Best Mexican Restaurant – Orange County Register
1. El Ranchito d’Avila
Multiple locations; avilaselranchito.com
With a family heritage dating back to the 60s and recipes passed down from Mexico, El Ranchito d’Avila restaurants are owned or operated by Avila relatives in 11 cities across OC. Sites often have unique characteristics: Costa Mesa is the test kitchen. Orange was once a church. San Clemente and Huntington Beach are nods to surf culture.
Maribel Avila Ley, who oversees three locations, says customers can find basic and original food items at each location, such as Mama Avila’s soup, chile rellenos and carnitas. Local favorites cater to a specific clientele. For example, Laguna Beach serves fresh fish and vegan options; Santa Ana has chili 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 city-specific menus.
“I really believe our niche is in our history,” says Marcus Avila, owner of Orange and Laguna Niguel restaurants. “We serve authentic Mexican cuisine and have stayed true to the recipes of our grandmothers and mothers – depending on which generation you belong to – since 1966.”
Items that tend to consistently resonate with customers, says Marcus Avila, are the tried-and-true ones, like a handmade margarita (the drink menu lists a dozen of Avila’s signature drinks), tacos, and cold beer.
—George A. Paul
2. Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill
Multiple locations; rodrigos.com
Originally named Don Jose’s when it opened in 1972, the restaurant chain was founded by Roderick Fraser, a World War II pilot from Oregon, and his wife Patricia, a native of Orange, who met during a a ball when the first was stationed in Santa Ana. They got into the restaurant business in the late 1960s. All locations were consolidated 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 warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa, replenished as often as you like, at some point in their meal descriptions. Then there are the generously proportioned lunch entrees (this writer loves the enchilada combo plate with ground beef). The Sunday Champagne Brunch runs from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Happy hour is 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
According to Suzanne Fish, vice president of marketing, the ultimate steak, chicken and shrimp fajitas is a best seller. “Our Seafood and Shrimp Chalupa Salad is another favorite. Homemade churros with our abuelita spicy chocolate sauce, a more recent addition to our menu, have quickly become our best-selling dessert. We have generations of families who have celebrated many family dinners together here for 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 the culinary flavors of Mexico, South America and the American Southwest, Blue Agave Southwest Grill opened in 1994. Offerings include pork belly tacos, mesquite grilled fish, grilled skirt steak, Yucatan chicken, Apache chicken quemada, Barbacoa beef enchiladas. , sautéed mahi mahi, Mazatlán mango wrap and Puerto Nuevo tostada.
The dozen entrees include plantain nachos, Southwestern chicken and steak skewers, tequila-flavored citrus flautas, and Montego Bay coconut shrimp. There are also salads and soups. La Cantina offers a variety of tequilas, beers, wines and fine spirits.
Yelp reviewer Tammy B. from Anaheim described the “excellent fajitas” as “some of the best we’ve ever eaten.” Chicken and steak are always tender and flavorful. They’re served over sizzling red and green 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 delicious corn cake. Perfection.”