Taco Mesa is a new treat in food village

DINING OUT

A major treat for aficionados of authentic Mexican cuisine is the

emergence in Food Village of Taco Mesa.

Launched a few weeks ago as an instant replacement to La Fogata,

the popular Orange County venue came as a big surprise, especially to

locals familiar with the concept created in 1991 by brothers Marco,

Ivan and Sergio Calderon.

On my initial visit, some enthusiastic patrons revealed their

delight that this local facility will save frequent trips to Costa

Mesa, where they often drove to savor the high quality and affordable

prices.

Noting the incredibly extensive menu, we soon discovered that

everything is prepared to order using fresh ingredients assembled

every morning. "No lard, MSG, preservatives, coloring or additives,"

the menu says.

The first impression is from glance at the complimentary condiment

bar, a bountiful array of every conceivable embellishment to further

enhance the taste treats awaiting. Large and small containers are at

the ready to heap with freshly chopped cilantro, onions, crunchy

cabbage relish, lemon and lime wedges and hot to mild salsas of

avocado, tomatillo and roasted tomato.

Starting with "breakfast served all day," there is so much to

admire about the inventive recipes that account for this newest

success in the thriving quintet of Taco Mesas. Blackened calamari,

shrimp, fish and chicken add an interesting dimension to tacos,

burrotes (big burritos) tortas, quesadillas, nachos and tostadas.

These are priced from $2.69 to $5.99, most served with pinto beans

and rice.

A popular $5.99 combination offers a choice of two entrees -- a

taquito, enchilada, taco or tamale. Flavorful enhancements to various

dishes include such tastes as chile mayonnaise, sour cream sauce, a

blend of lightly crumbled cheeses, pico mesa relish and crisp pumpkin

seed pepitas.

A favorite specialty is the plump chili relleno, a large

egg-battered pasilla pepper bountifully blanketed with fresh chunky

"cadillo" tomato sauce. At $3.69 a la carte, this treat oozes a

volcano of spicy chili jack cheese when pierced.

Twin corn tacos bedding fried pork carnitas, marinated al pastor

pork and carne asada are $1.69; red and blue corn tortilla tacos

crowned with shredded beef, chicken or vegetables, $1.99. Blackened

shrimp, fish, calamari or chicken in what are billed as New Wave

tacos are all less than $3. These top a red and a blue tortilla with

chile mayonnaise, sour cream and a blend of cheeses.

Other a la carte creations are stuffed jalapenos, enchiladas and

tortillas, taquitos, sour cream and guacamole from 69 cents to $2.99.

Beyond all this bounty, look for daily offerings of intriguing

soups and entrees. For instance, Thursday's velvety lobster bisque,

the identical recipe from Marco's realm at famed Chanteclair, and

Monday's creamy roasted tomato soup. These are $1.99 for small and

$3.99 for large servings.

Papaya and mango butter relishes distinguish daily arrivals of

such fresh fare as red snapper, catfish and swordfish, all a nominal

$7.99.

Accolades too for the Burrito Arizona. At $6.99 this big flour

tortilla is wrapped around perfectly grilled chicken breast, which

has been sauteed in chipotle cream sauce with spinach, mushrooms,

tomatoes, onions, topped with three sauces and served with saffron

rice and pinto beans.

A sweet example of this decidedly gourmet cuisine at fast food

prices is the luscious, velvety cream cheese flan dessert. This $3.49

winner, served on a paper plate, is a delectably creamy mound posed

on a pool of vanilla custard artistically drizzled with dark burnt

sugar sauce and enhanced with fresh berries.

Each and every dish is meticulously packaged for take-out or ready

to enjoy at one of the al fresco tables that make Laguna's Food Court

a winning attraction for locals and tourists.

In addition to Mexican coffee and soft drinks, sangria, cervezas

and wine will soon be offered.

* GLORI FICKLING is a long-time Laguna Beach resident who has

specialized in reporting restaurant news and views since 1966. She

may be contacted at 494-4710 or by e-mail at ghoneywest@aol.com.

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