Vaca OC - Spanish Cometh

Happened upon this place last night, was only their second day open, but seems like a reasonable addition to OC dining scene.

The chef is famous, on Top Chef and whatnot, and must have an insane PR team since the place was nearly sold out on their second night ever in a not particularly easy to get to spot (read: zero foot traffic, so everyone in there is there because they heard about the place from someone/somewhere).

I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with Spanish cuisine as I want to be, but the place feels pleasant enough.

I didn’t sample the cocktails, which looked good, but stuck to drinking garancha and sherry. Both were very good, and the pour on the glass of garanacha for $12 was extremely generous.

But really the food is the main wonder, can this place deliver on excellent Spanish cuisine?

Hmm…well they start you off with complimentary corn nuts and almonds, which is a nice touch, though potentially forgettable.

The tapas seem rustic and flavorful for the most part. The simple pan con tomate was an exercise in simplicity: crusty, warm bread with a bit of tomato and olive oil, pretty much just what you’d expect and hope for out of the dish:

The Pulpo a la Gallega was hearty, and bold in flavors. The octopus and sliced potatoes were nearly the same texture, which was kind of interesting. The octopus was, in other words, quite tender, and the dish sang with lavish amounts of pimenton, garlic and coarse sea salt. Intense, robust flavors, and quite a large portion for the price it felt like:

I ordered Callos, but couldn’t get even a half-decent photo with their lighting sadly. It was not a huge portion, but quite hearty. Tripe, tendon, and tongue cooked perfectly with slightly al dente chickpeas. Hearty, earthy, pungent, quite menudo-esque, but a bit funkier. Quite pleasant, and also saw the tomatoes shining through. Probably a good sign that something as delicate as tomato was able to be clearly revealed in different dishes at the place.

We moved on to a decent sized paella, which I eschewed the mariscos for the carne, because they offer blood sausage on it (but sadly not in tapas form). The good news to me is that this paella was RIDICULOUSLY loaded. copious amounts of sour Spanish chorizo, delicate, earthy morcilla, and perfectly crispy, fatty cubes of pork belly surrounded an immaculately spiced leg of duck confit, with dabs of spectacularly garlic-y aioli dotting the dish. There was more meat than rice I believe…and all of the meat was incredibly tasty. The rice also tasted wonderful, but other than a bit of burnt section, I am not sure I detected any socarrat =/ So I suppose it’s a bit of a failure? But if you can live without that element and just see this as like, Spanish fried rice or something, the flavors seemed outstanding. Perhaps they fideua are more worthwhile there?

We had churros and chocolate sauce and olive oil and sherry prune ice cream for desserts. The churros were super yeasty, having the after taste almost of like fishstick batter…somewhat unusual, but the chocolate sauce was intensely viscous and pungent, which almost made up for it. The ice creams were pleasant enough, especially the olive oil in conjunction with the actual glass of sherry I had with it. But desserts overall did not live up to the flavors of the rest of the food for me, perhaps the flan was the better thing to order judging by a companion at the bar’s order.

They offer the super aged iberco de bellota, and a 50+ day aged rib steak. Between the fideua, other tapas, good wine, and the prospect of eating seriously aged steak, I think I will certainly return. For now it seems like very tasty cooking, if not super refined, or necessarily as strictly authentic as their website claims to be, but then again perhaps they are without my knowledge. Plus it was only their second day open.

I do wish they had pintxos though…their soft-opening photos are deceiving as they served a but of highly refined pintxo’s that made them seem different than they are, but the food is still worth checking out. It’s at least a fun place to eat, and the alcohol is enough to get you through the missteps for the most part.

Cost was pretty reasonable, this food fed 3 pretty well, and came out to $35/person including tax and tip. It’s easy to spend that same amount on alcohol though (which I did).

Anyone else been here, or planning to go?


Hmm that doesn’t look bad at all for 35 a person. Interesting that the OC has Pueblo and this new place. Perhaps it will someday be the southern california destination for Spanish food?

No photos of churros and callos btw.

It would be incredible if OC ended up being a center of Spanish food in the future. If you think about it, the culture’s would mesh quite well in many ways.

Imagine if one day a Cellar de Can Roca was in OC? hmm…

I would settle for pinxto culture and wine bars sweeping through though…just imagine

I haven’t been yet, but I’d like to check it out. Love Pueblo.

Thanks for the heads up @Aesthete

Went tonight and was very impressed.

Jamon iberico Cinco Jotas (5J), aged 5 years. Not all jamon Iberico is created equal. This stuff is on the level of what you’ll find in Spain. Much better than what they are selling at Surfas. $36/oz. Below is an 1 ounce portion.

Calamari a la plancha. Perfectly cooked but oddly quite bland despite being topped with salsa verde, sitting a top ratatouille, and even with the roasted lemon squeezed over it. Only dud of the night.

La Bola. Fried mashed potato ball stuffed with beef, topped with aioli and spicy tomato sauce. This is spot on. Identical in appearance to what I had in Spain (called La Bomba in Spain). Top photo is the version at VACA. Bottom version is one in Barcelona (filled with octopus and not beef). Flavors and texture also very close to what you’ll get in Spain.

VACA “La Bola”

La Cova Fumada “Bomba”

The paella is a very good arroz con mariscos. It’s not as authentic as the Perfecto Rocher version in terms of the soccorat and cooking technique but I like the taste better. I saw them precook the rice. Looks like they then add seafood and finish the rice in a paella pan under the broiler. Some portions even have a crusty top which is like an inverse soccorat I guess. The rice was a bit soupy if you want to get technical. But all of that doesn’t really matter since the rice had really good flavor. Also at $42 for a serving it was a 1.5x larger portion than the $165 version I had at the Hinoki popup by Chef Rocher. Seafood is fresh. The octopus in it is absurdly tender which made be wish I ordered the pulpo instead of the calamari. It’s much better than the Tar & Roses paella.

I will be back to try the callos, rabo, and botifarra. And of course more of that Cinco Jotas Jamon Iberico.


5J is the brand I’d be getting at the jamon iberico section at El Corte Ingles…

1 Like

Is that good or bad?

Good to know.

I can’t wait until someone goes and has their really aged ribeye. Maybe it will be me lol

Was it pretty packed?

A good thing. 5J is a well-regarded brand in its own native country. The quality controls in place allows for them to offer consistently, predictably excellent jamon into the marketplace.

1 Like

75% full. Maybe affected by SB Sunday. A couple of Sunday’s ago it was packed.

This is 5J aged 5 years. Doesn’t get much better than this in the states.

1 Like

Alright, awesome!

Glad to see I wasn’t too off the mark about this place!

I am surprised by that squid being so bland. But great about everything else. I’ll be interested to know if you like the callos, I thought it was pretty tasty.

I agree about the flavors of the paella versus Perfecto’s. Perfecto’s rice has a better texture, but for me the most flavorful paella I’ve had has been Vaca’s, though I admit I don’t necessarily chase the dish all around. I was wondering about Tar & Rose’s version, so that’s nice to know about.

Went back today for more Jamon Iberico Cinco Jotas.

Bombas once again was stellar

The callos was awesome. Tender tripe, nice zip to the sauce.

The botifarra (pork sausage) was as good as you get in Spain. Thick pieces of pork. Properly flavored. Ooof, a must try.

Oxtail was very rich and flavorful. Perfect with red wine. A bit atypical from Spanish rabo but outstanding nonetheless.

This time we ordered the meat paella. Honestly we would have preferred more rice and less meat. The excessive meat was a touch too Americanized for us but the rice had wonderful flavor and texture even if it was lacking soccorat.

We finished with 2 lbs of 50+ day aged ribeye steak. Cooked medium rare. Could have used just a touch more salt but wonderful texture and flavor.

For desserts (not pictured) the churros were average, the almond ice cream excellent, and the crema Catalan outstanding with a hint of lemon zest. I dare say better man many versions you’ll find in Spain.

VACA nails it with the favor profile. It’ll instantly whisk you back to tapas in El Born, Barcelona.


I dub thee: VACAman

Calling me fat? :wink:

1 Like

Good stuff. I actually stopped in there like a week ago quickly btu forgot to talk about it. I just got some bombas, tortilla espanola, and a sherry cobbler. Really solid. Honestly, I could easily call this place #2 restaurant in OC, especially with your more extensive reporting. Tortilla espanola is not the layered potato and egg pie kind of thing you usually see, but like diced potatoes and onions encased in a sort of egg omelette “shell”. Both were really tasty little dishes though, and fairly cheap. I really like that you can genuinely stop in to the place and get a few little dishes and a drink for not that much money (I think I spent $35 on the two dishes and the drink after tax and tip)

Is the minimum order on the aged steak 2 lbs? That is the thing I have been meaning to go try honestly but since I usually have to pop in alone, it’s a tough order if I have to get 2 lbs of steak by myself.

Stopped into Vaca the other night. Really pleasant place… The cooking seems stronger, more balanced than it was in the past. The portion sizes are true tapas, and quite nice for dining along side of the drinks. However, their meat selection is also really coming along, although I just had a few tapas this trip. They are serving real A5 Kobe for $25/ounce…I almost hope word doesn’t get too out because that is like 2/3rd the price of other places in SoCal.

Anywho, gin and tonic with juniper is effervescent and pleasantly refreshing, everything the drink should be.

Oxtail in red wine mushroom sauce was fatty, perfectly cooked, rich, hearty, and delectable. Just realy showed off the textures and meatiness of oxtail set against the umami of the mushrooms and tang of the wine sauce. It is hard to find oxtail any better than this.

Lamb meatballs were firm in texture, and delicately flavored. They were eminently savory little bites though that displayed the lamb well. The cool cucumber, dill yogurt, and a bit of fresh honey really made their flavors pop. A melange of sweet, tart, meaty, vegetal notes caressed the palate in a balanced and thoroughly enjoyable manner. I was quite impressed with the deftness of the conception as well as the execution of the dish.

A bit of tempranillo to go with the tapas after the gin and tonic ran out was excellent and paired wonderfully.

Prices remain a deviation below other places of similar quality it feels like. I had about as much food, and one less drink than at Republique recently, and I spent $105 at Republique, and about $50 at Vaca. That is pretty swell in many ways.

I am happy to see Vaca continuing to grow as opposed to lagging. Really lovely.

1 Like

I stopped into Vaca the other night with a fellow FTC’er. We had some sort of hilariously awful service, but I quite enjoyed the food.

Tuna Tataki was perhaps not mind-blowing, but nicely plated and quite tasty. The tuna was well spiced and nicely seared. Avocado mouse was flavorful, and veggies were fresh. Kind of a simple, basic plate, but very enjoyable eating. The addition of crispy pork skin was interesting though, and make it more noteworthy than your average tuna and avocado dish.

Grilled butifarra with whole white beans and white bean puree was exceptional. Great savor to the sausage and the whole white beans. The white bean puree was a bit saccharine as well. It was a simply splendid dish.

Grilled quail was great, if a little over-conceptualized. The qual itself was exceptionally well-spiced, and grilled just to the point of tender succulence. The habanero labneh and blueberry sauce was slightly overwhelming, but not terrible if just a dab was taken with the quail to provide some heat/tart/sweet combo. The quail may have been better without the sauce though. Still excellent, and quite cheap for quail as well.

Mussels came with crispy potato strings and immersed in a cava/pimento broth. The mussels were huge, fresh, and cooked to a just-right tenderness. The broth was thick, slightly peppery, and genuinely lovely. One of the best mussel dishes I can remember, though I don’t eat mussels that frequently.

By the time my cocktail arrived our meal was basically over…a shame because I have never had bad service at Vaca before this. It was pleasant and refreshing though.

Vaca continues to be one of the best restaurants in OC, maybe even in LA. Sans-cocktail, this meal was only about $32/person. It’s nice to be able to eat food of this quality at that kind of price point.


this joint definitely worth a trip from l.a., especially during those low traffic times.
food was well prepared and very good tasting. interesting selection of sherry and vermouth
based cocktails.
good charcuterie and cheese, serrano wrapped dates and quail. fideo-based paella kinda…odd.
lots of people taking photos of the meat case.
beware the coffee.
i would definitely return. menu needs more exploring.


Finally tried it this weekend after 7 breweries, so you know we were in the mood for food, any food. Got a bottle of wine (a gloriously thin and one dimensional replacement for a Ribera del Duero I wanted) , and a lineup of 7,8 dishes. One after another they kept failing me. It wasn’t tapas, it wasn’t really Spanish, everything had some critical level flaw in it, can’t think of 1 dish that we all liked (i guess it was the oxtail, but it was one piece for some $16 bones or so)

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been to Spain a couple of times, or that we’re becoming picky, or savvy. This place, and all of its food basically looked much better than it was. The final straw for me was when the Morcilla showed up. And it was a fucking mashed up morcilla, out of its casing, getting rid of any and all magic of what that sausage is when it’s crisped up and caramelized. Actually sent it back, I never send food back. Bread sucked too.

I should have known by it’s proximity to the symphony hall… didn’t know that. should have ordered a big ass steak and called it a day… I’m sad overall, with smoke.oil.salt gone, la paella appears to be selling, we have no go to spanish food here, at all… none… baco ? send me somewhere actually fucking spanish… and don’t say that chemistry lab by Jose Andres.