You remember that controversy a couple of years back, right? The one in which Lake Forest-based Del Taco unveiled a new line of Mexican food called "tacos del carbon"? The screw-up that made millions of Mexicans roll their eyes at how clueless gabachos can be about Mexican culture and sparked calls of a boycott? Those tacos surprisingly still exist, and Del Taco never bothered to correct their grammatical error—it's al carbon, not delcarbon. Get over the error and head over to Taco Factory for the real, lip-smacking deal.
This tiny Tustin restaurant claims it's the home of the original taco al carbon, a laughable assertion considering the meal is a Mexican treat, and Mexico didn't annex Tustin until a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, Taco Factory can boast of grilling the county's best taco meat. The tacos themselves are nothing special—corn tortilla, a too-mild salsa (even the "hot" one failed to provoke any sweat beads), and a $1.85 price that's a bit much. You get to garnish your taco with cilantro, green onions, jalapeños, carrots, limes, radishes, tomatoes, and even red or green sauce, those mysterious condiments that are a regional obsession in New Mexico and southern Colorado. But it's the meat that transforms Taco Factor's taco al carbon into a worthy five-minute inhalation.
The "al carbon" bit to the tacos refers to charcoal and the days when Mexican cooks grilled meat over an open fire. This rarely happens in an Orange County restaurant, and Taco Factory uses gas stoves for cooking purposes. But to mimic coal's power, Taco Factory grills its meat to the point of carbonization. Whether you choose chicken, carnitas or carne asada, the meat becomes crunchy—but not burned so that it's as dry as machaca. When Taco Company gets it right—and it almost always does—chomping into al carbon meat feels like chewing into a chicharrón without the gushes of lard.
The rest of the menu is deliciously antiquated—burritos, enchilada combo plates and the like. The taco salad—a flour shell filled with meat, beans, lettuce tomatoes, cheese and sour cream—is straight from a Betty Crocker cookbook; I haven't seen the delicious red and green chile combos in years. The egg taco, though, is a surprising respite and a great morning meal. And I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for any restaurant that carries Orange Bang!—the frothy orange drink that's the closest man has ever come to creating heaven in a beverage, Cazadores tequila notwithstanding, of course.
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TACO FACTORY, 14455 NEWPORT AVE., TUSTIN, (714) 731-1111.