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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Going Loco for Calamari

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LAist has been giving a lot of love recently to the many fine eating establishments that exist all over the basin. No matter what type of cuisine you like, there’s a long list of restaurants that can meet the grade.

However, there’s also been a noticeable lack of Orange County representation in these reviews. True, 95% of the non-five-star restaurants in OC are chains not worthy of being reviewed, unless you want to debate whether the chicken marsala is better at Cheesecake Factory or Macaroni Grill. But contrary to popular opinion, there are some great eats down behind the orange curtain if you know where to look.

So, in an effort to help inform the eager LA foodie, and to throw a bone to our loyal suburban readers, LAist will be running a weekly feature on the best local eateries in OC that are worth a visit.

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This week's installment takes us down to the beautiful shores of Laguna Beach. Let’s face it, is there a better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than popping down to the beach and catching some rays? Each of our local beaches has something to offer, whether it be the pier at Santa Monica, the “entertainment” at Venice, or the surf at San Clemente. At Laguna, it’s the art galleries. And Taco Loco.

Taco Loco is a glorified taco stand about a half mile south of main beach on PCH. From the outside, it looks like any other beach shack, with no inside seating and a handful of little tables on the patio. The staff all wears tie-dye shirts and sport some nappy dreds. But the food is far from ordinary beach fare.

As Carrie pointed out yesterday, LAist has an unhealthy obsession with tacos. But when you have access to so many fantastic taco joints, why wouldn’t you love tacos? As far as Taco Loco is concerned, it’s all about the kick-ass blackened calamari tacos.

My friend Amy introduced me to this place, and I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first about how exceptional Taco Loco could be. Admittedly, I love calamari and I love tacos, so why wouldn’t it work? Oh, yes. It works pretty damn well. The calamari is cooked perfectly so it retains its chewy, but firm texture, with homemade seasoning. What really makes the taco is the addition of a homemade guacamole with diced avocadoes, diced tomatoes, and cilantro (sort of a guac de gallo) that provides a cool zesty contrast to the kick of the calamari.

But Taco Loco isn’t your usual taco stand in that it offers a wide assortment of dishes. Besides the standard Mexican fare, it serves everything from carnitas nachos to mushroom and tofu fajitas to blackened swordfish salad to ceviche. The quesadillas are served with half flour, half blue corn tortillas, which give surprisingly distinct tastes when sampled with identical filling. And if you don’t like tortillas, they serve a full complement of “burgers”, which consist of the same ingredients as the tacos except on a hamburger bun.

The nice thing about Taco Loco is that the ingredients are fresh, especially relative to the usual taco stand, where you don’t really want to see what’s behind the counter. Of course, this should be unsurprising given the “natural” vibe that the place throws off. Indeed, besides all of the standard meat and seafood dishes, all dishes are offered with tofu or veggie phish. Hemp burgers and even hemp brownies are proudly displayed on the menu.

And like any true taco stand, Taco Loco is open late, until 2 am on Friday through Sunday, and midnight the rest of the week. So whether it’s after a night out at the bars or a little skinny dip in the Pacific, when you get a case of the late night munchies, you can get your fix.

Even though the food is awesome, it’s the entire experience that makes Taco Loco worth the trip. There’s something divine about watching the sun set over the horizon, breathing the ocean air, while popping a fresh taco with a cold bottle of Dos Equis (just be sure to sit at the tables behind the sidewalk so you don’t get ticketed for public alcohol consumption). All of the artists that inhabit Laguna Beach couldn’t paint a better picture than that.

Taco Loco
640 S. Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

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