U.S. Taco Co. – American classics reimagined as tacos

U.S. Taco Co.

U.S. Taco Co. is a new fast-casual restaurant owned by Taco Bell featuring classic American classics reimagined as tacos. After seeing a Reddit post about an LA Times article previewing the restaurant, I knew I had to try it. It opened on the 11th in Huntington Beach, and despite a rather lackluster review from OC Weekly, I went Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, I was too hungry to take photos of the decor. It was a bright, open location perfect for people watching. The prices were roughly $3 to $4 per taco (for most of them). You’ll have to excuse the quality of my photos because, like I mentioned, I was pretty hungry.

U.S. Taco Co.

They all had interesting names. The most basic taco I tried was the Wanna Get Lei’d, a grilled mahi mahi taco with corn tortilla, Polynesian sauce, slaw, poblano crema, pico de gallo, and cilantro. To be honest, it was nothing special.

U.S. Taco Co.

Not My First Rodeo is a smoked brisket taco with flour tortilla, molcajete salsa, slaw, pickled onions, and cilantro. It was pretty good, and there was a lot of brisket in it.

My favorite taco is the one featured at the top of this article, the Southern Squealer. Looking at the menu, I quickly knew that this was the taco for me. The Southern Squealer features pulled pork, peach jalapeño BBQ sauce, corn cake, slaw, jalapeño, and cilantro in a flour tortilla. These flavors went well together, forming a delicious taco. I particularly enjoyed the corn cake in the taco. If I eat at U.S. Taco Co. again, I’d likely order the Southern Squealer once more while trying other tacos for the first time as well.

U.S. Taco Co.

The Papa’s Fritas, potato wedges basically, were also excellent. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and fresh tasting, they were a great side. The fries came with jalapeño ranch as well as ghost chile ketchup dipping sauces. I preferred the jalapeño ranch, but both were good.

U.S. Taco Co.’s biggest problem is its location. It’s a fantastic location near the pier in Huntington Beach. It’s such a fantastic location that it’s just a few doors down from Bruxie, across the street from Zimzala in the Shorebreak Hotel, and a couple minutes walk from Sancho’s Tacos. While I do think I’ll eat here again, after my friend gem and I finished splitting the food I discussed here, I felt satisfied – not stuffed, but definitely not hungry. And then I walked to Sancho’s Tacos, because there was no way I was going home without getting an O.G. or a federale taco! If it was closer to home, I’d definitely drive a few minutes to eat there, but if I’m going to drive a half hour to Huntington Beach for a single meal, I’m more likely to eat at Zimzala or Sancho’s Tacos. However, the addition of another interesting restaurant in the area means that the idea of spending the day at the beach, which would include having multiple meals, sounds even more appealing. An appetizer and drinks from Zimzala, a couple O.G. tacos from Sancho’s Tacos while sitting on the beach, and completing the afternoon at U.S. Taco Co. sounds like an awesome day.

Chocolate loaf cake, calzone, and pizza

Chocolate loaf cake

I spent most of the last two nights baking. I had Amish Friendship Bread, so I decided to make a couple things. Tuesday night I made a chocolate loaf cake. When I had a piece that night, it wasn’t as chocolaty as I expected. However, my piece Wednesday morning had a much richer taste. I think the first piece wasn’t as rich because it was the end piece and had cooked more. I’m pretty happy with it. I also made dough that I left rising for a day.

Making the calzone

Wednesday night my dough was ready. I started with a calzone packed with sauce, cheese, turkey sausage, turkey pepperoni, mushroom, red onion, and red bell pepper.

Calzone

It was kind of huge.

Calzone

While the crust tasted fantastic, I probably should have made it a bit thinner. Also, I might have filled it a bit too much.

Pizza

I also made two pizzas with the same ingredients except I also added jalapeño and pineapple. I didn’t actually try the pizzas yet; the purpose was to have food in the fridge so I wouldn’t have to cook nightly.

When I was all done, I was exhausted and sleepy. I suspect a lot of that had to do with eating most of that calzone. It was so tasty!

Santa Cruz weekend: Matt and Katie’s wedding!

Beautiful

Saturday was the day of the wedding! It was also the day we were switching hotels, so we began the morning by packing and checking-out.

Brunch

We had an amazing brunch at Casa Nostra. It was super delicious. We had toast, jams, bruschetta, a frittata, and an omelette. And mimosas. We were pretty full. gem also played her ukulele while we waited for our food!

After brunch, we checked in at the Best Western Plus Inn Scotts Valley and then headed to SS. Peter & Paul where a shuttle drove us up a winding, mountain road to the Stones and Flowers Retreat in Ben Lomond. It was gorgeous.

Guestbook

At the entrance, a photographer took our photo with an instant camera, and these were used in the guestbook. It was a really awesome idea!

gem!

The ceremony was held outdoors to the left of the barn in this picture. The tables were for dinner, and the barn itself was for dancing and dessert!

edding

Here are the tables for the reception.

Ceremony

I didn’t want to try for many photos during the ceremony, but I still snapped a couple.

Hi

Between the ceremony and dinner, it was time to drink wine. Wine time is always good time. Dinner was fantastic with tri-tip, salmon, pasta, and more.

While it doesn’t have anything to do with dinner, I did want to mention Matt’s family. gem promised Matt she’d bake cookies if she came to the wedding, so she brought a cookie jar full of her cowboy cookies around with her to most places (except the wedding itself). As she offered them to people, Matt’s family realized that gem was the woman who shipped cookies every year for Christmas! I love our guild.

During the meal, gem and I also noticed that Matt’s brothers sound very similar to him! I guess we’ve spent much more time listening to Matt’s voice over Mumble than actually seeing his face. That’s kind of weird but proof that you don’t always need physical proximity to make great friendships.

New friend!

Speaking of making friends, we met a fun woman, Iamee, and as it turned out, she’s from Orange! We took this awesome photo together. Hopefully we hang out in the future!

Best man's speech

Marc, Matt’s best man, delivered a very nice speech. I texted him to give him an 8 on his speech, but in actuality, he nailed it. No surprise honestly.

gem in the barn

The barn had the letters ‘K’ and ‘M’ for Katie and Matt. There was a spiral staircase inside going up, so gem went up for a photo.

Entrance

Here the happy couple walked into the barn for their first dance.

Matt and Katie's first dance

And then it was time for the first dance itself!

Me and gem

Sorry, this was blurry. It was dark, there was drinking, and we were all dancing. I have a lot of excuses for the photo quality.

Matt and Katie

Katie and Matt decided to dance above us for a little bit.

Photodancing

By the end of the night, even the photographer joined us in a bit of dancing! I had fun on the dance floor. There was even a bit of line dancing!

Dessert was served buffet-style in the barn. I thought it was a great way of doing it. After they cut the cake, pieces were cut and placed on a table along with brownie bites, cookies, apple fritters, donuts, chocolate-covered raisins, M&Ms, and probably more things I’m forgetting. You could grab a snack, load up on calories, and then go burn them off by dancing. I may not be any good at dancing, but it was certainly a lot of fun!

After things calmed down, we all headed back to the hotel. At drunken requests, I went through Jack in the Box’s drive-through for tacos. As we waited at the window for our food, we saw Iamee entering the restaurant. gem ran out of the car to give her a hug! By the time we got the food, she was waiting in front of the drive-through to get back in the car.

Back at the hotel, we ate our tacos and then headed to Marc’s room to hang out with our new and old friends, talk, and watch people chug whiskey for who-knows what reason. It was fun though! Everyone was super cool. I’m always a little bummed out after events like this because I meet a bunch of interesting people, we get to know each other, and then we go our separate ways. We met high school friends, former bandmates (Matt was signed and had a CD and radio play; check out “In Character” by Blood and Water on iTunes), former classmates turned teachers, former camp coworkers, friends from Boulder, and more. It was really a fantastic day.

Sunday, however, was not so fantastic. After check-out, I went to Jamba Juice because I noticed one was less than ten minutes away, and I was craving it. Once I had my Strawberries Wild, we got on the freeway and headed home. For the most we just talked, but we also listened to some My Brother, My Brother, and Me. We topped off the weekend by eating too much at Las Brisas De Apatzingan with chile relleno, potato tacquitos, and pozole verde.

Congratulations, Katie and Matt! It was a beautiful wedding, and I was very happy that you shared your special day with me. I love you both!

View more pictures in my Flickr album, Matt and Katie’s Wedding, or read my first post about my vacation, Santa Cruz weekend: Redwoods and the Boardwalk.

Santa Cruz weekend: Redwoods and the Boardwalk

Quality Inn & Suites Santa Cruz Mountains

Sunday was Katie and Matt’s wedding in Ben Lomond. To make a weekend out of it, gem and I decided to spend Friday through Monday in Northern California. After a late start on Friday, I drove to Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County. Here’s a photo of our hotel, the Quality Inn & Suites Santa Cruz Mountains. The drive was relatively uneventful but fun given that I enjoy talking! We didn’t actually reach the hotel until about 11 o’clock, so this photo is from Saturday morning. It was quite beautiful. Unfortunately, there was an odd smell that caused us to keep our clothes in the car, but let’s not dwell on the negative.

Hiking

Saturday morning we went to the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park for a hike. It was absolutely gorgeous! Southern Californian hikes are terrible by comparison.

Hiking

It was about 10 when we got there, which felt like a late start. It wasn’t really. I’m just used to hiking in direct sunlight down here. It wasn’t hot at all, and I probably didn’t even need sunblock.

Hiking

gem and I discussed wanting to see wildlife, and when we heard a train, our conversation segued into the idea of “wild trains” being native to the Santa Cruz area. You see, they spend their whole lives growing tracks and migrating across the lands. When they die, their offspring can use the tracks grown by the previous generations.

Hiking

Look what else we found while hiking! What could that be?

Hiking

It was a geocache! I fail at geocaching most of the time, so I was pretty happy to find this one in a tree stump.

Hiking

gem and I signed the log.

Lighthouse!

After hiking, we went to the Best Western Plus Inn in Scotts Valley to meet with Marc and one of his friends. He drove us to the beach to meet his other friends, only running one red on the way. Okay, he caught it half way into the intersection and backed up. No harm done.

By the time we got to the beach, his friends were leaving to go back to the hotel. We walked around a little in attempt to get to the lighthouse, but after realizing we were on the wrong side of something, we just decided to leave.

Sea lions!

We headed toward to Santa Cruz Boardwalk and strolled along the wharf after getting some delicious ice cream. Looking down through the pier, we saw some adorable sea lions! They were pretty cute. One kept trying to jump out of the water but couldn’t quite make it.

Wedding Dress

As the time approached that Matt and Katie were going to arrive at the hotel, we went back to meet with them and the rest of their friends. Here I am holding Katie’s wedding dress trying with all my might not to drop the dress. It wasn’t heavy or anything, but I couldn’t help but think about how horrible it would be if something were to happen. Everything was fine though!

The Great Dipper

We all went back to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Anela had recommended we check it out, and I know I went there as a kid but don’t really remember it. I’m glad Matt wanted to go; it was a lot of fun. I love taking pictures of colored lights, fairs, and the like, but for some reason I didn’t really take any pictures. I guess I was too busy having fun and meeting new people. Their friends are super awesome! gem did get this picture of me in line for the Giant Dipper rollercoaster though!

Matt and Katie

We ended the night at the arcade. How did the happy couple spend their last evening before getting married? They played some classic arcade games obviously.

Tetris

After some air hockey, gem and I played Tetris against each other. I’d never played this version. She kicked my butt. I also played some Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man, my favorites!

Guildies!

Last year gem and I met with Katie, Matt, and Marc for the first time while we were in San Francisco. We took a few photos, but none turned out well. This time we had much better luck! From left to right that’s gem, Marc, me, Matt, and Katie. It was so, so good seeing them. My eyes are about to tear up just thinking about the wedding, and I wasn’t even planning on talking about the wedding itself until the next post.

You can view more photos in my Flickr album aptly named Matt and Katie’s Wedding.

You can read about the wedding itself here: Santa Cruz weekend: Matt and Katie’s wedding!

The Great Gatsby Party

Black Scarlett Shows' The Great Gatsby Party at Original Mike's Restaurant Bar and Grill

Last night was Black Scarlett Shows’ The Great Gatsby party at Original Mike’s, which was a ton of fun. I guess I started this blog post with a picture from the end, but it seemed appropriate because it had all the performers in it.

Getting ready

Dressing in costume wasn’t mandatory, but I still wanted to do so. I bought the suspenders and bow tie but borrowed the hat. It was fun to dress up!

Anela dancing with a fan

Anela told me about the event. Her friend coordinated the event. In this photo she’s doing a dance with a large fan. I had a couple pictures that featured the fan, but then you couldn’t really see her.

I got there about a half hour or so before the show actually started, so I ordered a martini and found a seat with two others. By the time the show started, a fourth joined us. They all knew someone in the show, and one was actually there because he knew Anela too! It was a lot of fun chatting with them.

Belly dance

There was singing, cabaret, burlesque, and a lot more. Belly dancing was happening too of course as is evident by the photo.

Me and Anela

We also got a photo together. Look at her hair!

After the performances were all done, I hung out for a while chatting with people, getting to know the people who sat near me and some of Anela’s friends. I met a lot of really interesting people and had a great time. Hopefully the events become a regular thing!

Ska Parade Lounge 1st SKAnniversary Show

The Holophonics

Last night was this month’s Ska Parade Lounge, which also marked the one year “SKAnniversay” of the Ska Parade Lounge at the Slidebar in Fullerton. After work, I went straight to yoga (in which I felt like I really got by butt kicked). I hung out afterwards talking to Sean, the instructor, for a while about music, life, and spirituality, and then headed to Fullerton. I had a lamb pita at Kentro Greek Kitchen, which is just a restaurant or two down from the Slidebar.

Oceanside Sound System

The first band to play was Oceanside Sound System from San Diego. I enjoyed them, and they even gave out copies of their CDs, which was pretty cool of them. The band consisted of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums.

Hooray for Our Side

Next up was Hooray for Our Side, a local ska band from Orange County. They consisted of vocals, guitar, bass, trumpet, trombone, and drums. I was happy to see some horns.

The Holophonics

Oh, man. The Holophonics. These guys came all the way from Texas to show how amazingly awesome they are. The band consisted of guitar, trumpet, trombone, sax, bass, and drums with the guitarist and trumpeter both providing vocals. They played a lot of amazing songs, and they do covers too. In fact, I heard a bit of Aquabats sampling in there! It was also cool that they all had DC hero shirts.

Not cool enough for you? You’re not convinced? Not only was the saxophonist switching between two different saxes, but at one point the guitarist and bassist also joined the horns by picking up trombones! Five horns! Amazing! You can see their mega-horn-section in the photo at the top.

They also gave out CDs, which I listened to on the way home. I’m listening to The Holophonics on Spotify now in fact. After their set, I made sure to tell them how much I loved them. So good.

The Interrupters

The concert ended with The Interrupters who were also celebrating the fact that their CD was released that same day. I’d seen them once previously, and they great this time just like last time. The skank circle also quickly became full on moshing, including security getting one guy in a headlock. Good times.

It was an awesome night; Tazy Phyllipz did a great job as usual!

The OC Fair and other weekend fun

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On Sunday I went to the OC Fair and saw lots of cool stuff. Of course, first thing’s first. I had to eat. I had some tasty bacon-wrapped mushrooms with Gouda to start my day and then wandered into the butterfly enclosure.

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I had a butterfly mustache!

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After putting some nectar on my nose, I got the butterfly to land there. Honestly, something about it freaked me out and I just wanted it get off.

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I didn’t mind one being on my head though.

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I also checked out the farming area. The Brussels sprouts looked and smelled to tasty! I love them.

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This sign taught me how to wash my hands. Good thing it was there. I always thought I was supposed to rinse with soap, not water.

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gem’s family called me White Leghorn (not to me though). I had to get a picture with the sign.

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Then I rode my trusty steed away!

I checked out the visual arts next, which is usually one of my favorite parts. It must be pretty cool to have something shown there I’d think. I looked at the photographs, paintings, crafts, woodworking, and place settings. I’m not surprised that I like most of those, but it does seem a little strange that the place settings are interesting to me.

In the middle of looking at these competitions, I stopped for more food! I had fried zucchini topped with nacho cheese, jalapeños, and bacon! It was okay, but I wish the portions were much smaller. I also tried fried avocado dipped in ranch. That was pretty tasty actually!

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The rabbits were adorable of course. This little guy was munching with his paws in his bowl, so I mimicked him.

After the animals, it was time to look at the collections. I looked at everything and read the descriptions as well. On my way out, the man who worked there stopped me to comment on how I looked at everything and suggested that I enter next year. We talked about collections for a few minutes. He collects martini glasses!

On my way out of the fair, I saw more animals. Lots of animals. I couldn’t leave without going in the petting zoo. One pig looked pregnant – but no, just fat.

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Unrelated to the fair, my odometer hit 33,333. That was kind of interesting.

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And then I had pizza for dinner! (Don’t say it, Anela.)

Barbecue and pool party

Mojito bar my friend made

I went to a barbecue and pool party at Edward and Carries’ yesterday. The food was excellent, although I only actually took a picture of the one item above. We had chips, mango salsa, guacamole, chicken, shrimp, strawberries, pineapple, rice, mojito bars, and mojitos. The mojito bars are shown above and are similar to lemon bars but made with a mojito cocktail. Pretty tasty!

Everything tasted amazing with one caveat: the pineapple was too strong. See, a lot of the food was cooked with rum, and the pineapple was soaking in rum for a few days apparently. I could smell the alcohol just bringing the pineapple near my face. It was liking taking shots. Pineapple will never be the same!

After dinner we went swimming and in the hot tub! It was a lot of fun to see my friends and meet some new people!

Wet Hot Skamerican Summer!

After work last night, I went to dinner with my brother. He’s leaving for Recruit Training soon, so this will be the last time I see him for a little bit. We went to Olive Garden, and the two of us ordered what we always order. At the end of the meal, a waiter who wasn’t serving our table, Brad, came over to tell me that he liked my shirt and the band it represented and was happy to see it, and he shook my hand. I was wearing my “one fish, two, red fish, reel big fish” shirt. Cool!

Anyways, it was nice seeing my brother again before he leaves. I’m proud and hope he does well.

After dinner, I met with my friends Michael and Bonnie to go to the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer concert at the House of Blues Anaheim. I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands, but they were all quite entertaining, and I had a very nice night.

Sugar Stems at the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer at the House of Blues, Anaheim

The show opened with Sugar Stems, an indie rock band from Milwaukee. They had a pleasant sound with a great vocalist. I really loved her voice. Now that I’m thinking of it, they remind me of Plumtree a bit. I’m not going to make specific comparisons because I’m tired, but they were excellent. The band consists of two married couples too!

Okay, I’m listening to them on Spotify right now. Wow, I really love them.

Papafish at the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer at the House of Blues, Anaheim

Next up was Papafish, who might have had the biggest following of all the bands if the audience was any indication. They were a fun ska/reggae band that played mostly original music. One song opened with synthesizers that reminded me of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. Makes sense because it really was a cover.

Angel City Records Soul Revue at the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer at the House of Blues, Anaheim

The middle act was the Angel City Records Soul Revue. The act kept the core band constant but rotated members between songs. It was a record label from LA that specializes in soul, R&B, ska, rocksteady, and reggae (according to their site), and that’s pretty much what I could infer from listening. It was nice to get some related genres that are little different than what I normally hear at a ska concert. Of course, it also helps that they were good. Their site indicates that they featured Jackie Mendez, Xavier Lynch, and The Soul Vibers.

Stupid Flanders at the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer at the House of Blues, Anaheim

The fourth act was Stupid Flanders, and they had great energy. They’re a ska band from Fullerton. Their music was great, sure, but those orange ties… oh boy!

Half Past Two at the Wet Hot Skamerican Summer at the House of Blues, Anaheim

The last band of the night was Half Past Two. They were excellent with a strong horn section and a lively, animated lead singer. She really knew how to work the crowd.

I’d be happy to see any of these bands again. I took a gamble going to a show consisting only of bands with which I wasn’t familiar, but it definitely paid off! Plus it was a lot of fun hanging out with my friends!

GOGO13 at the Irvine Regional Park

GOGO13

Last night I saw GOGO13 with The Hawkline Monster at Irvine Regional Park as part of the OC Parks Summer Concert series. I had a very fun time. I got there at the same time as my brother; I was right behind him as we parked. The bands hadn’t started yet, so I said hello to Tazy and headed toward the food trucks.

GOGO13

I had to get the Piggy Dog from the Stuff NIt Burgers + More food truck. It was a hot dog with savory pulled pork on it.

GOGO13

And then I made the mistake of going back for “Mexican Fries,” which are basically carne asada fries. They were good, but I really didn’t need more food.

I also got some free tickets to another ska show. Yay!

GOGO13

GOGO13 was a lot of fun and played basically every song I love by them. Here’s Parker Jacobs playing the ukulele. After the song ended, he realized his ukulele wasn’t connected.

GOGO13

He sure got the kids excited! Of course, he had to show them what to do with their hands.

GOGO13

At the end of the night, I had to get Parker Jacobs to pose with that ukulele!

On my way out, I succumbed to the call of another band t-shirt. In my defense, it was cool.