Saturday, June 24, 2017

Great Tacos Are No Urbana Myth Here

440 South Anaheim Blvd. 
Anaheim, CA 92805

I don't feel like we have explored the Anaheim Packing District nearly enough. I think we have only made two trips up this way in the three years this part food hall, part retail space has been around. There are many restaurants here that dot my restaurant wishlist. I really want to try Georgia's, the Kroft, the Blind Rabbit, and the Iron Press. For this birthday dinner, I wanted to cross Urbana off of my list, so that's where my parents and I headed on this fine early June evening.

The parking situation at the Packing District can be monumentally challenging. The parking gods must have been watching out for Katie and I as we got lucky and someone was pulling out, just as we got there, instead of valet parking like we had resigned ourselves to do. Even though this was just our third time at the Packing District, which is at the corner of Anaheim and Santa Ana Boulevards, I'm always a little amazed at how busy and full of life this Downtown Anaheim venue is.

Urbana is situated on the ground floor of the Anaheim Packing House, nearly dead center. Even though I had made reservations at this early 5 pm hour, there were plenty of open seats around, but it filled up around us as the evening rolled along. One of the few full-service restaurants at the Packing House, Urbana has a Dia de los Muertos theme to it, with colorful skulls and figurines hanging from the ceilings and walls. The bar takes up a lot of space in this long, narrow restaurant, which has maybe 15 tables, along with some counter seating near the front of the restaurant.

Owner Javier Cuadra, who hails from Zamora, Mexico, and Chef Ernie Alvardo has created a menu that is inspired by Michoacan street food. They also have a pretty impressive bar program here, which utilizes Mr. Cuadra's other business, the exporting of seasonal berries from Mexico to the US. The berries are used in numerous cocktails, which get rave reviews from many. Even though I was here with my parents, I refrained from drinking but decided to indulge in food instead. Let's see how this game plan worked out for me.

I love a good Queso Fundidio ($10) and was eager to try the version at Urbana. When I saw this come out I knew it was going to be a challenge splitting this between four people, especially after we all tasted it. Melted and bubbling cheese and chorizo was served in a small iron skillet and is topped with pickled red onion and comes with handmade corn tortillas. This fundido was a little more mellow than most I've had, but it was still delicious. It was not as heavy either, but that might be because we had to split this four ways. The salsa this came with had a great punch to it, which I saved to use with my entree. I'm usually more of a flour tortilla guy, but these corn ones were excellent.

Katie was the only one of the four of us not to get tacos, so we'll start with her entree, the Mole Enchiladas ($14). These enchiladas were filled with shredded chicken, melted Oaxaca cheese, and topped with sliced avocado, crema, and radish, and bathed in mole. I really enjoyed the bite I had of this. The chicken was very tender and the mole had a wonderful flavor to it. Very comforting. Katie felt this was a very satisfying plate, which was lighter than most but did not sacrifice flavor. She'd get this again for sure.

My mom is a pretty light eater, so she only ate one of her Two Carnitas Tacos ($10) and let my dad take the other one home for lunch the next day. Wish she had given it to me, the birthday boy. This was an excellent taco, with moist and flavorful shredded pork, just enough queso fresco and pickled red onion to cut the rich carnitas. These usually come with habanero salsa, but she requested it on the side. The tortilla kept everything together nicely, which is kind of remarkable considering how moist the pork was.

My dad followed suit and got two Tacos ($10) also, but he went with Al Pastor Taco and the Gobernador. The better of the two, only by a hair was the pastor. Served on a blue corn tortilla it came with some well prepared shaved pork, the familiar red pickled onions that were on the carnitas and the queso fundido, and finished with some queso fresco and a touch of chili oil. The melding of all of these flavors made this one of my favorites of the night. The Gobernador was a shrimp taco filled with melted cheese that could have been the same as the one used in the queso fundido, serrano chilies, and onions rounded out this taco which was wrapped up in a crispy corn tortilla. This was probably the most disappointing taco of the night, as I probably expected a tad too much from it based on the description. It was good, with the shrimp cooked well, but it left me wanting more. Not a bad taco mind you, but I'd skip in favor of any of my three tacos coming up.

When my Three Taco Trio ($14) was placed in front of me what I noticed first were the bright and beautiful colors included on each tortilla. It was like an edible piece of art which I could not wait to dig into. I had the Arrachera Steak, Baja Fish, and the Pork Belly Taco. The gold medal winner for me here was the steak taco, and I learned that Arrachera is skirt steak which is marinated usually in a citrus-based marinade. Not sure if that's the case here at Urbana, but this was one of the best beef tacos I can remember having. Joining the juicy and tender beef was a smear of guacamole, queso fresco, salsa, and some pico de gallo. They didn't try to do too much with this, which made the beef shine here. The Baja taco was what I imagine you would be able to get on the Baja peninsula. Not sure what the catch of the day was here, but the fish was lightly battered and flaky, without a hint of grease. It also came topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, cabbage, and what put this over the top for me, a very solid spicy aioli, which did not so much add a lot of spice, as it added some needed moisture and gave this a flavor boost. I liked the Asian-inspired pork belly taco but was not in love with it. It reminded me of a Banh mi in taco form. It came with pickled daikon and shredded carrots, a cilantro aioli, and a blue corn tortilla. The pork belly was good but could have been a little more front and center, as it got lost a bit and I love me some pork belly, one of my favorite things to see on a menu. I'd still get it again here at Urbana.

When I left Urbana I was completely satisfied with my visit. Much like a lot of the reviews I've read online, my parents felt this was kind of overpriced for the amount of food you get. There's no chips and salsa when you get here, there's no beans and rice in sight, and $5 per taco might be a little steep when you really think about it, but I'm fine wth all of this because these tacos were some of the best I have had in a long while. All of the proteins were done excellently, and even if the tacos didn't totally work for me, I ate them up rather quickly. Again this is a pretty cramped restaurant which is not very comfortable, but with tacos like this, I'm willing to sacrifice a little comfort to make Urbana one of my must eat at restaurants when I visit the Anaheim Packing District.

Out of five bottles of wine, (because being in this historic building got me thinking back to the first settlers of Anaheim, Germans who in 1857 picked this area because they could grow grapes for wine here, and this area was once the hub of the California wine industry), five being best to zero being worst, Urbana gets 3.5 bottles of wine.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Less Than Stellar at the Cellar

The Cellar
305 North Harbor
Fullerton, CA 92832

When my birthday rolls around, it's always a guess where we will end up. I usually get three dinners; one with my parents, one with Katie's parents, and one with just me and Katie. I pick where we are going to eat for the dinners with our parents, but I always let Katie pick the place for our romantic dinner for two. I figure she's the one that knows me best, and she also has access to my computer which usually has my restaurant wishlist open on the desktop. This year though she did not peek at the list, instead she surprised me with a visit to The Cellar.

I'm pretty sure she picked this restaurant for sentimental reasons. It's located in the Villa Del Sol, the site of our wedding two plus years ago. At the time of its dedication in 1923, the Villa Del Sol was hailed as one of the finest hotels in the state. After a remodel in 1964, it now houses retail shops, office spaces, and of course restaurants, including The Cellar, which is located in the basement of the Villa Del Sol and has been here since 1969.

The Cellar has quite the history. It's the restaurant where Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor for their second chance at happiness, (it did not go well that time either), and this restaurant was designed by the same craftsman that designed the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at nearby Disneyland. Once you descend the staircase and enter the restaurant you definitely get the vibe of being transported to New Orleans Square's most popular attraction. Actually, it's kind of both Pirate's and the Haunted Mansion which this restaurant brings to mind.

The muted lighting and the chandeliers bring to mind the Haunted Mansion, while the separating arches, exposed wooden beams, and cave-like walls surrounding the large booths is all Pirates. The only things missing are the orange lights and the pirates running after the ladies. While your eyes are adjusting to the sudden darkness of the restaurant, you'll notice that the bar and cocktail area is to the right of the hostess stand, while the dining room is to the left. Since we were early for our 7 pm reservation, we grabbed a seat at their cozy ten seat bar.

The bar program at The Cellar is really something to behold, and something that they take lots of pride in. While we were settling in, the bartenders were being quizzed about the recently changed monthly bar menu. They were making drinks and being told what they liked about the way they made them and what they did wrong while making the cocktails. It was really quite interesting. For my birthday drink, I tried the Shore Break ($13) which not only was photogenic as hell but tasted wonderful. One of the better rum based cocktails I have had in some time. Joining the rum in the rocks glass was cactus water, lime, and coconut. It was layered in such a way that you got parts of all the ingredients of this drink in each sip. Very impressive. Near the end of our evening, we talked with General Manager Rich Ohtsuka about their philosophy behind the bar, and he told us they change their cocktail menu monthly to reflect the coming month, and they also require their opening bartender to create a cocktail of the day, something that is new and helps keep the bar menu fresh at The Cellar. With a new cocktail every day, you never know what to expect when walking in the door of The Cellar.

After my beverage at the bar, we were lead to our table in the dining room. The dining room walls are lined with what I'd call sweetheart tables, and I noticed that couples sit side by side here, as opposed to across from each other. I always feel a little odd doing that, but I fell in line with the conformity of everyone else, with a little nudging from Katie. The center of the dining room is filled with larger tables and some cave-like booths fill the far wall. The restaurant is darker than most, but my eyes had already adjusted. The menu is not large as it includes 4 small plates, soups, salads, a couple of beef dishes, a pasta entree, three seafood options, and a pork selection. Prices range in the $30 area and go all the way up to $91 for the Chateaubriand, which serves 2. Servers are very quick to share what they perceive to be highlights of the menu, but not in a high-pressure way.

After our order was in they brought us a bread plate, which was kind of lackluster. It contained under toasted bread, which was not served warm. I did like that they provided plenty of butter, and even though we were not wowed by this, we did go through two helpings. Guess we worked up quite an appetite on our long drive up here.

One of our wait staff's suggestions was the Lobster Bisque ($13), which they claim has won some awards, and after trying this I can see how that could be true. This was a delicious version of lobster bisque. The lobster was front and center here, with a very rich but balanced flavor throughout each spoonful. It was not full of lobster meat, but what was there was done very nicely. I'd get this bisque again for sure.

Something I would not get again was this Cellar Caesar Salad ($12). This was a pretty classic Caesar with romaine lettuce, parmesan, and a muted dressing, but they tried to make it their own by adding some roasted corn and shallots to the mix. It didn't help. After a few bites, I was bored with this salad. The produce was fresh, but I think the problem for me with this was that the dressing was drab, while the croutons added no texture. Stick with the bisque.

Katie selected the 8 Ounce Filet Mignon ($47) as her entree on this evening. She always gets her steaks medium well, so I refused to try this, but she seemed to like this enough. Someday I'll get her to try a steak medium rare, but I have a lot of work to do before that becomes a reality. This filet came perched atop a potato puree, with some veggies, and sauteed spinach, all of which Katie felt were fresh and done fork tender. She liked the butteriness of the potatoes especially.

I was originally going to go with the pork offering on this evening but switched it up at the moment of truth by ordering the Chef Cut on this evening, which was Grass Fed Skirt Steak ($45). I wanted this served medium rare, and for the most part, each slice was done that way, with only the end pieces closer to medium. The meat itself was fine but could have been a little more seasoned and tender, and if they hadn't have told me this was grass fed, I would have had no idea. It was topped with a cognac mustard sauce which was pretty stellar but could have been used a little more liberally. This meal was rounded out with some asparagus and potatoes.

For an optional side item, we tried their Truffle Mac and Cheese ($9). For this they use three kinds of cheese, Gruyere, white cheddar, and sharp cheddar, then they add some truffle oil and panko bread crumbs to the top. Much like the rest of the food that we had up until this point, I was let down by this. It was pretty average and really failed to make an impression. The panko topping was probably a highlight, which is not what you want to be the star of the show with this dish. The truffle was present, but I lost interest after a few bites of this.

When we first sat down and our excellent waitress Laura advised us that souffle's take 30 minutes to prepare and that something was a little wonky with their oven, so she'd suggest that if we wanted souffle's that we get two of the smaller versions, so that's what we did. At The Cellar, you have your choice between chocolate and vanilla souffle's, and then your choice of Anglaise to pour inside of it. We both went with the same, chocolate with a salted caramel Anglaise inside. This was good, but not great. I liked the Anglaise, as the saltiness and caramel really shined here, but the souffle itself was rather drab. It only perked up with the added addition of more of the Anglaise. Kind of disappointed.

Since Katie let the cat out of the bag about this being my birthday, Laura brought out this Creme Brulee as a special treat. The top layer of this had a nice sweetness to it, but the custard part was way too eggy for my liking. A nice extra sweet treat for my birthday.

If you've read up until this point you can probably guess how this review is going to go. With the exception of the bar program and the lobster bisque, Katie and I both left the Cellar very underwhelmed with what we consumed. Nothing was outright horrible, but the food here did not wow us, especially for what we paid. You can get a much better meal at any high-end steakhouse for a few more dollars than what you are coughing up here. What you are getting at the Cellar is ambiance and old school charm. Along with the long drawn out dinner, you get food runners that bring your food to the table covered and uncover the plates after counting to three in French. You can also get the Chateaubriand sliced tableside, which is also pretty old school. What you are not getting is a quick paced dinner. Even though we loved our waitress, she seemed to be spread a little thin since she had half the restaurant to take care of, as there only appeared to be two servers on the floor this particular evening. The result was long lapses between courses and a two and a half hour dinner which lends itself to this being more of a special occasion restaurant than the one you are going to frequent more often. Even though this birthday dinner did not impress, I'm still happy to have spent my day with my beautiful wife, and looking forward to exploring lots more restaurants on future birthdays.

Out of five pyramids, (in honor of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton getting engaged here, and one of their first movies together was Cleopatra), five being best to zero being worst, The Cellar gets 2.5 pyramids.

For more information about The Cellar Restaurant, head to their website here:

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

No Waffling About Sweet Combforts

Sweet Combforts
2222 Michelson Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612

If you've been following along on our food journey in order, you know that our last two reviews took place at the new Trade Food Hall in Irvine. We had started with an excellently done fried chicken sandwich and followed that up with the very impressive Mac Daddy Burger, which utilized two fried mac and cheese patties for the bun. Yes, we were feeling pretty good by this point but needed something a little sweet to finish this evening off. Luckily, there is one place at Trade to get your sugar fix, and that's why we headed to Sweet Combforts.

Sweet Combforts is brought to us by the same guys that run Pig Pen Delicacy, and their neighbor at Trade, Portside, along with GD Bro Burger. Sweet Combforts debuted at Coachella this spring, and one news article about them said they were the only reason to make the trek out to the desert. Not sure if that is a dis about the music or if their Instagram-worthy food is really that good.

Now with a permanent home at Trade, their chef is Anne Marie Damaso, who hails from California's Central Coast, but has done work at numerous OC restaurants in different capacities. At Sweet Combforts she uses a  scratch made liege waffle batter that's infused with pearl sugars and then coated with cookie butter and assorted toppings. After the savory part of our visit to Trade, we were excited to give Sweet Combforts a try.

When entering Trade Food Hall, Sweet Combforts will be the first stall on your left. The menu here featured six different kinds of waffles on a stick with assorted toppings, five varieties of ice cream, and two shakes. Katie ordered for us, and about five to ten minutes later we had our stuff. Let's see how it all turned out for us.

Up first, courtesy of Katie's excellent hand modeling is the Churro Crunch Waffle ($6). This waffle was coated with cinnamon sugar, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and finished off with a cream cheese drizzle. I was little underwhelmed with this. I thought the churro flavor would be a little more pronounced, but it kind of fell flat for me. The only flavor I really got here was from the cereal on this. I would have liked a little more cream cheese drizzle, and the bottom of our waffle, near the stick, was very well done, almost bordering on burnt. Maybe should have tried one of the other five kinds of waffles offered.

Just in case we had not had enough food at this point of our visit to Trade, Katie also got us some ice cream. For me, she got a Single Scoop of Peanut Butter and Chocolate ($3) and for her, a Scoop of Salted Caramel ($3). Hers was the better of the two. The saltiness came through, while the caramel lingered in the background. I was expecting maybe a caramel ribbon through this, but no such luck with the bite I had. The peanut butter and chocolate was disappointing as well. With the amount of chocolate included here, I felt calling this peanut butter and chocolate was grounds for false advertising. Little specks of chocolate, smaller than chips do not add enough to get equal billing here. In fact, it might as well have been called vanilla ice cream, because the tiny ribbon of peanut butter did not add too much either. Not sure if they make their own ice cream, but a chocolate ice cream base with a large ribbon of peanut butter running through it would have made this way more enjoyable and more true to what they were going for.

Sweet Combforts did not really shine for us on this evening. I'd give them another shot though because they are the only dessert game in town at Trade. I'd probably try their Oreo cookie inspired waffle or their version with Circus Animal cookies next time. The Cookie Monster Shake seems to be really popular and would probably be my choice over the scoops of ice cream. An even better choice might be to leave Trade and head to Afters Ice Cream on the other side of the 405 Freeway for their delicious Milky Bun or their wider selection of ice cream. Since you have mastered the parking at Trade, it should be no problem getting a spot at the always crowded Diamond Jamboree.

Out of five mallets, (because this place debuted at Coachella, which is held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, and you can't play polo without a mallet, or a horse for that matter), five being best to zero being worst, Sweet Combforts gets 2.5 mallets.

Sweet Combforts does not have a website, but you can check out their Instagram feed here:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting down and Dirty at Pig Pen Delicacy

Pig Pen Delicacy
2222 Michelson Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92612

It's probably not any surprise to most of you that my Instagram feed is filled with tons of food pictures. I follow a few friends and family, but other than that my IG feed is filled with photos from restaurants, fellow food bloggers, and other food people I have managed to pick up along the way.

As a result, I see a lot of what I would term, Instagram-inspired food creations dominating my food feed. Some examples include unicorn/rainbow colored foods, food taken with pets, outrageously large foods, and one of the most popular kinds of Instagram-inspired foods, the mash-up, which brings two kinds of foods together to form an almost Frankenstein kind of creation. It's one of those that got me to visit Pig Pen Delicacy recently.

Pig Pen Delicacy used to inhabit another OC food hall, the 4th Street Market, but now they have taken up residency at the newly opened Trade Food Hall in Irvine, along with a spot at Steelcraft Marketplace in Long Beach. PPD comes to us from the successful guys that have brought us the wildly popular Afters Ice Cream, and one of my favorite burger spots, GD Bro Burger. PPD is their ode to pork and using it to update American comfort foods. That sentence alone has got me excited to try the food here.

Pig Pen Delicacy is located straight back from the entrance of Trade Food Hall, right between Andrew Gruel's veggie concept Butterleaf, and the seafood-centric Portside, which I've made a mental note to visit very soon. When we got here at just a little after 6 on a recent Tuesday evening, I was relieved to find that there was no line, which is not usually the case on weekends and at lunchtime during the work week. I ordered rather quickly because of course, I knew what I wanted before even getting into my car to come here. Let's see if all the praise on Instagram is warranted.

Before we get to the real reason I came here, I started with these Parmesan Truffle Tots ($6.49) which were a special offered on this particular day. I know that the pork belly fries are the most popular item here, but I had other things to eat and wanted something a little lighter to go along with my heavier entree. There's something about these little barrels of potato which just evokes a happiness over me. These tots were dressed with truffle oil, lightly salted, and then finished off with a drizzle of garlic aioli, parsley, and parmesan cheese. Since these were not drowned in stuff they retained their crunch throughout their short stay at our table. I got the hint of truffle, which is what you really want since truffle oil can really overpower. A little more garlic aioli would have made these even better.

Now the real reason I came here, the Mac Daddy Burger ($11.49). Yes, what you are seeing is real, and it actually rocked. This burger starts with a third-pound beef patty and is then topped with American cheese, candied bacon, and barbecue sauce, then sandwiched between two mac and cheese buns. I was afraid the fried mac and cheese buns would fall apart, but they held together very well. The candied bacon did get lost here, but the sweet barbecue sauce helped to cut the cheese a bit. Predictably this was a very filling burger, but not as greasy as I imagined it would be.

Even though I came to Pig Pen Delicacy to try what I'd consider being a novelty burger, I gained a new respect for the food here. This is not just a burger that is meant to shock you, they also want you to enjoy it, and I see myself enjoying it many times over with each passing visit to Trade Food Hall. I also look forward to trying their other creations, such as their pulled pork sandwich, pork belly sliders, and their buffalo tots. I also have a feeling that PPD is not ones to rest on their laurels, they will most likely come up with something new, which will undoubtedly become a big hit on Instagram, and get me to try it right away.

Out of five peanuts, (because according to a Gallup survey, the 5th most popular Peanuts character is Pig Pen, the always dirty friend of Charlie Brown), five being best to zero being worst, Pig Pen Delicacy gets 3.5 peanuts.

For more information about Pig Pen Delicacy, head to their website here:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Happy as a Lark at Two Birds

Two Birds
2222 Michelson Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92612

Food halls are all the rage right now, and Orange County has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to them. I think it started with 4th Street Market in Santa Ana and it kind of exploded from there. Union Market in both Irvine and Mission Viejo, McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana, Pacific City in HB, the always crowded Anaheim Packing House, and now Trade in Irvine are being barraged by hungry patrons.

Food halls seem like the perfect spot for places to try out a new concept. The rents are generally lower, you definitely get a lot of foot traffic, and with the younger demographic that usually inhabits these kinds of places, you get lots of exposure on Instagram and other social media outlets. It also seems like concepts that populate food hall stands are much more adventurous about the products that they are peddling.

My love for Slapfish is pretty well known. I suggest it to anyone that wants to have delicious seafood at a reasonable price. I was excited to learn that Chef Andrew Gruel, the man behind Slapfish was opening two concepts at the newly opened Trade Food Hall. One is the veggie based Butterleaf, which Chef Andrew has described as plant-based food for people who love to eat. With this concept he wants people to know that you can get a hearty meal without meat, leaving them satisfied and full. I'll definitely try it next time I'm here, but on this visit, I was all about Chef Andrew's other stall at Trade, Two Birds.

Two Birds is tucked behind the Central Hub Bar, which is to the right of the main dining area of Trade. Once you find this stall, you will be met by a pretty simple menu. You choose between either crispy or grilled chicken, then you also pick whether you want the poultry in a salad or as a sandwich and if you want a double or single serving. Two Birds uses Jidori chicken, which I had never heard of until coming here. Jidori is a locally raised chicken, which is free range, and fed a vegetarian diet without using antibiotics. This type of chicken is very common in Japan but gaining popularity in the US. We quickly ordered and found ourselves a table nearby to wait patiently for our food to find its way out to us.

Yep, I was in awe as well when this Double Bird In the Hand Sandwich ($13) came out. My first thought was how am I going to put my mouth around this, and to answer that question, I took out one of the pieces of chicken to make it more manageable. This simply dressed sandwich came with some crunchy slaw and tiger sauce, which is kind of a mildly peppery and tangy concoction that goes well here with the perfectly done chicken. The chicken was very clean tasting, not as greasy as I was expecting, and had a nice even crunch around its rather large surface. The bun did a great job staying together with all the heft going on in between its buns. One of the better chicken sandwiches I have had.

I have a real affinity for cottage fries, so when I saw them on the menu at Two Birds, I knew we had to give them a try. These Cheesy Cottage Fries ($5) were loaded with a few cubes of pork, a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese, and a smooth cheese sauce that kind of reminded me of a bechamel, or at least that's the vibe I got here. The cottage fries did get a little soggy near the end of this, as the sauce kind of settled down near the bottom of the bowl, but that's to be expected. The first half of this was on point. I might get this again but with the cheese sauce on the side next time.

I'm usually not one to order chicken when I'm out to eat, but that sandwich from Two Birds will be hard to resist when I return to the Trade Food Hall. That's saying something with all the other options there. I think it's safe to say that Chef Andrew has another winner on his hands with this concept. I used to think it was crazy to create a chicken-focused concept, but with the success of Raising Cane's and the surprising longevity of KFC and their awful chicken, I can admit when I am wrong. Two Birds might have a very basic menu, but if you are looking for one of the best chicken sandwiches you will encounter, you need to head to Two Birds very soon.

Out of five volcanos, (because there's a 2008 Icelandic short film titled Two Birds, and Iceland has many active volcanos), five being best to zero being worst, Two Birds gets 3.5 volcanos.

For more information about Two Birds, check out their website here:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Taste of Jerez in OC at Burritos La Palma

Burritos La Palma
410 North Bristol St. 
Santa Ana, CA 92703

If you read the OC Weekly's food coverage religiously like I do, you know their love of Burritos La Palma is almost bordering on restraining order status. It seems like almost every week there's a new mention or accolade for this restaurant, which sprang from a food truck, which launched them into a brick and mortar site in El Monte, and now they have another location in Santa Ana.

Burritos La Palma won the best taco at LA's prestigious Tacolandia last year, they were named one of the best burritos in America by Food and Wine magazine, they are loved not only by the staff of the OC Weekly but also Jonathan Gold, who is the preeminent food critic in not only LA but probably all of the United States. Any best of list relating to Mexcian food invariably includes a mention, if not a spot near the top, for Burritos La Palma. With all of these accolades, I moved them to the top of my own personal restaurant wishlist and enlisted my good friend Ozker to give them a try with me.

After a pretty hard day of working, for me, not Ozker, we made the trek up to Santa Ana to try out Burritos La Palma's newest location. This spot used to be the home of 1 More Pizza, which closed a year ago. This small shopping plaza on the corner of Santa Ana Boulevard and Bristol has a beauty salon, dentist, and donut shop among its tenants, and I imagine parking might get a little tricky around here during peak hours, but we were here near 4 pm on a Thursday, and we had no problem getting a spot.

Burritos La Palma comes to us from Alberto and Lauren Banuelos, a local couple who have been making flour tortillas in Lake Forest, before they moved their operations to El Monte. Their tortillas have won critical acclaim across the Southland. The food part of Burritos La Palma started as a small chain in Jerez, Zacatecas Mexico, and now they are bringing the food of Jerez to Southern California. Let's see what all the hype is all about.

I kind of froze when ordering, as I knew what I had wanted when I walked in, but I just ordered a hodgepodge of things once I was standing in front of the register, starting with this Birria Quesadilla ($3.85). After my first bite of this quesadilla, I knew people were right about the tortillas here. They had a buttery quality to them, and they were moist but held everything inside of them nicely. I had always been told that birria is simmered goat, but at Burritos La Palma it's made with shredded beef in a slightly spicy sauce. It really melded well with the cheese and gave this a real comforting feel. Delicious.

I took a shot in the dark when ordering the Platillo Especial ($9.75), but I'm glad I did. For this one, they take two of their birria burritos, top them with cheese, and then pour a green chile pork sauce over them. Kind of an enchilada vibe to these. The green chile sauce was good, but it kind of detracted from the tortillas, which are definitely a highlight at Burritos La Palma. I feel weird typing that, but the tortillas are really that good. This is an excellent option for people that want to switch it up from the burritos. This comes with beans, which were good, and a salad which went untouched since I ordered one more item.

I'll probably be lambasted for this, but my favorite item on this visit was the Torta Especial ($8.00). This sandwich came packed with tender pork loin, ham, melted cheese, creamy avocado, and some jalapenos. A very well balanced sandwich that was made even better when I added some of their salsa and refried beans to it. The bread was excellent and this was a very filling and satisfying sandwich which I'll be hard pressed to pass up on future visits to Burritos La Palma.

I really enjoyed Burritos La Palma, but I feel like I have to say that it's probably not for everyone. This is not like every other Mexican restaurant in OC. This is specifically a Zacatecas focused restaurant. They have no carnitas, fajitas, seafood, nachos, or California burritos here. They have six burritos on their menu, three quesadillas, and two tortas. The flautas are coming soon they promise. A very basic menu, but if you are open to expanding your horizons a bit, and also having one of the best flour tortillas you will ever consume, Burritos La Palma will not fail to please. Also, be advised that you'll need more than one of their burritos to fill you up. They are small but mighty. Prices seemed very fair, as the cost of a quesadilla here is at least a couple dollars cheaper than almost anywhere else, even the ones at Del Taco. A real bargain. Service was very pleasant on this early afternoon. I'm not as ready as the guys at the OC Weekly to declare these the best burritos in OC, but they are right up there with anything I have had up until this point.

Out of five bulls, (because on Holy Saturday every year, the town of Jerez has a running of the bulls), five being best to zero being worst, Burritos La Palma gets 3.5 bulls.

For more information about Burritos La Palma, head to their website here: