I found out about this place through a caregiver who used to work at my grandma’s home years ago. She’s from Ensenada, Mexico and highly recommended it. I guess I loved it from the start, and I used to go a lot more than I do now simply because it was close to grandma’s and I’d pop by after visiting her.
Since grandma passed away last year, I’ve only been here about three times. It is always when I get that hankering for fried tilapia (mojarra frita), or a plate of succulent shrimps with beans and rice that I find myself here.
Personally I think the exterior looks pretty dismal — rundown, hardly worthy of a second glance. However, once inside, the atmosphere is completely different. The decor is colorful and vibrant with amateur murals on the walls. There is no table serve. You enter, order off a board, get a number and go sit down. They’ll bring your food out when it’s ready.
A basket of tortilla chips quickly arrives. I like to sit near the self-serve salsa bar — an extensive one might I add — stocked with five types of salsas: chipotle, tomatillo, pico de gallo and two salsa rojos.
Pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos is always there, but sometimes, you will also find pickled green beans alongside the other condiments including diced onions, cilantro, fresh limes wedges, dried whole chilis and chili flakes as well as dried oregano.
Nine times out of 10 I’ll order the mojarra frita, a whole fried tilapia for $9.50. Beans and rice, a side salad and piping hot tortillas come with it. This is the best tilapia hands down in the area — I’ve had the ones at Taco Stop and La Cocina de Ricardo. The fish is perfectly fried, no slimy undercooked parts around the belly and tail is nice and crispy.
The frijoles are creamy topped with melted cheese, while Spanish rice is not mushy and has good flavor. There’s nothing worse than bland arroz in my opinion. The one here is also dotted with bits of corn kernels, peppers and tomato.
Seafood is what I always gravitate to here and besides fish, shrimp is my other favorite. Shrimp tacos are $3.29 with succulent shrimps in a tortilla topped with cabbage, cheese and a drizzle of mayo.
Camarones al mojo de ajo ($10.50) or garlic shrimp, is another dish I choose often. The shrimps are always nice and plump with a great snap to them and they are generous with the garlic which I like to mix into the rice so it is infused with the juices from the shrimp.
If seafood isn’t your thing, the al pastor always tastes great but sometimes it can be a little dry. You can have it in enchiladas — my son likes it this way — and at $7.95, is a great deal.
I am not big on enchiladas but I love the piquant red sauce poured over the top. I like to dip my warm tortillas into the red sauce much to the chagrin of my 10-year-old who will keep reminding me that I should order my own if I like it THAT much!
Whenever I have al pastor, I like it in a taco. It is served as is, meat and tortilla, you can add whatever you like from the salsa bar. I like it the traditional way with diced onions and cilantro and a drizzle of salsa.
My favorite salsas here include the chipotle salsa for the smokiness and the one of the reds for heat. I like to mix them together so I get both the spiciness and the smokiness in one bite.
They are very busy during lunch time and on weekends, pretty much all day long. Even so, service is swift and food is out pretty quickly. For me, the main reason to come here is for the tilapia because I often want it for breakfast and I know it is always available no matter what time of the day my craving hits — as long as they’re open, that is!
24601 Raymond Way
Lake Forest, CA 92630