31481 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
I have been on a quest to find my favorite south OC Mexican restaurant. Ideally, it will be very comparable to my favorite OC Mexican spot, El Farolito in Placentia. Since we live in Mission Viejo, it's not always convenient to drive to northern OC for dinner. We have found some pretty good Mexican spots south of Irvine, like Cocina de Ricardo, La Sirena Grill, and Tacos Ensenada, but these have not made me forget about my love for the legendary El Farolito.
Both Katie and I were craving Mexican food on a recent Saturday night, so it was off to Yelp we went to hopefully find our new favorite spot. Yelp lead us to El Maguey in San Juan Capistrano. El Maguey is located directly across the street from J Serra High School, and about a block and a half away from the famous Mission San Juan Capistrano. They get 4 stars on Yelp, with over 120 reviews, so we were pretty excited for our trip to El Maguey.
This restaurant looks like it used to be a house in a former life, and it has now been converted into a restaurant. There are two rooms, both with very nice TV's hanging on the walls. The night we were here, they were tuned to preseason football. El Maguey has a very comforting feel to it. Kind of old school, with many comfortable old booths, and a nice patio, which seemed to be the seating preference of many of their patrons on this warm southern California evening. We made our choices from the rather large menu, and waited with baited breath for our food to come out.
Starting things off are the customary Chips and Salsa that hit the table while we were deciding on what to order. This was a pretty good version. The chips were fresh, with little greasiness, and the salsa was mild in spiciness, but had a decent flavor profile. The salsa was a little on the runny side, with little to no chunks of tomato in it. Not a bad start to our meal.
It is almost always a done deal when eating with Katie in a Mexican restaurant, she will always order Guacamole ($6.98) to start. I surmise that Katie learned this from her parents, as I have observed them ordering this almost every time we go out for Mexican food as a family. This was a very good version. It was chunky, and not overly seasoned. My one complaint about this guacamole was that they are a little stingy with the portion size. For seven dollars, I'd expect enough of this to be around for our dinners, but it was gone by the time our entrees hit the table, and I was using this sparingly.
We went big on this night, as we ordered another item from their appetizer section of the menu, the Chorizo and Queso ($9.98). Known on other menus as queso fundido, this came served with a side of tortillas. If you have never had this appetizer, make sure you order it with a group, because it's very rich, and expands once ingested. This was more than enough for Katie and I. The cheese of course was great, and I liked the larger chunks of chorizo in this. They only provided two tortillas for this appetizer, which was not nearly enough. We should have asked for more.
El Maguey gets lots of love from their mole online, so I was pretty happy when Katie ordered the Enchilada en Mole ($13.25). She ended up being happy as well. The mole sauce here is fantastic. Not an overly sweet mole, but still rich in flavor. She selected a cheese enchilada and a chicken one. She liked the chicken version better, as the chicken was very tender, and went well with the mole. She would definitely get this again on future trips here.
I went with my standard item when judging a Mexican restaurant for the first time, Carnitas ($11.98). This plate of pork was spot on. Some of the pork was crispy, some fatty, but all was flavorful and tender. Not a bad bite in the bunch. One of the best versions I have had in awhile. The beans and rice are worth noting here as well. I'm not really into rice as much, but this version was seasoned right, and held my taste buds attention. The beans were good and creamy, but lacked the heaviness of other refried beans. Very impressive plate.
We left El Maguey very full, and satisfied. I'd say this is our new favorite Mexican spot in south OC. It's not as great as El Farolito, but when we don't feel like tackling the freeways, El Maguey will definitely fit the bill. Everything we had food wise was pretty solid, and made very well. Even though El Maguey's food is stellar, they could use a little help when it comes to their service. It was inconsistent to say the least. Drinks were left empty for stretches at a time, and it took quite awhile to get the bill, and get it back after it was paid for. I noticed other tables having issues as well, but none of this would keep us from coming back here anytime soon. Glad we finally found an adequate substitute for our beloved El Farolito, in south OC.
Out of five flowers, (because maguey in Spanish is an agave plant that flowers once in a hundred years, and then dies after flowering), five being best to zero being worst, El Maguey gets 3.5 flowers.
For more information about El Maguey, check out their web site here: http://www.elmagueysjc.com/El_Maguey/Welcome.html