SOL Mexican Cocina in Irvine is showcasing classic recipes from Baja, California, with a modern twist.

Currently occupying the former El Torito Grille space on Main Street in Irvine, SOL Mexican Cocina offers reimagined Mexican dishes that speak to contemporary palettes, while paying respect to traditional recipes inspired from the coastal regions of Baja, California. 

With a list of more than 40 different salsas to a robust selection of mariscos, which include grilled Spanish octopus and peel-to-eat shrimp, inspiration from authentic Baja cuisine is in every aspect of SOL’s menu. SOL’s Irvine location also offers a vibrant bar scene, with happy hour on rotation between 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  

SOL Mexican Cocina, which is backed by the Xperience Restaurant Group, which also represents Chevy’s, Acapulco, and El Torito restaurants, has locations in Newport Beach, Playa Vista, Scottsdale, Denver and now Irvine. At its core, it is designed to transport guests to a sleek, upscale dining experience inspired by the Mexican coast. 

The sleek, modern design of SOL Mexican Cocina is not accidental, according to Xperience’s CEO Randy Sharpe. 

Irvine Weekly spoke with Sharpe about his experience at the helm of these well-known brands, like SOL. As the former Vice President of Operations at El Torito between 2014 to 2017, Sharpe speaks from industry experience.  

Having founded the Xperience Group in 2018, the firm also acquired several well-known brands including Alcopulco, Chevy’s, El Torito Grill and the Laguna Beach-based Las Brisas. 

From the complimentary tostadita (chips), paired with habanero salsa and a charro bean dip, the experience of flavors begins as guests take their seats. 

“You’re experiencing flavors and items that you would if you’re entering the Baja coast on your way to Cabo,” he said. “The chips are called Tostaditas, it’s just more authentic. You have several different segments of Mexico that do things great all the way from Sonora to the Baja coast, but if you go experience flavors of the Baja coast, you’re going to find a more unique, bigger chip. We want it to be something special and memorable.”

While the list of memorable menu items at SOL is expansive, the list of (17) specialty tacos stands alone. 

Combinations range from the surf & turf-inspired Filet & Shrimp “El Jefe” Taco, which features a grilled Angus filet, two agave-chile shrimp, melted cheese, avocado and a roasted green chile salsa, to a spicy “popcorn” cauliflower taco, made with deep-fried beer-battered cauliflower, coconut-avocado salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, onions and cilantro. 

Another SOL specialty taco menu standout is the “Canarditas” Duck Taco. This eye-catching taco is a whole deep-fried duck confit, served with tequila blackberry serrano salsa, topped with avocado, onion and cilantro. 

SOL’s Canarditas Duck Taco is an original item that’s been on the menu since the restaurant was opened, according to Sharpe, who acquired the concept in 2018. 

“The duck taco was a menu item that was on the menu when we acquired the concept, but the thought behind it is, how do you make something different and unique – something that you can’t get anywhere else – something that’s true to the brand?” he said. “I think you hit the nail on the head when you have this roasted duck leg with multiple tortillas, it really is a crowd favorite.” 

While all of SOL’s specialty tacos are served a carte, the Canarditas is served with multiple tortillas, which can be made into multiple tacos due to the size of the duck confit. 

As SOL welcomes the Irvine community, Sharpe was excited to see a return of normal regulations at SOL’s recent Easter Brunch. In fact, this year was the first year restaurants were able to host service at full capacity since Easter 2019, and Sharpe, Xperience Group and the SOL staff are prepared to celebrate more positive milestones. 

“I think what you see in the new SOL in Irvine is the evolution of the brand. It’s staying true to the Baja coast, and when you walk in, you’re right there in Cabo San Lucas,” he said. “I think as we continue to open new SOL restaurants, you’ll continue to see an evolution of that brand.” 

For now, Sharpe says SOL has no plans to add any fast-casual concepts but will be continuing to expand and draw inspiration from local recipes from Baja.  

SOL Mexican Cocina is located 1910 Main Street, Irvine.

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