Friday, December 29, 2017

Best Restaurants of the Year 2017

It seems that New Years comes around quicker now. I never really believed my older family members when they used to tell me that time moves faster as you grow older. Now I know the truth. So here I am, another year is coming to an end, and I am naturally thinking back over all of the meals we had in 2017.

There were very few that I would deem awful dining experiences. We only ate at two restaurants that I rated as below average, Famous Dave's BBQ and Javier's at the Irvine Spectrum. Talk about some awful BBQ and tasteless Mexican food.

Anyways let's look on the positive side. Out of the 77 restaurants, we dined at this year, 21 of them got a very respectable rating of 3.5 or higher. I had wanted to try to make 100 restaurants this year, but of course, a more steady workload at my job helped to prevent that. Thanks, job!  Hopefully, 2018 will be the year that we have more opportunity to venture out and try more restaurants, and finally make a dent in our ever-growing restaurant wishlist.

Before I get to the top 10 restaurants for this year, some thanks need to be spread around. I would first like to thank those of you reading this restaurant blog, which started over eight years ago. I love eating out, writing these reviews, and sharing my newest food finds with all of you. So without you, I probably would have stopped writing long ago, like so many of the other blogs I used to read back when I started. I appreciate all of the questions, comments, recommendations, criticisms, and even the irate emails that people send me telling me that I don't know anything about restaurants or food.

I also have to thank my friends and family, many who long ago stopped reading the drivel I have written on this blog, but have continued to support me by going out to some pretty shady looking restaurants with me, and didn't complain too much when things are not that great. I appreciate your company and experiencing these places with all of you. I look forward to more food adventures with all of you in the coming year.

As is the case with all of my year-end posts, I would like to save the last thank you to the person that means the most to me on this entire earth, my beautiful wife Katie. She has been my biggest supporter since day one and is always ready to go out and explore the next great restaurant in OC with me. She is not only my partner with this blog, but also my partner in life, and I could not ask for a better one. Here's to many more years and restaurant experiences together.

Now without further ado, here are our top 10 restaurants that we had the pleasure of eating at this year, starting with number ten and working our way to the best of the bunch at number one. Happiest of new years to all of you, and may this be the most delicious year yet for you.

#10 Cassano's - San Clemente

We were pretty excited to find this local, family-run Italian spot that had a couple of out of the ordinary pizzas, a solid meatball sandwich, and other Italian-American favorites. Just the kind of place we wished was in our neighborhood.

#9 Crack Shack - Costa Mesa

I feel that OC hit the restaurant lottery when celebrity chef Richard Blais and his business partner decided to convert an old Chase Bank into another location of their critically acclaimed San Diego all day chicken and egg restaurant concept. The chicken sandwiches are great but don't sleep on the fries, some of the best I had in 2017.

#8 Burritos La Palma - Santa Ana

After all the mentions of this place in the OC Weekly, I had to give them a try. The hype is real. Definitely the best tortillas you will find in OC, but I kind of fell in love with their Torta also. This Zacatecas restaurant is a refreshing change from the usual Mexican joints you are used to. We will be back for sure in 2018.

#7 Urbana - Anaheim

The parking and crowds at the Anaheim Packing House haven't really gotten any better, and some of the reason for that is probably due to Urbana. Gourmet taco places are still popping up in OC, but the best of the bunch are the ones here. Yes, five dollars a taco are a bit much, but these are special tacos that look almost like works of art but are way more delicious than what you'd imagine the Mona Lisa to taste like.

#6 Burnt Crumbs - Irvine

The Spaghetti Grilled Cheese sandwich got them on the map, and it is delicious, but the rest of the menu needs to be explored as well. I loved the Crispy Pork Sandwich and their burger and fries are also very solid. Not just Instagram-worthy food, it's good as well.

#5 Tio Flaco's - Fountain Valley

A basic menu, cooking their proteins over wood, and some excellent tortillas and salsas had me loving this little restaurant that I think used to be a Wienerschnitzel in a former life.  If I had an uncle that made tacos like these, I would never leave his house. Good and simple, the owners wanted to recreate the tacos they had in Tijuana, and they have achieved their goal.

#4 Paderia Bakehouse - Fountain Valley

The same day we hit Tio Flaco's we also made it to Paderia. You can safely say it was the best food day we had in 2017. The cookies here are what dreams are made of, and blow any other cookie you have had away. Sure it's a challenge getting here before they run out, but you will be happy once you get their cookies home. I'm still trying to find reasons to do some of my errands in Fountain Valley just so I have a reason to stop by.

#3 Sabroso! - Anaheim

You know you've hit restaurant gold when you aren't really hungry when you go to a place, and you are blown away by the food and can't stop eating. That happened to me here. Restaurants that have been on TV are sometimes hit or miss, but the Chili Verde and the tamales at Sabroso! made this visit feel like a home run. One of the best Mexican restaurants we've been to during the run of this blog.

#2 Hendrix - Laguna Niguel

From the team that has given us Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck in Laguna, they have their biggest hit to date with the opening of this Laguna Niguel eatery. Rotisserie is the star of the show at Hendrix, and whether you get their lamb, chicken, or pork you will leave happy and satisfied. Starters and sides are not to be missed either.

#1 Old Vine Cafe - Costa Mesa

It takes a lot of originality to make breakfast stand out, and Chef Mark McDonald has done just that at his restaurant at The Camp for over 10 years now. Old Vine has notoriously long waits for brunch, with innovative breakfast dishes like the Reuben Omelette, Rabbit Mole, Baked Caramel Apple French Toast and my favorite item, the Open Faced, which is an omelet with a biscuit inside of it and a chipotle gravy that will have you licking your plate clean, the wait times are not going to diminish any time soon. Impressive, and the reason Old Vine is our restaurant of the year for 2017.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this restaurant blog, and I look forward t seeing what restaurants and what is in store for all of us in 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Not Such a Hidden Secret in Vegas

Secret Pizza
3708 South Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

So my trip to Vegas was kind of a bummer. Of course, I had no luck gambling, but I pretty much knew that was going to be the case even before getting on the plane. There were a string of other mishaps as well. I had left my drivers license at the Monte Carlo when we were checking in, I forgot my camera when we stopped to play some slot machines at the Cosmopolitan, and when I went back for it security had it, but they wouldn't release it to me because I did not have my ID. Running late for the hockey game we were in town for, I knew I'd have to make a return trip to the Cosmo to retrieve my camera after the game. So I turned this unfortunate set of events into an opportunity to try a spot I had heard so much about, Secret Pizza.

Secret Pizza is not really too much of a secret anymore. They are the fifth most reviewed restaurant in all of Las Vegas closing in on 4,000 Yelp reviews and a very respectable 4-star rating. When they opened back in 2010 half the fun of this restaurant was trying to find it. There's no sign, there's no mention of it in any directory at the Cosmopolitan, and their website does not even mention it. You pretty much had to know where to look, or just happen to stumble upon it.

Now that they've been open for seven-plus years now, I don't feel bad about letting you know where Secret Pizza is located. When you're at the shops at the Cosmo, take the escalator to the third floor. Once you are there you will be facing Jaleo, which is the tapas restaurant run by Jose Andres. Go to the left and you will see the long hallway in the picture above with album covers adorning the walls and ceiling.  Walk down this hallway and you are there.

Katie and I got here at just before 11 pm on a Tuesday night, and there was a very steady stream of customers. The line moved along at a decent clip. Many people have said it and it's true, this is reminiscent of a New York pizza joint. The pizzas are already made behind the glass and just waiting to be heated up. There's a guy that is making other pizzas to replenish the ones that are being sold. There's also very limited seating here. They have about 5 seats and a very small counter space for people that want to eat standing up.

The menu is also pretty compact. They offer pizza by the slice, or you can order a whole pizza. There are two kinds of pizza here, traditional thin crust and the heftier Sicilian style. So we did not have to wait we selected the pizzas that were ready to be heated up and got our slices in less than three minutes. Since there was no seating, we made our way back down the hallway and sat out front on the comfy couch. Let's see if Secret Pizza is worth all this hype.

Thin crust is synonymous with New York style pizza and that's what Katie tried here for our little late night snack. This Slice ($5.50) was not as big as the ones you can get in the Big Apple, but it turned out to be a pretty tasty slice. There was just the right amount of cheese, but a few extra pieces of sausage would have been appreciated. The sauce here was okay, but it needed to pop more with flavor, it was kind of boring. I was pretty impressed with the lack of grease that came off of this slice. Good quality cheese I guess.

I was intrigued by the Sicilian Slice ($8) that I spied behind the glass. This square slice had both sausage and pepperoni nestled on top of it, with a good amount of cheese. The crust on this one was, of course, thicker, but did a good job of maintaining its integrity. It was not too doughy like a lot of Sicilian pizza crusts tend to be. Some extra toppings added to this would have made this even better, and the sausage came off all in one bite. Still good though.

Secret Pizza was a pretty good find, once you discover where it is. I'm not going to kid you and tell you this is better than any pizza I have had in NYC, but I'd say it is one of the best ones I have had on the Strip in Vegas, not that pizza is all too common in too many of the casinos. The prices are a little out of whack here, but it's Vegas, so bargains are hard to come by. I wouldn't splurge and pay $8 for a Sicilian slice again, but if I was at the Cosmo and wanted a snack, I'd definitely come back to Secret Pizza. With all of the minor hiccups I had on this trip, along with a loss by my beloved Ducks at the hands of the Vegas Knights, Secret Pizza was a definite bright spot on this short trip to the desert. 

Out of five magazines, (because even though this hotel has been around for 7 years, when I hear the name Cosmo it still brings to mind the magazine first), five being best to zero being worst, Secret Pizza gets 3 magazines.

Of course, there is not a website for this place so you can get plenty of information about Secret Pizza by visiting their Yelp page here:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wahlburgers Misses the Mark

3635 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

For those of you that are not big hockey fans, Las Vegas now has its own hockey team. This is the first year that the Vegas Knights are playing, so it made sense that since we are big hockey fans we wanted to see our Ducks play their first game in Las Vegas. Once the hockey schedule came out, we made our plane and hotel reservations, bought the game tickets, and then set about on trying to decide where to eat on this short one day trip to the desert. My mom was very passionate about where she wanted to eat, so after our short plane ride and dropping our bags off at the hotel, we headed to Wahlburgers.

I did not know it until talking to my mom, but there's a reality show based on this restaurant and also the family that runs it, the Wahlbergs. Yes, the same Wahlberg's as in the singer and acting Mark, Donnie, and their Chef brother Paul. My mom is crazy for this show, and from what I can gather has watched all eight seasons with more on the way. Paul has an Italian restaurant, Alma Nove, in Hingham, which is just outside the Boston area. The first Wahlburgers is located nearby his original restaurant and is the one that is mainly featured on the A&E TV show.

Wahlburgers has blossomed into a pretty big chain. They operate restaurants in 14 states and also have an international location in Toronto. Their Las Vegas spot has been opened for a year and a half now and is situated at the Grand Bazaar Shops in front Bally's on the Strip, right across from the Fountains at the Bellagio. Some people online have claimed that it's hard finding this restaurant, but just key in on the large green Wahlburgers sign and you can't miss it.

We arrived here at just after 1:30 on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Walking from the Bellagio, I noticed that Vegas was pretty empty compared to our other visits to this desert paradise. Wahlburgers was much the same, as we got a seat right away, and only about half the tables were occupied during our stay. The restaurant was not as big as I was expecting, but with the cooler weather they had their large roll-up doors closed to the patio, and so it may appear to be larger when the patio is being used. The restaurant is dominated by green, grey, and black painted walls, a large picture of the Wahlbergs that my mom could not help but pose in front of, posters of the Wahlbergs movies and TV shows, and a bar that sits front and center taking up most of the restaurant.

Predictably the menu here is burger driven, but they do have a few other options for people not wanting a burger. There's sandwiches, salads, and even a Sloppy Joe available. Of course, the big draw here is the burgers, and they have 7 to choose from, ranging in price from $10 to $15. I did some research before coming here and knew what I wanted before walking in the door, so let's see how everything worked out for us on this visit.

Burgers come solo at Wahlburgers, so some sides were definitely in order. Our waiter claimed that the kitchen is not a fan of splitting sides, but he said he would talk to them about it. It kind of sounded like something he has said numerous times to other guests, but it did allow us to try all four of their side items. The best of the bunch was the Tater Tots and Sweet Potato Tots ($4.25). They were crisp on the outside, and fluffy on the inside, just like a tater tot should be. They could have come to the table warmer, but still good even though I'm not really a big fan of sweet potato. The Thin Crispy Onion Rings were decent, but again there were temperature issues. The worst of the bunch were the fries, which were obviously frozen and needed to be seasoned to wake up these bland and lukewarm fries. The sauces at Wahlburgers did nothing to really help the fries out either. The ranch dressing was straight from the bottle, and even though the Wahl sauce, a cross between thousand island dressing and Sriracha, added a little flavor it could not save the fries from being anything but mediocre.

My mom is a pretty basic burger eater, so it was no surprise when she ordered this Our Burger ($9.95). This burger comes with the standard lettuce, tomato, and onion, and also includes their Wahl sauce and house-made pickles. This 5-ounce burger was the perfect size for my mom, who is not a real big eater. She seemed to like her burger but said that she has had better.

Both Katie and my dad got the same thing, which helps me by lessening my writing, which we can all probably agree is a great thing. This O.F.D. Burger ($12.95) would have been my second choice, but I left it to the two of them. OFD stands for, Originally from Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood where the Wahlberg's grew up. This one has bacon, Swiss cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and a tomato jam included between its buns. This was a half pound burger, which my light eating father had a hard time finishing. Katie thought this burger was a mess, as it was too juicy and fell apart easily. She also thought it was kind of bland.

The BBQ Bacon Burger ($12.95) was listed as Donnie's favorite burger, and I had high hopes for it after ordering it. I was let down after my first couple of bites. I figured with the bacon, jalapenos, white cheddar, and avocado spread on this it would have popped with flavor. Not the case. It was average, but the avocado spread and jalapenos had no flavor to them, and if I did not see them on my burger I wouldn't have even known they were there. The burger patty needed to be seasoned a bit, and the bright spot for this burger was probably the bun, which did keep its integrity the whole time it was around. Who eats a burger for the bun though? Donnie Wahlberg must like boring burgers if this is his favorite.

Even my mom who was very excited to eat here had to admit that Wahlburgers is a place that she would probably not want to return to. She still loves the show, but the restaurant was very average, and that's being kind. It really had the feel of a tourist trap to me, with the constant upselling by our server, the woman who took our picture and sold them to us after our meal, and the outrageous $5 ice teas in the cups that you can take with you, but who wants to walk around with Wahlburgers cups on the strip?  In a city where almost every hotel has a gourmet/celebrity burger restaurant in it, Wahlburgers really needs to step up their game as something better than what you can get at your neighborhood Chili's. The reality show apparently brings the people in, but the boring burgers and frozen fries will not get a lot of them to return.

Out of five hockey pucks, (because we were in Vegas for the Ducks first game here), five being best to zero being worst, Wahlburgers gets 2 hockey pucks.

For more information about Wahlburgers, head to their website here:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Nothing Pedestrian About the Cookies from Paderia

Paderia Bakehouse
18279 Brookhurst St. Suite 1
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

There are some places that I'm pretty glad are far away from where I live. I need that extra buffer because, to be honest, I have no willpower. Paderia is one of those places that I'm glad is not just around the corner. I have a twenty-mile barrier between me and this bakehouse, and that does my waistline just fine.

I had been hearing whispers about this modern day bakery since they opened eight months ago. People were throwing around praise like, "best cookies ever", "the malasadas are just as good as the ones in Hawaii", and "the banana pudding is the bomb." It was not until my friend and food writer for the OC Weekly, Anne Marie Panoringan told me that I had to give Paderia's cookies a try, as they were that good. I trust her as much as any other OC food influencer, so I knew when we were eating nearby we would be swinging by to pick up some of their baked goods to take home.

You should be aware of a few things when coming to Paderia. They are not open on Mondays. The rest of the week they open at either 7 or 8 am and close when they sell out, which from what I have read online is generally around 1 pm or earlier. There's also no place to sit and enjoy your goodies, so be prepared to eat them out front on the curb or tempt fate and try to make it home without ripping open the box.

Paderia was started by two local guys that have known each other since junior high and they decided to open a business together. Originally they wanted to open a meal prep company, but then it segued into a bakery, and for that, we are all thankful.  They put together a great group of bakers and Paderia was off and running. The menu is not going to blow you away with its diversity. They have three specialty items, four cookies, coffee, tea, and a couple of specials offered.

We got to Paderia just before 11 on a recent Saturday and walked right in and ordered. I was a little surprised that there was no line, but there was definitely a steady stream of people coming in, and they were out of their banana pudding and their ensaymada. We ordered at the register and then waited for our items to be boxed up to be taken home. I'm happy to say that I was very good and waited to get home to try anything. Of course, I had put the box in the trunk because I know myself pretty well. Let's see if these baked goods are worth all the hype they receive.

Here's a quick overview of what we got on this trip. We got two each of their four cookies, three malasadas, and you can't see it in the picture, but we also tried one of their seasonal items, the banana bread. Let's dive deeper into the box.

Don't judge me, but this was my first experience with Malasadas ($2.50 for filled or $1.75 for plain). The last time I was in Hawaii was 1993, and I was not the foodie I am today, I mean I was just practically out of diapers. Anyways, now that I'm a little wiser, and can do a Google search, I learned that these are a Portuguese doughnut, that became popular in Hawaii when the  Hawaiians needed skilled laborers to work in the sugar and pineapple fields. They got people from all over the globe to help, including some from Portugal, and they probably never left after getting a taste of the island life. They brought their cuisine with them, including the now popular malasada. The malasadas at Paderia are filled with Nutella, coconut cream, ube, or you can have it plain, which is just dusted with sugar.

Since this was my first experience with malasadas I really do not have anything to compare these to, but I did like them, especially the filled ones. They are not as greasy as regular donuts, and they seemed lighter, which would allow you to eat more of them before getting too full. The Nutella one was my favorite, but the coconut cream filled one was close behind. I liked the contrast between the dough and the fillings. Definitely, a must try if they still have some of these when you are here.

The malasadas were good, but the cookies from Paderia are what will bring us back here many times over. Quite simply, these cookies were some of the best I have had. Leading the pack is the Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookie ($4.00). I'm a big fan of PB and chocolate, and this cookie is now one of my favorite ways to have these two things. The peanut butter is in the form of chips in this one and goes together excellently with the dark chocolate cookie. I liked the crunchy outer portion and the slightly chewy center which was the hallmark of each of these cookies. The Chocolate Walnut Cookie ($4.00) was another winner. I'm not really a fan of nuts in my cookies, but it worked out fine here. They were finely chopped and the imported Belgian chocolate really shined in this cookie. Chocolate fiends will feel the love after their first taste of the Triple Chocolate Cookie ($4.00). This rich cookie uses both milk and dark chocolate and brings to mind a swim through the chocolate river depicted in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Oatmeal Cookie ($2.25) was fine, but could not compete with the other three in my opinion. The texture was spot on, but it needed something like maybe some chocolate chips to really make it pop. Of course it just so happens that oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are one of my favorites. Hint, hint Paderia Bakehouse.

The only miss on this trip to Paderia was this Banana Bread ($1.50). This was one of their seasonal specials on this particular visit. I found this banana bread to be on the dry side, and the banana flavor did not really come through to me. If it wasn't for the nuts topping this it wouldn't have really tasted like anything. Disappointing, but I was still basking in the glow of the cookies.

Paderia was everything it was promised. These are the best cookies I have had up to this point. I find myself daydreaming about them frequently since we made our initial visit. I also find myself trying to come up with reasons to end up in Fountain Valley. Yes, these cookies are not cheap. Katie and I ended up spending $36 on eight cookies, the banana bread, and three malasadas. Steep, but totally worth it. The hype is justified at Paderia.

Out of five flashlights, (because the 4th largest employer in the city of Fountain Valley is SureFire, maker of milatry and commercial flashlights), five being best to zero being worst, Paderia Bakehouse gets 4 flashlights.

For more information about Paderia Bakehouse, head to their website here:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

You Won't Be Called Skinny After Eating at Tio Flaco's

Tio Flaco's
18959 Magnolia St. 
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

It was another rare weekend day off for me, and since Katie has a regular job, with both Saturdays and Sundays off, it was a chance to get out, do a little walk, and cross a restaurant off of our restaurant wishlist. So we hightailed it up the 405 to Fountain Valley to give Tio Flaco's a try.

I had read a very positive review about this small restaurant in the LA Times, and another two in the OC Weekly, so of course it had to be put on my list. Both articles mentioned that they cook their meats over wood. Very intrigued, we decided to park at a nearby junior high school, walk through a couple of pocket parks, and arrive at just before lunchtime at Tio Flaco's.

Tio Flaco's has been open for two and a half years now, and it replaced a deli, but it appears that this might have been an old Wienerschnitzel, judging by the A-frame building it occupies. Caesar Ruiz and Steven Dabic, both local boys who graduated from Fountain Valley High, wanted to create a place where you could get tacos like the ones they had down in Tijuana. They wanted their place to have homemade tortillas, fresh salsas, and the proteins had to be grilled over wood. Lucky for them, Fountain Valley is one of the few OC cities that permits this kind of cooking.

The menu at Tio Flaco's is very basic. They offer four types of meat, and you can have them as tacos, a mulita, which is best described as a quesadilla with stuff inside of it, or you can choose to have a taco salad. They also offer a cheese quesadilla and tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. That's basically it. Once you open the door to the small restaurant you are hit with the sweet smell of the meats cooking. With a menu as simple as this, we quickly ordered, grabbed a seat on their outdoor patio and waited for our number to be called. Here's how everything came out for us.

Starting things out for us is Katie's meal. She almost always opts for chicken when eating out, and that was definitely the case at Tio Flaco's. She had both a Chicken Taco ($2.29) and a Chicken Mulita ($3.79). Way to mix it up. Anyways, she liked the chicken but was not in love with it. She thought it could have been a little more flavorful, and the chicken did not seem to pick up too much from being cooked over the wood. She did jazz things up with a trip to the salsa bar, which features five kinds of red and green salsas ranging from mild to extremely hot. Katie was impressed with the tortillas and the juiciness of the chicken. She did say she'd probably skip the chicken next time in favor of one of the other meats. 

With Katie getting two chicken items, it freed me up to try the other three types of meat available at Tio Flaco's. I had a Carne Asada Taco ($2.68), a Carnitas Taco, ($2.29), and finished off my taco trio with the Al Pastor Taco ($2.68). All of these were great, and I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but the one I remember the most was the Asada. You could definitely tell it was cooked over wood, as it picked up a smokiness and was very tender. It did not need any salsa, but of course, I used a little bit of the hot ones, and they were excellent. The al pastor and carnitas were fantastic as well and worth getting. The tacos at Tio Flaco's come with onions, cilantro, and guacamole, and they did not skimp on either the meats or the toppings. Some of the best tacos I have had to date.

Round two of food came out next, and this included a Carne Asada Mulita ($4.18) and a Cheese Quesadilla ($1.69). Having the carne asada in the mulita made me fall in love with it even more. I almost hated letting Katie have a bite and wanted to drench it in hot salsa so she wouldn't want any, but I'm a good husband and let her have some. The mulita was filled with cheese, guacamole, onion, cilantro, meat, and a smidge of mild salsa. Again they were not shy about the amount of Asada they used here, as it escaped the mulita, and I eagerly ate it after the mulita disappeared rather quickly. The quesadilla was a classic. Two of their very good flour tortillas were sandwiched with some gooey cheese, which also had some crispy parts hanging out, which made this quesadilla even better. 

Not to be overlooked, the salsa bar here is pretty impressive at Tio Flaco's. As I mentioned earlier they have five salsas ranging from mild to extremely hot. I tried the hottest of the bunch and found it to be good and spicy, but it did not overwhelm, which is what I look for in a salsa. I like it hot, but I still want to be able to taste the food that I put it on. A very delicate balance that this restaurant nailed. 

As we walked back to our car parked about a mile away at the junior high school, I could not stop thinking about our visit to Tio Flaco's. Even as I write this review a few weeks later I have an incredible craving for their tacos and mulitas. I think these are the best tacos I have had in a real long time, with the exception of the chicken. Such a simple menu and the food was done with such precision, I can not wait to return very soon. I'd say that the owners at Tio Flaco's have nailed what they were going for here, creating a great taco just like the ones they had across the border. The restaurant inside is a little small, and because of the wood burning cooking going on in there, it does seem a little steamy, so a seat out on their patio seems like a way better spot to enjoy your food. This was a great place to spend our day off together.

Out of five octopuses, (because the mascot of this restaurant is Templeton the Octopus), five being best to zero being worst, Tio Flaco's gets 3.5 octopuses.

For more information about Tio Flaco's, head to their website here:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Crack Shack Is No Joke

Crack Shack
196 East 17th St. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

We recently were invited to the VIP opening party of Crack Shack. For those of you that are not aware, this is the chicken-focused restaurant of CEO Michael Rosen and his business partner, celebrity chef Richard Blais, famously of Top Chef. I don't bring this up to brag about getting invited to a restaurant opening party,  I mention this because I want to convey how much we liked this restaurant.

Usually, when we are invited somewhere, I enjoy what they have to offer, take some pictures, and then come home and write about our experience at the event. We usually don't return for an extended amount of time. Not because we didn't like it, but to keep the content fresh on this site. You guys probably don't want to read two posts about the same restaurant within the span of a few weeks, or a month or two.  Plus we have lots of restaurants we need to try, without doing too many return trips to a place we have already been.

The party was, of course, a great time. We got a quick tour of the restaurant, which is located on the corner of 17th Street and Orange Avenue, in what used to be a Chase Bank. It's unrecognizable from when it was a financial institution though. They poured a lot of work into this restaurant, which features a retractable roof, utilized reclaimed wood from Torrey Pines down in San Diego, where they started and have two locations, (one in Little Italy and one in Encinitas), and there are also large chicken themed murals on the outside of the building, as well as a large chicken statue greeting guests as they enter the restaurant.

Another highlight of the party was getting a chance to meet the Crack Shack team, including both Michael Rosen and the star of the evening, Richard Blais. I have to admit that I have never watched an episode of Top Chef, but I did recognize him from some other TV shows I happened to have clicked by. He was really a great guy and took the time to mingle with his guests. He did not even bristle when I asked him a few questions of my own. I found out he was an Islanders fan growing up, but then all the cool kids in high school started liking the Rangers, so he switched too. Also, since he's a Long Island resident, I asked which famous Long Island celebrity would he most like to have dinner with. He answered Billy Joel, which is a great pick.  I'd go with Jerry Seinfeld myself.

The food was another highlight, as there was plenty of tray passed items off of their menu making their way around the room. We pretty much tried almost everything on the menu, but I wanted to go back to share with you what the full-sized items look like, instead of the mini versions we were given. Plus I really enjoyed what I had consumed and was ready to try the one or two things on the menu we had missed.

Katie and I met at Crack Shack on a recent Monday evening, and the restaurant was very lively. Ordering is done at a walk-up counter alongside 17th Street. A large majority of the menu is different versions of chicken sandwiches, but they also feature salads, sides, milkshakes, and fried chicken by itself. After making your selections you go inside and find a seat and your food is brought out to you. I was excited to see what we had in store for us on our return trip to Crack Shack.

I'm not really a fan of Deviled Eggs ($4) but Katie really wanted to give these a try. These come four to an order and are topped with french toast crumbles and candied bacon. They must have been pretty good because Katie did not hesitate to eat all four rather quickly.

We might as well stay with Katie's choices on this evening, as she selected this Senor Croque ($12). I was a little surprised when she selected this breakfast-centric sandwich. It starts with a fried chicken breast, and then is topped with bacon, fried egg, white cheddar, miso-maple butter, and is sandwiched between a brioche bun. Katie called this her favorite chicken sandwich ever. She loved the different flavors that came through in each bite and felt this was one of the juiciest chicken sandwiches she has ever had. She now knows why they call this place the Crack Shack because this sandwich is so addictive.

The first of the two sandwiches I tried was the Firebird ($11). They use thigh meat for this spicy sandwich, plenty of pickles, crispy onions, and ranch, all on a potato roll. I loved the heat on this sandwich. It was the right balance of heat, as it did not overwhelm, but lingered even after I was done with my last bite. They had just the right amount of ranch on here, and the crispy onion strings added a nice crunch. I did take the pickles off of this, as I always find pickles take over anything that they touch. An excellent sandwich, which has got me excited to try other spicy chicken sandwiches.

I had some pretty high hopes for this Royale ($9). This is not like any Sausage McMuffin you have ever had. The word that came to mind when I was eating this was sturdy. This was a very sturdy breakfast sandwich. They make their own English muffins here, which are the vessel for their chicken sausage, sunny side up egg, and smoked cheddar. I had a few qualms about this sandwich. The English muffin was a little too hard and made eating this rather difficult. The chicken sausage was on point, but the egg was way overcooked and did not provide any runny yolk that I think would have bound this together very well. The cheese also got lost here. I'm going to get this with a side of their lime mayo next time, which I think will make this sandwich better.

One thing that really stood out from the opening party that we attended was the Schmaltz Fries ($5), I was curious if they would be just as good on our return trip. They were. The fries are an all day process. They are hand cut, soaked for 24 hours, and then they are fried twice in chicken fat, which leaves the fries crispy on the outside and pillowy soft inside. A must get when visiting Crack Shack.

Even though I was not totally in love with the Royale sandwich I will be back to have the Firebird sandwich again. I think it was one of the best chicken sandwiches I have had, right up there with my other favorite of the moment, the one at Two Birds at the Trade Food Hall in nearby Irvine. Both use Jidori chicken, which seems to make for a tastier and moist chicken. My only minor complaint is about the sauces here. I wish they were a little bolder, and they had a little more variety. The ranch dressing and the Sriracha 1000 Island were probably the best of the bunch, but they did not really stand out too much to me. Even with that one minor quibble, we will be back soon. I really liked the vibe here, as it was kind of hipster-ish, but not in an uncomfortable way. Thanks to all involved in the invite to the opening party, and we're happy to report that the food was just as good as when we returned two weeks later.

Out of five clowns, (because Richard Blais is from Uniondale, New York, which was the last stop by the Ringling Bros. Circus after a 146-year run earlier this year), five being best to zero being worst, The Crack Shack gets 3.5 clowns.

For more information about Crack Shack, head to their website here: