Comida Corrida: Lunch On the Run in Santa Ana's La Raza
Comida corrida is the Mexican answer to a prix fixe lunch, an economical, starch-heavy, three-course meal. First will be a soup, followed by either rice or noodles and a main dish. The last two courses are generally served on one plate. In Mexico, the going price for comida corrida is around 30 to 40 pesos, or about $3.
It's hard to find comida corrida around here. Places that serve it don't advertise it, and the lure of à la carte pricing proves hard to resist to a restaurant. There are a few places that do it, though, and they're worth seeking out for a belly full of lunch for a cheap price.
La Raza is a building that looks like it was picked up and moved from Mexico. It sits on a forlorn stretch of Warner Avenue in Santa Ana, an unlovely part of town known mostly for being the home to Ochoa's Chorizo--and it was on the way home from an Ochoa's excursion that the words "Comida Corrida" jumped out at me for the first time.
The inside, too, hearkens to a dusty Mexican highway; there are picnic tables outside, and the signs on the wall are handwritten in misspelled Spanish. A TV blares music videos or Mexican classic movies--one visit featured the 1949 classic Cantinflas film El Mago--and the furniture is stone. Yes, stone.
The faded menu holds all the charm of the place; simple stews, enchiladas and the required fried fish, mojarra frita. The price displayed portends the biggest bargain in Santa Ana lunchdom: the average cost of a meal is $6.50, which is the price for the entire lunch, not just the plato fuerte.
All this can be had for just $5.99.
The tray is burdened with food. It is an amazing amount for the price. A bowl contains at least two cups of chicken broth, with a large number of short, thin noodles floating in it. The plate contains a pile of tomato-seasoned rice, a very small salad and a pool of thick, slightly porky beans sitting next to the main dish.
Enchiladas are dipped in fiery red chile and rolled around a little bit of crumbled cheese; pork ribs are steamed, and then finished in a surprisingly hearty green sauce. The best and most copious choice, however, is chicharrón--pork skin--cooked in red sauce. It's also the cheapest at $5.99. The pork skin, normally thick and crunchy from being fried so hard it literally turns inside-out, becomes moist and punctuated by air holes, like the Ethiopian flatbread injera, when simmered in red sauce with a little bit of California chile in it. The sauce provides a slightly warm, slightly smoky undertone to the essence of pork. This is a dish to eat as much for texture as for taste.
Main dishes come with a basket of four handmade tortillas, thick and substantial, about as far away as it's possible to get from the depressing rounds sold by the Mission company. They're indispensable with the chicharrón and the pork ribs. Put together, this is a lot of food, meant to feed those who earn their keep the hard way and keep them going with a flood of home-cooked food.
Drinks are the usual aguas frescas--horchata, tamarindo and jamaica--as well as bottled Mexican soda, colas and fruit sodas and sangria and carbonated cider. Service is friendly, but your tray will appear on a counter; there's no table service.
Mexico City this is not, with its $3 meals, but even at $6.50, La Raza is a steal of a lunch bargain. Incidentally, though the sign identifies the restaurant as a taquería, tacos seem to be an afterthought. A sign in the window advertises one of the cheapest taquizas available, but the point of the place is clearly comida corrida.
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