I spent a couple of days down in Orange County (staying in Anaheim) for an event. Here’s a report of some of the places I ate at.
Taco María is an upscale Mexican restaurant in the OC Mix shopping center in Costa Mesa. Most nights they have a prix fixe tasting menu for dinner, and for lunch (and Tuesday at dinner) have an a la carte menu. The kitchen is run by chef Carlos Salgado, and it was named the LA Times restaurant of the year in 2018 by the late Jonathan Gold.
I went for lunch, where they serve a more casual a la carte menu with tacos and such. It was pretty full at around 12:30 but I was able to snag a seat at the bar after a few minutes.
Started with a Latin American Club cocktail (feijoa shrub, Dolin blanc vermouth, Lustau Puerto fino sherry, topo chico, $12). I don’t believe they have a full liquor license - all of the cocktails are made with lower ABV ingredients like wine and vermouth. This was a little too sweet for me.
Next, I had the aguachile (Hokkaido scallop, cucumber, jalapeño, avocado, dill oil, $13) off the appetizers section, which was excellent. The green citrus sauce had a lot of heat along with bright acidity. Very fresh tasting scallops with a nice texture. Crunchy cucumber and radish slices for contrast, and a little avocado to add some fat and creaminess.
Then I had a couple of tacos. There are two tacos per order, but you can mix and match. I had the tocino (pork belly, piloncillo glaze, winter citrus, avocado salsa, $16 for 2), and the pescado frito (Passmore Ranch sturgeon, charred scallion aioli, cabbage, kumquats $18 for 2). Both were delicious. The tortillas are made of a blue corn masa and hand pressed and grilled to order. They had a nice toothsome texture.
The sturgeon in the pescado frito was breaded and deep fried. It had a crispy crust and flaky juicy white flesh. Garnished with a salty aioli on the bottom and topped with some sweet kumquats (that I think may have been pickled?) and crunchy cabbage.
The meat in the tocino taco was like a big slab of sweet glazed bacon. Only more tender than bacon. Soft and fatty in some parts and crispy in others. A little smoky. Topped off with some smashed avocado and some orange slices.
Burritos La Palma
Had a snack at Burritos La Palma in Santa Ana. Burritos La Palma is a chain from Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico. Their burritos are very simple. Just a bit of stew (their speciality is beef birria) wrapped in a flour tortilla. The antithesis of a Mission burrito.
I had a birria de res burrito (beef stew, $3.25) and a birria de res con todo burrito (beef stew with beans and cheese, $3.85) which was a nice snack. I would add a few more if you wanted to make a full meal out of it. They came with a light tomato based salsa and a single Serrano chili. Very nice soft warm flour tortilla that I think had lard in it. The type of tortilla that leaves some grease on your fingers after you pick it up. The beef birria inside was tender and juicy. I appreciate the simplicity of the regular birria de res but I think I preferred the burrito con todo with the beans and cheese. Maybe because I’m a fan of Mission burritos. Both were quite good though.
BCD Tofu House
Went looking for dinner after an event and the BCD in Garden Grove was one of the few restaurants in the area open after 11 PM. They are open late - until 4 AM. BCD is a LA based chain that specializes in soondubu jjigae - Korean soft tofu stew. I wanted to try it out and see if their soondubu jjigae was better than the prepackaged BCD kits that I use sometimes.
I had the classic soondubu jjigae with beef, medium spicy ($12.99). It came with a generous amount of banchan, including a whole yellow croaker that had been lightly breaded and fried. Also had some cabbage kimchi, fish cake, marinated bean sprouts, squid in a spicy sauce, cucumber kimchi, and a potato salad with raisins. I was most impressed by the cabbage and zucchini kimchi which were very fresh tasting.
The soondubu jjigae itself came with a raw egg, which I mixed into the hot soup. It also came with rice in a sizzling stone pot. The rice at the bottom of the pot didn’t quite crisp up enough to snack on though. The jjigae was good, with custardy tofu and nicely flavored broth. Not particularly exceptional but then again while I like soondubu jjigae quite a lot, I’ve never really had one that blew my mind. Definitely better than the BCD tofu kits though.
Chiuchow/Chaozhou restaurant in Santa Ana, as might be guessed from the name. Specializing in noodles. It was very busy on a Saturday morning. They use Yelp to manage their waiting list which works well. You can put your name on the list through the app, through a tablet in front of the restaurant, or in-person if you’re not into the whole technology thing.
I got a seat at one of the counters and approximately 30 seconds after sitting down was asked if I was ready to order. They are very efficient here. Luckily I knew what I wanted already. I had the #111 House Special Noodle with wide egg noodles and added wontons, with the soup on the side.
A good bowl. Toothsome egg noodles. You can also get it with thin or wide rice noodles, or thin egg noodles, or a mix. I was asked if I wanted my beansprouts raw or steamed, and I got them steamed as I’m not the biggest fan of raw beansprouts. Lots of different toppings, including a whole marinated duck leg, crispy fried garlic, some bone in chicken, shrimp, ground pork, pork liver, and fish balls. A little bit of everything. The wontons I added were fine, small with wrappers that were a little flabby. There was a little bit of lard or fat on the bottom of the bowl to mix in. The pork based soup on the side was quite good. I think I maybe should have gotten it with the soup inside instead given how good the soup tasted.
I also had an iced coffee with condensed milk, which was ok. They don’t have the drip assembly like some other places. It was served boba style in a a plastic covered cup. A little grainy for some reason.
I wanted to go try Pho 79 in Garden Grove, but they were closed for the lunar new year. So I went to Pho 45 - also in Garden Grove - instead. It’s not a huge restaurant, and there were a good number of people outside waiting for a table.
Their specialty appears to be filet mignon pho (#2) so that’s what I had. You can get wide or thin rice noodles with your pho, and I picked the wide ones.
There was culantro in the herb plate, which is always a welcome sight. The filet mignon was sliced thin and kind of clumped together. Maybe I should have gotten it raw on the side. Quite tender though. I liked the flat wide noodles, which were more tender than the typical thin noodles. The broth was flavorful and a little sweet but not too sweet, with a good hint of star anise. Good broth, I would say better than most places I’ve been to in the Bay Area. A very satisfying bowl of pho.