18959 Magnolia St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
It was another rare weekend day off for me, and since Katie has a regular job, with both Saturdays and Sundays off, it was a chance to get out, do a little walk, and cross a restaurant off of our restaurant wishlist. So we hightailed it up the 405 to Fountain Valley to give Tio Flaco's a try.
I had read a very positive review about this small restaurant in the LA Times, and another two in the OC Weekly, so of course it had to be put on my list. Both articles mentioned that they cook their meats over wood. Very intrigued, we decided to park at a nearby junior high school, walk through a couple of pocket parks, and arrive at just before lunchtime at Tio Flaco's.
Tio Flaco's has been open for two and a half years now, and it replaced a deli, but it appears that this might have been an old Wienerschnitzel, judging by the A-frame building it occupies. Caesar Ruiz and Steven Dabic, both local boys who graduated from Fountain Valley High, wanted to create a place where you could get tacos like the ones they had down in Tijuana. They wanted their place to have homemade tortillas, fresh salsas, and the proteins had to be grilled over wood. Lucky for them, Fountain Valley is one of the few OC cities that permits this kind of cooking.
The menu at Tio Flaco's is very basic. They offer four types of meat, and you can have them as tacos, a mulita, which is best described as a quesadilla with stuff inside of it, or you can choose to have a taco salad. They also offer a cheese quesadilla and tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. That's basically it. Once you open the door to the small restaurant you are hit with the sweet smell of the meats cooking. With a menu as simple as this, we quickly ordered, grabbed a seat on their outdoor patio and waited for our number to be called. Here's how everything came out for us.
Starting things out for us is Katie's meal. She almost always opts for chicken when eating out, and that was definitely the case at Tio Flaco's. She had both a Chicken Taco ($2.29) and a Chicken Mulita ($3.79). Way to mix it up. Anyways, she liked the chicken but was not in love with it. She thought it could have been a little more flavorful, and the chicken did not seem to pick up too much from being cooked over the wood. She did jazz things up with a trip to the salsa bar, which features five kinds of red and green salsas ranging from mild to extremely hot. Katie was impressed with the tortillas and the juiciness of the chicken. She did say she'd probably skip the chicken next time in favor of one of the other meats.
With Katie getting two chicken items, it freed me up to try the other three types of meat available at Tio Flaco's. I had a Carne Asada Taco ($2.68), a Carnitas Taco, ($2.29), and finished off my taco trio with the Al Pastor Taco ($2.68). All of these were great, and I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but the one I remember the most was the Asada. You could definitely tell it was cooked over wood, as it picked up a smokiness and was very tender. It did not need any salsa, but of course, I used a little bit of the hot ones, and they were excellent. The al pastor and carnitas were fantastic as well and worth getting. The tacos at Tio Flaco's come with onions, cilantro, and guacamole, and they did not skimp on either the meats or the toppings. Some of the best tacos I have had to date.
Round two of food came out next, and this included a Carne Asada Mulita ($4.18) and a Cheese Quesadilla ($1.69). Having the carne asada in the mulita made me fall in love with it even more. I almost hated letting Katie have a bite and wanted to drench it in hot salsa so she wouldn't want any, but I'm a good husband and let her have some. The mulita was filled with cheese, guacamole, onion, cilantro, meat, and a smidge of mild salsa. Again they were not shy about the amount of Asada they used here, as it escaped the mulita, and I eagerly ate it after the mulita disappeared rather quickly. The quesadilla was a classic. Two of their very good flour tortillas were sandwiched with some gooey cheese, which also had some crispy parts hanging out, which made this quesadilla even better.
Not to be overlooked, the salsa bar here is pretty impressive at Tio Flaco's. As I mentioned earlier they have five salsas ranging from mild to extremely hot. I tried the hottest of the bunch and found it to be good and spicy, but it did not overwhelm, which is what I look for in a salsa. I like it hot, but I still want to be able to taste the food that I put it on. A very delicate balance that this restaurant nailed.
As we walked back to our car parked about a mile away at the junior high school, I could not stop thinking about our visit to Tio Flaco's. Even as I write this review a few weeks later I have an incredible craving for their tacos and mulitas. I think these are the best tacos I have had in a real long time, with the exception of the chicken. Such a simple menu and the food was done with such precision, I can not wait to return very soon. I'd say that the owners at Tio Flaco's have nailed what they were going for here, creating a great taco just like the ones they had across the border. The restaurant inside is a little small, and because of the wood burning cooking going on in there, it does seem a little steamy, so a seat out on their patio seems like a way better spot to enjoy your food. This was a great place to spend our day off together.
Out of five octopuses, (because the mascot of this restaurant is Templeton the Octopus), five being best to zero being worst, Tio Flaco's gets 3.5 octopuses.
For more information about Tio Flaco's, head to their website here: http://www.tioflacos.com/