(Note: Additional photos from the meal are available via the link below.)
Every time I go to visit J. in Orange County, we plan a luncheon with my future in-laws. This usually produces a nervousness in me. I am not afraid of them, but I always have that feeling they think I am stealing away their child. J. is 32, but J's parents are clearly protective of their only child.
So, we plan lunch at someplace nice, enjoy some conversation, have a meal and then I go back to the hotel and find a sedative. Or drink heavily.
Bob and Sue, J.'s parents, are pretty set in their ways at this point in life. So, they tend to favor a few specific restaurants. The first on their list is The Wind and Sea in Dana Point. However, they are fast becoming fans of Tortilla Flats in Mission Viejo, and that is where our review fun begins.
J. and I arrived early and sat in the car talking while sipping the last of our tapioca-laden drinks from Lollicup. We decided to go in and get a table that overlooks Lake Mission Viejo. As luck would have it, there weren't more than a few other diners in the place, so we waited for Bob and Sue.
The interior of Tortilla Flats is like walking into a Mexican marketplace on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is very pretty with a regular bar, a taco bar, indoor seating and plenty of outdoor seating. Bob and Sue arrived and we were whisked away to a table in moments. Our initial table was in the main interior dining room, but Sue wanted an outdoor location (or at least something overlooking the lake). We were taken to a second interior dining room that overlooked the lake, but was not outside. Considering the threat of rain, I understood why there was no service being provided outside on the deck.
Our table was a bit cramped and the furniture was only slightly above dorm room plastic quality, but we found a way to make it work.
A few minutes after being seated, we were presented with water and a big basket of corn chips along with a red salsa. The chips were crisp and fresh and I enjoyed the fact that they were slightly thick. My only complaint was that they were room temperature. I am just a big fan of hot chips and cold salsa for the contrast between the two. The salsa was a nice blend of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peppers, onions and cilantro, finely blended into a slightly spicy dip. The salsa was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was tasty.
Our waiter took our drink orders. I got my Diet Coke ($2.00), J. got an Iced Tea ($2.00), and Bob got a cup of coffee ($1.75). Sue stuck with water.
The drinks were brought out quickly and by that time we were ready to order. Sue insisted that we order the Combo Platter ($14.95) as an appetizer. I wasn't going to argue. For our meals, I went for the Enchiladas Verdes ($12.95). Bob was eating healthy and chose the Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken ($9.50). Sue got two chicken enchiladas with rice and beans ($10.95). J. was feeling adverturous and chose the Combination Dinner with two selections ($11.95) - the first being a Tamale covered in a Chipotle Mushroom Sauce and the second being a Flauta with Mole Sauce.
The Combo Platter appetizer was a very large platter containing a mixture of beef and chicken taquitos, burritos and chimis. A quesadilla was also served. It was accompanied with a side of sour cream and guacamole, and Sue added on a small serving of Mole sauce. I dove for a slice of the quesdilla and it was good. The soft tortilla housed plenty of jack and cheddar cheeses that were (thankfully) fully melted.
The chimis were also very good, although they seemed to have cooled off rather quickly. The burittos were also decent, with plenty of shredded beef and very fresh tortillas. Between the four of us, we were able to finished the platter rather quickly.
After another round of drinks and chips, our server told us that our entrees would arrive mometarily. I took those few moments to watch the boats racing on the lake and listening to the stories of J.'s childhood (J. just LOVES that part.)
Bob received his Chicken Caesar Salad first and it was substantial. The greens were fresh and there were ample amounts of chicken, dressing and croutons. What I was disappointed in seeing was how pale the tomatoes looked (not that you would need them for a Caesar salad). They were barely ripe and I would have preferred they would have left them off all together than server them. Bob said, however, that he was pleased with the dish and thought they did a decent job of putting together a Caesar salad.
Sue's Chicken Enchiladas were pretty par for the course in appearance. Two large corn tortillas, filled with chicken, were plated and topped with cheese and served with rice and refried beans. If you were looking for comfort food, this certainly would have foot the bill. Sue also added some of the Mole sauce to spice up her enchiladas as well. She said she thought Tortilla Flats had some very good Mole. The serving size was substantial all the way around and Sue ended up taking home a good portion of her meal.
J.'s dish was interesting. The tamale was enormous and won the award for the best presentation, with the corn husks tied up on the ends. The Chipotle Mushroom Sauce covering the tamale looked delicious. J.'s Flauta also looked tasty, but J. was disappointed that guacamole was put atop the flauta. In Phoenix, guacamole is always served with flautas, but the menu at Tortilla Flats made no mention of it, or I am sure J. would have requested it on the side. Still, the Mole sauce looked wonderful and the entire plate was very well presented.
J. took bites of everything and said that it was pretty good. There were some reservations, however. For the tamale, the large size boiled down to lots of masa, which isn't a bad thing, but sacrificing some wonderful red or green filling for masa won't win you any awards. The flauta was crisp and appetizing, but J. said that it could have had more spice/seasoning. At the end of the meal, J. said that the dish was missing something, but didn't elaborate beyond that.
My Enchiladas Verdes were two chicken enchiladas covered with Salsa Verde served with rice and refried beans. A side of sour cream also was part of the dish. The enchiladas were hot and satisfying, with the chicken being quite moist and in manageable chunks. The beans were very good, but the rice was rather bland (and there was a lot of it). I had only wished that there had been a spicy kick of some sort. It was rather tame for my taste. As a lover of spicy food, this just didn't deliver as much as I wanted it to.
We finished our meals and munched on the last of the chips while we waited for the bill. When we did get the bill, Bob declared that lunch was on him and took the bill to pay it. It was my estimation that our bill with tax would have been around $75.00 for the four of us.
The service was okay, but there were a few times when I felt we were being ignored. But my major complaint was with the noise level on the enclosed area overlooking the lake. Because the flooring is Mexican tile and some of the windows are plexiglass, there is little, if any, noise absorption. At one point, someone had a birthday and the waiters all gathered around and serenaded the birthday girl. They were perfectly on key, but it felt like they had on amplifiers that all but ruptured eardrums.
Bob paid the bill and we walked to the front of the restaurant to say our goodbye. It was another successful lunch with the future in-laws.
As we got in the car to head out to do some shopping, J. confessed to me that this visit was not as good as the last time Bob, Sue and J. had lunch back in January. Perhaps it was that "something" that was missing from J.'s food was indicative of the place.
I liked Tortilla Flats. The atmosphere is great. The view of the lake is beautiful. The food is decent. It isn't anything approaching fantastic, but it is okay.
However, with the availability of great Mexican food just up the road in Santa Ana, Tortilla Flats needs to be a bit more creative and daring with its food.
27792 Vista del Lago
Mission Viejo, CA 92692
Notes: Try to get an outdoor table (weather permitting).