Ever since moving to Orange County almost 10 years ago, it’s been tough finding good Spanish tapas. Whenever we visit San Francisco, we always make sure to visit Zarzuela, our favorite tapas restaurant, to get our fix.
The first time I visit Pueblo is 10 months ago, back in November last year — really, has it really been THAT long? I come for lunch with some friends and have a memorable experience. My plans to return soon for dinner is thwarted until now.
This week, I am back for a late dinner and find the restaurant completely packed. It is the only restaurant at The OC Mix that’s bustling with diners. Don’t attempt to come here without a reservation because you will most probably be disappointed when they turn you away.
Our server Taylor is friendly and informative. I inquire about the specials and he is happy to describe them. We begin with Ceviche de Camarones ($12). The crustacean are plump, swimming in a beautiful citrus dressing with sliced red onions and cilantro. Refreshing and bright flavors!
I remember eating a similar dish on my initial lunch visit except it is with fish instead of shrimp.
From my first visit, we enjoy Albondigas de Cordero ($11) tender lamb meatballs with pimenton, or paprika; pipperade, a Basque specialty with onion, green peppers, and tomatoes sautéed with red Espelette pepper. Slivers of fresh mint add a burst of freshness to an already delicious offering.
Gambas al Ajillo ($13) is one of our favorites when eating tapas. The sauteed prawns and tiger shrimp are cooked to perfection, possessing the snap I love. The olives add saltiness and acidity to the dish. It would have been nice had the olives been completely pitted, as biting into an unbeknownst pit is shocking if you are not expecting it.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening is Maiz ($8), strips of roasted corn paired with shishito peppers, tossed in a rich Aleppo butter. The robust flavors cling to the corn, while the heat from the Aleppo adds a lovely kick to the entire dish. Absolutely stunning!
I love the presentation of Queso Fundido ($9), a ramekin of charred goat cheese, with black truffle, drizzled with honey. I like the subtlety of the truffle as it enhances without overpowering. The goat cheese is creamy — the sweetness of the honey creating an elegant finish to a very simple dish.
La Falda ($18) is a special of the night. We are told that this is usually served as an entree, but tonight, it is a tapa. Tender skirt steak is prepared to your desired temperature presented with a romesco sauce — roasted red pepper and almond spread originating in the Catalonia area of Spain — with a corn and caper dressing. The crispy shoestring onions add textural contrast, bringing this dish together harmoniously.
I’ve been excited to try the Paella ($31) — seafood tonight — but unfortunately, it is disappointing. The rice is sitting in too much broth and is lacking depth. The one dimensional flavor is mind-boggling, considering it is topped with a variety of seafood which should have infused some umami to the rice. On a positive note, they do not skimp on saffron as this is the one flavor which stands out throughout, however, it is also perhaps the reason why it comes with a $31 price tag!
Our final dish of Pulpo a la Gallega ($13) is described as grilled Spanish octopus, fennel, corn, olive, bacon. Sounds awesome right? The first thing I detect is mayo of sorts. I ask Taylor if there is mayo in the dressing and he informs me it is aioli, an unnecessary component which overwhelms the palate over all the other incredible flavors it is combined with. Such a shame because all I taste is aioli.
Even though the meal isn’t 100% perfect, Pueblo remains above the rest when it comes to tapas in Orange County. Even with two dishes falling short of expectation, and the use of corn in many of them, it is doing something a lot of restaurants are not doing — thinking outside of the box when it comes to creating a menu that is innovative, unique, and leaves me wanting more.
3321 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626