536 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
A lot of times I have a preconceived notion of a restaurant before I even walk through its doors. Whether it's because I've read online reviews, seen it in a newspaper or magazine, or heard about it from word of mouth, it's hard shutting out those mitigating voices that I have running through my head. This was definitely the case when we were invited to celebrate my aunt Hiroko's birthday at Javier's in Irvine.
To be truthful, I had eaten here one other time, long before I started this blog. I was not too impressed with that visit, but every time I've come back to the Irvine Spectrum since I'm always amazed at the crowds waiting to be seated out in front of the restaurant. It got me thinking that maybe I should give this restaurant another shot. Maybe I caught them on an off night. So, as much as I could, I went into this celebratory evening with as close to an unbiased opinion as I could muster.
After a little research, I learned that there actually is a Javier. Javier Sosa Sr. opened up his first Javier's in Laguna Beach in 1995. That location closed 13 years later, but they now have four other operations running, this Irvine spot, along with one at the Crystal Cove Promenade in Newport Beach, one in the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and even one across the border in Los Cabos, Mexico. Some pretty impressive locations.
Javier's can best be described as an upscale Mexican restaurant, in a night club environment. We were seated in the darkened main dining room, which had a lighted faux tree in the center of the room, with club music being pumped through the sound system, at a little too loud of volume. It was pretty hard to hear our waiter and vice versa. He had nearly every member of our party repeat their order at least once. The menu here is pretty large, with many combo plates and entrees to choose from. Entrees range in price from $22 to $65, which is for a steak and lobster version. My uncle was going to be buying our dinner on this evening, so I'd have to forgo this surf and turf plate. Let's see what we did end up ordering.
When we were sat at Javier's, we were brought out their Chips and Salsa. The chips here were crisp and very fresh. The salsa had a tiny kick to it, but what I liked most about this was its texture. It appeared to be a little thin at first glance but had some decent chunk to it when placed on the sturdy chips.
My favorite appetizer in Mexican restaurants is Queso Fundido ($12), so I had to try this one from Javier's. This one is made of Monterrey jack cheese, with mushrooms, onions, and pasilla chilies, and was then topped with chorizo and chipotle chilies. With all of these big flavored items, I expected more from this. It really fell flat. The chilies kind of got lost here, and there was not nearly enough chorizo. I was also a little leery about them serving this on a plate, since it's way better when this comes to your table in a skillet, with the cheese nice and bubbly, and the outer cheese forming a slightly harder crust, which is one of the best parts of this starter. Not awful, but we'd skip this next time.
Entrees came out pretty quick on this evening, and the first to hit the table was this Enchilada, Tamal, and Taco ($19). With this meal, you get to choose from a cheese, chicken or beef enchilada, and you also get to select from a beef or chicken tamal and taco. I'm not sure what my cousin Chris went with here, but he liked this well enough. It also came with refried beans and rice. No complaints from the big guy with this plate.
Here's a quick shot of the birthday girl's meal, the Enchilada and Taco Combo ($17). My aunt Hiroko had the beef taco and the chicken enchilada. She was quietly pleased by this meal, and when pushed about how she liked it, she claimed it was fine. Not exactly glowing praise.
I'm really sorry for the lackluster pictures on this night, not only was it pitch black in this restaurant, but I was trying to snap pictures real quick so my family could enjoy their meals. This was Katie's dinner on this evening, the Chicken Fajitas ($23). The adobo marinated chicken was joined on the plate with onions, pasilla chilies, and roasted tomatoes. This also came with sour cream and guacamole so you could make your own tacos with the provided corn tortillas. Katie stated that this was a pretty average fajita plate, but it did not knock her socks off. The chicken was tender but really needed more seasoning. I was a little-taken aback by the fact that this did not come out on a sizzling skillet. I thought a restaurant like Javier's would have liked to serve this with the oohs and aahs of a steaming platter.
I always feel that carnitas is the best barometer for how a Mexican restaurant measures up, and that's why I had to get the Carnitas ($22) on this night. The menu states that these are served Michoacan style, which I assume means that they are served in two big hunks, just like these were. The pork was tender, but there was nothing behind it. The swine was greasy, which is fine, but if there's grease, there's usually flavor, but that was not the case with this. The provided green salsa provided a small burst of flavor, but not enough of one. The refried beans were not very good, as they were runny, and had a more soupy feel to them, rather than the thicker refried beans I'd prefer.
We had all made the decision to get ice cream at Haagen-Dazs after dinner, but they had told the waiter it was my aunt's birthday, so they brought out this Flan ($7). Not a bad version, as it was not overly sweet, like a lot of flans tends to be. The caramel could have been more prominent, but this was free for her birthday.
I'm still wondering why people enjoy eating at Javier's so much. We have been back to the Irvine Spectrum a few times since this visit, and the crowds are still waiting in front of the restaurant. I think a lot of it has to do with the atmosphere here. I get that its hip, and they have some good margaritas, and it's the kind of a place people want to be seen, but I don't get the love of their food. I'd describe their cuisine as soulless Mexican food. There's nothing behind it. It's not awful, but there are no pops of flavor included here, and everything seems to fall flat when consumed. My one last gripe with Javier's is the price and serving sizes of their food. There is no way that Katie's fajitas should have been any more than $15 with the amount of chicken that they included here. There was plenty of pork included with my meal, enough for three tacos, but how about some rice to go along with the below average beans. I can honestly say that I came to Javier's with an open mind, but after our experience with the food on this visit, it will probably be the last time we come back here.
Out of five hot fudge sundaes, (because that's what I had after eating here), five being best to zero being worst, Javier's gets 2 hot fudge sundaes.
For more information about Javier's, head to their website here: http://www.javiers-cantina.com/index.html#!/page_HOME