Illustration by Bob AulHorchata is the optimal summer drink: deceptively sweet and served colder than a Newport Beach socialite's blood. Unfortunately, most restaurants treat the Latin-American rice water as a grainy afterthought, rightfully confident consumers won't complain since even bad horchata tastes swell. Thankfully, the following places put as much care into the brewing of horchata as they do with the rest of their excellent meals.
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•EL CURTIDO, 300 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-0554. Salvadoran horchata is sweeter than Mexican horchata because guanacos toast their rice instead of soaking it overnight in water as Mexicans do. El Curtido's horchata ($2) also includes brave amounts of cinnamon and comes in a goblet that could moonlight as a wading pool. •TAQUERÍA EL GRANJENAL, 899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-4964.The taquería's horchata ($1.75) lies tranquilly in a giant jar surrounded by blocks of ice, waiting for its sale. What makes this taco stand's horchata noteworthy, however, is a sprinkling of powdered chocolate that emerges between sips to neutralize the flames of El Granjenal's salsa. •LA REINA DE MICHOACÁN, 300 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-0394. The liquid horchata sold in this downtown Santa Ana ice cream parlor tastes flat. La Reina's real horchata is hidden in their paletas (Popsicles; $1), frozen blocks that reveal horchata's ability to chill even the most blistering summer afternoon. •MOS 2, 1008 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-8543. A teriyaki stand seems an unlikely place to find fine horchata. But Mos 2 sells its cheap bowls in a heavily Latino neighborhood—my neighborhood!—and the owners know best to please nosostros with an horchata ($1.25) that rumbas deliciously with Mos 2's teriyaki treats. •EL FORTÍN, 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290. El Fortín hawks Oaxacan-style horchata ($2.50), the best variety of the brew. They expand on the essential horchata base of rice water and cinnamon touches by adding nuggets of melon, jiggers of fruit jelly and bits of walnut that frequently stop up your straw. Oh, the sugary humanity!