Sunday, February 26, 2017

Taqueros Media Day


Taqueros
31401 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

It has got to be an uphill battle for a Mexican restaurant to make a name for itself in San Juan Capistrano. A quick online search of Mexican restaurants in this small south OC city, which is bisected by the 5 Freeway yields 14 Mexican restaurants, and that's not counting Del Taco and Taco Bell. Most people probably wouldn't count those two fast food places anyway. My point is that in a Mexican food-rich city like this one, you have to get your name out there, and that's what Taqueros did recently when they invited a group of food bloggers, including us to try their food.

I had heard of Taqueros before when they used to be located across the street from the Mission Viejo City Hall. I had eaten there once and remembered liking it, but it was long ago. I also remember that they had an eating challenge, which I do not recall at this moment, but I and my friends from work had planned on doing it, but we must have forgotten about it before attempting it.

Taqueros is a family run business, which is owned by the Lezama family. They have had successes and some tough times in the restaurant business, but they feel they have finally found a home in San Juan Capistrano. The locals have really embraced them since they opened up here over two years ago. Taqueros describes their food as a nod to Mexico's past, with an emphasis on featuring modern flavors. They want you to feel like you are partaking in a home cooked meal, but with no dishes to clean up afterward.





Located a few blocks north of the mission, and right across from Junipero Serra High School, Taqueros was pretty busy on this particular late Saturday afternoon. Not only was this place crawling with food media, but they also had a steady stream of people coming in to partake of their pretty extensive menu. I was pretty impressed that this small restaurant had such a varied menu, which also included a large juice menu, which Katie took advantage of trying. She had this Jamaica ($2.29), which is a hibiscus tinged tea. It was fruity, but not overly sweet, which is the way she likes her beverages.









While Katie was enjoying her tea, I was excited to try the Tacos de Trompo, which Taqueros offers on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. These pork tacos originated in Central Mexico, and are cooked on a vertical rotisserie called a Trompo. The pork is marinated in dried chilis and spices, and then cut off the Trompo and placed in some really good house made tortillas and garnished with cilantro, onion, coriander and a slice of pineapple. The pork was juicy and flavorful after being cooked on the Trompo. I'm looking forward to coming back down here to eat about a dozen more of these pastor tacos soon.



Katie and I are big mole fans, so we wanted to give Taqueros Mole Poblano Enchilada ($3.49) a try. We are glad that we did. The mole here is complex, with a richness that can not be described. It's sweet and savory at the same time, but not overwhelmingly. This enchilada came filled with plenty of chicken and queso fresco and was drizzled with sour cream. I enjoyed dipping my chips in the excess mole.


I guess my Chilaquiles ($6.99) obsession of late has spread to Katie, as she tried it here. This is one of ten breakfast items on the menu at Taqueros, and all of them are served all day long. Breakfast for dinner is always a good choice. The chilaquiles were solid, but I would not have gotten my eggs over easy like Katie. I prefer the runny yolk to coat the chips and the red or green sauce. The portion size of this was very generous, and Katie had a hard time finishing this plate off.




I wanted to try as much of their food as possible and continued my tour around their menu with this Hard Shelled Potato Taco ($1.89) and a Carne Asada Taco ($2.79). The carne asada taco was delicious. I've been burned too many times by under seasoned, tough as sandpaper beef in Mexican restaurants, but that wasn't the case with this carne asada. The meat here was good and tender, and you actually could tell it was marinated well. Again, they were very generous with the amount of beef included in this taco, which is a plus in my book. Katie is all about potato tacos, which can be a little boring, but that wasn't true at Taqueros. The crunchy outer shell was a nice contrast to the tender spud inside.




By this time I was getting pretty full, but I had heard some good things about the Cubana Torta ($7.49), so I had to give it a try. This sandwich was stuffed with a very well done breaded beef, ham, a sliced up sausage, tomatoes, jalapenos, guacamole, onion, cheese, and beans. With all of this included, the bread was the real hero by keeping everything together. I liked this torta but was not too keen on the sliced hot dog that was used in this, but it was easily discarded. I also used a little of Katie's leftover refried beans to make this even better. I'd probably get the carnitas torta on my next visit.

I'm really glad that the folks at Taqueros reached out to us, and had us come down for a visit. Since we live so close, Taqueros will definitely be in our restaurant repertoire of places we eat when we want to stay close to home. We will also make it our mission to visit on nights that they feature their Tacos de Trompo. They were delicious. I also wanted to make note that this is a pretty comfortable restaurant to eat at. It was well lit and very clean. It's easy to see why the good people of San Juan have really embraced them.

For more information about Taqueros, head to their website here: http://taquerosmexicanfood.com/

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hoping to Slam the Gates of Hunger


India Gate Restaurant
2512 Walnut Ave. 
Tustin, CA 92780

Indian buffets are very enticing, but most are only available during weekdays during lunch time, and after having four plates of delicious Indian food, the last thing I want to do is go back to work for four hours with a stomach full of tikka masala. I'd be pretty useless at work, okay, more useless than a normal day after eating all that Indian food. I bring this up because I always feel a little gipped when I see signs that promote Indian buffets when I'm at a restaurant for dinner. It doesn't diminish my love for Indian food, but I wanted to get this off of my chest.

Our good friends Angel and Rebekah have been talking about India Gate for a long while now, and we finally set up a double date night to try it out. When I looked up this place before coming here, almost all of the comments were about their $9.99 lunch buffet, and how great the food was. Even though we were going to be meeting here well after lunch time, all the positive praise really got me excited to give this place a try.

India Gate has been around for a year and a half now. They are located in a very out of the way shopping plaza just off Tustin Ranch Road and Walnut. This small, five-unit strip mall also includes a Korean restaurant, chiropractor, beauty salon, and a tiny sandwich shop. We arrived here at 6 pm on a rather chilly Saturday, but the restaurant had a steady stream of customers coming through the door. The inside of this restaurant is spacious, with nicely spaced tables, and bright lighting. Not being too well versed in Indian cuisine, I appreciated that the rather large menu was easy to navigate, and had good descriptions of each item. It really made it easy to order, and speaking of ordering, let's see what we ended up getting and if Angel and Rebekah's praise for this restaurant was justified.






We were pretty hungry, so we got a couple of dosas to start our meal with. This was our first time having dosas, which I'd describe as part crepe and part quesadilla. Our first foray into dosa-hood was the Cheese Masala Dosa ($11.95). The menu said that the crepe, which is made of lentils and rice flour, was to be filled with cheese and potatoes, but it was devoid of potatoes. Nonetheless, this was good, with a crunchy outer shell, and the not overly stuffed cheese filling inside. This came with two chutneys, one of which had coconut in it and it was the better of the two. Our second dosa was the Masala Dosa ($9.95) and it was partially filled with peas and spiced potatoes. This was a little hard to eat, as the fillings fell out rather easily. It had the same crunchy outer shell, but the insides were kind of boring and did not add too much to this, as the chutneys did a lot of the flavor work here.




Entrees made their way out pretty fast at India Gate, and we each picked a dish and decided to eat family style. Angel's selection was the Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.95). This is undoubtedly the most popular of all Indian dishes, and this version was wonderfully full of rich flavor, the chicken was tender, and it was hard to stop dipping my naan into the sauce. Delicious. My favorite Indian dish is Butter Chicken ($12.95) and this one rivaled the best one I have had to date at the now-shuttered Tamarind in Newport Coast. Much like the tikka, this also featured some very tender chicken and a delicious sauce, which was a tad more subtle than the one used for the tikka masala. Another winner. I actually picked the Lamb Korma ($14.95) partly because I love lamb, and also because I knew that both Angel and Katie would not want any. Yes, I'm very selfish. Most bites of the lamb were tender, with only a few clunkers in the bunch. The sauce for this was both sweet and spicy and had a tinge of cardamom hanging around each bite. As for Katie's choice, the Chicken Biryani ($12.95), I made the cardinal error of any food blogger by forgetting to take a picture of it because I was so focused on eating. Rookie mistake. Anyways, Katie is always on the hunt for a biryani that matches the one she had in New York and this one was pretty close. The chicken is cooked with rice and then garnished with a little bit of cilantro and fried onions. She really liked the authenticity of this dish, but I was a little bummed that the chicken came with bones in it. It made it more difficult to eat. No complaints from Katie though, as she assured me she would get this again.



Of course, some naan needed to be ordered to go along with our meals. The Plain Naan ($2.45) and the Garlic Naan ($2.95) came out nice and warm, but I thought it was pretty average. The garlic version needed to have more garlic included. Nevertheless, this was a great vessel for sopping up the excess sauces, which is definitely a trademark of Indian cuisine and one of the best parts of the meal.




I've come to the realization that Indian desserts just might not be for me. I tried all three of these and was not really wowed by any of them. Out of the three that we had, I probably liked the Kheer ($2.95) the best. It's made of rice in a sweetened milk. Kind of like a less sweet version of rice pudding. I forget what Angel had wanted to order, but they were out, so he got the Kulfi ($3.95) instead. This was simply a scoop of mango ice cream, which had a good texture to it, but I'm not really a big fan of mango. The last of our three dessert options was the Falooda Kulfi ($3.95), which the menu described as being a rose flavored ice cream, but I did not get too much rose here. Again, these are not really my ideal types of desserts, but the rest of my dining partners enjoyed them well enough.

If you get a chance to try the lunch buffet at India Gate, do it. Although I was not in love with the dosas or the desserts, all of the entrees that we had on this evening were exceptional and from what I hear they are all available at their noontime ten dollar buffet. The entrees that we had here were some of the best Indian food we have experienced thus far, although I am by no means an expert in Indian cuisine. The service was a little inattentive, especially as the night went on and they became busier. Thanks so much to Angel and Rebekah for introducing us to this restaurant, we enjoyed our double date and the delicious Indian food. Not necessarily in that order.

Out of five running shoes, (because the India Gate monument in New Dehli was the starting and ending point for Robert Garside's 35,000 mile run around the world, and I can imagine he went through a lot of running shoes), five being best to zero being worst, India Gate Restaurant gets 3 running shoes.

For more information about India Gate Restaurant, head to their website here: http://www.indiagatetustin.com/


Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's Pizzapalooza Time at Oggi's


Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Co. 
12362 Chapman Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92840

It had been some time since I had last thought about Oggi's. We had some good times at the one in Mission Viejo, but it closed some time ago. We used to eat there pretty regularly watching football on Sunday mornings. Oggi's was one of our favorite places to watch our beloved Jaguars fall out of playoff contention three games into the season. The garlic knots, breakfast pizza, and of course their award-winning beers helped ease the pain of watching our team flounder around aimlessly on and off the field.

Even farther back in my memory, I remember listening to XTRA Sports Radio, hearing the Loose Cannon's host, Steve Hartman and Chet Forte wax on almost poetically about their love for Oggi's. I knew it was a commercial, but you could tell that they genuinely loved this restaurant. All these years later, and they still have their own pizza still on the menu.

Oggi's has been around for over 25 years now. This pizza concept was started by two brothers, who were tired of their work in the technology field, and decided a change was in order. They created Oggi's, which has transformed into a sports themed restaurant, which does not just rely on the games on TV to bring people through their doors, they also have some real solid food here. Oggi's was also one of the first restaurants, back in 1995 to incorporate micro-brewed beer into the fold, one of the first to do so, and well ahead of the trend that is commonplace today.

Today there are 15 Oggi's locations, with a majority of those operating in the San Diego area. OC has two spots where you can grab some pizza and catch a game, Fullerton, and this location, which is just a few steps away from Disneyland, in nearby Garden Grove. Located in the same lot as a Mariott and the Wyndham Hotel, Oggi's has been a favorite of people visiting the Magic Kingdom and conventioneers for close to ten years now at this location.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, Oggi's recently invited us in to try some of their new items off of their Pizzapalooza menu, which is around for just a limited time. Estella Ferrera, Vice President of Oggi's has said about this featured specials menu that, "We are going back to our roots and focusing on creative and quality pizzas for our first featured specials menu of the year. Our Pizzapalooza menu is our way of having fun with unique toppings and flavor combinations while staying true to our commitment to high quality and fresh ingredients."  I grabbed my friend George, an Oggi's virgin, and we quickly accepted the invitation to try out some of their new items.



Definitely not new, but the Garlic Knots ($8.99) are a must get when eating at any Oggi's. They tie off their famous dough, bake it to a beautiful golden brown, and then dust them with plenty of parmesan, oregano, and basil. Served with both ranch and marinara, this is a comforting start to your meal at Oggi's. Both George and I scarfed these down.



I promise we will get to the new pizzas, but we also started with this Half Sized California Cobb Salad ($11.99). I'm glad we both decided on the half sized, as this was more than enough for one person. This salad starts off with a fresh spring mix of greens, and then adds plenty of grilled chicken breast, gorgonzola cheese, mushrooms, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, green onion, bacon, and sliced avocado. A very good tweak on a classic cobb salad. I'm always a little squeamish about getting chicken in restaurants because it's almost always overcooked, but this one was tender, and they were very generous with the amount included here. There could have been a little more bacon for my taste, but the overabundance of the sliced avocado more than made up for it. If you're not feeling like pizza, the full version of this salad would be a great alternative, just make sure you clear some space in your refrigerator because you'll definitely have leftovers.



See, I told you we would finally get to the pizzas. The first of the two new pizzas that we tried from the Pizzapalooza menu was this pork lovers dream, the Hog Wild Pizza ($13.99). This pizza was topped with pepperoni, prosciutto, crumbled bacon, garlic, olive oil, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and then finished off with some green onion. Pork nirvana. It was a tad on the rich side, but the spinach and mozzarella helped to even this out. A very filling pizza, which tasted great the next day for lunch.




It's really hard to believe that this has never really caught on. What you see above is the Fully Loaded Baked Potato Pizza ($12.99) and it was delicious. They take slices of baked potato and then top the pizza with plenty of crumbled bacon, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, green onion, and then it's finished with a sour cream drizzle. Think of this one as a giant potato skin. This was a lighter alternative to the much heavier Hog Wild Pizza. There was lots of cheese involved here, and I thought sliced potato on pizza dough was going to be odd, but it was very comforting. This is a definite winner from Oggi's and needs to be included on their regular menu ASAP.



I let George pick what dessert we were going to split, and when he picked this Blackberry Yogurt Mousse Cake ($5.99) I knew we were not compatible in the kinds of desserts that we like. I'm way more into sweet and chocolaty, while he wants lighter and a more fruity dessert. Even though this was not in my wheelhouse, it was pretty good. Definitely, on the lighter side, it had an understated sweetness, which I know George appreciated. Next time I'll have to try their Peanut Butter Crunch Bar, old fashioned sundae, or their Cinnaknots.

Oggi's really hit the spot on this evening. Even two weeks later George still remarks about how much he really enjoyed this place and looks forward to watching his beloved Bruins, Dodger, and Cowboy games here in the coming season. Oggi's is really a sports lovers paradise, but with some really solid food, and a fun, relaxing atmosphere. The menu is varied, so even if you're not in the mood for pizza, you can choose to have a sandwich, burger, and a smattering of entrees. Our server Marissa could not have been nicer and more helpful, as she really let her love for this restaurant show, and offered some really good recommendations. We would also like to thank everyone at Oggi's for inviting us to come in and give their new Pizzapalooza menu a try. It's only available for a limited time, so make sure to try the Baked Potato Pizza before it's gone.

For more information about Oggi's, or to find your nearest location, head to their website by clicking here: http://oggis.com/

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Checking out Some Chilaquiles in Costa Mesa


Amorelia Mexican Cafe
2200 Harbor Blvd. C-110
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

My search for the best breakfast burrito has been overtaken by a new passion for me. I have really gotten into chilaquiles, to the point where its what I crave almost every morning. I feel like I'm cheating on breakfast burritos, but the heart and stomach know what they want and at this point in time, both want chilaquiles. So after a one hour walk around nearby Fairhaven Park, we decided to reward ourselves with breakfast at Amorelia Cafe.

I had heard about this place, as I do with a lot of the restaurants on my wishlist, by reading about them in the OC Weekly. They did a feature a year and a half ago about the ten best chilaquiles, and I wrote down about half of them to visit at a future date. We've made it through about half of the list so far, which you can see here.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this simple, yet complex dish to master, it's basically tortilla chips, which are lightly fried, covered in green or red sauce, and is then served with eggs, and sometimes meat. There are lots of varieties of this dish, and almost every restaurant does their version differently. To date, my favorite versions of this classic Mexican breakfast item are from Anepalco's in Orange and the one at El Camino Cafe in Tustin, both of which are included on the OC Weekly list but are also two very different styles of chilaquiles. The one at Anepaclo's is what I would call a fancy version of this dish, which is Chef Daniel Godines trademark item at all of his restaurants. The rendition of chilaquiles at El Camino was more what most people have come to expect from this dish, but done superbly. I was excited to see how the one here at Amorelia was going to turn out.

Amorelia Cafe is located in the K-Mart shopping center on the corner of Wilson and Harbor. Who knew there were any K-Mart's left? Anyways, there's also a Payless Shoes, Flame Broiler, and a Planet Fitness in the same shopping center, just in case you want to get a post workout following your meal.

We arrived here at just before 11 am on a recent Sunday morning. Amorelia Cafe is named after a city in Michoacan, Mexico, a place where Owner and Executive Chef Gloria Seretti praises the food from this Central Mexican city as, "food that tastes like heaven". The inside of this restaurant was one of the most comfortable we have encountered in some time, and maybe that's because we weren't expecting so much, based on the rather rundown shopping center this is located in. Pleasing dark woods, comfortable tables, sturdy chairs, a faux rock wall which was right by our table, and there were many TV's, all of which were turned to the same soccer game on this particular morning. We had about a ten-minute wait on this visit, but once seated, we made our choices rather quickly and patiently waited for our food to arrive.




Since I was here for the Chilaquiles ($13.50) we might as well start off with them. These were awesome. I went with the red sauce and added steak for the four dollar upcharge. The gently fried tortillas were served with scrambled eggs, crema, salsa, and cheese. The key to these was that the tortillas were crisp along the edges and a little soft towards the middle of the chip. The sauce was awesome, with a tinge of spice to it, which was cooled down a bit by the crema. Next time I will definitely save the four dollars and forgo the unnecessary steak, which was overshadowed by the rest of this dish. The ten little pieces of steak were inconsequential here, and my enjoyment of this plate was not dependent on the meat. The refried beans had a good consistency and were obviously homemade. I thought the serving size of the chilaquiles at first seemed pretty small, but these snuck up on me, and I was full by the end of this meal. Very satisfying, and something I will come back for many times over.




When I'm eating breakfast, I always like to mix sweet and savory, and since the chilaquiles only took care of one part of this equation, an order of Mexican Hot Cakes ($6.00) had to take care of the sweet part of my meal. These came three to an order, and I'm not really sure what made them Mexican, other than the fact that they came with both syrup, and what I suspected to be Lecherita. The hotcakes here are fluffy, had a good heft to them, and were made even better with the Lecherita, which kind of tasted like the icing that comes in the Pillsbury cinnamon roll tube. I used quite a bit of the Lecherita and the provided maple syrup and was a little bummed when Katie wanted some, as I did not want to share. Next time I'll make her order her own, as they were too good to share.




I was a little surprised that Katie did not get her usual breakfast in a Mexican restaurant, Huevos Rancheros. She opted for this Burrito Mexicano ($9.95) instead. This souped up breakfast burrito included eggs, onions, serrano chilies, pinto beans, and cheese. She really sang the praises of this burrito, which she said was one of the better ones she has had. She liked that there were some big time flavors in this, and the burrito did not just rely on a breakfast meat to make it good. The eggs were seasoned, the chilis added a subtle heat, and the pinto beans added some moisture. This was a burrito that Katie would get again and again. The menu said that this burrito comes with hash browns on the side, but it was a little misleading, as it came with sliced potatoes, which were topped with a small sprinkling of cheese. Katie did not seem to mind, as these were fork tender and were a nice side item to the burrito.

Amorelia Cafe was all it was cracked up to be. Their version of chilaquiles is definitely one of the best I have had, and this will not be the last time that I partake in them. The breakfast was so good here, we are going to come back and try their lunch and dinner items as well. Service was very leisurely on this Sunday. They did not seem to be in any hurry to turn over tables, and we did wait long stretches between visits from our server. I'm still glad I came here to facilitate my latest breakfast obsession. Even though this version will be hard to beat, I'm looking forward to tackling the second half of the chilaquiles list.

Out of five rock climbers, (because the city of Morelia, Mexico, which this restaurant is named after, holds a festival every March promoting rock climbing in this region), five being best to zero being worst, Amorelia Mexican Cafe gets 3.5 rock climbers.

For more information about Amorelia Mexican Cafe, check them out here: https://www.amorelia.com/home