!Ay, Mi Estomago!

Orange Countys 61 best Latino restaurantes

3. Imagine a gordita expanded to the girth of a sandwich but retaining its masa goodness, and you have an arepa, a Venezuelan dish so crucial to its national identity that electro-funk tropicalistas Los Amigos Invisibles included a recipe in their second album, Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Outer Space. Only one place to buy Venezuelan arepas in Southern California, though: the colorful Mil Jugos, which prepares various kinds and includes a peculiarly strong cilantro salsa for dunking. As its name (A Thousand Juices) suggests, there are fruit juices up the ying-yang as well. 318 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-4601.

4. You can eat inside Q's Tortas, but it's better to drive through and order any of their tortas, the Mexican super-sub made with a fluffy French roll. Q's namesakes bloat to obese proportions in their effort to house all the cabbage, pickled carrots, jalapeños and your choice of meat cooks cram into the torta. Though the selection of meats ranges from carne asada to adovada (marinated pork), it's apostasy to order a torta without chorizo, fried to the consistency of greasy, spicy pebbles: perfect. 220 N. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-3270.

4 BEST COMFORT MEXICAN RESTAURANTS

Los Cojita. Photo by John Gilhooley
Los Cojita. Photo by John Gilhooley
Regina's. Photo by John Gilhooley
Regina's. Photo by John Gilhooley

Location Info

Map

Taqueria El Granjenal

899 W. 19th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Costa Mesa

Carnitas Los Reyes

273 S. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92866

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Orange

Pedro's Tacos

550 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: San Clemente

Tacos Jalisco

480 N. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92867

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Orange

SeÑor Pedro's Tacos

31721 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: San Juan Capistrano

Nory's Restaurant

933 S. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Restaurant > South American

Region: Anaheim

El Pollo Fino

723 N. Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805

Category: Restaurant > Hot Chicken

Region: Anaheim

Super Pollo

1731 Superior Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Hot Chicken

Region: Costa Mesa

Pupuseria San Sivar

1940 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Central American

Region: Costa Mesa

PanaderÍa Y Antojitos Guatemala

1331 E. First St., Ste. A
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Restaurant > Latin American

Region: Santa Ana

El Curtido

300 W. Fifth St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Santa Ana

El Carbonero

803 S. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Restaurant > Central American

Region: Santa Ana

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1. Mexican mothers are the best cooks in the world, but even they stand in line during the weekend with pots in hand at El Camino Realto buy the restaurant's menudo. The cow stomach soup here is properly fatty and spicy, with the different types of tripe velvety. The rest of the menu is nothing special: just Mexican food worthy of a Mexican mother. 303 N. Euclid St., Fullerton, (714) 447-3962.

2. Sarinara's Tamale Factory is probably the oldest restaurant in Orange County at a spry 70 years, and its fried-daily chicharrones—gnarled pork fat—consistently sell by the pound. But this is also the place to get the optimal Mexican tamale. They're not too big, slightly dry, with lean pork shreds encased in warm, firm masa and sluiced with a red chile salsa that clears out the pores. 2218 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-8650.

3. The food at Tlaquepaque (111 W. Santa Fe, Placentia, 714-528-8515) and El Mariachi(650 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, 714-532-4001) is an afterthought, but patronize these restaurants when you're in a mariachi mood. Both feature house combos that expertly strum out the classics ("El Son de la Negra," "El Rey") and the unfortunate crowd favorites ("Guantánamera," "La Bamba"), and whose members embody all the mariachi archetypes—the macho, the female with huevos, the impossible falsetto à la Miguel Aceves Mejia, and the chap who prances around the room doing his best Juan Gabriel impression and sits on the laps of men without a hate crime occurring afterward.

4. Each Jugos Acapulco location generates its own vibe—the Costa Mesa location has the grimy charm of a Tijuana cantina, while the two Santa Ana spots are as immaculate as the Sports Club/Irvine juice bar. But all zip out the same jugos (fruit juices) and licuados (shakes), mixing and matching between a harvest of flavors and fruits like horchata, tamarind and grapefruit to more obscure choices (pulpy guanávana, sour alfalfa and beet juice). 307 E. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-1965; also at 2003 W. First St., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 558-1414; and 745 W. 19th St., Ste. A-B, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8513.

5 BEST REGIONAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS

1. El Portal de Veracruzis more than just the county's first restaurant to specialize in the light cuisine of its namesake Mexican Caribbean state: it's also an ice cream shop, a panadería that bakes pan dulces the size of couch pillows and a place to buy the latest piñatas (Family Guy models are flying off the shelves). El Portal's main attraction is the weirdest salsa of your life: a cranberry-red, oily substance as thick as a river bottom and spicier than a thousand suns. 4530 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-1660.

2. The owners of El Rincón Chilango reproduce Mexico City down to the use of the megalopolis's Angel of Independence as its mascot and a menu focused mostly on the city's legendary street cuisine. This is where you can order carne asada hamburgers called pambazos or huitlacoche, corn fungus with the smoky consistency of the best truffles in quesadillas that are as light as crepes, and down them with bubbly sodas or molasses-thick licuados of papaya, mango or any number of other tropical fruits. 1133 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-5096.

3. Mariscos la Sirena grinds out the only great green salsa I know—a condiment simultaneously sour, scorching and refreshing. Pour it on any of the Sinaloan seafood-style dishes, from the hellacious aguachile to the camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp marinated in copious amounts of garlic) to the gamy deer steak. Or use it to spike the caldo de caguama, the sea turtle soup long banned in the United States but, since Mexico annexed Santa Ana long ago, perfectly okay to eat here. 515 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350.

4.It takes a lot for my father to ditch the culinary allure of East Los Angeles, but Birrería Nayarit does it. Their specialty is the namesake birria, a primal goat stew from Jalisco flavored only by the gamy meat—it's up to you to decorate it with onions, cilantro and other verdant detritus. 825 N. Euclid St., Ste. A, Anaheim, (714) 991-6843.

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