Alejandro’s needs no introduction to a certain segment of Orange County: hipsters who think the intersection of West 19th Street and Placentia Avenue is the center of the universe. For them, Alejandro’s is the place they visit after a night at the Detroit or Avalon bars, located in the same shopping plaza and across the street, respectively. Who cares if its only seating is at graffiti-marked tables outside, that the building it occupies looks as though it houses a drive-through locksmith? It also attracts the residents who live in the area, Costa Mesa’s barrio, looking to feed themselves at all hours of the night and too tired to trek up Harbor Boulevard for the region’s only other 24-hour restaurant, Norm’s.
But Alejandro’s is usually an afterthought for the rest of Orange County. Taqueria El Granjenal (one of the better Mexican restaurants in la naranja for years before changing owners; it’s now returning to its previous levels after a spell in Taco Bell territory) attracts most of the daytime crowd because it actually has seating. Taco Mesa down 19th gets the hipsters during the day, while Costa Brava draws those looking for an afternoon beer. But Alejandro’s deserves a daytime shot, if only for the pleasure of a California burrito in the sun. It’s the sole Orange County outpost of a San Diego chain, one that capitalized on the Alberto’s craze of the 1980s that left a slew of imitators from Otay Mesa to Anaheim featuring a similar design (Alejandro’s marquee keeps the dark yellow of its competitors, but uses a silhouette of Emiliano Zapata instead of a greaser caricature) and selling carne-asada fries, flying-saucer-sized tostadas, the same watery red salsa and the California burrito, that glorious culinary immigrant of America’s Finest City that finds French fries stuffed into the edible torpedo.
The Alejandro’s version isn’t the most epic—where’s the sour-cream dollop? The guac? The beans?—but that’s like moping over having Chris Johnson in your fantasy-football team instead of Adrian Peterson. The meat is less burned than at other restaurants but juicier, the fries crispier than at a burger joint, the vein of coagulated Cheddar cheese hugging one side of the burrito, the flour tortilla divine. Since the salsa here is so weak, I recommend taking a small bottle of Gringo Bandito (bottled nearby) or a bag of peppers to add that missing heat—or just enjoy the damn thing as is. It’s the optimal size, too: small enough you’re left wanting more, but large enough that two is gluttonous.
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The rest of the menu? Fried tacos, regular tacos and burritos—drunk food. Glorious, glorious drunk food.
Alejandro’s, 801 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-2561.
This column appeared in print as "Drunk Food for Daytime."