Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Where: 31111 Rancho Viejo Road, San Juan Capistrano
When: Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays
Don’t miss: Ceviche, queso, jalapeño soup, carnitas, chili colorado
What to skip: Enchiladas, chili relleno, flan
County health inspection: No major violations
Cost: Starters $8-$16, entrees $11-$35, dessert $7
What the stars mean:
0 = poor, unacceptable
1 = fair, with some noteworthy qualities
2 = good, solid, above average
3 = excellent, memorable, well above norm
4 = world class, extraordinary in every detail
Reviews are based on multiple visits. Ratings reflect the reviewer’s overall reaction to food, ambiance and service.
Start with the soup. That’s not something I say very often.
It’s not that the appetizers aren’t more interesting than the soup. They hold their own. The grilled romaine salad is nice, too. And I wrote a story last year about the terrific queso at Sol Agave, before this restaurant moved across the parking lot into a much larger space.
Had I discovered the soup before the queso, I might have written about that the first time around. And I almost didn’t discover it. The soup is practically hidden in the menu, just a simple one-line entry without explanation: Jalapeño cream soup, $8. Nearly everything else on the menu gets two full lines, at least, with a description that explains what’s in the dish.
The soup is just a footnote, an Easter egg waiting to be discovered but most likely overlooked by most people who dine here. It’s spicy, but not so radioactive that it numbs your lips. It’s more complex than straight-up hot. You’ll appreciate — perhaps for the first time — the subtle floral, almost jasmine-like undertone of a good jalapeño. The cream keeps it from igniting inside your mouth.
Roasted corn and a few random strips of fried tortilla add some textural contrast, along with a few strands of grated Monterey Jack…