My favorite breakfast after pozole is chilaquiles, that beautiful creation of beans, rice, eggs, crema and tortilla strips of varying degrees of hardness--but it's one I rarely have outside my mother's kitchen. Far too many Mexican restaurants don't understand the alchemy involved in a seemingly simple dish: the salsa has to emphasize flavor above heat without forgetting the latter, has to achieve the perfect communion among all the ingredients to ensure it doesn't become a soggy mess, or one where a component dominates the others.
In fact, the only places for traditional chilaquiles in la naranja that I'd recommend (I'm not counting Anepalco's modernist, marvelous take) are the ones you can find at Taquería Zamora in Santa Ana and Amorelia Mexican Cafe in Costa Mesa. Both are spectacular, each adding individual touches while staying true to the form--but which are better? To the duel!
Zamora, of course, is probably the most-Mexican restaurant in Orange County afterLa Raza
, a place where Mexican moms take their family when they don't want to cook but insist on the samecomida casera
(home cooking). The chilaquiles here actually commit my most cardinal sin for the meal--the tortilla strips are soft, only slightly crisped. But these aren't any mere tortillas, of course: Zamora's masa monsters are among the largest corn tortillas you'll ever see, magazine-thick and reeking of just-cooked masa, that earthy smell that has intoxicated the Americas for generations. The beans and rice taste of therancho
, the salsas (red or green, per you choice) tingle but don't burn--that's the job of the mini-molcajete of salsa de chile de árbol sitting at every table. Add the fact that Zamora also gives you four tortillasand
beans-and-cheese as a dipand
there's dried chiles on the side, and it makes the best chilaquiles package in the county.
Notice my choice of phrase. That's because we then come to Amorelia's rendition.
I usually don't send people to Amorelia--there's talent in its kitchen, but the prices are too costly by $2, usually--an understandable gouging ($8 for a two-taco combo? Nah . . .) given it's in the gabacho part of Costa Mesa, but no thanks. The chilaquiles, however, are not only worth the $6.95 price (compared to Zamora's chilaquiles at $8.50), but they're also a downright bargain. It's a big plate, with big portions of each--look at that fluffy, perfect mound of scrambled eggs. But the actual chips in the tortilla section achieve the impossible--a meeting between the just-hardened-and-fried pieces of my mom's chilaquiles and the softness of Zamora's. And the sauce--a tomato-based condiment that nevertheless sneaks up on unsuspecting sinuses--is as intricate as a harp.
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Taquería Zamora and Amorelia are nearly equidistant from Weekly world headquarters. I visit Zamora more often because it's more Mexican than the Old Mexico feel (they call it "colonial) of Amorelia--sorry, folks, but I prefer my Mexican meals with banda sinaloense instead of danzón. But Amorelia's chilaquiles are better, and this is a battle between meals, not ambiances.
WINNER: Amorelia. But Zamora's version is nearly as brilliant, so try both.
Taqueria Zamora, 3121 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 557-0907; www.taqueriazamora.net.