Churros, like an empanada or a concha, is one of those Mexican pastries almost impossible to improve, almost always good, almost never splendid--but when done wrong, a disaster. Most of the churros in Orange County fall into the former category--really, do diners care about eating anything other than a long length of dough fried and coated by a storm of sugar and cinnamon?
Some do try to gourmet the experience, and two of the best face off this week: Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen and El Torito Grill.
The above shot is from Gabbi's, the Orange eatery where the wait is still an hour long years after it opened. I usually don't order dessert because I stuff myself too much on its platanos, but the chica and I ordered some last week. Their consistency was perfect: crunchy outside, soft center, a flurry of cinnamon after each bite. I like my churros longer instead of bite-sized, and these were Holmesian lengths. An order came with two dipping sauces--a cajeta and chocolate. The cajeta, caramel-esque yet a tad sweeter and slightly smoky, impressed, but the chocolate was too watery--a surprising lapse in quality for Gabbi's.
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I never had El Torito Grill's churros until my recent cover story on El Torito founder Larry J. Cano. The presentation is simultaneously lowbrow and continental: in a paper bag shaken by a waiter tableside. It's Gabbi's churros in reverse: bite-sized, with a great chipotle-tinged chocolate but a watery cajeta. El Torito Grill's churros are also slightly more fried, meaning the crunch is better but the inside isn't as soft.
But they also shoot higher than Gabbi's. Notice the use of powdered sugar instead of regular sugar; since they don't dust the churritos until ordered, the sugar clumps up on the still-hot churro, ensuring it melts only slightly but doesn't totally liquefy. Powdered sugar in slightly melted form is near-perfect, and that means sugar won't rain on your clothes. The berry garnish doesn't really add much, but it's the thought that counts.
By all means order both churros if you have a chance, but El Torito Grill wins this round. Size, for once, isn't everything.
Find your local El Torito Grill at www.etgrill.com.