Taleo Mexican Grill - Irvine
There are no taco trucks in Irvine, because, well, they'd get ticketed the minute their front tires entered city limits. And that's too bad, because in my opinion, the best Mexican food is cheap, filling, and served inside the dingiest place possible.
But when you have a few dollars burning a hole in your wallet, and a free appetizer coupon courtesy of fellow blogger Christian of OC Mexican Restaurants, there's Taleo.
With a seal of approval from The Mexican himself (OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano), Taleo has earned a reputation for successfully bringing Mexican food into a spacious, designer dining room complete with a wine list.
We started with Taleo's take on tuna on toast, dubbed Tuna Tostar ($10), which wasn't something you'd find at your neighborhood taco stand.
Four triangular planks of ciabatta toast was first slathered with a layer of creamed avocado, then adorned with glistening cubes of raw ahi spiked with soy and wasabi. The appetizer paid homage to Hawaiian poke, Japanese sashimi, and Mexican tostada -- a snack that would make a Paniolo proud.
Next was the main course of Mole Poblano ($14), named after the legendary sauce it featured. Culled from roasted peppers and seasoned with cocoa, this mole was the star of the dish, as it always is. But the delivery device was itself worthy of mention; a role performed by the roasted chicken breast.
Enormous in girth and moist down to the center, it was baked with a light crusting of spices. Chief among the aromatics: cloves. Its warmth enlivened the otherwise banal existence of the meat, but the mole was doing the heavy lifting.
And it was the mole that I savored.
The chocolate-colored sauce had the smooth consistency of hot fudge, and carried with it the sweet sting of poblano chiles. But there was only a few tablespoons of the stuff puddled beneath the giant slab of chicken. It was like a kiddie pool drawfed under the Rock of Gibraltar.
Once I sopped up the last drop, I still had half of the chicken to deal with. Thankfully, some table salsa helped to finish the job.
Our second main course of Tamales ($12) were two obese pillows of masa dough both crumbly and sweet, stuffed with shredded chicken. But most of the flavor came from a dousing of red sauce and a topping of crumbled cotija cheese.
While the dish was competent, it wasn't mind-blowing, and could've done better with more of that sauce, or even better: the mole.
In fact, had we not been stuffed, I would've insisted on a dessert of ice cream, drizzled with mole.
Taleo Mexican Grill
3309 Michelson Dr
Irvine, CA 92612