Ever been to Orange County’s Lonchera Lane? Main Street in Santa Ana from 17th Street to Warner Avenue. Its side streets host about 20 loncheras daily, offering everything from Nayarit-style aguachile and the legendary taco acorazado to corn on the cob and birria. There are Mexico City-style antojitos and a loncherathat sells the cemitas and tacos árabes of Puebla—but only when it wants to show up, which is almost never.
One of the longest-standing loncheras is also one of the more inconspicuous of the bunch: a tired-looking truck that alternately goes by Ricas Gorditas (painted in faded, massive letters on the truck’s hood) and Taquizas Pepe’s (what the business card of the owner states). They sell good tacos, burritos and other roach-coach standards, but the crowds flock because it’s one of the few places in the county that hawks Zacatecas-style gorditas.
Most of Northern and Central Mexico eats the masa-heavy disk, but gorditas approach religion in Zacatecas—it’s as much a part of our daily lives as tamborazo and hometown benefit associations. Ricas Gorditas makes them the way countless tías have since they were teens living in the rancho: a thick base with a thin flap on top, as crispy-feathery as nori, bulging because it’s holding back a hill of some type of steaming guisado (stew) that’s spilling from a small slit on the side. The zacatecanos who run the truck offer about a half-dozen—smaller than they should be, but no less bueno. My default is the queso con rajas, sautéed jalapeño strips mixed with melted cheese, the fleshiness of the pepper skin adding to the heartiness of the cheese. Much more fattening is the chicharrónes, pork rinds stewed until they become quivering slices of hog fat; one bite makes the pork belly of high-end restaurants seem as rich as sand. Others come stuffed with tinga (a shredded beef stew) and nopales con puerco (minced cactus mixed with pork and slathered in a green sauce); there’s even a breakfast gordita of potatoes and eggs more attuned to American sensibilities yet perfectly at home here. And all gorditas must get topped with the salsa, a Zacatecan variety that seems as timid as pico de gallo with its watery consistency and emphasis on whole tomatoes and peppers, yet it still burns.
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Only one real problem with Ricas Gorditas: It sells only from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., the same hours as since starting at the beginning of this century. But it doesn’t need longer hours; the clientele comes. Best of all? It takes phone orders. Load up for the office, and then grub.
Ricas Gorditas, on the corner of Wilshire and Main streets, Santa Ana, (714) 376-8141.
This column appeared in print as "Go for Gorditas."