I'm pleased to announce our next OC Weekly food event, which will happen this Wednesday in the parking lot of the Fullerton Public Library from 5 to 8 p.m. It's a strange setting, but that's the day I'm scheduled to lecture on the history of Latino food in Orange County, while my Cal State Fullerton students will offer their recently gathered oral histories of Latino restaurants in la naranja. We can't talk about food without, you know, food, so outside will stand my favorite lonchera, Alebrije's (better known in foodie circles as the pink taco truck and across the Southland for its legendary taco acorazado), as well as my three favorite luxe loncheras—the Argentine Piaggio On Wheels, Spanish-themed Barcelona On the Go and Asian-Latino Dos Chinos.
Of the three, Dos Chinos is the one currently winning national attention, getting a recent write-up in The New York Times and even a coming profile on the Cooking Channel (along with Piaggio and Barcelona). The allure is obvious: an intricately painted lonchera that looks like Dia de los Muertos meets Ed Hardy, with hilariously nerdy crew members who turned a lifetime of getting called chinitos while growing up in Santa Ana, despite being Vietnamese, into fusion food, fat and messy and as representative of the brave new Orange County as anything yet created.
Theirs is a cuisine of OC love, of Vietnamese and Mexican teens combining all the leftovers after their high school's International Day and grubbing. Dos Chinos uses the humble tortilla as a base to riff brilliantly on Asian traditions within the friendly confines of a taco or burrito: unctuous pork belly cut with a sharp green salsa; carne asada as beautifully burnt as anything off Bristol, enlivened with sweet-and-sour guacamole; curry chicken brightened by tamarind-spiked sour cream. The best item, however, is a dessert: Sriracha-Tapatio-tamarind cheesecake. The tart fruit over which Mexis and Asians equally obsess mitigates the hot-sauce rivalry as the creamy cheesecake waits at the bottom.
They don't tone down any flavors, which shows the chinitos have cojones. I challenge the guys, however, to push the envelope further. Bring Vietnamese favorites and give them a Mexican twist—a bánh mì turned into a torta ahogada, for instance, or marry birria with bún bò Hue. Maybe a Vietnamese-style horchata smoothie? In the meanwhile, Dos Chinos is the pulsing, roiling heart of Orange County right now—not always perfect, but never boring or less than wonderful. See you Wednesday!
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This column appeared in print as "Chinitos Chidos."