Illustration by Bob AulMexicans in Mexico don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo, so if you're going to observe this sham holiday, please do it right. For the love of Vicente Fox, don't get borracho on Coronas in a restaurant where the most authentically Mexican features are the cooks toiling in the kitchen. Instead, visit a place where they serve Mexican Mexican food, dishes peculiar to a Mexican state or region. Impossible in OC, you say? Wake up and smell the masa: Santa Ana's population has the highest percentage of Spanish speakers of any city in the United States, with Anaheim not far behind at No. 4. La naranja is so swarming with Mexican restaurants, in fact, there are joints that specialize in the cuisine of specific towns.Here are some of them.
•CARNITAS URUAPÁN, 1150 N. HARBOR BLVD., ANAHEIM, (714) 535-7723.Nestled in the mountains of Michoacán, the city of Uruapán is renowned across Mexico for its preparation of carnitas, the gloriously greasy pork bits that please the palate as much as they clog the aortas. This tiny carnicería sells a pound for $5.25 and wraps them in pink butcher paper. Your job: wrap the carnitas in a tortilla, eat, enjoy. •MARISCOS LICENCIADOS #2, 1052 N. STATE COLLEGE, ANAHEIM, (714) 776-3415. Forget about banda, Chalino Sánchez and drug cartels: Sinaloa's greatest gift to the world is its seafood, viciously soured remnants of la mar. The aguachile ($7.99) is ceviche writ large: whole shrimp swollen with lemon juice and red onions that sparkle almost radioactively. •EL FORTÍN, 700 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 773-4290. The owners of this restaurant hail from Oaxaca, and they've successfully transported the state's magnificent meals to a dingy Fullerton strip mall. The bitter-chocolate molé negro ($5.25) is a must, but a cricket quesadilla ($4.50) never did an appetite bad. •MEXICO CITY RESTAURANT, 800 W. LINCOLN BLVD., ANAHEIM, (714) 776-8827. Chilango cuisine is sparser and smaller than other Mexican regions but just as delicious. Try a huarache ($3), a masa-heavy snack that looks like a sandal but doesn't taste like one, and adorn it with huitlacoche, overripe corn that tastes like mushrooms without the poisoning. •OSTIONERÍA BAHIA'S, 4429 E. CHAPMAN AVE., ORANGE, (714) 538-8271. This marine manor isn't regional per se but makes an exemplary version of huachinango a la veracruzana ($10.95), the red snapper platter that's the seafood specialty of Veracruz. The huachinango comes smothered in tomato sauce, peppers, onions, olives and cilantro and is almost as beautiful as the city's still-pristine beaches.