7402 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
I love restaurant lists. Half of my saved bookmarks on my web browser are restaurant lists. I can't resist a best of Chinese food in OC or a top ten most romantic restaurants list. I quickly save these and use them for later. This is what brought us, and our good friends Scott and Cynthia to La Choza in Huntington Beach.
In the middle of last year, OC Register restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson published his list of the 20 best full-service Mexican restaurants in OC. I had been to fifteen of the restaurants on his list, and some I agreed with, (Gabbi's Solita, and Sol Agave), while others I was not so keen on, (Puesto, Carmelita's, and one of the most overrated, Javier's). Lists are of course subjective, so I gave Mr. Johnson a pass on the clunkers that populated his list, and decided to give some of the ones I have yet to eat at a try. La Choza was one of those.
La Choza comes to us from Enrique Haro, who opened the original La Choza in West Los Angeles in 1976. After a remodel, he renamed his Olympic Boulevard restaurant Tia Juana's and updated the menu a bit by adding some seafood dishes. It stood there until 2007 when they had to move to make way for a Walgreens. For the move to Huntington Beach, Enrique brought back the La Choza name but kept the Tia Juana's menu, and kept a lot of the employees, including his mother, Alicia, who has run the kitchen since the first inception of La Chozza all those years ago.
Now sitting across the street from an apartment complex, and a block west of the always busy Bella Terra Shopping Center, La Choza brings to mind the old school Mexican restaurants I'd sometimes visit with my family. When walking into La Choza there's a lady making tortillas, behind a glass partition, who counts out the number in your party, and then the server sends over the freshly made tortillas. The whole restaurant feels pretty old school with its brightly painted walls and the pretty extensive menu which features plenty of combo plates, seafood, burritos, and regional specialties from around Mexico. We could only talk so long to the always charismatic Scott, so let's find out if La Choza belongs on the list of best Mexican restaurants in OC.
As always, I like to share what the Chips and Salsa look like when we are dining at a Mexican restaurant. These were run of the mill tortilla chips, but I did enjoy the choice of having the red and green salsa. Both were pretty solid flavorwise, with the green being a tad spicier, but I missed having some chunk included in these salsas. Some chopped up tomatoes and onions would have made these a bit better.
I usually do not partake in alcohol when we are out, I usually try to focus on the food instead, but since Scott was going on and on about his love for his future bride Cynthia, I felt the need to dull the pain of listening to this lovesick puppy by partaking in a Margarita on the Rocks ($8.75). Cynthia must have been feeling the same thing, as she had the Blended Margarita ($8.75). Both were pretty solid, with a good balance of margarita mix and tequila, which was evenly distributed once I stirred it up a bit with my straw. This was a little more tart than I usually like, but it did the trick of helping me forget what Scott was talking about. Man, that guy can be a real chatterbox.
Both Katie and I have really gotten into Queso Fundidio ($7.75) since we started this restaurant blog, and with the fresh tortillas served here, we definitely felt we needed to give this one a try. This was not the best version of this delicious starter that we have ever had. The menu claims that this had chorizo in this, but if it did, it was just a tiny bit, and I did not detect any. I did get a little of the shredded chile strips, but not enough to make this anywhere close to average. Not only was the flavor lacking, but the consistency of this was off, and it ended up being very oily. Not even La Choza's very good tortillas could have helped this out.
As is her usual tradition in a Mexican restaurant, Katie always gets an appetizer of Guacamole ($7.95) to start off with. I think she learned this from her dad, who I have seen do this many times as well in the almost decade that I have known him. This was a pretty average guacamole. A little on the runny side, I like my guac the same way I like my salsa, with some chunk to it. This runny green puddle was splashed with a little tomato sauce (why?) and sprinkled with a few shreds of cheese, which did little to save this from being anything other than mediocre guacamole.
Most meals at La Choza include your choice of soup or salad, which I always appreciate. We all picked the salad, which did kind of fit in with the theme of our meal so far, very lackluster in looks and taste. The iceberg lettuce was very pale and only garnished with a tiny amount of shredded carrots and very thin salad dressing. Up until this point, La Choza was very consistent with their food; bland, thin sauces, and not very photogenic. I was hoping for a turnaround once our entrees came out for us.
The first plate to make its way out to us was Katie's, and she had the Two Taco Combination Plate ($14.95). The menu states that these are hard shelled tacos, but they let her have one soft shell chicken taco, along with their hard-shelled version. She felt this was an okay plate, nothing special. The highlight of her meal was the tortillas, but even they could not hide the fact that the chicken was dry and bland. Not one of her favorites.
Mr. Personality, AKA Scott selected this Carne Asada Burrito ($9.95) as his meal on this evening. This wet burrito was topped with red enchilada sauce and cheese, while the inside contained broiled steak, beans, and salsa ranchera. This was a very large burrito, but our good friend Scott finished it like a champ. He was not too impressed with it though, as the beef inside was a little bland. He'd probably get something else the next time he was here.
Scott's way better half opted for the simple Carne Asada Taco Combo Plate ($10.95). Cynthia chose to have this taco soft instead of crispy. She agreed with both Katie and Scott that this taco was nothing special, and she'd try something else next time she was here.
When I'm new to a Mexican restaurant, I usually gravitate towards Carnitas ($14.95) on my maiden visit. The carnitas at La Choza was listed under the regional section of their menu, with Michoacan being listed as their area of origin. I had heard that this was where this pork dish was created, but I had never had the pork prepared this way, in little cubes. They were okay, but I missed the crispy ends that you get when the carnitas are shredded. The beans and rice were adequate, but a little more guacamole would have been nice. Kind of an awkward plate and I'm in agreement, I'd probably get something different on another visit here.
I should have snapped a picture of the tortillas earlier, but I got this one before it was snapped up by Katie. The tortillas are probably the best thing about this restaurant, and to their credit, they were not shy about getting you some more when you scarfed down each round that they'd bring.
It kind of baffled me how La Choza could end up on the list of top 20 Mexican restaurants in the OC Register. Our experience was nothing close to top list material, but as is the case with all of these lists, they are subjective and restaurant reviewers do have different tastes depending on their visits. Even though the food that we ordered failed to impress, the tortillas were great and made us wish that more Mexican restaurants would offer freshly made tortillas, even though it's a time-consuming process. None of us would probably return to La Choza, but if you have a different experience, please let us know.
Out of five pizzas, (because choza translates to hut in Spanish, and the most famous hut is probably Pizza Hut), five being best to zero being worst, La Choza gets 2 pizzas.
For more information about La Choza, head to their website here: http://lachozahb.com/