Few snacks in the Americas are older than elote asado—freshly shucked corn roasted over flames until the moist kernels blacken just so. The only improvement to this meal over the millennia has been condiments, but it never gets more complicated than salt, chile powder, lime, and generous gobs of butter and mayonnaise. Otherwise, you ?eat elotes asados just like the ancients—messily and noisily.
Roasted corn remains a favorite treat amongst Mexicans, and many an Orange County barrio features an elotero—a man or woman roaming the streets lugging a cart full of corn. These entrepreneurs probably operate under the radar of the health department, though, so your best bet for healthy eating is El Rey de el Elote Azado (The Roasted Corn King), a lunch truck parked daily in front of the Santa Ana Discount Mall. Though they sell tacos, tortas, burritos and even raspados, the emphasis is on corn—take a clue from the squat, dark man flipping cobs on a grill as if they were flapjacks.
Despite the language barrier—this is Santa Ana, after all—eating here is simpler than bread. You order an ear, and the cook places it on the grill. While he shifts the corn to ensure that flames touch each kernel, he'll ask what condiments you want. Reply with "preparado" (prepared), meaning you want the works, or put them on yourself. If you want everything, he'll rub butter over the length of the corn, then sprinkle lime, chile powder, hot sauce and salt before topping the mess with crumbled cheese and mayonnaise. Finally, the cook wraps a paper plate around the corn, the better to smudge the condiments further into the crevices between each kernel.
Rarely will you find a more complex meal than El Rey's elote asado—the interplay between the corn's natural sweetness and the smokiness of the charred kernels; the cooling effect of the mayonnaise coupled with the chile's heat; the softness of each individual kernel that becomes evident only after you crunch into the cob. Eating an elote asado is high art, filling and an anthropological lesson, all for 2 bucks.
While you're gnawing on the elote, you might see the cook scoop a fragrant soup out of a Thermos and into Styrofoam cups. It's esquite, a wondrous roasted-corn soup that will comfort you come winter. But in these dog days of summer, stick to the corn—and wash it down with an orange Jarritos.
EL REY DE EL ELOTE AZADO, 3412 WESTMINSTER AVE., SANTA ANA. NO PHONE NUMBER.