I love Old Town Orange. No, let me rephrase that. I LURV Old Town Orange. And not just because of the International Beer Fest Street Fair.
Old Town Orange is everything that Irvine lacks: history, character, and bars. The area is built around a circular road which is studded with antique shops, bars, and tea salons. The whole place has a nice Americana feel to it, and feels especially cozy during Christmas time when the lights are strung up and couples are cooing over each other by the central fountain. Heck, even the Starbucks in “the circle” is better than the ones in Irvine.
The circle also has good fancy Mexican food: the closest that Irvine has to rival Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen is, sadly, El Torito.
Gabbi’s is Orange County’s worst kept secret. Every Mexican food loving local knows of this place- and fantastic food in a chic looking restaurant means crowds on weekend nights and Sunday mornings. It is best to make reservations, but chances are, they will be behind schedule. But that’s okay; you can always hang out at the bar and try some of their fancy tequilas, or window shop around.
For starters: the booze. It is fantastic. I had the caipirinha of the day: blood orange. If you like vodka tonics, gin and tonics, and chu-hais, you will not turn down a caipirinha, especially if it’s infused with some sort of fruit. They have all sorts of margaritas as well, but if you’re planning to get hammered, try their tequila flights.
We last went to Gabbi’s to celebrate Twiggy’s birthday, and the birthday girl never, ever says no to ceviche. It was the special of the day, and the waiter went through the list quickly with a rather sexy accent, but Twigs caught the ceviche alright. And that’s a good thing, because Gabbi’s ceviche is quite fantastic. Very limey and light, and you will eventually run out of the round chips, so you reach over for your complimentary tortilla chips to scoop more fish chunks. (And if you want to eat this all the time, Gabbi also posted the recipe on her website. )
I had a big lunch that day, so I opted for the Grilled Shrimp Salad, with a lime mojo, jicama, shaved manchego, avocado, pine-nuts, papaya, mixed greens & tamarindo dressing. The dish sounds wonderful on the menu, but when executed, not so much. I wanted to love it, because of what it was made of (jicama! avocado! MANCHEGO!) , but the dressing was a way too sweet for me. I wish I had stuck with my usual order…
…Which are the Tacos Al Pastor. Top sirloin steak marinated in guajillo, cilantro, onions, pineapple & avocado tomatillo salsa. It is nothing like the authentic stuff, but it’s got a lot of heat, and it’s juicy, and it’s messy, and… The list goes on. Point is, it’s frickin’ delicious.
Twiggy had the Tacos Carnitas because she is a pork fiend. Actually, our whole family consists of pork fiends (weirdly enough, Don’s family consists of chicken fiends). And not one person from this family says no to Berkshire pork, which is what Gabbi’s makes their carnitas out of. It came with sweet braised leeks, and the usual rice n’ beans. She ate everything with much gusto, which was impressive for the twig she is.
Matty had some sort of a giant burrito that was too far from my side of the table, and I couldn’t get enough lighting to take a photo of it (sorry!). But he seemed to enjoy it, so that’s all bueno.
For dessert, we couldn’t choose between the (my) flan or the (her) chocolate cake, so we ordered both.
I’ve said this many times before, but I’ve never met a flan/panna cotta/creme brulee that I didn’t like. Gabbi’s Coconut Flan was no exception. It was very dense, the caramel sauce was cloyingly sweet, but the fruits balanced everything out.
But I disliked the Chocolate Truffle Cake because, what do you know, I hate chocolate (unless it is in chocolate bar form)! It is uber, uber, UBER rich, like the whole thing was made of cocoa powder dusted ganache. If you are a chocolate fanatic, this dessert is probably a dream-come-true. If you aren’t one, then, well… It’s an overload.
When I ever go to Gabbi’s, I always leave with a very satisfied belly. Sure, it can be a little ‘expensive for Mexican food,’ as others might put it, but its so much more worth your money than going to Cheesecake Factory or some other craptastic chain restaurant that’s over saturated the OC. Plus, after your delicious meal, you can hop across the circle and go to the Irish pub and get plastered. And hopefully you won’t have that bad of a hangover because you’re not drinking on an empty stomach. Have fun!
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
141 S Glassell St
Orange, CA 92866