You Might as Well Face It, We’re Addicted to Tacos and… Chili Cheese Fritos?
You wouldn’t expect to find taco Tuesday bargains in the ritzy Fashion Island area of Newport Beach, nor would you expect to find a dozen extras to an ’80s music video, even if the latter wasn’t intentional. But you can find both if you know where to look. And the place to look is Red O. To be fair Red O doesn’t exactly offer the usual taco Tuesday cheap tacos, but at $3 a taco on a menu where most entrees hover in the $30-$40 range, it’s a steal for those looking for high end dining on a low end budget. Even better, their tacos are part of the regular Red O happy hour, so you can enjoy them any day from 3pm to 7pm, not just Tuesday.
The Lay of the Land
Red O is a bustling Mexican restaurant, verging more on Mexican steak house with locations in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, La Jolla and the Newport Beach Location we dined at. Lamborghinis and Porsches are common in the valet parking lot, the interior is well appointed and the walls covered with dozens of lighted tequila bottles. The waitresses all wear short black dresses and nylons and look to have stepped straight out of a Robert Palmer music video. Of course, none of them were even born when those videos was made, so any comment referencing the look would be lost on them. But that’s OK, we’re not here for them, we’re addicted to tacos.
Once seated we were brought a ginormous bucket of chips, a large bowl of red salsa, and a small dish of queso. The queso was oddly runny, and super nova intensity hot. Yeah, it wasn’t queso. Don’t repeat my mistake, you’ve been warned. The red salsa was ok, but mostly tomato based. It was way more chips than we could finish, but they will make you thirsty. Another beer, please?
Red O has three offerings on their Taco Tuesday menu, crispy short rib barbacoa, soft chicken, and soft carnitas. Soft or crispy, all are served on corn tortillas and are priced at $3 each. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. Here’s our favorites from least to most.
We were split on the crispy short rib barbacoa, which was disappointing because it was the one that sounded the most exciting on the menu. They are served garnished with green cabbage, onions, cilantro, lime dressing, and queso fresco. I liked it, but my companion did not. It was my favorite at first, but the more I ate it, the less I liked it. It contained a combination of spices my dining partner just didn’t care for, and she compared it to Asian 5-spice in Chinese food. The flavor was familiar to me as well, and it puzzled me as I munched bite after bite trying to identify where I had tasted something similar to this before. When it finally dawned on me, it rapidly downgraded my opinion of it to the least favorite of the three. It tasted very similar to Fritos Chili Cheese Flavored Corn Chips. Now, that might be great for those who love the Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell, and are looking for similar Frito Lay flavors in all of their Mexican food endeavors. However, it’s not what I expect from a high end restaurant. So, while the crispy short rib barbacoa tacos are good, we feel they should be better than bagged corn chips good.
The carnitas tacos are dressed with cilantro-lime yogurt, chipotle puree, radish, and green Mexican knob onion. We both gave the carnitas tacos a thumbs up. They didn’t have the crispy-tender texture we typically look for in carnitas, but the flavor was good, and they were moist. The cilantro lime yogurt and chipotle gave the pork a nice pop, while the radish helped compensate for the lack of crispy texture. And even though they were not our favorite here, they are on our top ten list for carnitas over all.
If you have followed along at all, you’ll notice I’m about to say something you will rarely read in these reviews: The chicken tacos were out favorite. Of course, they have the advantage of not being your average chicken taco. The addition of avocado, fried plantains, crispy plantain chips, queso fresca, crema, and tinga sauce add life to the shredded chicken you just won’t find anywhere else, while at the same time justifying the twice the usual taco Tuesday price you find in most establishments. The mix of the seasoning, avocado and the plantains finally gave chicken a good reason to cross the road… and our palates. If you like chicken tacos, this is the place.
Beyond the Tacos
The good news is, the tacos here are worth the trip. The bad news? The place is crowded. Seating is scarce in the bar and lounge, and that is the only place where you can order from the happy hour menu. It’s a popular place for after work gatherings, with many tables reserved for those gatherings, which makes getting a seat in the “open seating” area that much more difficult. The night we chose to visit, there was a reggae band playing. limiting seating even further if you were hoping for a table where you’d actually be able to hold a conversation.
If you’re looking for something to wash down that large bucket of chips, or kill the fire in your mouth if you ate the “not the queso,” there are plenty of $5 draft beers and $7 cocktails available during happy hour, as well as a full bar. Coke products are served for those choosing not to imbibe and they also offer daily auga frescas. Ask to see what they’ve mixed up special for that day.
Should you go?
If you find yourself craving tacos near Fashion Island between 3pm and 7pm after a hard day shopping, and are just too tired to park your car yourself, this is definitely the place for you. If you don’t mind large crowds, lots of noise, want a glimpse at how the upper crust does taco Tuesday, and are willing to pay a bit more for tacos beyond the ordinary, it’s definitely worth a try, especially the chicken. They’re “simply irresistible.”
Red O (Newport Beach) Photo Gallery: