On your first trip to O.C.'s new Puesto, which is the only restaurant in Irvine that will change the way you think about Mexican street food, it's okay to start with dessert first.
That's because dessert here is actually a palate-cleansing bowl of nopal sorbet and a shot of Oaxacan mezcal. So what if it goes against everything your mother told you about ordering of dinner courses?
Mom never could have predicted that a Mexican hairdresser-turned-chef would take the pads of a cactus plant (nopal is a common ingredient in Mexican dishes) and extract its essence into icy balls that, once stacked atop each other, get a dashing of the chile-lime seasoning Tajín.
The combination of the cold, sweet and salty sorbet with the room-temperature smoke of the mezcal opens up your senses and prepares you for the full meal ahead, itself an expectation-breaking journey through Parmesean-hunked guacamoles, miniature lamb barbacoa sopes and their house specialty — an assortment of rolled-cheese tacos.
Puesto is at 8577 Irvine Center Drive. For more information, call (949) 608-9990 or visit eatpuesto.com
SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.