My family has been visiting El Camino Real in Fullerton mucho as of recent, not just because it's one of the finer non-regional Mexican restaurants in the county, but also because August is birthday month for the Arellanos: my parents and a sister celebrate their cumpleaños that mes. As much as I love El Camino, I always try to coax them out of their comfort zone and try new places. Nope. Not even when I tell them about the wondrous horchata at El Fortín, the county's best Oaxacan restaurant and a couple of blocks away. Unfortunately, my family consists of light-skinned racists who want nothing to do with Oaxacans, so they miss out on one of the finer manifestations of horchata around (only the Salvis do it better...)
This post is part of our "Dueling Dishes" category, but it's no contest: El Fortín's version easily beats the one hawked by El Camino Real. Both start with store-bought horchata mix--good kind, the kind that imparts the Carnation milk sweetness of the agua fresca at its best instead of stale chalk water. El Camino serves it as is, poured straight from those weird mixing machines that many Mexi joints use to keep their aguas frescas from settling (hint to non-wabs: whenever you visit a restaurant that keeps its horchata in those big jars so many foodies love as "authentic," INSIST the person serving you mix it before they grab your cup. You do NOT want to drink horchata slop--guacatela).
But the genius of El Fortín's horchata lies in its roots.
For reasons I've yet to investigate, Oaxacans spike their horchata with fruit syrup, walnuts and cantaloupe bits, which transforms the drink into something that refreshes and satiates. Horchata's main problem is that it has to be a bit thick to taste bueno, which doesn't make it the most ideal agua fresca for the summer. The fruit syrup, however, eliminates its cloying nature. El Camino Real's actual horchata is better than El Fortin's, which can be a bit grainy at times, but the Oaxacan preparation trumps all--except those damn Salvis...
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Click on the links above for addresses to El Fortin and El Camino Real!