El Pico de Gallo Grill
901 West 17th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92706
I get my restaurant tips from a lot of sources; the newspaper, magazines, OC Weekly, other blogs, reader tips, friends, social media, and doing my own research online. This is the first restaurant tip that I have gotten from a podcast. My commute to work is only about ten minutes, which is not much time in the car to listen to a podcast, so I have not really gotten into the podcast craze.
The only one I have listened to with some semi-regularity is the I Know But...podcast and the only reason I started listening to that one is that I know the guys that are on it. They are both great guys and people I have had the wonderful pleasure of meeting while writing this restaurant blog, Niyaz Pirani and Jeff Fliegler. They talk about what is going on in their lives, have some solid guests on their show, and occasionally drop some great places to eat that I may have missed. That's what has brought us to El Pico de Gallo Grill.
I believe it was Niyaz who mentioned this restaurant, which is located on the corner of 17th Street and Flower on the podcast. If not, my apologies Jeff. Anyways, this restaurant has been in business since 2008, and before that this location used to be a restaurant named Nachos Supreme. I'm not sure what was the downfall of that restaurant, but I know people have enjoyed El Pico de Gallo for the last ten years. They have a mighty respectable 4-star rating on Yelp with over 200 reviews, so that along with the recommendation I got from the podcast was good enough for us and our good friends Angel and Rebekah to give it a try on a recent lazy Sunday early evening.
I had a feeling we were going to be in for a treat when we were walking into the restaurant and saw this delicious spinning al pastor being tended to near the entrance of the restaurant. Another plus was seeing a lady making tortillas just as we walked in. Man, I was getting excited. Ordering is done at the register, and then the food is brought out to you. The menu at El Pico de Gallo has a little bit of everything. Tacos, burritos, Mexican breakfast specialties, tortas, and entrees can be found on the menu here. We quickly made our selections, found a table in the very comforting dining room, and waited for our food to arrive.
True to form, Katie started us off with a side of Guacamole and Chips ($4.99). This was an excellent guacamole. Very fresh with a great texture to it. It had the right consistency of creaminess and chunk to it. A very delicate balance to achieve. It also had a little kick to it, as I think they might have added some chili to it. Not overwhelming, but just enough so you could get a hint of it. The chips were solid, but not over the top great.
Not sure what made Angel get this Crema Poblano Soup ($4.99) to start with, but he's always been a little odd. I tried a spoonful and thought it was okay, but a little on the drab side. Before I knew what it was, I thought this was a cream of asparagus soup. I wouldn't have had any idea that this was a poblano soup, as it had no spice to it, even though poblano chile peppers are very mild. Interesting soup, but nothing I would probably try again here.
When tortillas are made right in front of you, it's hard not to order tacos. Because of this, Katie could not resist trying the Chicken Taco Plate ($8.99) on this early evening. She went with flour tortillas for her chicken tacos and could not have been happier. The chicken was seasoned well, tender, and made even better with some of their mild salsa from the salsa bar by the register. The beans and rice were pretty stellar as well. You could tell that the refried beans were made with lard, but they did not leave a gritty residue after eating them. The rice was nice and light as well. One of the better taco plates Katie has had in some time.
One of the most comforting foods in the world is a good Quesadilla ($6.99). Again, because the tortilla was made right in front of me, I could not say no to ordering this at El Pico de Gallo. Slightly grilled on the flattop, this quesadilla had just the right amount of cheese, so it did not overshadow the very well made tortilla. There was also not a lot of greasiness, which was much appreciated. It went well with the extra guac that we had left over.
Here's the first of the two items I ordered at El Pico de Gallo, the 2 Taco Plate ($8.99) with a Pastor Taco and a Carne Asada Taco. Both were excellent, but I'd have to give the edge to the carne asada, which was marinated well and made it stand out a bit more than the pastor that I saw spinning on the trompo outside when we walked in. The tortillas were superb, soft and pliable, but did a great job of holding everything together. The beans and rice were good as well, and I enjoyed my tacos even better when I added some of their beans to the tacos.
I finished off my meal at Pico de Gallo with this Carne Asada Burrito ($6.99). The guys on the podcast had talked about their carne asada, which made me want to try it in a burrito. Great choice. The same flavorful and tender carne asada that was on my taco was in this burrito with rice and refried beans. Next time I'll get some guacamole on here to make this burrito even better. Good sized too, I took half of it home for lunch the next day.
Both Angel and I were blown away by the Carnitas ($14.99) that would be his meal. Even though this is not the most photogenic of dishes, it put a smile on both of our faces. The cubed pieces of crisped pork were a little fatty, full of flavor, and meaty all at the same time. The carnitas here rocked my world and has gotten me excited to come back here again real soon to have these in a burrito. Angel went for double beans with this because he's not a fan of rice. These are some of the best carnitas I have had in OC up until this point.
Last but not least, Rebekah, Angel's much better half finished up our meal at El Pico de Gallo with her dinner selection, this Carne Asada Torta ($9.99). This was a pretty good sized torta and definitely filled Rebekah up. The sandwich contained plenty of beef, shredded lettuce, and a smear of refried beans. The bread was very soft and pliable. I have never really gotten into tortas, but maybe one with carnitas will be in my future.
The boys on the I Know But... podcast definitely steered me in the right direction by recommending this restaurant. El Pico de Gallo is in the upper echelon of Mexican restaurants we have eaten at in Orange County. Very unassuming and low key is how I'd describe this restaurant. All the food was good, and I look forward to making return visits frequently. If I did have to ding them on something, it might be that the prices might be a tad too high, but I'm willing to pay a little extra for food that gets me this excited. Service was nice and cordial, and the food runners made sure that we had everything that we needed and were quick to clear our table when we were done.
Out of five rooster beaks, (because pico de gallo translates literally to rooster beak in English), five being best to zero being worst, El Pico de Gallo Grill gets 3.5 rooster beaks.
El Pico de Gallo Grill does not have a website, but you can find plenty of info about them on their Yelp page, which you can access here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-pico-de-gallo-grill-santa-ana-2