Believe it or not, Fountain Valley plays an important role in OC Mexican history. Across the street from Mile Square Park is Colonia Juarez, a barrio that dates back to the early 20th century that once featured a 600-foot-long mural by legendary Mexican artist Sergio O'Cadiz. One of the first schools in the Fountain Valley School District was named after Andres R. Arevalos, a pioneer farmer who has a park named after him in Huntington Beach that officials want to rename (Save Arevalos Park!). So in some ways, it makes sense that the only place in Orange County to sell Tijuana-style tacos is at Tio Flaco's.
But in another way, this strip-mall stand is an anomaly. An Argentine and a gabacho are the owners, and the majority of customers aren't Mexican. The other day, a middle-aged, sunburned white guy was explaining the restaurant to his Mexican worker. "You order the tacos, and the meat is grilled with wood fire," he told the paisa.
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"In Orange County?" was the Mexican's incredulous reply.
Yep—and they're great. Tio Flaco's make the tortillas fresh, whether flour or corn, smear some guacamole on it, put in the meat, sprinkle on salsa—and that's it. That's all you need, really: Each bite of a taco takes you to Tijuana's legendary Tacos El Franc. The tortillas are earthy; the meat, smoky and sweet; the guacamole, just the right amount of butteriness. And what ties it all together is the salsa, which reaches a miraculous equilibrium between relishy and thick, spicy and mild; they'll only splash a little at first, but ask for more, and they'll give you a big ol' ramekin of the stuff.
Yet the best thing at Tio Flaco's is the mulitas, which their mascot, Templeton the Octopus, helpfully describes as a "taco sandwich" on the flat-screen that functions as the menu. He's sorta right, but he left off the sharp Mexican cheese used to bind it together—perfect. Wait, I forgot something even better: unlimited Orange Bang! on tap. How is this place not in SanTana?
Tio Flaco's Tacos, 18959 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-9000; www.tioflacos.com.