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Jan 25, 2006 10:19 AM

best mexican in the OC?

  • c

hi! I'm new to this board and new to the OC, so I don't know if this has been discussed yet, but I would like to know where is the best mexican in orange county? I grew up in texas, so I LOVE mexican food. I just don't know where to find it here. thanks in advance for all of your help! =)

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  1. Welcome to the board!!!

    My favorite place for Mexican is Taco Rosa in Newport Beach. Great menu, wonderfully prepared food and a FULL bar... :) Here's my review...

    Now, if you are looking for Tex-Mex... that's a different beast, sadly, I'm not aware of any place that does it 'properly'... perhaps another post strictly on Tex-Mex might serve you better! :)



    1 Reply
    1. re: Dommy!

      I agree with Dommy. There is another Taco Rosa in the Tustin Marketplace and it has never disappointed either myself or my office mates. I love the fact that they don't put down chips and salsa on the table when you are seated. Instead, they give you a basket that changes from time to time which may include tostaditas, chimichangas, etc. While the burritos, tostadas, tacos, and enchiladas are very good, I prefer the other items on the menu including pork in banana leaves, carne asada, arroz con pollo, and a terrific halibut steamed in banana leaves. The service is friendly and knowledgeable and they get you in and out in an hour, which is important when you're working. I live in L.A. and have a long drive to work, but my son is begging me to take him down there some night for dinner. The full bar is enticing but no napping after lunch allowed in my office! I can't say enough good things about this restaurant.

    2. I don't know if I've found any Mexican food that really is absolutely spectacular, but here are my top choices for pretty good to really good Mexican food.

      The SuperMex chain offers solid Mexican food that rarely disappoints. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad either. Their Super Burritos that they serve enchilada-style are really good. There are multiple locations; the two I visit most often are the Fountain Valley and Irvine locations.

      Taleo Mexican Grill is a pretty good upscale restaurant. Prices are higher than your regular Mesxican restaurants, where entrees will range in the $12-20 range, but it is really good stuff. This is located in Irvine off the Jamboree exit.

      Taco Surf is another local chain, 6 or 7 locations mostly located near the coastal cities in OC that specializes more in adding fish and shrimp to the regular dishes like burritos and tacos. I've only been to the Costa Mesa location.

      As Dommy mentioned Taco Rosa, Taco Mesa is a smaller, more simplified version that is not a sit-down restarant, but you order at the counter. Same owners as Taco Rosa, which is the newer restaurant.

      There is also the Alberto's chain, which is good, but has some hit-and-miss dishes. There are many spinoffs from this chain, where names are slightly modified to Alerto's, Alejandro's, Alfredo's, etc. The food tastes pretty much the same at all these places. Food is cheap and pretty good, but there sometimes is an overabundance of lettuce in some dishes.

      There are some mixed results at some places like Avila's El Ranchito. I have enjoyed the food at the Costa Mesa location, but others have reported disappointing results are some of their other OC locations.

      There are other good Mexican restaurants like Don Ramon's in Huntington Beach, and Senor Ruben's in Fountain Valley.

      I'm sure many others will add their favorites to the list. Hope this gets you off to a good start for your taste buds. :-)

      14 Replies
      1. re: Wonginator

        Really a great list. I would just add Javiers in Newport (Laguna?) and the Spectrum. Slightly upscale mexican food, good prices and great food. The specturm location has a really hip interior and is a great place to sip on a margarita and have a bowl of chips.

        1. re: Wonginator
          stormin norman

          Have found the Taco Mesa restaurants,especially the Newport location,to be a more authentic and enjoyable experience all around then the more upscale and gussied up food at Taco Rosa.The recipes at both places are very similar, yet Taco Mesa's food,besides being about 30-40% cheaper,seems to be gutsier and more flavorfull then Taco Rosa.The food at Taco Rosa is a bit more gentrified to appeal to its upscale clientele,and the blackened items are less spicy,and the food seems much tamer.Each time I have been there I come away dissapointed,while I have enjoyed the food each time at Taco Mesa.

          1. re: stormin norman
            torta basilica

            Do you mean the Costa Mesa location of Taco Mesa? I don't believe there's a TM in Newport.

            And, I agree with your assessment of the two - prefer Taco Mesa, but Taco Rosa is much more comfortable, closer & still good food, just not great, or 'kicky,' as Taco Mesa.

            1. re: torta basilica
              stormin norman

              Sorry;I did mean the TM on 19th St in Costa Mesa,across from the DMV....I do enjoy their blackened calamari tacos...fairly unique and delicious

              1. re: stormin norman
                torta basilica

                I knew you knew it - just didn't want to confuse somebody new...

                I like the shrimp taquitos w/ guac myself, but I'm trying to figure out what day those are the special - ie. if there is any pattern. Anyone know?

                Actually, I like the blackened calamari salad at Taco Rosa the best of most of their lunch dishes - it does seem to have that kick to it.

                1. re: torta basilica
                  stormin norman

                  I knew you knew I knew....Can't seem to find any rhyme or reason to their specials schedule...usually the CM branch serves their enchiladas in mole sauce on Tuesdays ,while the MV branch serves their mole specials on Saturday....but not always;go figure...I always find something I like

            2. re: stormin norman

              There's also a Taco Mesa in Mission Viejo and in Orange. Great authentic food that is also more on the healthier side.

              1. re: stormin norman

                I have go agree with some of the other posters on Taco Mesa, even the original one on 19th St, that it is way overrated. I really don't see what people see in their food. It seems like people tell them it's good so they go with the crowd and say it's good too. One thing it is not is authentic. It doesn't even make the top 3 mexican places on 19th St., let alone Orange County. I'll bet if you went to TK Burger a few doors down and asked them to chop up the patty before putting it in the bun, it would qualify as a torta and rank higher than Taco Mesa. I would add Alejandros on 19th and Placentia for a fast, cheap meal. So TM may not even make the top 5 on 19th.

                Also, would add

                Mi Casa on 17th. CM
                Don Jose, Magnolia and Adams in HB.
                Super Pollo, a chicken place but with a very good carned asada burrito. Superior and 17th, CM. Across from the Tower Records or whatever it will end up being.
                Super Mex, various locations.

                1. re: daveg456

                  i totally agree - - hype, hype, hype. i get the impression sometimes that most folks have one idea of Mex food and when they see any recipe or presentation that is new to them, they deem it "AUTHENTIC." so silly.

                  1. re: MaxCaviar

                    I laugh that Taco Mesa is now non-hip. You're really going to compare it to Don Jose or Super Mex. Come on. I mean I love El Gran and El Toro Bravo, but you have to give credit to Taco Mesa when they first showed up for stretching the idea of Mexican out. Plus daily specials and soups. Their fish special on fridays with the carrots and mashed veggie for 9.99$ is so good for that price- the steak tacos with bacon. It's not AMAZING and it's not HYPE. I'm not going to drive across town to go there, but I've lived down the street for 8 years now and I end up going to Taco Mesa more than any other nearby restaurant.

                    If you have friends who are hyping Taco Mesa then you have friends who need to get out more. Don't hate it because of them.

                    1. re: meltedcheese

                      I LOVE Taco Mesa, and could give a rip if it is "authentic", I'm looking for good! Authentic takes a second seat to delicious. Period. And, Taco Mesa is a fantastic value. Their bacon wrapped shrimp filled with a soft Mexican cheese is about the best food I've eaten period...and for only $10 for the entire meal!

                      1. re: Funwithfood

                        I'll give that a try (the bacon wrapped shrimp dish). But are you talking about the one in Orange? I go to the one in Ladera Ranch. And yes, authentic is second to good.

                        1. re: MaxCaviar

                          I've only been to the one in Costa Mesa. I think it's their Friday special, but sometimes they have some on Saturday, my luck!

              2. re: Wonginator

                If you're looking for cheap carne asada burritos, I think the ones at Taco Factory in Tustin (Walnut/Newport) are clearly superior to the ones at Albertos. The strips of beef in the burrito are simply much more flavorful, tender and better marinated than the asada in Albertos' burritos.

              3. Here a few of my favorites:

                Los Cabos on Tustin in the city of Orange is probably my tops. Lots of long time customers and awesome staff .

                El Faralito in Placentia is really good with amazing fresh chips and spicy red salsa.

                There's a place called La Casita on Lincoln in Anaheim/Orange that is pretty awesome and really quaint; haven't been there in a while, though.

                For fast food mexican there's a place called El Taco, one in Tustin one in Anaheim, that is pretty amazing. Their taco sauce in the packets is sort of unbelievable. It's got a little coco powder in it. The quesadillas are unique, decadent, and delicious. The taquitos are strangely unparalleled. It's quite a bit better than Alberto's, in my opinion.

                There are many others, so just try some out.

                4 Replies
                1. re: bogamil

                  Would you please give address for El Taco in Tustin. Tried to google and came up with many different addresses. Also, do they have crispy tacos? TIA

                  1. re: jsl

                    I guess it's actually in Orange, but it's pretty far down Tustin, though. Not sure about the crispy tacos.

                    El Taco
                    205 S Tustin , Orange 92867

                    1. re: bogamil

                      If this is related to the El Taco in San Pedro, avoid at all costs. Terrible, terrible Taco Bell-esque food and its not that cheap either.

                  2. re: bogamil

                    I second the El Taco taquitos. Whether they are authentic (or if that is even possible) I do not know. But impossibly hot and crunchy, redolent of beef and spice, they are well worth a visit.

                  3. I think El Farolito in Placentia is by far the best Mexican restaurant in Orange County.

                    Others, like Taco Mesa, are just Americanized Mexican. If you're looking for a counter service, Jalapeno's is pretty good, and IMO, a lot better than Taco Mesa. I am probably the lone dissenter here, but I seriously do not understand the infatuation with Taco Mesa. Mediocre at best, and they only take cash (no debit cards).

                    Taleo in Irvine is good for upscale Mexican (though some dishes, like the quesadilla appetizer, are a miss). I do like Javier's, though I prefer the Laguna location over the Irvine one. There's also a good Mexican restaurant in San Juan called Ricardo's. Similar to El Farolito with delicious carne asada. I also still like El Matador in Costa Mesa, even though it has been threw a few ownership changes-it's a hole in the wall and has been around forever, but I love it for a big old plate of greasy Mexican food.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Samantha

                      While I respect you don't like Taco Mesa, your information about it is wrong. They take more than cash - I've used my debit card there (at both Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa) I would call to confirm what forms of payment they take if you're wondering.

                      Also, what you call "Americanized" is simply "not Baja." Taco Mesa is lighter fare, though, diet wise.

                      Their website ( ) and the writing below describes their venue of recipes as "rooted in pre-Columbian cooking fused with Spanish, French and Southwestern culinary influences" (writing applies becuae it is quite similar to Taco Rosa and is same proprietors)

                      See, aslo,

                      If you want good "Americanized" Mexican, go to The Hacienda in Santa Ana (weekday lunch only; Sunday Brunch). I like it, but it is definitely "Americanized" Mexican food.


                      1. re: kc girl

                        Perhaps it is only the Taco Mesa in Ladera Ranch, but I know for a fact that they do not take debit cards.

                        Maybe it's the "health" factor of Taco Mesa that I don't like. I expect my Mexican food to be greasy, and Taco Mesa, like you said, is lighter than your typical Mexican food. I just don't like it all that much-I know everyone in OC loves it, but I remain unimpressed.

                        1. re: Samantha

                          You're not the only one unimpressed with Taco Mesa. I've also only been to the one in Ladera Ranch and you are correct about them only taking cash there, which seems weird. With all the positive feedback you hear about them here, I figured possibly the other branches were different/better, because I don't taste anything special there at all. So many of the dishes are topped with a lot of raw-tasting bitter paprika/chile powder that completely overwhelms the food. I want to like it because their patio with fountain and mountain views is a nice place to relax, but so far, I just don't get it...

                          1. re: Lauren J.
                            stormin norman

                            Have not been to the Ladera Ranch branch,but try the original one in Costa Mesa on 17th...they are likely a bit more seasoned and grungy then LR and the food is likely to be kickier(is that a word?)

                            1. re: stormin norman

                              That's probably true, the original is usually the best. Another example of that kind of thing is the tiny taco shack La Sirena in Laguna, which I like a lot. A while back they opened a second place in the strip mall across the highway from Montage Resort in S. Laguna and to me the 2nd one just doesn't have the same pizazz as the original. I don't understand why it's so difficult for the offshoot branches to copy the original kitchen's food exactly.

                              1. re: stormin norman

                                Everyone raves about Taco Mesa-I'm definitely willing to give the original restaurant a try before I give up. I love good Mexican food, but let me tell you, the Ladera Ranch Taco Mesa does not qualify.

                          2. re: kc girl

                            Thanks kc girl. When I think Americanized I think Don Jose or Mi Casa or Mario's not Taco Mesa. Yes I have friends who don't like Taco Mesa and I also have friends who don't like sushi. You can not like Taco Mesa and that's okay but you not liking it doesn't make it suck all of a sudden. And I've never even been to Ladera Ranch let alone eaten there.

                          3. re: Samantha

                            They have great Mexican breakfast at the Coyote Grill restaurant in South Laguna. Their lunch and dinner is average. Not bad, nothing special. Happy hour can be fun there and a litle ocean view from the patio.

                            Also, in Laguna is a lunch casual, to-go or eat-in counter-order place with fresh Mexican called La Sirena Grill (2 of them , actually). There's one by main beach on Mermaid Street and there's one across Pacific Coast Hwy from The Montage Resort.
                            Looks like there is one in Irvine now, too. I have not been to that one yet. The original La Sirena Grill is on Mermaid Street, a whole in the wall that proved fantastic and worth expanding.

                            Taco Mesa is a unique style of Mexican food. But, I would not call it Americanized. I would call it fresh and healthy, so maybe that seems "American?" There are no plates covered in hot, oozing, plentiful cheese (for that, I really like El Matador Restaurant ~ 1768 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa) In fact, some of the cheese they use at Taco Mesa is low fat, but you can't tell by the taste. Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa is Oaxacan, pre-Columbian cooking fused with Spanish, French and Southwestern culinary influences. Much of their menus is duplicative, but Taco Rosa expands their menu and has daily specials (and increases some prices) (and, the Costa Mesa Taco Mesa can get kind of grungy at times. Not the kitchen or the food, but the patio tables. Costa Mesa 17th street is the original location of Taco Mesa. It's in the old Taco Bell building.)

                            1. re: kc girl

                              As much as I do enjoy La Sirena Grill I would never put it up there as a favorite Mexican. I think it is a stretch to even call it Mexican food. haha. Still a fun place though :)

                          4. How can you go through best Mexican in OC and not one mention of any place in Santa Ana.
                            I will give you two and an area.
                            El Rincon Chilango W 17th Street ( right opposite Ship Inn )
                            El Taco Rincon South Main street .(Great $1.50 tacos )
                            ( Also just take a drive along South Main Street and stop at any place and try them )

                            p.s. Taco Mesa is very good but best Mexican on 19th street Costa Mesa are El Granjenal, Toro Bravo and El Chinaco. ( Jugos Acapulco can be pretty good as well )

                            p.p.s Also i like Super Antojitos ( i have a taste for the mole :-) )

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Stuartmm

                              El Granjenal is decent -- worth driving the short distance from the 55 -- but not great, and I have trouble forgetting a night earlier this year when someone ran over a skunk on 19th just outside the (semi-enclosed) stand, and no employee called the Costa Mesa animal-disposal unit or shoveled the dead beast into a closed container or even put up a fan to blow the fetid air back into the parking lot. Everything seemed to be confused, because I ordered carnitas and chicken, but they served me limburger tacos with durian guisado.

                              Taqueria El Granjenal
                              899 W 19th St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627