Taco Loco: Visiting the Ghosts of Tacos Past in Laguna Beach

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Taqueria Orange County

Taco Loco is a sun-soaked Laguna Beach food destination.

My first encounter with Taco Loco was in the summer of 1996. My weeks involved film classes at UCLA and an internship in Mayor Riordan’s Press Department at City Hall. Weekends were my time to explore Southern California. My brother visited town and we took what was supposed to be an overnight trip to Palm Springs. However, after taking the tram to the top of the mountain, we realized there was nothing else that held any interest for us in the desert, so we cut across the mountains to Laguna Beach. By the time we arrived, we were lucky to find a vacant room and even luckier to find an open restaurant. Not only was Taco Loco open, their blackened seafood tacos kicked ass. The next day, we returned to the trippy hole in the wall for lunch, and the tacos were just as good. Over the years, I’ve returned many times to Taco Loco, and while the concept doesn’t seem quite as revolutionary is it did to a SoCal newbie in 1996, it’s still one of my sun-soaked touchstones.

Gonzalo Rebollar opened Taco Loco in 1987. During my initial visits in the mid ’90s, the building housed a tattoo parlor and a hemp shop. That’s no longer the case, but the crunchy groove is still in evidence.

Taqueria Orange County

Taco Loco’s walls host “magic mushrooms,” and the menu touts options like mushroom & tofu. Of course, I’d never cross the line and actually order something like “veggie phish.” Thankfully, Taco Loco offers more delectable options.

Rebollar’s taco innovation was to add Cajun blackening spices to his fresh seafood tacos. Taco Loco stocks salmon, mahi mahi and swordfish, plus more pedestrian proteins like chicken and the dreaded potato. Taco Loco may not have fresh-pressed masa, but for their purposes, grilled flour tortillas work well.

Tacos Orange County

Blackened shrimp ($4.60) and calamari ($3.80) tacos came in the same cardboard basket. Our first two tacos, both very good, involving plump, spice-crusted shrimp and tender strips of milk-white calamari.

Taco Orange County

Mahi mahi is the staple fish at Taco Loco, but we upgraded to sea bass ($4.60) was shredded to bits in the pan and featured good texture, but were a bit too dry. In this case, an intact fillet probably would have done more justice to the bass.

Salsa Orange County

No matter what kind of taco you order, they arrive unadorned, with complimentary dishes of chunky guacamole folded with pico de gallo. You’ll also receive a choice of salsa: mild, medium, spicy or chipotle.

Rebollar wasn’t on-hand to answer my salsa inquiry, but the woman behind the counter said they use long red chilies to craft the salsa. If she was referring to cayenne, that would make sense given Taco Loco’s Cajun connection. The medium salsa would barely register on the Scoville scale, and spicy brought some heat, with a fire red color and flecks of chile. Chipotle was murky, but contributed some smoky flavor. Still, it wasn’t about the salsa; it was about the fresh seafood, which is better than what you’ll find at most taquerias.

Taco Loco may no longer justify back-to-back meals, but it’s still a classic seaside spot that delivers a fun vibe and some straightforward, high-quality seafood tacos.

Taco Loco: Visiting the Ghosts of Tacos Past in Laguna Beach


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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