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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.

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                  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.

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                      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.

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                      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.

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