I have been a big fan of chef Deborah Schneider ever since she opened the wonderful Sol Cocina in Newport Beach, and have been eagerly awaiting her newest venture in Huntington called Solita Tacos.
Located in the newer end of the Bella Terra mall, this is a far cry from the usual taco joint. It is a large attractive space with a central bar and a large patio area. Features include a 7-foot-wide oak-fired Santa Maria-style grill, where the chefs cook whole chickens, among other items. The décor involves a lot of tequila bottles and beautiful old wood.
The staff is very friendly, and our waitress was especially nice. A basket of house-made chips and duros arrived along with excellent salsa. A staple of Mexican snack food, duros are puffy and crisp, shaped like wagon wheels, with a taste evocative of Cheetos. Don't fill up on them because more good stuff is yet to come.
Rumor had it that the ceviche was very good, and I can now vouch for it as one of the best I've encountered. Titled Yellowtail Ceviche Tropicale, the dish includes pristine yellowtail tossed in fresh lime juice sparked with serrano chiles, bits of mango, cucumbers, avocado and salsa fresca. The mango added an intriguing and delicious note of sweetness to the excellent ceviche.
My favorite dinner date ordered Mexican lentil vegetable soup with a scattering of chorizo, cotixa cheese and scallions. The soup, thick and rich with flavor, was punctuated by salty, crunchy bits of the spicy sausage.
The most unusual and surprising entrée we had was Perro Caliente "Changa." Yes, that is the word for "dog," but in this case, it refers to a hot dog. But it isn't your usual ballpark variety. Rather it is an inspired creation that involves a fat juicy hot dog wrapped in bacon, smeared with light but very tasty cream cheese and onions and heated with pickled jalapenos, then rolled in a flour tortilla and deep fried.
To add another layer of decadence, it is topped with sour cream, lettuce, green onions and salsa fresco. A little crock of chipotle ketchup was served on the side. This is not for dieters, but it is oh so good. The accompanying beans and rice were also notable.
In order to taste the tacos, I ordered the El Primo, a plate of four small tacos with a choice of fillings. The carne asada was from the wood-fired grill. It was tender and tasty with a hint of smokiness. My only complaint, and it surprised me, was that the house-made tacos were halfway between soft and crispy and a bit greasy. The fillings were all excellent.
I also had the chicken mole, which features a mild but very flavorful sauce. The wood-grilled fish Mazatlan, with moist fish, was also excellent, and last but not least was some spicy garlic shrimp. On the side was a little tray with two kinds of hot sauce, red and green, and some chopped onions and slices of radish to use to garnish the tacos.
Although we were stuffed, we could not pass up at least a taste of the grown-up churro sundae. Served in a footed sundae glass, along with buttered, brown-sugared and sautéed banana pieces, were crispy cinnamon churro chunks in soft vanilla ice cream, kicked up with rum and kahlua and finished off with caramel and chocolate sauces.
The churro chunks that had been lounging in that mixture were crazy good. We hadn't had an ice cream sundae in forever, but we made up for lost time with this one.
I think Schneider has elevated the genre of Mexican street food to an unusually high level. Since drinking and reviewing do not marry well, we really couldn't explore the exciting margarita menu or vast listing of tequilas, but with a designated driver, we urge you to try them.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 7631 Edinger Ave., Suite 1508, Bella Terra
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; bar open until midnight every day
Appetizers: $3.50 to $12.50
Entrées: $10.50 to $19.75
Desserts: $6 to $8.50
Bottles: $24 to $45
By the glass: 6-ounce, $6.75 to $12; 9-ounce, $10 to $18
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (714) 894-2792 or solitatacos.com