aló Kitchen + Tequila could easily pass for a chic Baja beach cantina. Laguna Niguel locals beam tequila-fueled smiles across the massive marble bar while the confident servers ferry Mexican classics throughout the space. Caló knows well the dishes we can’t resist because its creators are the group behind Carmelita’s Kitchen in Rancho Santa Margarita. You’ll find nothing new amid scores of starters and specialties, which include one-, two-, and three-item combination plates. Innovation isn’t the point, so execution is everything. A whopping mound of vibrant, immaculate shrimp ceviche disappears pronto on hefty chips. Hand-formed gorditas are fat with garlicky potato and longaniza. Deliciously retro crispy beef tacos seem like diet food compared to the mighty short rib enchiladas with their thick tortillas. Baked crab and shrimp enchiladas are rich with sour cream. Portions are generous and all the better to soak up well-poured margaritas you know and love—serrano chile, fresh blackberry, and crisp cucumber. It’s an in-your-face fabulous setting, drenched in natural light by day, lit by modernistic chandeliers at night. Service is tiptop. The intention is clear: This place is out to make you a regular.
28141 Crown Valley Parkway, Laguna Niguel 949-409-7380