Last week’s burrito letdown got me thinking about my experiences at other local inauthentic Mexican restaurants. I don’t mean inauthentic disparagingly, because food doesn’t have to be authentic to be good (if you don’t agree with this statement, go away, I don’t like you). Culinary authenticity itself is hard to define and tends to run along the lines of “I know it when I see it,” but in Orange County most Mexican restaurants deemed inauthentic do tend to be fairly terrible. Thankfully, the food at Taco Loco in Laguna Beach is an exception to the rule.
Taco Loco is an adored Laguna Beach favorite, a tiny beach-side taco stand located on PCH. Fitting in with the Laguna zeitgeist, Taco Loco offers a laid-back, hippie-ish vibe with meat on their menu but also a definite catering to vegans and vegetarians. Seating is strictly outside at this place; either on the patio with gloriously kitschy Paul Frank stools or on the sidewalk overlooking the highway, which makes for a great people watching. You’ll probably also notice that there’s two separate buildings that both said Taco Loco over the door, but you’ll want the one on the right side, the left being used strictly on the weekends.
The menu is extensive, to say the least. Tacos, quesadillas, salads, nachos, fajitas, burgers — it may seem daunting at first, but all you need to ask yourself is “What do I want, and what do I want in it?” What you want is anything blackened: from mushrooms to shrimp to tofu and even hemp, this adds a delectable charred flavor and spicy zest to any choice you make. I suggest sticking with tacos, but I recommend you fill them with blackened shrimp, carnitas, or mahi mahi. Once your order’s ready, the dirty hippie behind the counter will ask you what level of salsa you want (Mild, Medium, Spicy) and if you want sour cream or guacamole (no extra charge!). The shrimp taco doesn’t skimp, with 5-6 little guys spilling out of their corn-tortilla housing. The mahi mahi is almost an entire filet, crusted with mild chili and paprika, crunchy and flaky without that fishy smell. The carnitas are soft, porky goodness, enhanced (like everything else) by the housemade guacamole so chunky and savory you’ll go back and ask for more.
As with any freshly prepared food found in this beach community, it’s not cheap, with the average taco costing about $3, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a day to wander the town, stopping by for a taco and a beer, then hitting the surf before getting back to the grind. At its best, Taco Loco is a lesson in simplicity, good taste and how to do inauthentic right.
Mile-High Club First-Class Business Economy
Taco Loco640 S Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651