Tacos are as American as apple pie. I write this with no official research or facts to back me up, only from my experience living on both coasts of this country. I also write this on the eve of Taco Bell (one of two national fast-food chains with the word “Taco” in the name) releasing their Dorito hard-taco shell, an American frat-boy’s wet dream. While some eateries aim to “improve” the taco in this manner, others such as Taco Asylum strive to elevate it.
You’ll find Taco Asylum in the far back of The Camp, the tiny hipster/non-hipster/I-don’t-even-know-anymore enclave in Costa Mesa, just down the street from South Coast Plaza. The design fits right into the look and feel of The Camp: cool, trendy, and urban. Chalkboard menus and walls surround a few pub tables with a reclaimed aesthetic and a bar by the register. The menu is simple: 9 gourmet tacos, each about $5 each, with a flight of the first 8 (half-sized) available for $18. Because I love you all and I hate my body, I decided to do the flight of 8 plus the Ghost Chili Pork. Mini-reviews:
Grilled Octopus: Whole baby octopus with a Mediterranean mix of olives and feta. Octopus was cooked well, not too chewy, but way too many olives in this.
Pork Belly: Pork was flavorful and supple, paired really well with daikon and carrots.
Short Rib: Closest one to a traditional Mexican taco. Meat was sweet and smoky, pickled red onions a nice touch.
Curried Paneer: The best one of the bunch. “Naan” tortilla a little too dry like lavash, but the consistency of the cheese meshed really well with the masala, chutney, and raita.
Wild Mushroom: The garbanzo puree (let’s call it hummus guys, come on) and fried chickpeas were really great to eat with the tortilla after I dumped out all the mushrooms because they tasted like olive juice.
Lamb: Another taco ruined by a shitload of olives. Lamb was also too gamy.
Steak: This one was confusing. It goes in one great direction with tangy Chimichurri sauce, but ruins it with bland potatoes and insipid onion rings. Could be good if you picked out those last two things.
Ghost Chili Pork: No flavor, all heat. Sad.
So out of all 9 tacos, only 3 would bring me back. Their fresh fruit drinks and teas also warrant a trip, because (though they offer a great selection of beers) I have been thinking about their Honeydew and Blood Orange Tea every day since my visit. I had 4 glasses (free refills!) and finished my one for the road by the time I walked back to my car. Ultimately Taco Asylum deserves a visit for you to form your own opinion, but just don’t set your hopes too high.
And parking at The Camp is a bitch.
Mile-High Club First-Class Business Economy
Check ‘em out at:
2937 S Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
11am-11pm, 7 days a week