When It’s Not Just Another Taco
Tacos are tacos, right? Just a tortilla loosely folded in half and filled with some meat and a few toppings. I mean anyone can make ’em, can’t they?
Just like a canvas is a canvas… at least until someone applies a few brush strokes. Anyone can do that as well. But how many of those brush stroked canvases make their way into art galleries? Only the ones painted by truly gifted artists.
So, when a taco is created by a culinary artist, shouldn’t it be considered something more than a brush stroked canvas or a folded and stuffed tortilla?
Such is the case at Rasta Taco. Here, they are not creating your run of the mill everyday tacos, they’re crafting works of art. Which makes it no surprise that Rasta Taco has found a home in Orange County’s artist mecca, Laguna Beach. Here alongside the painters, sculptors, glass blowers, photographers and weavers, Rasta Tacos is creating their own masterpieces: works of edible art that are too pretty to eat, but too tasty not to.
The Lay of the Land
Rasta Taco is a small hole in the wall taco stand with a patio and tiny parking lot located on Beach Street just off Broadway. Like the dozens or art galleries in the area, Rasta Taco embraces the free spirited artistic side of Laguna Beach, and infuses it into every morsel they create. Introducing non-standard ingredients such as jerk sauce and pineapple curry salsa, they are one of the many fusion hybrid restaurants popping up all over the country and tearing down traditional culinary boundaries. Rasta Taco is turning up on gastro-adventurers’ “must eat” lists by melding traditional tacos and tropical Caribbean flare.
Trend setting isn’t cheap, though. Just as good art comes at a higher price, so do premium tacos. Rasta Taco’s Taco Tuesday offerings are more than double the average taco Tuesday price. But you still get more than you paid for in every bite, making it easy to justify the expense. After all, you wouldn’t expect to pay the price of a blank canvas for a beautiful painting, either, would you?
There are five choices on Rasta Taco’s Taco Tuesday menu: Carne Asada, Carnitas, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, One Love (Vegan) and Papa Jack (Potato). Any of the above can be had on a flour or corn tortilla, or wrapped in lettuce for $2.75 each. The rest of the week they run $3.50 to $4.00 per taco depending on your selection. We tried the jerk chicken, carne asada, al pastor and carnitas, all offering their own unique twist on their traditional taco counterparts.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Usually we’d start our review with the chicken taco because they are typically our least favorite. Not today. While the Jamaican Jerk Chicken is still not our favorite taco here, they are by far the best chicken taco we have had anywhere so far. Joining the chicken in your choice of wrap is chipotle jerk slaw, cilantro, and cotija cheese. Obviously, it’s the jerk slaw that ja-makes the Jamaican Jerk Chicken taco stand out from the crowd,.
It’s nice to find a place where the chicken isn’t either dried and flavorless or tastes like it was sitting in broth to keep it moist and/or waiting for noodles to transform it into chicken soup. The Jamaican jerk sauce will have these tacos limboing across your greedy palate, which will be refusing to share with the roof of your mouth, as they dance their way into your belly. If you are looking for chicken tacos, especially if you’re looking to break the boring chicken taco mold, eat here. Now. No boring chicken here, and your mouth will thank you for it.
Al Pastor (Not on the Taco Tuesday menu)
The Al Pastor taco is loaded with ingredients that had our mouths watering and begging to try them. They are served with hickory smoked bacon, onions, cilantro, fresh pineapple, and a blend of jack and sharp cheddar cheese. OK, they had us at bacon, but two different cheeses and pineapple? C’mon! let’s do this!
Or so we thought. Sadly, the Al Pastor turned out to be our least favorite of the tacos we tried. This was made even more disappointing because we went off the Taco Tuesday menu to order it since it’s not part of the Taco Tuesday line-up. Nothing in this taco is bad. In fact, everything is really flavorful. And that is the problem. The flavors compete with one another so nothing really stands out. Instead of complimenting one another, they confused our tastebuds and left them wondering what it was they were really supposed to be savoring. Keep in mind, our opinion of this taco is based strictly on the al pastor taco as it is served—without the addition of salsa.
Thankfully, like all the other menu items here the salsa is non-traditional and refreshing as well. We especially like the pineapple curry salsa. It brought life to a taco that otherwise would have been the wallflower of the bunch by tipping the balance ever so slightly into toward the pineapple. We now had a sweet and spicy taco accented with flavorful bacon and cheeses. Our mouths were no longer confused, Adding the pineapple curry salsa to the al pastor is like giving air to a man suffocating in the vacuum of space. This taco needs the salsa as much as you need air to survive. And, just as if you had been deprived oxygen, once you add the salsa, you will inhale this taco just as greedily as that first blast of oxygen after suffocating.
Caribbean Carne Asada
The Caribbean Carne Asada is topped with the same ingredients as the Jamaica Jerk Chicken, Jerk Cole Slaw, onions, cilantro and cotijo cheese. The beef was tastier than the chicken, and it was also tastier than the pastor, but pretty much in the same boat. And that like that other boat, it would be sinking if not for a pineapple curry salsa infused life raft. But also like the Al Pastor, as long as there was plenty of pineapple curry salsa to go around, we wouldn’t mind too terribly being stranded on a Caribbean island with nothing else to eat.
And Our Favorite Is…
I’ll give you a hint… it wasn’t the vegan. So, by now you have deduced the carnitas were once again our favorite. No surprise, right? Unlike the other tacos we tried, these required no additional salsa. Prepared with the same ingredients as the Caribbean Carne Asada and Jamaican Jerk Chicken tacos, these are prepared for optimum taste bud arousal as soon as they are set on the table. The carnitas seasoning gives this taco the identity the other two lack, taking the stage front and center with the toppings gathering around in perfect supporting harmony. The flavors don’t battle each other they harmonize into beautiful music filling your mouth with joy as it hums along in approval. This carnitas taco is so good, it isn’t just our favorite taco here, it is our favorite carnitas taco in Orange County. But not our favorite carnitas.
In our opinion, carnitas have to meet a stringent set of criteria to qualify as carnitas. Rasta Taco makes an amazing carnitas Taco, but it’s not traditional carnitas. It’s a fusion taco, blending Caribbean flavors with traditional carnitas making it unfair to categorize as traditional carnitas. In fact, we’ll have to state that disclaimer for all of the tacos here, because everything on the menu really is in a different class. Therefore, they carnitas taco will hold the title as “Best Fusion Carnitas Taco,” and the chicken as “Best Fusion Chicken Taco.” That is, until we discover something better. Good luck with that!.
Beyond the Tacos
We’ve already mentioned the amazing pineapple curry salsa, but there are other beyond the norm taco dressings worth mentioning as well, such as the Island Fusion Salsa and Chipotle Sour Cream. And the standard salsas are good as well, but greatly outshined by their Caribbean counterparts.
Looking for something to wash all that Caribbean taco-ey goodness down? How about a Red Stripe? If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, Rasta Taco also offers Corona and Modelo on their Taco Tuesday menu for $2.75 a bottle. During our visit they also offered a Ballast Point Sculpin for $6.50. Non-alcoholic choices included agua frescas, bottled Mexican sodas, and $1.75 refillable fountain drinks.
A dining area is provided on a patio adjoining the parking lot and froniting the sidewalk along Ocean Avenue. Even though you are surrounded by car accessible spaces, they never intrude on the dining experience, allowing you to enjoy your food at the umbrella shaded tables while chewing to the rhythmic beat of piped in reggae music.
Should you Eat Here?
The only reason not to eat here is if you just really hate your mouth. Every bite is worth the price, and if you think it’s too much to spend on a taco, skip Taco Tuesday this week and combine the money you would have spent with the funds allotted for next week’s Taco Tuesday adventure. Yeah, it’s so good, I’d even skip tacos for a week to eat there if I had to.
Meanwhile, while we now know where to go for chicken tacos, we now have a tough choice when it’s time to decide where to go for carnitas, traditional or fusion? But that’s a third world problem we can with.
Rasta Taco Gallery: