Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
Mixed Reviews of Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen requires a personal investigation
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, located in Old Town Orange, has been around since 2006 and I had my first experience last week. When it first opened, Gabbi’s was the “must try” fine dining Mexican in Orange County. It is still hard to get a table on a Saturday night.
During the first couple years, Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen had two hour waits for walk ins and up to two weeks for reservations. Gabbi’s even won “Best Mexican Food” at the inaugural Golden Foodie Awards. Judging by the long wait times, this is still a favorite of the locals.
Although Gabbi’s is not loved by all. They have received mixed reviews from critics and bloggers. Much of the complaints centered on the foods lack of flavor and the mildness of their salsa. Here is what OC Register food critic Brad Johnson had to say, “The chips are terrible. Unacceptable. I’ve had better chips at TGIFridays.”
Gabbi’s continues to be a bipolar lightening rod of emotions, so I tried it out for myself.
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen Location and Ambiance
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen is located in Old Town Orange, at 141 South Glassell. The first thing you will notice is that there is no exterior a sign for Gabbi’s. For reasons that I cannot speculate, the owners decided not to put a sign up. The building where Gabbi’s is located is a 100 year old brick building that was erected during the early days of the Orange Circle.
The interior is rustic with weathered brick and exposed wood ceiling beams. The dinning room is dimly lit; it feels like you are walking into a tunnel. The light at the end of the tunnel is of course the kitchen. The walls of Gabbi’s are decorated with paintings depicting agrarian life and a really cool colored glass bowl mosaic.
When I visited, the dining room was still packed with wall to wall customers. There was a contingent of walk-ins waiting for tables. We still had to make a reservation four days in advance for a Friday 8:00pm reservation.
Food at Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
I think Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen does a great job walking the line of utilizing classical European cooking with traditional Mexican recipes. Their dishes have a wide appeal, especially for to the semi food savvy Orange County customer base, who are looking for authentic Mexican food, but a little afraid of it at the same time.
Chips and Salsa
These are complimentary chips that have grabbed so much attention. They are just o.k. They would be best if they came out hot and fresh out of the fryer. I like the fact that they were not over salted, as I usually have to rub the salt off the chips at most restaurants. I liked their salsa; salsa does not have to be spicy to be good.
Gabbi’s queso fundido is not bubbling cheese pot that you may have experienced at other Mexican restaurants. The queso fondido here is made with queso ranchero and served warm. Normally this dish is served with Chorizo sprinkled on top. My wife does not like chorizo (boooo!), so we got it on the side. This dish is served on a rustic wood board, along with fresh made (mild) salsa, guacamole, and hand made made tortillas. I requested my corn tortillas 50/50 style.
I personally liked this dish. I loved the rubbery consistency of the cheese and I thought that the chorizo was balanced. I liked the fact that when I served all the ingredients on a tortilla, the flavors were very balanced. My wife thought this dish was just “o.k.” She prefers a boiling hot caldron of queso fondido with yellow cheese; then again she grew up in Irvine… $12
My friend ordered the pozole verde, as he was looking for something a little lighter. The pozole preparation reminded me of “Caldo de Siete Mares”, although with a pozole verde broth. It contained fresh fish, littleneck clams, shrimp, hominy, arugula, radish, and lime. He said that it ate like a soup and that the broth was slightly spicy for his tastes. The seafood was well cooked and the lime added the right amount of acidity. $14
Sea bass with Summer Corn
The sea bass with summer corn was one of the Chef’s daily specials and my personal favorite of the night. Sea bass was butter pan seared and served atop a beautiful puree of sweet summer corn, cut corn, sweet tomatoes, green beans and summer squash. The fish is topped with the same mild salsa, and guacamole. The fish was cooked perfectly, juicy and full of natural flavors. I loved the corn puree; it had a long sizzle on the palate and balanced out the natural sweetness of the corn. $30
Arrachera is fancy speak for marinated skirt steak, which is generally the same meat used in Fajitas. The steak was cooked perfectly, with a very thin line of pink in the center. The seasoning was good, although they could have amped it up a little. With that said, I did enjoy the steak.
The steak was served atop sautéed onions and summer corn and garnished with guacamole and spicy pepper slices. The dish is served with freshly made corn tortillas, beans, and rice. I was able to make my own little tacos with the meat. $22
Hongos y Rajas
Our friend Christine, who has been dining at Gabbi’s since they opened, told me that her favorite dish is the arrachera tacos. Sadly when we got there our waiter told us that they are no longer on the menu. She was sad. Our waiter told her to try the hongos y rajas tacos; they use a very similar steak. She ordered this dish and told them to hold the mushrooms.
The dish, in its unmodified form, is made with wild mushrooms, corn, rajas, Oaxaca cheese, avocado relish, grilled habanero salsa, and yucca fries on the side. Without the mushrooms the tacos where still pretty amazing and Christine was happy with the workaround menu. The yucca fries were fatty, starchy and delicious. This is a picture of her modified tacos. $13
My Final Thoughts about Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
Overall I had a good experience at Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen; I enjoyed the food, service, and atmosphere. It was a great place to break bread with friends while soaking up the local Orange Circle culture. I give Gabbi’s 3.5 stars for the food, 4 stars for atmosphere and 4 stars for service. This is a good score and reflects a restaurant that I will visit again and recommend to my friends. Did I talk about how good their food the entire way home? No , that would be a four star rating. Tom’s Foodie Blog does recommend Gabbi’s; just don’t get obsessed about the spiciness level of the salsa and the quality of the chips. If you can get past these two points, you will have a good time.
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
141 S Glassell St Orange CA 92866