Taco Mesita – Tustin – February 2023 – Just Opened

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Taco Mesita comes to the heart of Orange County with a vision to redefine fast food. Its flagship location, which softly opened its doors in early February, is nestled at the gateway of Old Town Tustin – a historic downtown experiencing an exciting revival and growing diversity.

The concept was brought to life from a collaboration between award-winning restaurateur, chef Ivan Calderon (founder of Taco Mesa and Taco Rosa) and a next generation team of blended talent: Calderon’s son and co-founder, Nico, along with his childhood friend and distinguished designer, Max Moriyama.

Taco Mesita melds tradition with modernity, achieving an unexpected sophistication through its commitment to a simple yet premium palette of ingredients and materials. Every element of the concept – from the house-made ingredients to the branding and building design – communicates a dedication to quality and authenticity. “We set out with the intention of creating a restaurant we wanted to eat at ourselves but hadn’t ever experienced before. We questioned why quality dining experiences were reserved for upscale settings,” says Nico. “We think bringing this experience to a fast food setting is new and surprising and it communicates our ethos to being a place everyone can enjoy.”

MENU

A streamlined menu offers a carefully curated selection of tacos, burritos, and snacks. Each item’s ingredients are a representation of the brand’s prioritization of a high-quality culinary experience over all else. The menu riffs on and elevates what you might find at a traditional taco stand: charred skirt steak, rotisserie chicken, and al pastor tacos, all topped and garnished with colorful and flavor-packed relishes.

Almost every item in the kitchen crosses paths with woodfire, a cooking method that has as much of a place in traditional campesino cooking as it does in high-brow food culture. The result is meats and vegetables infused with the smoke of citrus and almond wood, providing complex flavors that speak to Taco Mesita’s principles of building on simplicity and tradition to create an unexpected fast food experience. “The food doesn’t overcomplicate things – it finds a balance between premium, unique ingredients and the goodness of a home-cooked meal” explains executive chef and co-founder, Ivan Calderon.

An heirloom mole recipe – passed down generations in the Calderon family – is paired with a blue masa tamal and filled with huitlacoche and shiitake mushrooms. The horchata, a Mexican staple drink, is cleverly dubbed “white gold” to showcase its superfood-driven adaptation, using tiger nut and organic agave nectar, instead of rice and sugar. The corn and flour tortillas are all fresh-pressed and small-batch, using nixtamalized heirloom masa and milled flours. “You’re getting quality over quantity, and you can still feed a family for a fraction of what you’d pay at other restaurants with a menu of this caliber,” says Nico. “That’s what makes us proud of what we’ve done and most excited to share with our community that has so generously welcomed us in.”

DESIGN

Taco Mesita’s building design expands on the brand’s intentional approach. A direct response to the blight of age-old fast food chains in the urban environment, the team sought to create a space that would add value to the neighborhood. Nico Calderon brought in his childhood friend and esteemed designer Max Moriyama, known for his work with Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to lead the design. Instead of focusing on low-cost, processed materials, Moriyama curated a palette of raw, durable materials communicating Taco Mesita’s commitment to honesty and purity.

“Our starting point was a rundown building with disjointed parts, cobbled together throughout the years. The design sought to simplify its history with a singular element to tie everything together – a continuous breezeblock wall,” says Max. “We decided on using this affordable and classic building material as a nod to Mexico’s traditional concrete block landscape.” The wall curves around the building, making for a beautiful scene around its drive thru path. From El Camino Real, the restaurant stands out as a visual counterpoint to nearby strip malls.

Within its walls, Taco Mesita has a lushly landscaped patio and an indoor breezeway perfect for casual dining. The blended indoor-outdoor spaces are adorned by mirror-finished mesh furniture, a modern twist on classic outdoor patio sets. At the top of the building sits an iconic neon bandito, a Robin Hood-like figure that symbolizes the brand’s spirit of challenging the status quo to serve the community.

Taco Mesita is located at 765 El Camino Real in Tustin and is currently open for limited hours during its Soft Opening from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. In the future, hours of operation will be extended from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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