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People Waited 20 Years for This Mexican Restaurant to Reopen

After merging with Del Taco 25 years ago, Naugles Cal-Mex restaurant in Orange County ceased to exist. That is, until one man fueled by his nostalgia fought Del Taco for the trademark rights and brought it back to life.
July 30, 2015, 2:15pm
Photo via Flickr user Glory Foods

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia when it comes to food.

No matter where you are or what you're doing, just one whiff of a dish that you grew up eating—be it the smell of your grandmother's baked chicken, boxed mac and cheese, or fried rice—is strong enough to stop you right in your tracks and evoke feelings of loss, happiness, or an indescribable combination of both.

In the case of Naugles—a Southern California restaurant chain that was popular in the 80s but shuttered in the early 90s when it merged with the Del Taco franchise—the power of food-rooted nostalgia is so strong that it brought the restaurant back from the grave after 20-some years of dormancy.

Naugles was founded in 1970 by Dick Naugle, a former employee of Del Taco, and eventually grew to some 225 locations in the US. But the brand merged with Del Taco in 1988, and within seven years all of its restaurants had been closed or replaced by Del Tacos. (According to KTLA, however, Del Taco still offered some Naugles items on a "secret menu.")

"If you've never heard of Naugles, it's probably because you're under 30 years old, or not the children of first-generation Mexican parents, who actually used to make fun of the place and called it nalgas instead," says Gustavo Arellano, the editor-in-chief of OC Weekly and author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.

"The Naugles revival is all based on nostalgia and is a backlash against the 'authentic Mexican food' movement going on," Arellano asserts. "You simply can't discredit the power of the food at Naugles, since it was simply the nostalgia from its loyal followers that brought it back."

However, it wasn't just the power of nostalgia that brought the restaurant back from the dead. In March, new owner Christian Ziebarth—formerly a food blogger specializing in Mexican food—won the right to revive and reopen Naugles after a five-year petition to the US Patent and Trademark Office successfully argued that Del Taco had allowed the trademark to effectively die.

As for the food at Naugles, think Cal-Mex in all of its glory: combo plates adorned with pasty refried beans and piled high with shredded cheddar cheese, hard-shelled tacos with slivers of sliced tomato, and burritos with ground beef and more yellow cheese.

#Naugles reopens at noon after shutting down early Tues. after "running out of food'

— FastFoodMaven (@FastFoodMaven) July 29, 2015

And the chain's return to the world is making a lot of Southern Californians really happy. The grand opening of the new location in Fountain Valley was so popular that the restaurant temporarily ran out of food.

"Naugles is to Mexican food as In-N-Out is to hamburgers," said @dan929 on Twitter.

"Do you remember #Naugles from the 80s/90s in the OC? So awesome to see its comeback—brings back good #memories," said @lpreuss.

Now a whole new generation can taste the nostalgia.