Ask a Comida Critic: Best Chile Relleno in OC?

Someone actually asked this months ago, but it got lost in the pile along with my W-2 (eep!). Anyhoo, the query:

What's the best chile relleno in Orange County?

I must admit: I never order the dish. A chile relleno is never about subtlety; it's supposed be greasy, gooey, eggy, a glop to be mixed alongside refried beans and rice. It's probably the most Mexican-American of Mexican dishes, a meal a casual observer would place alongside the combo plate and nachos in the pantheon of Tex-Cal-Mex cuisine---but it's a wholly Mexican creation.

All this said, I never order the dish as prepared by most Mexican restaurants. Even with my dear mami, I get a towel to sop up the grease, and she makes them magnificently, using poblanos instead of the Anaheim peppers far too many restaurants use lest their gabacho customers gasp in heat.

I make exceptions for just two places.

One place, of course, is the Oaxacan standard El Fortín. It's a delicious mound, but the opposite of what we know as chile rellenos--ground beef instead of cheese on the inside, a light batter instead of the golden-brown pillow that usually encases it. Try it once, but you're better off getting their moles and tlayudas.

The only local chile relleno I swear by is the chile relleno burrito over at Celinda's in Rancho Santa Margarita. It's almost perfect: stuffed whole into their freshly made tortillas, oily but not so much that it spills out of its vessel. I wish it were bigger and cheaper. It's not the cylindrical god served over at Lucy's Drive-Inn in Los Angeles, but it does the job and makes Rancho Santa Margarita actually bearable, a small miracle unto itself.

Celinda's Mexican Deli, 29941 Aventura, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 589-0354;

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