Everyone's favorite American holiday is tomorrow, which means you'll be drinko-ing all weekend, as well you should. And while we like nachos and five-pound burritos as much as the other bro, make this Cinco a time to try OC's many amazing regional Mexican dishes. We did a cover story devoted to a bunch of them years ago, but since the past doesn't exist in this Internet age, here's the best of the best!
I can see the pochos rolling their eyes right now—pozole?! Everyone knows what that is! Actually, no: gabachos are far more familiar with menudo than Mexico's legendary pork stew, mostly because most OC Mexican restaurants only sell pozole on weekends, and really don't do it right. For a good pozole, go to El Camino Real in Fullerton, Kobe Bryant's favorite Mexican restaurant. 303 N. Euclid St., Fullerton, (714) 447-3962
Beso de Monja
Translating as "nun's kiss," this is essentially a three-layered quesadilla from Cuernavaca. Available at El Rincón de Sabor ("Flavor Corner") in SanTana. And you thought Taco Bell was foward-thinking... On the corner of Fifth and Mortimer streets, SanTana.
The perfect Mexican seafood dish: raw shrimp marinated in chilled lime juice, then topped with a serrano salsa, red onions, and cucumbers. Most mariscos places now stock this Sinaloan specialty, but for the full paisa experience, hit up Mariscos Hector. 1208 E. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 617-4044.
Birria de Res
A new addition to OC's Mexican food scene, beef birria is best eaten via the burritos at Burritos La Palma, which specializes in the food of Jerez, Zacatecas. From my review:
And when you get your burrito, don't be disappointed. Yes, it's as small as a spring roll, but bite into it. Luxuriate in the spicy birria de res, the buttery flour tortilla, the house salsa that's all about savoriness. Order four or five. And take comfort in knowing that once again, OC has shown LA what's up—BOOM.
Follow Burritos La Palma on Twitter @burritoslapalma
Call it Mexican pizza if you must, but this Oaxacan specialty is so much more. From Dave's review of the El Moctezuma chain:
Called a tlayuda (or a clayuda), it's an enormous, crispy tortilla the size of a truck hubcap, spread with black beans and asiento (unrefined pork fat), then topped with milky, stringy queso Oaxaca, crumbly queso fresco, cabbage, tomato and avocado. For a little extra money, get meat on top: smoky and spicy cecina enchilada is the best option. Cut the richness of the dish with ensalada de nopales, chopped cooked prickly pear cactus paddles tossed with chilies, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.
El Moctezuma, 809 N. Fairview St., Santa Ana; (714) 648-0402, and 1740 W. Chapman Ave., Orange; (714) 456-0080.
At El Borrego Sagrado in SanTana, an Hidalgo-style restaurant. From my review:
Start with a tlacoyo, a cross between a gordita and a huarache, except it's stuffed with garbanzo beans and topped with crema, cotija cheese and so much cilantro it looks like a sandwich.
1307 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-7501
OC has many tamales, but perhaps the best are the huchepos served at Las Brisas de Apatzingan, a SanTana spot that specializes in the food of the Tierra Caliente region that spans Michoacán and Guerrero. They're made from sweet corn, and is like the moistest, most sweet-savory cornbread of your life. 1524 S. Flower St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5584
The most legendary Mexican regional dish in OC: a thick corn tortilla the size of your face covered in a bed of rice, grilled cactus, milanesa and more. This isn't a taco so much as the real taco salad, and the pride of Alebrije's in SanTana. On the corner of Main and Cubbon streets, SanTana.
Not barbecue, but barbacoa: lamb slow-roasted for hours and served in its own juices. Many barbacoa spots in OC, but the best is at El Torito Nuevo in Orange. From my review:
An order gets you a mound of shredded borrego, many chunks glistening with rivulets of fat at their edge. On the side, the waitress gives you tortillas, onions, cilantro, salsa, and a bowl of consomé made from the lamb's drippings and garbanzo beans. It's up to you to decide how to eat the borrego (you can make at least six bulky tacos from it), but just eating it piece by piece, splashing just a bit of green salsa on each bite, is like munching on life itself—intensely gamy, supremely soft, magnificent. The only thing that tops it is the actual consomé, musky and earthy and meal enough to take you into the evening.
1175 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 532-1673
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Potzol den Cano in—yep!—SanTana is the only restaurant in OC to specialize in food from the central Mexican state of Querétaro. And while they're most famous for their pozole, the enfrijoladas are better. From Dave's review:
It's so simple: make a savory, onion-spiked sauce out of bayo beans instead of the traditional Oaxacan black beans—every two-bit Mexican-American combo-glop place's bean dip done correctly—then dip fresh tortillas in them, wrap the dipped flatbreads around chicken, then top with a drizzle of crema and crumbles of hot chorizo that dribble tiny rivulets of chile-spiked oil over the dish.
1003 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 664-0558