Whenever I think of chef Danny Godinez, I think of two things: the best chilaquiles I’ve ever had at Anepalco, and copious amounts of booze, usually in the form of distilled agave spirits. Naturally, his new spot in Tustin that just soft-opened at the Mess Hall Market also includes Drink Bar (Godinez’s bar program), where I found a cocktail that’s a throwback to both. The Red Queen Margarita uses traditional chilaquiles ingredients: dried epazote, guajillo pepper-infused tequila, and jamaica for color. It’s all shaken over ice with agave syrup and lime, then served in a dimpled rocks glass.
The result is something familiar and homey, and it’s a good beverage to celebrate this new food hall. It’s so new, in fact, that it lacked a Yelp review on my first visit, and even Google Maps drew a blank.
Drink Bar, which is the only booze purveyor in the place, offers a full spectrum of craft cocktails, a pour-your-own wine cruvinet, and macro and craft beers.
Aside from the margarita, the cocktail program at Drink Bar is diverse and can easily fit the other cuisines happening in the food hall. Enrique Cervantes is the 23-year-old prodigy behind the program, which includes approachable Tustin-centric drinks such as a Butterfly Martini, a Mandarin Caipirinha, a Bacon Old Fashioned, and even an Irish Cooler to get you warmed up.
But Godinez didn’t stop there; he also installed an all-in-one taquería called Fonda Moderna that runs the tacosphere with several different styles of regionality, flavors and prime cuts of beef.
It seems as if the menu is an elevator to achieve higher taco consciousness, and Godinez and chef Juan Vera can press the button on whichever floor might meet your innermost taco desires. Want a taste of Baja? There’s crispy fish, plump Pacific shrimp, or even sweet lobster. Want to stop on the vegan floor? There’s a gluten-free cauliflower tortilla with Mexican squash or stewed birria-style mushrooms. Need to get your street taco on? The cecina balances the salt-pounded flank steak with rich, blended avocado and a deep-roja pepper sauce.
Ready to get buck-wild in the penthouse? Check out the Mishima Wagyu, prime rib-eye, filet mignon, New York, or even surf-and-turf taco. Surprisingly, some varieties are still in the $6 price zone.
On the Fonda side, I fell in love with the guisados. “You have to go to LA to get good guisados, right?” asks Godinez as he slides his glasses up his nose. The birria taco is served open-faced with an ample pile of shredded beef soaking in its own juices. Pro tip: Grab a small salsa cup to catch the drippings as you fold it; otherwise, this taco can make it rain. The birria has an intense concentration of flavors bathed in umami, and you won’t want to put it down until it’s gone.
My answer to Godinez’s question: Instead of Boyle Heights for great guisados, I just have to brave the streets of Tustin for a great drink and taco.
Fonda Moderna and Drink Bar at the Mess Hall Market inside Tustin Flight, 1705 Flight Way, Tustin, (949) 333-2111; flight-tustin.com/mess-hall-market/.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!