Chef/owner Amar Santana of Vaca and Broadway is among several top chefs serving guests at the annual Tastemakers event in Costa Mesa. CINDY YAMANAKA, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER)
Chipotle is testing nacho cheese and chips for $3.55 in Southern California locations. (Nancy Luna, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Del Taco introduces a premium queso cheese on Thursday, Aug. 31. (Courtesy Del Taco)
The Viking Truck, a sausage food truck founded in 2011, is parking its menu at McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana. (Courtesy Viking Truck)
The Viking Truck, a sausage food truck founded in 2011, is parking its menu at McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana. Viking Dogs is known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst.(Courtesy Viking Truck)
Viking Dogs is known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst. The truck sources its sausages from Mattern Sausage & Deli. The Orange institution is known for its legendary German sausages. (Viking Truck)
Viking Dogs is known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst. It is opening a brick and mortar location at McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana.(Courtesy Viking Truck)
Viking Dogs is known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst. Side dishes include loaded or naked tater tots. (Courtesy Viking Truck)
Viking Dogs, a food truck known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst, is parking its menu at McFadden Public Market. The permanent food stand opens Sunday, Sept. 3. (Courtesy Viking Truck)
The Hungry Royal food truck launched in August. Shown: fried Scotch egg. (Courtesy Hungry Royal)
The Hungry Royal is Orange County’s latest food truck. (Courtesy Hungry Royal)
Fast food nacho cheese war erupts
With avocados being sold at a premium, two rival Mexican fast-food chains are hoping to distract customers with the introduction of “gourmet” nacho cheese dips.
In August, Chipotle Mexican Grill began testing a spicy “queso” (cheese) dip in select restaurants, including several locations in Southern California. Stores in Orange County are selling the cheese sauce plus chips for $3.55. The container is the same size as a to-go cup for salsa or dressing — about 2 ounces. The thick queso, made with a variety of peppers, is also available as an add-on to any burrito or bowl for an upcharge.
On Thursday, Aug. 31, Lake Forest-based Del Taco introduced their own version, Queso Blanco, at a much lower cost. An order of chips and cheese sauce, made with jalapeños and heavy cream, cost $1.29.
Del Taco says it is dumping its old “cheese pump” orange-hued cheese for its premium blanco version.
The so-called “white cheese” dip is being sold at more than 550 restaurants nationwide, though it was available for purchase Wednesday at a local restaurant in Orange. The white sauce, served in a 2-ounce container, has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
Chief Marketing Officer Barry Westrum said the new cheese sauce is part of the chain’s strategy to crank out “quality and flavorful menu items at an unbeatable value.”
Over the last few years, Del Taco’s test kitchen has been busy creating a wide-range of meals to appeal to diners with varying budgets. Epic burritos, premium salads and the recently launched Platos meals are items developed to lure “fast casual” eaters. It’s also revamped its Buck and Under menu at breakfast to beef up morning sales.
The menu variety has been good for business. For the second quarter, Del Taco’s system-wide same-store sales grew 7.1 percent. That’s the 15th consecutive quarter of gains, the company said.
Though it is too soon for fast food lovers to compare the rival cheese dips, some Chipotle customers have already weighed in on the chain’s new sauce.
And, the reviews were not great.
Many have complained the price is too expensive, especially for a powdery and “grainy” cheese sauce. At a Chipotle in Orange, a side of queso (no chips) is $2.10. A large order of chips and queso is $5.35. By comparison, Del Taco’s nacho cheese is available as an add-on for 50 cents. A side order (no chips) is $1.
Making matters worse for Chipotle, some Register readers have insisted that Chipotle has downgraded its chips. (This reporter agrees.)
“They just don’t seem to be as crispy and that lime salt seems to be missing,” one reader posted on the Fast Food Maven Facebook page.
Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold has told the Register twice over the past year that the company has not altered its chip recipe.
“No. No change. Our chips are made in our restaurants every day (and still seasoned with fresh lime juice and salt). While we try to keep our recipes and the taste of our food as consistent as we can, because they are made in each restaurant every day, there can be slight variances from time to time,” he said.
Readers are not buying it. “We know you changed something about your chips a while back…and it’s not for the better.”
Chipotle appears to have left the door open for Del Taco to swoop in and win queso lovers on value. The Denver-based chain cannot afford to lose customers. Since 2015, the chain has struggled to regain its footing after multiple food scares.
Talk to us: If you try both, write in and let us know what you think. Email [email protected]
Dining for a cause
Two dining events, featuring top Orange County chefs, are scheduled in September: The Grateful Table and Tastemakers of Orange County 2.0.
The Sept. 20 Tastemakers event features nearly 20 chefs from some of Orange County’s top restaurants and food suppliers including Shuck Oyster Bar, 320 Main, Vaca, Broadway by Amar Santana, Tackle Box, Crema Cafe, Break of Dawn, Hamamori, Taco Mesa, Taco Rosa, Capital Seafood, OC Baking Co. and Filomena Italian Kitchen.
During the event, held at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa, guest can roam tables to try endless samples of Asian and Pacific Island-inspired cuisines and beverages.
The fundraiser, in its second year, is organized by The Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA). Proceeds from the event will support mental health, health, workforce, youth in education, and civic engagement opportunities for low income families.
General admission is $95; VIP tickets, which offers early admission, is $135. CLICK HERE for more information and to buy tickets.
On Sept. 9, the California Restaurant Association Foundation is hosting its inaugural The Grateful Table event.
The multi-course dinner, held on the grounds of Centennial Farm at the OC Fair & Event Center, will raise funds for the foundation’s Restaurants Care program. The program provides basic living expenses to help California restaurant workers who face unforeseen hardships, illnesses or a natural disaster.
Alycia Harshfield, executive director for the foundation, said Restaurants Care was created to give “peace of mind” to workers who are the heart of the industry — from dishwashers to line cooks and bartenders. “We are here to offer care, support and hope during their darkest hour.”
Participating restaurants and chefs include: Ryan Adams of Three Seventy Common in Laguna Beach; Taylor Boudreaux of Cypress-based Real Mex Restaurants, Penny Davidi of Los Angeles (a former Food Network Star contestant and a Sysco consultant); Blake Mellgren of Craft House in Dana Point, Jeoffrey Offer of Moulin in Newport Beach/Laguna Beach and Ross Pangilinan of Mix Mix Kitchen Bar in Santa Ana.
Tickets range from $250 to $300. CLICK HERE to purchase.
Food truck update
The Viking Truck, a sausage food truck founded in 2011, is parking its menu at McFadden Public Market in Santa Ana.
The food truck owned by Luis Flores replaces a Vietnamese concept that closed at the food hall, which opened in the spring.
“McFadden Public Market has a great vibe and fits our brand well,” said Flores, who also owns Meat Up BBQ in Placentia.
Viking Dogs is known for its premium sausages, hot dogs and hand-dipped corn dogs made with bratwurst. Side dishes include loaded or naked tater tots. The truck sources its sausages from Mattern Sausage & Deli. The Orange institution is known for its legendary German sausages, which are sold at the Orange International Street Fair. Viking’s “lobster” style buns are made by OC Baking Co. in Orange.
The food truck, which can be found most weeks at local breweries, will remain in operation.
Sunday’s opening is considered a “pop event,” with a limited menu. Five customers will be chosen at random to win free Viking dogs for a year. The restaurant will be closed Monday, and will reopen again on 11 a.m. Tuesday at the food hall, 515 N. Main St.
Though many mobile food vendors like The Viking Truck are adding brick and mortar locations, local businessman are still investing in food trucks. The latest one to hit the streets in Orange County is The Hungry Royal.
The British food truck said it aims to destroy the bad rep of U.K. food. Owner George Barker said he is serving food that has never been seen before on the West Coast. The menu includes Fish Fingers and tartar sauce with chili & miso mayo and a rainbow slaw and fried Scotch Eggs, soft boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and fried in panko breadcrumbs.
Barker said he grew up in the British countryside, where his family owned restaurants and cafes. He’s also a world traveler who loves other cuisines.
“The concept for the truck is effectively a projection of me — born and bred in Britain but with influences from around the world,” Barker said in a statement.
Go here to find the truck’s schedule: https://www.thehungryroyal.com/
Helping Harvey victims
Southern California restaurants and grocery stores are launching support for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which has caused unprecedented flooding of hundreds of homes in the greater Houston area.
Here’s how you can help:
- Stater Bros. stores are accepting donations at all check out registers through Sept. 8. The contributions will be distributed to The Salvation Army, a key agency helping those devastated by the effects of Hurricane Harvey. Stater Bros. operators 270 stores throughout California.
- On Monday, Sept. 4, Rance’s Chicago Pizza locations in Costa Mesa and Long Beach are giving a $10 gift card to anyone donating a bag of nonperishables (food and or clothes) or blankets. Anyone who donates $100 or more to the American Red Cross will receive a free large pizza. Rance’s sells award-winning Chicago-style pizza. ““In times of crisis it’s great when people show their true colors by gathering together in solidarity to help our fellow brothers and sisters in need,” said Rance’s co-founder and Executive Chef Rance Ruiz. Rance’s Costa Mesa restaurant is at 1420 Baker Street; the Belmont Shore location is at 5258 East Second Street.
- Texas-based Del Frisco’s Grille, and their sister restaurants across the country, are donating 20 percent of their sales from Thursday, Aug. 31 through Monday, Sept. 4 to Houston area food banks. Locally, Del Frisco’s operates a restaurant at the Irvine Spectrum Center.