13792 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602
I'm real bad at using gift cards. Don't get me wrong, I love getting them, but I think I like having them in case there's a rainy day, more than parting with them. For Christmas every year, we have a gift exchange with Katie's brother, sisters, and all of their significant others. We pick the names out of a hat at Thanksgiving, and all hope that we do not end up picking Katie's brother Jimmy, (that guy is hard to buy for).
Anyways, I usually just tell whoever picks my name to just get me a gift card to a restaurant. It's easy, and during the busy holiday season, the last thing you want to do is run around trying to find the perfect gift. Last Christmas I received a Taco Rosa gift card from Jimmy. I had mentioned that this restaurant was on my list of places to hit up and he remembered that, and made the trip to Irvine to buy the gift card. So now that we were watching the Ducks light their Christmas tree at the Irvine Marketplace, it seemed like the perfect time to use our gift card.
Taco Rosa has gotten a lot of praise for their food. Their margaritas have won the OC Register's best margarita contest from 2011 to 2013, they won two Golden Foodie Awards, and their queso fundido and churros have been named best in all of OC by Orange Coast Magazine. Taco Rosa was started by Ivan Calderon, the same guy that gave us the much more casual Taco Mesa. There are now two locations of Taco Rosa in OC, this one in Irvine, and another in Newport, in close proximity to Fashion Island.
We arrived at Taco Rosa just before 7pm on a Wednesday night. The shopping center was swarming with Ducks fans, but we had no problem getting a seat right away. I thought the restaurant would have been bigger, but they have 30 or so tables in this upscale Mexican restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of Mexico City. I asked the waiter how he would describe Mexico City cooking, and he claims that it's kind of a melting pot of all the cuisines from all over Mexico. Sounds good to us, so we checked out the menu, made our selections, and waited for our food to come out.
From what I've heard about Taco Rosa, they start off most meals with a free appetizer, or what fancy people call an amuse bouche. I'm not really that fancy though. This appetizer was called a Sopecito by our waiter before he hurriedly ran off to another table. It was a very small sope, smeared with beans and then topped with lettuce and queso fresco, served alongside some sliced carrots, cauliflower and onion. The sope portion of this was a little on the doughy side, and overall the flavor of this was a little boring, but it was free.
My camera did not pick it up too well, but this Queso Fundido en Cazuela ($15) came to the table, and was lit on fire by our waiter. I always like when things are set on fire table side, it's kind of like a little extra show. This queso fundido has won praise from Orange Coast Magazine, which called it the best one in the county. At Taco Rosa they use a four cheese blend which is served with mushrooms and longaniza, which is a Spanish sausage similar to chorizo. It might be the different sausage used here, but this was not as heavy as other versions we have had. There was lots of meat in here, the mushrooms added a nice dynamic, and the fried cheese at the bottom of the skillet was an added bonus. This queso fundido deserves all of the praise it receives.
After over five years of being together, maybe Katie is starting to take on some of my habits. I usually tend to get a combo plate when eating at a new place, so I can try as many things as possible. Katie selected the Cuatro Combination Plate ($13). This plate came with a cheese enchilada, a blackened chicken taco, beans, rice, and a sweet corn tamalito. Katie called this plate, "delicious", but it had some temperature issues, as it was a little on the lukewarm side. Nonetheless, Katie liked all the flavors on this plate. The rice was soft and the beans tasted good. Katie was also a fan of the sweet corn tamale, but wished that there was more of the buttery sauce poured on top of it.
I went away from my love of combo plates, when I saw this Dos Puercos Burrito ($15) on the menu. This large burrito was filled with pork shoulder and pork belly carnitas, rice, pico de gallo, cheese, and covered with a chile negro sauce and onions. I had higher hopes for this burrito. First off, just like Katie's plate, this came to the table just tepid in temperature. I also wanted more from the pork here. I could not really distinguish between the shoulder meat and the pork belly, and I love pork belly. The chili sauce was good, even without being spicy. A very rich flavor. The pork belly beans that came with this were very hearty, and a nice alternative to refried beans.
Also from Orange Coast Magazine, these Churros Coloniales ($7) were rated best in OC. I have to admit, these were really good. Not oily, and nicely dusted with cinnamon and sugar. They came served with a chocolate sauce which was not overly sweet. A very good churro, and I'd tend to agree with Orange Coast Magazine that these are the best churros I have had recently.
Taco Rosa was a good restaurant, just not great on this visit. The items that we had heard about as being great definitely were, but our entrees were just a little bit above average. Nothing that would prevent us from coming back though. The service that we experienced on this night was spotty in the beginning, but came on strong midway through our meal. Glad we finally used our gift card, now that it's time to pick names again for this Christmas.
Out of five mushrooms, (because ROSA also stands for the Romanian Space Agency, and they are conducting experiments on the International Space Station about the growth and effect of growing fungi in space), five being best to zero being worst, Taco Rosa gets 3 mushrooms.
For more information about Taco Rosa, head over to their website here: http://www.tacorosa.com/index.php