like Taco Rosa, that would make sense.

                                                  Taco Rosa
                                                  2632 San Miguel Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

                                                  1. re: BubblyOne

                                                    Actually have come to enjoy Taco Rosa for what they do well.....excellent salsas,good guacomole and some regional specialties.Can't say the same for Javiers.

                                          2. re: ocshooter

                                            Disagree. Without question, I would put Baja Fresh, El Torito, and Chipotle over Javier's for food quality...and price wise, they are a huge bargain by comparison!

                                          3. re: josephnl

                                            i agree....el Torito is better than Javiers...javiers is way too americanized

                                          4. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            you are right, Das Javier's is a joke for mexican food

                                        3. Carnitas Los Reyes on Tustin Ave in Orange for Carnitas, El Gran Jenal on 19th in Costa Mesa
                                          for everthing else. Also, check the OC Weekly's "Grub Guide" for city by city reccomendations.
                                          The guide is edited by Gustavo Arelleno aka The Mexican" who IMO is the go-to-guy for Mexican cuisine in OC.

                                          Carnitas Los Reyes
                                          273 Tustin Ave, Orange, CA 92866

                                          Comida Mexicana
                                          5729 Atlantic Blvd, Maywood, CA 90270