Laguna Beach. Home of the hippie, the street musician, the alternative lifestyle, the saved canyon, the vegetarian, the environmentally aware.
And home of the gourmet fish taco with a conscience. Found at Taco Loco, it's 95% organic and considered by many to be the best in Orange County.
"The name 'Crazy Taco,' or 'Crazy Place,' gives us the freedom to create something different," explains Taco Loco owner Gonzalo "Gonzo" Rebollar, a vegetarian who entered the restaurant business 12 years ago upon arriving from Mexico City. What's different is the blackened cooking, the spices (a blend of recipes from New Orleans, the Southwest, Californian and Mexican cuisines), the quality--everything is freshly made on the premises--and the price.
"Usually, a blackened seafood dinner can cost up to $15 to $20," Rebollar says. At Taco Loco, a blackened fish taco is a much more reasonable ($2.25).
You would never guess that such a tiny, nondescript, white building sitting quietly along South Coast Highway would offer such gourmet fare. But when Rebollar opened the business four years ago, he set out to create a healthy eatery. And he succeeded. Those who discover Taco Loco are hooked; it becomes a habit, like coffee in the morning and football on Sunday.
Although the place could easily be missed (save for a few umbrellas and red and white tiled tables on the patio near the sidewalk), the interior is cheerful and bright, where heavenly smells and neon radiate. Rebollar said he chose the neon embellishments because "color brings happiness" and is part of his effort to create an "open consciousness" environment.
It's obvious that Rebollar's customers are happy. They line up for "Loco Tuesday," when blackened fish tacos are an incredible $1.25 (blackened mushroom or chicken tacos are $1 each) and Coronas go for $1.50. Then there's Magic Thursday, when mushroom tacos are $1 and import beers are $1.50.
Rebollar sticks to vegetable oil for cooking, so the food is surprisingly light. The salsas are intensely flavorful, and include cascabel (a medium red sauce), chipolte (a medium brown sauce) and a very spicy Japanese chili sauce that's sure to please the adventurous palate. A nice bonus: Unlike most restaurateurs, Rebollar doesn't charge extra for the guacamole and sour cream.
Taco Loco Mexican Seafood Taco Bar, 640 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday till 2 a.m. (714) 497-1635.