Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hopefully Tito's Will Be Very Special

Tito's La Especial
503 W. 17th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706

Lindsay was adamant that we must try these tacos. She said they were so good. There was only two problems with trying these tacos. One was that she was going to have to bring her boyfriend, my food nemesis along for the meal, and the other problem was that I had no idea what a taco al vapor was.

I guess I should explain the first part of the problem first. Lindsay is my good, friend Richard's much better half. They have been seeing each other for awhile, and she makes Richard very happy. I am very happy with this part of Richard's life. The part that drives me nuts about Richard is that he has awful taste in food. He loves Chipotle, and hates almost all other Mexican restaurants. He also loathes the Cheesecake Factory, while I think it is not the worst restaurant in the world, and I could easily get something decent there. We are good friends, but when it comes to food we are polar opposites. So I was a little apprehensive when he told me he liked this taco place in Santa Ana that specializes in tacos al vapor.

With my limited high school Spanish, I did know that these are wet tacos, or in this case steamed tacos. That was about all I knew, so I went on-line and found out more. There are several different kinds of tacos al vapor, depending on the region. From what I can gather, the tacos at Tito's are stuffed with fillings, and then steamed, until they are sweating. thus the orange chili stain on the tortilla. The best resource I found about vapor tacos is at the Chowhound website which you can find here.

Tito's is really a no frills restaurant. Located on busy 17th street, this eatery had a very steady stream of customers during our recent early, evening visit on a Sunday. If the decor at this restaurant is minimal, the menu only matches it. Their menu does not feature any carnitas, enchiladas, or chimichungas. They do have a small number of burritos, sopes, chile rellenos, and of course the item they are most famous for, the tacos al vapor. Enough talk, let's see if Richard can get back some of his food cred with me.

Okay, I think the first thing I noticed about the Tacos al Vapor ($1.89 apiece, or $5.78 served with beans and rice), is that they do not photograph particularly well. Okay, it is probably not the tacos, it is the photographer, but I will blame the tacos anyways! At Tito's they have four varieties of tacos al vapor, each with different fillings. I tried all four; the chicken, beef, potato, and the bean. These are very simple tacos. Basically you just have the tortilla, the filling of your choice, and a little iceberg lettuce. You do have the option of adding their hot sauce and some jalapenos, if you like spice. Not overly large, but these tacos will get you stuffed as the greasiness hits your stomach. I was not too big of a fan of the bean or the potato taco al vapor. I felt both of these were very plain tasting. The chicken was okay, with a little more flavor, but the carne is the way to go here. Not the best ingredients in a taco, but the way they are steamed really brings all the flavors together, and then when you add the hot sauce, it really makes these tacos addictive. We even ordered another round of these after we finished our first four tacos.   

Since we were here, we should maybe try some of their other items they offered. I got a Sope de Asada ($2.50). This was not a bad sope. Just like the taco, this was not made with the best ingredients, but the tastes worked well together. The meat was tender enough to be bitten into easily, and the fried base of the sope had a nice little crunch to it. This was made even better with the addition of the hot sauce.  

I am not really a big fan of chile rellenos, but Katie saw this Chile Relleno Burrito ($5.89), and could not resist trying it. She was not too impressed. She thought that this burrito was very average. The chili was fine, but was void of taste. The lack of cheese did not help out matters here either. She would not get this burrito again here.

Here's a quick shot of the hot sauce that they offer at Tito's. It did have a nice little kick to it, and really added to the items offered here.

Tito's is not going to blow you away with their awesomeness. If you stick with what they are famous for, the tacos al vapor with beef, you will leave satisfied. There is something kind of magical with those wet, greasy tacos, that bring all of the tastes together in a nice little package. The rest of the menu is kind of bland, and only brought to life by the addition of the hot sauce on each table. We had decent service on this night. They made us feel welcome. Be advised that they do not offer free refills on drinks. Richard's food cred went up a few notches with him introducing these tacos to us. Of course most of that credit should go to his wonderful girlfriend, so no credit for you Richard! Thanks for introducing us to tacos al vapor Lindsay.

Out of five timbales, (the drums that legendary Latin performer, Tito Puente made famous during the 50's), five being best to zero being worst, Tito's La Especial gets 3 timbales.

Tito's La Especial does not have a website, but you can find out information about them here:

Tito's la Especial on Urbanspoon


  1. you like cheesecake factory? i guess your food credibility just went down.

  2. Anonymous - Guilty. I can always find at least one thing on their massive menu to eat. Not saying they are the best, but they are not the worst thing out there. I will take the hit on my food cred gladly. Thanks for the comment.

  3. There is nothing wrong with The Cheesecake Factory. Not all chain restaurants are created equal. The Cheesecake Factory is one of the better ones out there. Places like The Cheesecake Factory are cheap and consistent so they serve their purpose. Not fine cuisine but not awful by any means.

    - Ty

  4. disagree. awful.

  5. I've been to the Orange Tacos Al Vapor on Tustin. I wrote about it a couple months back, really enjoyed it. I've been meaning to go back but I just never end up getting there!

  6. Dan - Thanks for the tip. I have to write that place down and compare these two places. Thanks for the comment.

  7. "magical" is a good word for the carne tacos and the hot sauce. Everything else is sub-par.

    Still not as good as Chipotle.

  8. Richard - Your Chipotle love will be your undoing. Thanks for introducing us to tacos al vapor though.

  9. Mike, the Orange one is owned by the same family. It's also a Tito's.

  10. Dan - Thanks for the info. Do you know of anywhere else that serves tacos al vapor?

  11. If you're in Santa Ana, the best place for Mexican food is Taqueria Tapatia on 202 Bristol St. Their al pastor burrito is amazing, as is their carne asada (or other meat of your choice) fries. Their horchata and tamarindo drinks are refreshing. The only downside is that it's cash only, though there is an ATM inside. Best of all, their tacos are $1.16 apiece and their burritos and tortas are $4.64 each!


  12. HN - Thanks for the tip about Taqueria Tapatia. We will definitely hit that place up. It sounds delicious, and I have been dying for some real Mexican food. Thanks for reading the blog, and leaving the comment.