Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Much Love for Amor Y Tacos

Amor Y Tacos
13333 South Street 
Cerritos, CA 90703

Now that the first half of the year is over, we have a little more time to venture out. The first half was all about wedding planning, enjoying our wedding and honeymoon, settling into married life, and going to other people's weddings. We have eight weddings to attend this year, but now there's a lull, and we can finally get back to our list of restaurants we need to hit up. That's what brought us to Amor Y Tacos in Cerritos.

This restaurant gets a lot of love from OC Weekly and other Orange County food blogs that I like to read. Even though it is technically in LA county, it is OC adjacent, so I think that's part of the reason a lot of people come here. The other part is that I hear the food is really good.

Amor Y Tacos comes to us from hometown chef, Thomas Ortega. He grew up here in Cerritos, graduated culinary school in Pasadena, and is also the Chef and Owner of the ever popular Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach. Much like that restaurant, this one is also featuring modern Mexican, with an emphasis made from scratch foods and a farm to table approach. Chef Ortega has realized that people in the suburbs have grown tired of the corporate, or chain restaurants, and they want something more. Judging by the crowd on this Friday night, I'd say he's right.

We had made reservations for this rather large restaurant, which is right next to Cerritos Lanes, so we did not have to worry about waiting like a good majority of the people did on this night. As you walk in the door, you will notice a lady making fresh tortillas. This got me excited. I was also excited about the vibe of this place. It kind of reminded me of Solita in Huntington Beach, with a little more twists to their food. The menu is devoid of combo plates, and instead there are plenty of starters, special entrees, and a variety of tacos, enchiladas, and burritos present. Not the most comfortable restaurant in the world, it was extremely warm inside on the night we were here, the tables are pretty close together, and there's nothing to really buffer the loudness of the restaurant. Even with these minor inconveniences, we were excited to catch up with our good friend Emily, and have what we hoped would be some great food.

Let's first take a look at the Chips and Salsa at Amor Y Tacos. The chips were remarkably fresh, crisp, and everything you'd want in a chip. The salsa was good, but not great. A little on the watery side, I'd like to have seen a little more chunk to it, and some extra pop of flavor.

Since it was a long drive up here from South OC, I decided that some Guacamole $6.75) was definitely in order. This was a good, simple version of guacamole. Avocados, a little white onion, tomato, lime, cilantro, and jalapenos combined to make this fresh tasting starter. I liked that they were not trying to do too much here. Smooth, but still a good chunk to it.

Probably one of their most buzzed about items at Amor Y Tacos is this starter, the Mole Tots ($8.50). The mole here utilizes 21 ingredients, and goes great with these tater tots, which are also topped with cilantro, red onion, sour cream, and queso fresco. The depth of flavor of the mole was definitely prevalent. The tots were fried perfectly, and did not lose their crunch, even though they were not around too long, as we gobbled them up in a hurry. My one complaint would be that there could have been a little more mole poured on top of this, but I still enjoyed this. I can see why so many people enjoy this appetizer.

I usually don't write up the drinks that I have when I'm out, mostly because I don't really drink out that often, preferring to save the money on food instead. We were here for Emily's birthday, so a cocktail was in order for sure. She had the 54 Delux ($8), which is their version of a Cadillac Margarita. This one is made with Olmeca Altos tequila, agave, limeade, and bouchant, which I learned is an orange liqueur, then the glass is rimmed with chile sugar salt to finish it off. Emily must have really enjoyed this, as she had two of these during our stay. I really enjoyed my cocktail as well. I had the sweet and spicy Mango Con Chili ($9). This one used a different brand of tequila, Avion Blanco, limeade, a fruity agave chimoy, and the Mexican staple seasoning, Tajin. I loved the contrast of this beverage. It started sweet, and then you got the spice at the end. This also came with a spicy mango sucker, which was a wonderful surprise as well. Tasty, and I could not tear myself away from it. I'd definitely get this drink again, and getting the sucker is an added bonus.

Since it was Emily's birthday, we'll start off with her meal first, the Grilled Mexican White Shrimp ($15.95) served A La Diabla Style. With this order you get eight pretty good sized shrimp, served alongside a smoked jalapeno mojo, salsa de arbol, garlic aioli, papas bravas, and a salad of cilantro, charred pineapple, chiles, and fennel. Emily was gracious enough to share a shrimp with me, and it was great. Tender, and what made this dish for me was the sauce. It was flavorful, but did not overpower the shrimp. I did not get a chance to try the salad, but Emily seemed to enjoy it very much. A most satisfying birthday dinner for our girl that turned 22 on this night. Your welcome for the shaving of the years Emily.

Katie gravitated towards the taco section of the menu, and settled on the Tinga de Pollo Tacos ($10). She at first thought the tacos were mix and match, but you have to get all three tacos the same. They come served on freshly made corn tortillas, with salsa verde, crema, radish, cilantro and cotija cheese. She felt these tacos were a touch on the dry side, and could have been helped out with a little more salsa on them. Other than that, she loved the flavor of these, and she wishes that tinga would be on more menus across the OC. I would agree with that. This plate usually comes with beans and rice, but she opted to do without, and there are no substitutions offered here.

Man I had a hard time selecting what to have for dinner on this night. This menu had so many great choices, and I knew that it would be some time before we made it back here, and I didn't want to make the wrong  choice. My love of pork belly won out, and I finally decided on the Mexican Coca Cola Glazed Pork Belly ($13.95). The portion size of this was deceivingly large. The pieces of pork belly were cooked well, and there was lots of fatty pieces, which I liked. The pork was glazed in Coca Cola and ancho chili, but I did not really detect too much of a cola flavor. The pork was paired with a very nice sweet potato puree and a fennel salad. I did not get these side items at first, but as I went along eating, I got why they were there. I probably would not get this again, but it's just because there are so many other things I want to try here.

Remember the tortilla lady I was talking about at the door, it seemed that every table had a basket of tortillas on it. I followed the cool kids and had the Flour Tortillas ($1 per basket) too. These came three to an order, and I have to admit, I was not as big a fan as others. Emily loved these, but I felt they were a little too thick for my taste, and not as soft as I would have liked. I'll give them another try though, maybe with butter next time.

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with Amor Y Tacos, and wish that I lived closer so I could try more of their menu. I really like this trend of modern Mexican food places opening up. There's definitely a place for the Alberto's, Rigaberto's, and whatever other versions of these kinds of restaurants you have near you, but I have a growing fondness for the more upscale Mexican restaurants that have chefs that are willing to take chances, use fresh ingredients, and don't pile on the cheese and sauce on their plates, so you can actually taste the food. Some on Yelp and other food related sites have been pretty harsh on this restaurant for the price point of their dinners, but I honestly thought they were going to be a few dollars higher than they actually were. Service was pretty good, nice and steady. They did get the food out real fast, and tended to turn tables over rather quickly. I'm really happy our schedule slowed down a bit so we had some time to celebrate and catch up with our good friend Emily, and have some pretty good food in the process.

Out of five shopping bags, (because Cerritos residents are the second highest retail spenders in California, second only to the residents of Beverly Hills), five being best to zero being worst, Amor Y Tacos gets 3.5 shopping bags.

For more information about Amor Y Tacos, go to their website here: http://amorytacos.com/

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