Restaurants: Taco Asylum

After checking out Cars and Cockpits at the Lyon Air Museum on Sunday morning, Minh and I headed to the Camp to check out a new restaurant that had just opened there last week: Taco Asylum (opened by Chef Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub)

First off.. I love the decor of these place. It’s a small space, but the decor is fitting for a twist on the traditional taco. I’m not going to lie, seeing the huge chalk wall with the wood details made me want to incorporate it somehow in my future home.. but we’ll see how far Minh lets me go with that.

Awesome decor! Love this Chalk Wall!

Live Twitter feed updates over the bar..

Since this was our first time, we decided to try the flight, which includes small, 3″ tacos of the top 8 tacos (there are 9 total flavors). Not wanting to miss out, we ordered a Ghost Chili Taco as well (that’s the 9th one). I also ordered a bottle of Maine Root – Mandarin Orange soda (decided it was a little too early for a beer). The flight comes out in this really cool taco holder…

A FLIGHT of Tacos!

The 3″ tacos are pretty much “two-bite” tacos.. so each of us was able to take at least one bite of each taco, which worked out well. The Ghost Chili Taco was a 6″ taco (normal sized), as most of the tacos will be if you don’t order the flight. Here’s my review from the least favorite to the best..

Can't wait to bite into each one!

9. Grilled Octopus – Kalamata Olives – Oregano – Feta – Tomatoes
The high points of this taco was that the octopus was cooked perfectly. It was super soft, not chewy like over-cooked octopus often ends up. I’m not a fan of olives, so the kalamata olives didn’t seem to fit right with me. The olive overpowered the taste of the octopus, which should be the shining element in the taco.

8. Lamb – Olive Tapenade – Ratatouille – Mache
Again.. I’m not a fan of olives. The consistency of the tapenade was different from what I’m used to since it was almost completely pureed, and I’m used to seeing tapenade still a bit chunky. Either way, the olives seemed to overpower the taco, though not as much as the grilled octopus. The other parts of the taco I could taste were good, though.

7. Curried Paneer – Raita – Tomato Chutney
The raita used in this taco was delicious.. super refreshing and “fresh” tasting. The taco was good, just not as good as the others. I probably wouldn’t order it again, but I would recommend it if you like curry.

6. Short Rib – Pickled Red Onion – Salsa Verde – Cotija Cheese – Cilantro
This tastes like your typical taco off a taco truck, probably because of the salsa verde and cotija cheese. The pickled red onions were good, as was the overall taco itself… but this isn’t a taco to write home about. It would probably benefit from some of their in-house hot sauce just for a little kick.

5. Corazon – Confit Beef Heart – Pickled Turnips – Harissa
I was a little wary of trying this one since I’m not a huge fan of the “alternative” cuts of meat (i.e. liver, heart, kidneys, intestines, etc.). It’s not the “gross” factor that turns me away, but the minerally taste that I often associate with liver and kidneys and offal. So.. imagine my surprise that this taco was actually pretty delicious. I especially like the crunch from the pickled turnips. It really finished off the dish well.

4. Pork Belly – Carrots – Daikon – Onions – Cilantro
Just say the words “pork belly” once and I’m there. I love the consistency of cooked pork belly, and this one was cooked to perfection. It tasted like a delicious banh mi wrapped in tortilla. In some ways, it wasn’t an exceptional tasting taco, but in other ways it just hit the right spot.

3. Duck – Camembert – Dijon Creme Fraiche
I tried making duck tacos once when I as living in DC, and let me tell you, they didn’t turn out nearly as good as this. Although it’s not a flavor I would prefer in a taco (would taste better in a sandwich), it was still very good. The dijon creme fraiche was a perfect condiment for this taco.

2. Wild Mushroom – Chickpea Puree – Parsley Salad – Fried Chickpeas
To think that I went my whole life having never had fried chickpeas before… never again! These were so good.. like healthy CornNuts. And the wild mushrooms were DELICIOUS! I kinda want to make my own wild mushroom tacos at home now. Just saute them in butter to keep their flavor and richness.. mmm.. ::drool::

1. Ghost Chili Pork – Braised – Chili Threads – Pork Cracklins
And finally the favorite… which actually surprised me. I was a little afraid to try this one because ghost chilis are supposed to be the hottest chilies on the planet. I wanted to still be able to taste things after my meal, and I could tell that there was plenty of chili in this dish (as evident by the chili threads covering the taco).

Ghost Chili Pork Taco

Although the meat seemed a little dry, the overall flavor of the taco was AMAZING. It’s not too spicy, but just right to leave a lingering spice in your moth. The chili threads actually add a good bit of flavor and texture to the taco to make it appealing. Same with the pork cracklins, which add a surprising crunch not usually expected in a taco. If I were to ever come back, I would definitely get this one (and the wild mushroom).

Taco Asylum also had three different in- house hot sauces to try:

mm.. HOT SAUCE!!!

Cayenne Sauce– This is like your typical hot sauce: not too spicy and not too much flavor. It was actually pretty good. Some hot sauces have too much vinegar (i.e. Gringo Bandito, Tabasco, Chalula.. at least for my taste), but this was just right. I still like Tapatio better, but this one was pretty good.

Red Savina Sauce – This was reminiscent of a spicier Tabasco Chipotle Sauce. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but the smokey flavor wasn’t bad. Oddly enough, it seemed spicier than the Ghost Chili Sauce.

Ghost Chili Sauce – This sauce was actually pretty delicious. I didn’t eat too much of it since I didn’t want to overpower the already spicy Ghost Chili Pork Taco… but it was pretty good. Not as spicy as I was expecting, but in a good way. I was happy that I still had all my tastebuds at the end of the meal.

Overall, the meal was good, though the price is a bit steep for tacos ($5-$6 for one). I don’t think we’ll be coming back unless we’re really craving good corazon or wild mushroom or ghost chili braised pork.. and then probably only during happy hour (Mon-  Fri, 2PM-6PM and 9PM-11PM: $1 off tacos, $2 off canned beer, $3 off draught beer)… but I can say that if they ever do end up bottling and selling their hot sauce.. you can write us in for one of the Cayenne and one of the Ghost Chili. And I would definitely recommend this place for some good tacos if budget is not an issue.

The menu and my notes

Taco Asylum
THE CAMP – 2937 S. Bristol St, B102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone 714.922.6010
http://www.tacoasylum.com/

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