Something amazing happened in Mexico over the past decade: Its capital became cool. Long-derided as a Dickensian nightmare, its citizens ridiculed as chilangos, Mexico City is now the latest “It” spot for worldwide hipsters, and the rest of the república now grudgingly accepts that el Distrito Federal is a grand city. Mexico City-style restaurants are starting to pop up in Orange County as a result, and none is more thorough than the stunning Los Chilangos.
A cousin restaurant of sorts to the Santa Ana institution El Rincón Chilango, down to the use of Mexico City’s Angel of Independence statue as a mascot, Los Chilangos is unassuming enough. You’ll find it facing away from Lincoln Avenue in an awkwardly shaped Anaheim strip mall with little parking in a section of town that’s now mostly abandoned businesses and spillover shops from Little Arabia. But just one peek inside shows its true colores. Pictures of street stalls decorate the walls alongside iconic Mexican corporate logos and a map of Mexico City’s Metro. Nothing on the menu vaguely resembles the combo plates that even the most regional of Mexican dives must offer to stay profitable, and the tacos and burritos that do make it onto the menu are DF beasts. The former include cuts such as tinga (shredded chicken), cecina and suadero, while the chilango burrito is carne asada, carnitas and pastor rolled into an epic cholesterol bomb—and tasty, too!
The focus here is on chilango street cuisine, but there’s elegance in every step. An order of chiles toreados—grilled, splayed jalapeños—comes artfully placed in a bowl, with limes snuck in between each. Daily specials hang from the wall and are updated weekly. Breakfasts include such rare dishes as albañil, scrambled eggs with a tomatillo salsa. The to-go menus are in English and Spanish, helping out any chilango-cuisine newbies. It’s really simple: different meditations on masa, each increasing in girth. Crisp it and make it thick, and you have a sope; lengthen and thin it, a huarache. Take thicker-than-usual tortillas, stuff them with meat and cheese, cut the result in fours, and you have a mulita, the inbred child of a quesadilla and a gordita. Los Chilangos prepares them all wonderfully (with grilled cactus upon request) and includes the earthy ingredients beloved in el DF: huitlacoche, flor de calabaza, mushrooms and navy beans.
But if there’s one dish to get, it’s the pambazo, the ruddy brother to the torta. Imagine a chile-soaked French roll grilled so that the salsa seeps into the bread and hardens it. Insert perfectly crisped potatoes and chorizo. Drizzle some crema fresca. “Haz patria; mata un chilango” (“Be a patriot; kill a chilango”) was a favorite Mexican saying for decades, but if Los Chilangos inspires more of its paisanos to open up shop, it’s time to aim our ire toward where it belongs: Guadalajara.
Los Chilangos, 1830 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-5515.
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