Eat This Now: Cemita de Milanesa from La Cemita Poblana
One of the many glories of Puebla-style cuisine
Non-Mexicans (including non-Mexican Latinos) tend to call Santa Ana "Mexican". Those who delve a little deeper, though, discover that the majority of Santa Ana Mexicans are from Michoacán, with vocal minorities from Mexico City, Nayarit, Morelos and Oaxaca. The people of Puebla, though, tended to head to other parts of California and to New York, and the result is that Santa Ana has few places for comida poblana.
La Cemita Poblana, then, is one of just a few places in OC to get a real cemita, a giant sandwich on a sesame seed-studded roll. There are a dozen kinds at La Cemita Poblana, including a nod to Michoacán with queso de puerco (head cheese), but the best is the original: milanesa.
The giant roll is split in half and stuffed with an ethereally thin, but surprisingly meaty, piece of pounded beef that's been dredged in garlic-spiked bread crumbs and deep-fried. You get your choice of cheese, a slab of queso fresco or strings of milky quesillo, and you should choose the latter. You also get your choice of chile, jalapeño or chipotle, and you should choose the latter. Finally, they'll ask if you want pápalo, the pungent, medicinal herb that defines the sandwich. It's up to you, but I find it overwhelming and usually leave it out. The sandwich is completed with avocado and wrapped in paper.
Something about the crisp pebbliness of the fried meat with the heat of the chile, the strings of the pulled, mozzarella-like cheese, and the smoothness of the avocado just goes straight to the soul. The best part about it is that a huge sandwich. It's a sandwich that, eaten at lunch, will satisfy you straight through dinner. It costs the princely sum of $6, well worth the 20% upgrade over Subway's formerly yoga-mat footlong abomination.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.