Irvine is slowly but surely erasing its longstanding stigma of being the OC’s taco wasteland.
If you’ve been in Irvine for years and wanted a taco, you had to settle for Taco Bell, Rubio’s, or Del Taco – or head to the nearest town. But then came the Puesto and Taquiero Taco Patio. And now there’s Tavos Cocina, a small taqueria that just opened in Trade, that popular outdoor food hall near the airport.
Clockwise from top left: Beef Birria, Shrimps Govenador and Carnitas Tacos in Tavos Cocina in the Trade Food Hall in Irvine (Photo by Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Many food hall concepts – not just at Trade, but everywhere – came from food trucks, and you could assume that you were looking at Tavo’s menu – classic tacos, burritos and mulitas filled with carnitas, barbacoa, carne asada, Chicken Tinga and more – this place too could have started in this way. After all, there is a taco truck called Tavo’s Tacos in La Verne. But no. “We’ve never had a truck,” the cashier tells me. “This is our first and only restaurant of any kind.”
Contrary to the food hall trend, Tavo’s doesn’t serve “LOOK AT ME!” Food. There’s nothing crazy or stupid, or even particularly Instagram-worthy, about the kitchen here. There is no merger. No gimmicks. No imitations of Kogi. This is old school California Mexican food cooked properly without fuss or pretense. This type of food has long been taken for granted by most of Orange County’s other cities, but Irvine oddly enough dodged it.
They make different flavors of Agua Frescas every day. They all make tortillas by hand. The birria is particularly good, if not as hot as in Santa Ana. However, if you need more heat, just ask for the Diablo sauce.
Irvine has a long, long way to go – compared to virtually every other town in the county – when it comes to Mexican food. And to be clear, Tavos Cocina isn’t exactly a target restaurant. But if you live or work in the neighborhood you will likely be very glad it is there.
Where: Handel, 2222 Michelson Drive, Irvine
When: Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday
COVID comfort rating: C. (for Trade Food Hall at large)
Temperature tests: No.
Forced masks for customers: Yes, security guard
Masks worn by staff: Yes
Gloves worn by staff: Yes
Hand sanitizer available: Yes
Outdoor dining: yes
Indoor food: Extremely limited
Food at the bar: yes
Disinfected tables: yes
Disinfected chairs: No.
Correct seat spacing: Yes
Touchless menus: Yes
Other: While the tables are being disinfected, it is difficult for staff to keep up, with many guests sitting at tables that have not been properly cleaned. It also appears to be allowed to dine directly at the bar, which is against currently recommended guidelines.