Best Mexican restaurant – Orange County Register

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1. Avila’s El Ranchito

Multiple locations; avilaselranchito.com

With a family legacy dating back to the ’60s and recipes handed down from Mexico, Avila’s El Ranchito restaurants are owned or operated by Avila relatives in 11 OC cities. The sites often sport unique characteristics: Costa Mesa is the test kitchen. Orange was once a church. San Clemente and Huntington Beach have nods to surf culture.

Maribel Avila Ley, who oversees three locations, says customers can find core, original food items at each site, such as Mama Avila’s Soup, chile rellenos and carnitas. Local favorites cater to specific clientele. For example, Laguna Beach serves fresh fish and vegan options; Santa Ana has chile verde and menudo.

Other offerings include authentic botanas (shrimp or pork), fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, handmade tortillas, seafood, quesadillas, tostadas, vegetarian options and more. Check the website for menus specific to each city.

“I truly believe our niche is in our history, says Marcus Avila, owner of the Orange and Laguna Niguel restaurants. “We have been serving authentic Mexican food and stayed true to our grandmother’s and mother’s — depending on what generation you are in — recipes since 1966.”

The items that tend to consistently resonate with customers, Marcus Avila explains, are “tried and true” ones like a handmade margarita (the drink menu lists a dozen of the signature Avila’s drink), tacos and cold beer.

— George A. Paul

2. Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill

Multiple locations; rodrigos.com

Originally christened Don Jose’s upon opening in 1972, the restaurant chain was founded by Roderick Fraser, a World War II pilot from Oregon, and wife Patricia, an Orange native, who met at a dance when the former was stationed in Santa Ana. They went into the restaurant business during the late 1960s. All locations were brought under the new brand, Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill, in 2018. The name is a tribute to Rod. Still family owned and operated, the company is now four generations strong.

Regulars at Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill tend to rave about the warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa, refilled as often as you want, at some point in describing their meals. Then there’s the generously portioned lunch specials (this writer is partial to the enchilada combo plate with ground beef). The Sunday Champagne Brunch runs from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Happy Hour is 3-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

According to Suzanne Fish, VP of marketing, the ultimate fajitas with steak, chicken and shrimp is a best seller. “Our seafood chalupa salad with shrimp is another favorite. House made churros with our abuelita spiced chocolate sauce, a more recent addition to our menu, has quickly become our fastest selling dessert. We have generations of families that have celebrated many family dinners together here over 50 years. We pride ourselves on being a family restaurant for all ages.”

3. Blue Agave Southwest Grill

18601 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, 714-970-5095; blueagaveswgrill.com

Focusing on culinary flavors from Mexico, South America and the American Southwest, Blue Agave Southwest Grill opened in 1994. Among the offerings are pork belly tacos, Mesquite grilled fish, grilled skirt steak, Yucatan-style chicken, Apache chicken quemada, Barbacoa beef enchiladas, sautéed mahi mahi, Mazatlán mango wrap and Puerto Nuevo tostada.

The nearly dozen appetizers include plantain nachos, Southwestern chicken and steak skewers, tequila citrus flautas and Montego Bay coconut shrimp. There are salads and soups too. The Cantina offers various tequilas, beer, wine, and fine spirits.

Yelp reviewer Tammy B. of Anaheim described the “excellent fajitas” as “some of the best we’ve ever eaten. Both the chicken and steak are always tender and flavorful. They are served atop sizzling red and green bell peppers, then topped with shredded zucchini and cabbage. They come with your choice of flour or corn tortillas and refried black beans, rice, guacamole, and a tasty corn cake. Perfection.”

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