Thursday, January 16, 2020

X Marks the Spot?

Xclusive Taqueria Moderna
1701 Corporate Drive Suite C-8
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694

We all have that one friend that is always updating their social media accounts. They post tons of pictures and share with the online world how their day is going and their thoughts on everything. It's always in the back of my mind how they ever get the time to get any work done, watch a movie, or even go to the bathroom. I could never be like that because I'd be afraid that people would become bored with my pretty routine life, and unfollow me rather quickly. 

I know this is a weird way to start a restaurant review, but it's what I thought of when I heard who is one of the owners/partners of Xclusive Taqueria in Ladera Ranch. Chef Chris Tzorin, who is one of the most real and dare I say entertaining people that I follow on Instagram. I've met him a couple of times and because his life is an open book online, I feel like we are a lot closer than what we actually really are. 

I know all about his passion for the culinary industry, the love he has for his family, and his gregarious personality that landed him on the Food Network a handful of times. He has worked in more kitchens than anyone I can think of at the moment; The Beach House, Tortilla Republic, Kutsi, Tempo Urban Kitchen, Savannah Chophouse, Oak, Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Sol Agave, and I'm sure I'm missing a few but my fingers are starting to get tired from typing out the list. At Xclusive, he's now reunited with Manny Velasco and Eddie Perez and they not only have this Ladera Ranch restaurant, but a food truck, and have been doing a steady dose of private chef events. From what I have seen on Instagram, he's happier and busier than ever. 

Now to this trios latest venture in Ladera Ranch. They took over the old Jerry's Dog spot, which is a little hidden, but people seem to have found this place. They have a four and a half star Yelp rating with close to 200 reviews in their short four months in business. Xclusive is a bit of departure for these guys as they shed their fine dining backgrounds and run this as a quick-service restaurant with what they call elevated Mexican food.  Ordering is done at the register and then the food is brought out to the hungry patrons. 

The menu definitely hints at elevated Mexican food with calamari, cazuela de queso, seabass, and pork belly dotting the menu. Stuff you don't normally see at quick-service Mexican restaurants, especially in this area. Prices are a little elevated as well, with tacos going from $4 to $7 and enchiladas, burritos, and quesadillas hovering around the $11 mark. Chef specials like fajitas, braised pork or short ribs go for $18. Let's take a look at what we went with on this rainy Friday evening. 

When Chef Manny was at Sol Agave, he not only had some pretty solid chips and salsas, but he featured an excellent bean dip. I was very happy to see it here at Xclusive. It was just as good as I remembered, but it's very hard to not fill up on it while waiting for your food. The red salsa was also pretty good with a decent amount of spice to it. 

Our food started to come out in waves, so let's see what Katie was up to this evening. She started with two tacos, the Barramundi Seabass Taco ($6) and the Chicken Mole Taco ($5). Out of the two, Katie liked the chicken taco the best. It was dressed with Oaxacan cheese, refried black beans, and pickled habanero onions which gave this a slight kick. The mole had a great flavor to it, a little smokey, then sweet and savory at the end of each bite. The chicken did get a little lost here with everything else that was going on with this taco. The first few bites of the seabass taco were fine, but with the chipotle aioli, avocado mousse, cabbage, mango pico, and the seabass, the tortilla fell apart halfway through eating it. A shame really because these were some really good handmade tacos, but they could not withstand all the weight that was heaped upon them. Katie claims that she's going to get the simpler street tacos next time, as she thinks they will highlight the proteins a lot more. She was impressed with the Side of Rice ($3) she got to round out her meal. She enjoyed the roasted corn in it, which lifted this side dish up. 

I tried one of their tacos as well. I'm a big fan of anything from a pig, so the Pork Belly Taco ($6) would be my selection this evening. The pork belly here was very moist, almost too much. With the mango relish, pickled onion, and lime crema this was one of the wettest tacos I have ever had. I wish the pork belly was in cubed pieces so it would have been a bit more prominent. The tortilla was good but did get soggy near the end. I really enjoyed my Carne Asada Burrito ($12) much better. It came with plenty of carne asada, refried beans, rice, pico de gallo, and guacamole. I'm always a big fan of when they grill the outside of the burrito a bit to provide a nice crispy outer covering. The insides of the burrito were pretty good as well. All the ingredients meshed well together, although they could have used a bit more guacamole in this. I'm looking forward to having another burrito but with the pastor next time. 

Every time we ate at Sol Agave when Chef Manny was there, we'd get a very good version of one of our favorite appetizers, the Cazuela de Queso ($10). We were hoping that it would be the same as the one we had there. Sadly, it wasn't. I think the difference is the cheese blend that they use here. Sharp cheddar, jalapeno jack, and manchego are mixed with chorizo at Xclusive. A quick glance at the Sol Agave menu shows that they use manchego as well, but also Oaxaca and a fresco cheese fondue mixed with sour cream. The consistency was off, as this cazuela de queso was too liquified and the taste was not as good as others we have had. Even the good tortilla could not help save this for us. I also wanted to share the Side of Guacamole ($3) we got as well. Very fresh and it went perfectly with everything we had this evening.

Even with the misstep of the queso dish, I think Xclusive is a welcome addition to the dining scene in the desolate Mexican restaurant landscape that is Ladera Ranch. An area where Jalapenos and Taco Mesa are the only game in town unless you consider the very mediocre Casa Ranchero. The food at Xclusive will cost a few dollars more than those other places mentioned, but they are trying to bring a more gourmet product to the marketplace. Since we live so close I look forward to coming back and finding my perfect meal here. Chef Chris was very welcoming in the front of the house, making sure that everyone was enjoying their food and had everything that they needed. No surprise that he even gave us a shout out online before we even had finished our meal.

Out of five social media networks, (because as mentioned before, Chef Chris is a master at all forms of social media), five being best to zero being worst, Xclusive Taqueria Moderna gets 3 social media networks.

For more information about Xclusive Taqueria Moderna, head to their website here:

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