Say 'Yahoo!' for Wahoo's tacos

by David Cohen

Wahoo's is a chain that has a number of branches in Orange County and greater Los Angeles. The original was in Costa Mesa and began as a small taco restaurant with an emphasis on health-conscious and low-fat fare.

Their location in Norco is the first one in the Inland Empire and is also noteworthy for having Travis Barker, the drummer from blink-182, as one of its owners. A set of his drums is attached to the ceiling and one of the band's guitars graces one of the walls. Stickers from various skateboard companies also abound.

You order from the counter, and I'd suggest perusing their takeout menu before venturing up to order so you can get a sense of what's available.

From the appetizer section, we chose the Baja Rolls and a Steak Quesadilla.

The rolls consisted of a flour tortilla spread with cream cheese and spinach, chopped chicken and salsa, then rolled and sliced. It's a visually pleasing dish, but lacking somewhat in flavor. The salsa, which is mainly chopped tomatoes, onions, a bit of cilantro and finely diced jalapenos, should should be beefed up with more cilantro, some garlic and green onions in order to give the dish more zest. The tableside Tapatio or their enchilada sauce will enhance the taste.

The quesadilla was a very good effort -- a generous amount of tender steak served with above average guacamole and sour cream, although the amount of shredded jack and cheddar cheese was limited.

The Fish Tacos are actually made with wahoo (ono) or mahi mahi, a cut above the mundane red snapper seen in many other places. Wahoo is a firm mild white meat fish from Hawaii that stands up well to the rigors of stuffing it into a tortilla and drenching it with salsa.

We tried ours blackened and flame-broiled and I'd recommend the latter, as the blackened version was a bit dried out and a tad fishy. The whole concoction of fish, salsa and shredded lettuce was kind of humdrum until we asked the assistant manager if there was any other sauce available. He came out with a first-rate cilantro dressing. It was actually light green, prepared with low-fat mayo, garlic and minced anchovies and jalapenos. It was truly a revelation and improved the fish tacos immensely. Don't forget to ask for the cilantro dressing at the counter when ordering.

They also offer Wahoo Bowls, a main ingredient served on a bed of rice with a choice of black beans or spicy cajun white beans with a touch of cayenne pepper, and their understated salsa. The Kalua Pig Bowl is shredded pork that has been grilled in teriyaki sauce, which results in the meat being very salty. The way around this is to mix it with as much rice as possible to temper the saltiness. You won't need to add any soy sauce.

Shrimp, chicken, steak and wahoo are also offered as bowls and the chicken and fish are offered flame-broiled or blackened as well, while the shrimp are flame-grilled and done in a soy, garlic and cajun sauce blend.

The final and probably best item we tried was the Blackened Mushroom Baja Burrito. This is an all-vegetarian affair, stuffed with black beans, rice and sauteed red and green peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and cabbage -- bursting with flavors and a generous portion to boot.

I should mention before ending that you can also ask if Mr. Lee's sauce is also available. It's a blend of red chiles, garlic and ginger that would work well with flame-broiled chicken or their Polynesian-style shrimp.

In sum, the food is quite healthy (minus the salty teriyaki) and in the presence of the right sauces makes for flavorful fare. Just remember to ask for the aforementioned sauces upon ordering.

RESTAURANT REVIEW
"WAHOO'S FISH TACOS"
Food: 3 stars
Service: (order at counter, delivered at table)
Ambience: 3.5 stars
Value: 4 stars
Where: 1295 Hamner Ave., Norco
Telephone: (951) 270-0526
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily
Entree prices: $3.99-$8.49
The check: Visa, Mastercard and American Express accepted
Tidbits: Monthly specials available

-- David Cohen is the restaurant co-editor of Inland Empire magazine. His e-mail address is restaurantcritic@aol.com.

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