California is America's burrito empire, from the Mission cylindrical god of San Francisco to San Diego's California burrito to the Inland Empire's garbage burrito, which I described to a friend as "the Mission burrito without pretension" (try it at Rosa Maria's in San Bernardino—magnificent).
I was recently tasked with the most brutal assignment of my career: to take my life experience and boil it down to 30 choices. While my favorite burrito spot of all time is El Castillito off 17th and Mission streets in San Francisco, there are two OC restaurants worthy of mention: Athenian Burgers #3 for its epic breakfast burrito, and the multi-culti brilliance of Dos Chinos.
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In doing research for this list, I was reintroduced to some of my favorite spots (Carnitas Los Reyes, Nate's Korner, Los Cotija's), realized some spots are all hype (Ham 'n Scram in Westminster? Pfft. Same goes for Bear Flag Fish Co., an excellent restaurant with a so-so burrito).
And I finally found an excuse to scope out Paul's Famous Burgers, which took over an old TK Burgers spot in Costa Mesa's Westside. It's one of my favorite genres of restaurant: the greasy spoon with an encyclopedic menu that spans Greek gyros, Japanese-American teriyaki, Mexican food and burgers. The crowd is purely working-class—Mexican immigrants, construction guys, men taking a break from their car or surf jobs over in the nearby industrial parks—with nary a hipster in sight. It's amazing it's taken this long to get such a place on West 19th Street.
Paul's Famous Burgers, 615 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-2858.
The food at Paul's is fine save for those breakfast burritos. The Paul's burrito is a bit too heavy on the egg and light on the breakfast links, but the other breakfast burritos are wonderful—you can smack your burrito against a door and it'll open. Tortilla toasted perfectly, hash browns crispy, eggs whipped to a silky mass: They remind you why Orange County is so breakfast burrito-obsessed—did you know that they're unknown on the East Coast? Heathens!