Sunday, October 23, 2016

TLT Worthy of the Limelight?

TLT Food
705 Spectrum Center Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92618

A lot of people like to bash the Irvine Spectrum. I've heard that the restaurants are not so good, that the parking is horrendous, and that it's just too crowded with people. It's probably because of the times that we go, but I find none of this to be true. I get off the freeway, and head to the parking structure by Nordstrom's and always find a parking spot within a few minutes. I've been to this mega shopping complex when it's been crowded, but I've never been run over by a stampede of people. I also really enjoy lots of restaurants here; Cucina Enoteca, Del Frisco's Grille, Wood Ranch, and Paul Martin's are some favorites, and on this evening we were trying TLT Food, which I was hoping would be added to this list.

TLT stands for The Lime Truck, which was one of the most successful food trucks in OC, and beyond. They won TVs "Great Food Truck Race," made the former chef, Jason Quinn a household name, and landed on pretty much every best of food truck lists that has ever been written. Of course most of the time, a food truck is just the precursor of what the owners hope is a brick and mortar restaurant in their future, and the Lime Truck achieved that milestone when they opened their first location in Westwood in 2012. They now have three other locations, including two in OC, this Irvine spot, and one in Newport.

I never made it to the Lime Truck when they were roaming the streets, and from what I've been able to gather, there's not much crossover between their menu now, and the menu that won the hearts of the food truck crowd at the start of this decade. According to their website, they do not really want to be pigeonholed into a set description of their cuisines, but they just want to build a menu that is pleasing to the palette. Others have said that they serve California cuisine, with a squeeze of lime in almost everything. I was very intrigued.

We arrived at the Spectrum at 5:30, quickly found parking and made our way to TLT, which is located near Dave and Buster's, and right next to the giant Halloween store that has invaded the old Sport's Authority site that was there up until recently. I really enjoyed the sleek and cool vibe of the space at TLT. Ordering is done at the counter, and then the food is brought out to you. There's plenty of communal tables, along with a patio out in front of the restaurant. The pleasing color combination of gray and lime green dominate space and another cool feature is the seating in front of the glass-enclosed kitchen, which allows for easy access for viewing the hard working kitchen staff. Let's check out what these guys had cooked up for us on this early evening.

Starting thing off for us is Katie's selection at TLT Food, the interesting sounding, Steak Quesadilla Salad Bowl ($11). This was really more of an open-faced quesadilla, as the cheese blend was just placed on top of the crisped flour tortilla, and then the steak, pico de gallo, cilantro, guacamole, iceberg lettuce, cotija cheese, lime, and chipotle honey aioli was placed on top of it in bowl form. Both Katie and I really enjoyed this clever salad. It was pretty good sized, and the steak was tender and had a good flavor to it. She would probably not get this again because it was too rich for her, but I'd contemplate getting this unique salad on future visits here.

TLT seems to specialize in tacos, as they have eight featured on their menu. I tried one of their most popular ones, the Short Rib Taco ($4). This good sized taco came on a soft flour tortilla and was filled with short rib, crispy onions, arugula, and a horseradish crema. I liked this taco but was not in love with it. The meat was tender and I liked the textural element that the crispy onions brought, but the horseradish crema was too bland and did not bring this taco to life. I'd probably go with one of their other tacos on future visits, like the pork belly or the steak.

One of the few holdovers on the menu from the food truck days of TLT, are these Carnitas Fries. Again, this was a big serving size of fries, which is piled high with pulled pork, cotija cheese, crema, guacamole, pickled red onion, and a chipotle honey slaw. The fries here were pretty average, but the real bummer with this was the very dry and flavorless carnitas. They tasted like sandpaper going down. Also, it was hard to get everything in one bite, because there was no cohesion among the ingredients here. There was nothing to bind the items together, and stuff was just layered, and never really intertwined with each other. This also had temperature issues as well. Not anything I would get again.

I finished off my evening at TLT with the PBAT Sandwich ($9). I was probably most excited for this, because of my love for pork belly. This sandwich also came with arugula, tomato, red onion, garlic aioli, and cotija cheese. Again, there was no cohesion here. The pork belly was good on its own, but could not make this sandwich a winner all by itself. There was not enough aioli on this, and the rest of the sandwich fell flat as well. Very boring, and I never thought I'd write that about pork belly.

Both Katie and I left TLT Food pretty disappointed in our food. It was not awful, but I think I had this place hyped up more, due to their past success as a food truck, which in hindsight is probably unfair. None of their food really popped with flavor, and there was never that wow moment for either of us. I like the uniqueness of their menu, and maybe there's something on here that would make us return. Service was pretty good on this early evening, and they were really into keeping their restaurant clean and organized. Even though TLT will not make our list of favorite restaurants at the Irvine Spectrum Center, we'll still continue to visit this mega shopping complex often. Just not at peak times.

Out of five mangoes, (because although the national fruit of India is the mango, that country is the world leading producer of limes, a whopping 2.52 million tons annually), five being best to zero being worst, TLT Food gets 2 mangoes.

For more information about TLT Food, head to their website here:

Tlt Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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