SOLITA TACOS & MARGARITAS
MEXICAN FARE INSPIRED BY TRIPS TO BAJA & MEXICO
When I first heard about solita tacos & margaritas, I have to admit I was annoyed that it spelled its name with all lower case letters. That’s just the writer in me. For crying out loud, it’s simply grammatically incorrect. Fine, I got past that and was apt to give it a shot, although, truth be told, I’m a tough Mexican food critic, you know, being raised eating Mexican food (try and beat Mom, I dare you) but I’m always game to try something new.
solita builds itself as a simple and sophisticated neighborhood Mexican restaurant with locations in Huntington Beach and Valencia (apparently just not in my neighborhood) built around a custom wood grill, inspired by travels through Baja, California and Mexico. Its cuisine is made from scratch, often carrying a whiff of smoky flavor from the wood or charcoal grill, loaded with flavors from fresh salsas, corn tortillas, limes, dry and fresh chiles, crushed herbs, fruit and spices, mole sauces and cheeses.
During our recent visit to the Valencia location for Saturday night dinner, we found the restaurant, located in an oversized mall, as is most of Valencia, packed and filled with a vibrant energy, which emanates from the gigantic and colorful bar that you can’t help notice upon entering. You see that bar and you want a drink. I would have opted for a nice glass of tequila, but even with its extensive tequila menu, I still couldn’t find my faves, which I’ll confess, made me feel a little superior. So a solita’s grande casa noble margarita it was. Made with solita’s private label single barrel reposado from Casa Noble, this dandy drink is shaken tableside and is offered with your choice of house or skinny preparation. The tableside presentation is nice and the margarita (I don’t really drink margaritas anymore) was nice and stiff.
If you’re looking for starter items to share (antojitos), you can never go wrong with fresh made guacamole served ‘old school’ in a fried tortilla bowl, topped with diced mango, tomato, onion, Serrano chile and cilantro. If you want something a little more daring, the perro caliente ‘changa’ is a grilled Mexican hot dog rolled in a flour tortilla with bacon, cream cheese, pickled jalapeño and onion, deep-fried and topped with sour cream, lettuce, green onions and salsa fresca, served with chipotle ketchup. This is one hot mess, but let me tell you, this street dog on steroids is so worth a taste. It’s definitely unique and so damn decadently tasty—so nice with a drink in hand.
Other great appetizers include the tequila shrimp & avocado sundae, which is a mix of lightly cooked shrimp with blanco tequila, salsa fresca, lime juice and chipotles layered with creamy avocado sauce served in a sundae glass—another fine presentation. But if we’re talking tableside presentation, then go for the grilled corn elote, a whole ear of sweet corn roasted and grilled with butter, chipotle salsa, California chiles, Cotixa and green onion. With sharp knife in hand (think mini machete), the corn is sliced off the cob right in front of you. And let me tell you, this is some tasty corn. Mix it with the guac and you really have something special going on.
In need of another cocktail, the el hombre, a smoky margarita touched with the subtle heat of dried chipotle peppers, was calling my name. Prepared with Agavales blanco infused in-house with chipotle peppers, served skinny style with fresh limejuice and lightly sweetened with agave nectar, this is a nice yet smoky drink. If you’re looking for something on the other side of the drinking spectrum, you may want to go with the watermelon margarita, a simple and refreshing cocktail also made with Agavales blanco tequila, crushed watermelon and fresh limejuice.
Because the word “tacos” is in the solita name, we had to create a mini sampler of our own. You can actually order individual tacos plates served with two sides, or you can opt for the el primo taco taster plate (four tacos and one side). We went with the chorizo, bacon & sweet potatoes; los cadillacs (wood-grilled beef asada topped with chipotle shrimp); beer battered shrimp taco; and pork carnitas. These were pretty solid tacos. The beer battered shrimp didn’t wow me but the others were right on.
For main entrees, you can choose from skirt steak, chicken & ribs, calamari & garlic shrimp, and wood-grilled fajitas, among others. We went with the house carnitas—chunks of tender pork slow simmered, served with diced avocado—and the smoked & grilled beef ribs.
The pork was tender and so flavorful. There’s nothing worse than dry meat and this dish was delicate and delicious.
The beef ribs are actually premium beef ribs slow-cooked, rubbed with chipotle and garlic, grilled over oak with secret glaze, with a grilled jalapeño and green onions. They’re not reinventing grilled ribs and I didn’t pair the dish with red wine, but it was solid and hearty. It’s not your typical Mexican restaurant dish but it’s a house specialty because of its custom wood grill.
If you save room for dessert, I always suggest liquid dessert and the horchata cocktail, made with solita’s house made horchata served on the rocks with Agavales blanco tequila, 1921 Crema, and a touch of cinnamon, with a nice treat. If you like more traditional desserts, there’s deep-fried ice cream; flan; and the grownup churro sundae with bananas sautéed with butter, brown sugar, rum and kahlua, churro bits, vanilla ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauces to choose from. That last one just sounds out of this world!
While Executive Chef Deborah Schneider, who has written six Mexican cookbooks, has crafted a fine menu, I wouldn’t say trek to Huntington Beach or Valencia this very minute for Mexican fare, but if you’re in the area or planning to be, it’s worth a visit. I may even take Mom.
solitas tacos & margaritas is located at 7631 Edinger Avenue in Huntington Beach, and 24201 Valencia Blvd.
Photography Courtesy of: solitas tacos & margaritas
Story by Jose Martinez