When I see that a restaurant serves Mexican fusion cuisine, I get excited. When I see Mexican fusion, I think that the chef understands different worlds of flavor and is confident enough to bring them together tastily and tastefully. But not all Mexican fusion is created equal. Wrapping the new special of the week in a tortilla does not "Mexican fusion" make, and it's starting to show up more and more often. It's not even "fusion," it's not original, it's lazy. I won't stand for it and neither should you.
Now, to be clear, I'm now displeased when I eat a kimchi taco or a chicken tikka masala burrito. What I am saying is that I'm displeased with the lack of originality in chefs who keep producing these dishes. It's not hard to wrap something in a tortilla and the fact that so many chefs get away with this it is disheartening.
But, thankfully, there are some OC establishments who not only take fusion cuisine seriously; they also take it to the next level.
Anepalco's in Orange offers a menu that makes you forget you're on Chapman Ave. Chef Daniel Godinez at the Chapman location, creates a beautiful synthesis of French, Spanish and Mexican cuisines. From sweet to savory, brunch to dinner, these dishes are what fusion food is all about.
Godinez's "Quiche a la Mexicana" goes beyond the simplicity of the corn tortilla and, instead, bakes a medley of Mexican flavor in a buttery, French crust. Filled with tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, spinach, cilantro, queso fresco and cilantro cream, this dish takes the low bar of the typical tortilla-wrapped whatever and raises it about 30 ft.
Godinez then goes and outdoes himself with his Guanabana French Toast. Also known as "soursop," the Central American native fruit of Guanabana is added to cream cheese and coconut and then piled on top of French toast and served with an Elote Agave Jus. Nothing says "Mexican" like Elote -- a typical corn-on-the-cob dish served on the streets of Mexico -- and nothing says "French" like jus. The cob is usually decorated with some variation chili powder, cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, butter and lemon juice. To reduce that into a jus -- French for juice or sauce -- to drizzle over French Toast instead of maple syrup is not only brave, it's artistic.
This daring chef doesn't stop there, each burger -- yes, they have burgers too -- is served on a Brioche bun and each order, according to their menu, "includes French Fries with Anepalco's seasoning and Mexican cheese." Anepalco's "fusion at it's finest."
Luxe lonchera Dos Chinos serves anything but the kimchi taco. While each unique dish of Asian-flavored meat can be wrapped in a tortilla, Dos Chinos doesn't trap themselves, or their customers, in wheat flour or masa. Everything from their Bolsa Roast Pork to their Oahu Shrimp can come in a bowl, wedge or thrown over some fries, making this OC food truck worth hunting down.
Montego Restaurant and Bar
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Finally, the new head chef at Montego Restaurant & Bar in San Juan Capistrano looks for fusion in every bite. While specializing in the open playing field of "California cuisine," Chef Adrian de la Torre can hardly let a dish go by without a twist. While he makes a stunning Asian slaw fish taco, his well-crafted execution of his Enchilada Flatbread and Mexican Pasta take the spotlight.
Chef de la Torre's deconstructed chicken enchilada, dressed with salsa verde, habañero pepper, jack cheese, pico de gallo, avocado and creme fraiche topping a crisp Indian naan crust, explodes with flavor and inventiveness.
Although seldom explored, Mexican and Italian fusion doesn't sneak by Chef de la Torre either. His Mexican Pasta is a pleasant take on two popular styles of food. An amalgam of chorizo and parmesan cheese, avocado and artichoke, tomato and red pepper flakes, white wine sauce and cilantro, this pasta is what all fusion cuisine should hope to be: a perfect alliance of flavor.