Dueling Del Tacos

LAKE FOREST — Look out the window of the Del Taco on the corner of El Toro and Trabuco roads and across the street you’ll see … another Del Taco.

By Marc S. Posner
Saddleback Valley Voice
This story was plain fun to report and even more fun to write. The lede is snarky, appropriate to my style.

Relax, there’s no need to rush to the optometrist.

Both restaurants really occupy buildings a par-3-hole apart. They have the same color scheme, tout nearly identical menus, and share the same owner and manager.

In fact, you pretty much have to look at a sales receipt to tell the difference between the dueling Del Tacos.

The store number — 246 for the one on the northwest corner and 136 for the southwest corner — sandwiched between the words “Del Taco” and “Lake Forest, CA” on the thin strip of cash-register tape provide one of the few visible differences between the two stores.

Oh yeah, one has a red, Spanish-tile roof and the other a deeper brick-colored, shake-looking style.

“That’s kind of unusual that they’d have two,” said Patty Marcus, who sat with her husband at a table outside the northwest Del Taco. Dining al fresco is one amenity Store 136 doesn’t offer.

The “unusual” positioning of the two restaurants is the result of years-ago purchase of Naugels by Del Taco. Some of the former Naugels were converted to Del Tacos, while others closed.

Somehow, both Trabuco and El Toro road locations managed to survive. One manager said to the best of his knowledge, these are the only two franchises to share the same intersection.

Both Patty and Paul Marcus, Irvine residents who have visited the northwest Del Taco on previous stops, said they were unaware of the restaurant across the street.

“It almost seems like a good idea,” Paul Marcus said. “Look at how busy that intersection is.”

Most customers in an informal survey said they opted to visit their respective Del Tacos depending on which direction they were traveling.

“His car broke down right here,” said Randy Rutledge, who was waiting with a friend for their orders inside the southwest restaurant. “We just come here because it’s closer to our houses and our high school.”

The decision on which location to visit depends “on whoever’s driving or where our friends are at,” Rutledge said.

But, Justin Anderson — a Laguna Hills resident who said he regularly stops at the northwest store and never at the southwest location — unraveled a more tangible reason:

“This one’s better because it has a drink machine,” he offered, adding that at Store 136, patrons wanting refills must have assistance from behind the counter.

Asked if there are any other reasons he prefers the northwest location, Anderson flexes his facial muscles into a thinking pose.

“No — the drink machine,” he says, pausing a few more seconds. “And it’s easier to get to.”

Anderson grabs his large cup and walks away while his three friends add their thoughts about how the two Del Tacos differ. Seconds later he returns with a wide grin.

“And they have Cherry Coke here.”