14430 Newport Avenue
Tustin, CA 92780
For a little while now, I have nicknamed my dad "Fish Taco". It started about a month ago when my mom told me that he went to their local burger restaurant and for some inexplicable reason he got fish tacos. This is a restaurant that is right across the street from the local high school, a place that mainly serves burgers, hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches, and chili cheese fries. He was actually surprised that his fish taco was subpar.
I tried reasoning with him that they probably only serve a handful of fish tacos during the week, so the fish is probably frozen until it hits the deep fryer. He didn't want to hear it, instead, countering with, "if it's on their menu, it should be good". Okay, it makes sense, but after 9 years of visiting restaurants for this blog, I've found that there's plenty of items on menus that don't taste good.
My reason for bringing this up is because with all of this calling my dad by his new nickname, I must have subliminally been craving fish tacos. So when it was time to meet up with my parents for dinner, I found myself searching for fish tacos on Yelp. One place that looked pretty promising and was in the middle of us was Hole Mole in Tustin.
Hole Mole is actually a mini-chain of restaurants with seven locations spread throughout Southern California. They have three spots in Long Beach, one each in Carson and Signal Hill, and OC outposts in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, and Tustin. They are a family owned business serving what they consider to be classic Southern California comfort food. They get a lot of love for their Taco Tuesday, with lines out the door of hungry customers looking to snatch up their $1.19 tacos.
We were not here on a Taco Tuesday, so we did not have to battle the crowds, but parking at this Tustin location is challenging to say the least. If you've ever eaten at Sushi Wasabi, which is also in this narrow strip mall, you probably have had the same issue finding one of the coveted twenty parking spots here.
Hole Mole is housed in one of those places that have changed hands a bunch of times. It has been at least two Korean barbecue places, a teriyaki restaurant, and a Cajun spot. Hole Mole has brought some stability to this building, as they have now been here for coming up on 7 years. It's situated in a small A-frame building, with an eight-table patio on the left-hand side of the restaurant. The inside dining room is compact, with maybe five small tables, a tiny condiment bar, and soda fountain. Ordering is done at the register, and the food is brought out for you. Let's check it out.
As I have written on this blog many times, my mom is a pretty light eater, so she opted for just this Chicken Quesadilla ($4.99) which ended up being the perfect size for her. It was grilled nicely and had a good amount of cheese and chicken included in it. There was, however, no sour cream that came with this, so she had my dad go back up to the register to ask for some. Still a solid quesadilla in my mom's opinion.
I judge almost every Mexican restaurant by their carnitas, so a Carnitas Taco ($1.49) was a natural choice to start with on this early evening. This was slightly bigger than the street taco size I was expecting. It came with a little onion, cilantro, cubed tomato, and shredded carnitas. The carnitas was chopped into small pieces, so they did not stand out as much as they could have. The tortilla was fair and did a good job holding everything in place. Not the best, but a solid taco for the price.
I had heard good things about both the fish taco and the shrimp taco at Hole Mole. I actually liked the Shrimp Taco ($2.49) best out of the two. The shrimp was tender and because it came dressed simply with some cilantro and caramelized onions, the shrimp shined in this taco. The Fish Taco ($1.89) was not bad, but just not as good as the shrimp version. The fried fish was pretty good sized and came with some crema, shredded cabbage, cilantro, and diced tomatoes. The fish was fine, and I liked that they added a good amount of crema to this, which is the way I enjoy my fish tacos. Another solid taco, especially for the price.
Katie went with the Fajito Rito Taco ($3.99) for the first part of her meal. This chicken taco came with fajita fixings in it, like sliced tomato, bell peppers, onions, and fajita seasoning, and is then finished off with a dollop of guacamole. Katie enjoyed this taco with its tender chicken, smooth guacamole, and onions and bell peppers. This taco was also served on a bed of tortilla chips, which Katie ate with some of the green salsa she got at the salsa bar in the dining room.
Katie was a little less enthusiastic about the Chicken Mole Bowl ($6.49) she picked to complete her meal. The bowl came simply with rice and chicken covered in a mole sauce and sesame seeds. I had never seen mole covered in sesame seeds before. Katie liked this, but the mole sauce was too spicy for her after a certain point. I gladly took over and finished half of this bowl. The chicken was tender and I liked the sauce, which I found to be only slightly spicy.
I wanted to include this picture of my dad's fish taco because I think it shows it a little better than the one I had. He did enjoy his food on this evening but went back up to the register to get an extra taco because he was hungrier than he thought.
We finished out our meal at Hole Mole with their version of carne asada fries, which they list on their menu as Nachos Papas Nachos ($7.49). Definitely one of the most colorful things we have eaten this year. The foil container was layered with fries, cheese, tomato, onions, sour cream, guacamole, and cubed pieces of carne asada was our protein of choice. This was a big portion, which I needed a little help in finishing. The fries could have been crisper, but the ingredients were layered well, so you did not just end up with a bunch of fries at the end. The carne asada was tender, but a little more seasoning would have helped this out. Still good, and very filling.
Hole Mole ended up being a good spot for what I'd call fast food Mexican. It's obviously a better quality than the chain spots, like Del Taco or Taco Bell, and not as good as Pepe's, Cali Tacos, or Lupes Taco Shop. I'd put Hole Mole in Alberto's genre, or any of their similar sounding sister restaurants, but better. The food was fresher and with what I perceived as being much better crafted. I was also pretty surprised that the prices were much more reasonable than I was expecting and they did not skimp on the portion sizes or the amount of meat that they included in their tacos and other items. Service was pretty standard for what you'd expect at a fast-casual restaurant, they were very cheerful while we were ordering, but after that, we did not have much interaction with the staff. I was glad my dad enjoyed this fish taco way more than what he got at that burger spot a month ago. His new nickname will probably live on for a little longer though.
Out of five sled dogs, (because Tustin High School was one of four high schools where actor Cuba Gooding Jr. went, and he was in the 2002 movie Snow Dogs which featured many of these hard-working animals), five being best to zero being worst, Hole Mole gets 3 sled dogs.
For more information about Hole Mole, head t their website here: http://www.holemole.com/