You can try to insulate yourself against winter with soup, blankets or a mallet to the head à la Daffy Duck. But learn from Latinos: douse your food-hole with salsa—hellacious, yum-yum salsa. These are Orange County's best.
DINNER FOR TWO:
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BEBA'S RESTAURANTOrange County's sizable Bolivian community packs Beba's for such hard-to-prepare plates as the divine ají de papalisa (beef simmered in an intoxicating ají sauce with three types of potato) and the addicting thimpú (a slab of lamb covered in a yellow sauce). Order at least one salteña, a meat pie that's more wondrous with each nibble. Special salsa:Not spicy at all but relishy and optimal to spread on the flaky house bread. 630 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 973-4928. $CARAZ DULZURAMost of Caraz Dulzura's menu traces its origins to China, even though the restaurant serves Peruvian cuisine. The arroz chaufa dishes are really glorified fried rice, here served with chunks of chicken or beef and with a bit more spice. The saltado platters, available as seafood or chicken, are soy-soaked stir-fries familiar to any lover of Cantonese food. Special salsa:The creamy, furtive ají will have you sweating like nothing since your eighth-grade P.E. class. 880 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 808-8302. $EL FORTÍNIn a country where each state has its unique version of the curry-like mole, Oaxaca is king, and El Fortín offers four stunning varieties of the royal family. I won't even bother describing the house mole, as my tongue cannot possibly articulate this creation—only eat it. Special salsa:They've got one that acts like lime against bone, but ask for the salsa negra: a thick, sweet concoction made from honest-to-goodness chocolate. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also at 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com. $
MARISCOS LICENCIADO #2
Mariscos Licenciado #2—#1 is in the 909—sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying commercial pocket JC Fandango calls paradise. Nevertheless, a coastal breeze flows through the simple eatery. It starts somewhere in Mazatlán, sweeps past the tiled counter where men in tejanas sit and curse at televised soccer matches, and cools giant vats of boiling octopus and shrimp with a salty Sinaloan soul. Special salsa:Six mass-produced hot sauces here, from tried-and-true Tapatío to a musky Huichol from Zacatecas to two from Yucatán, the bitter Guacamaya and the nuclear Yucateco. 1052 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-3415. $
MARISCOS LA SIRENA
This little palace serves caldo de caguama (turtle soup) but also represents its own endangered genus—the restaurant whose métier is stunning Sinaloan-type Mexican food with a side of stereotypes—blistering aguachile with wooden parrots, nuclear ceviche served under drooping nets and deer steaks that are almost as tender as each waitress's top is low. Special salsa:The only great green salsa I know, a condiment simultaneously sour, spicy and refreshing. 515 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$
PANADERÍA Y ANTOJITOS GUATEMALA
Jovial women make masa miracles every day at Santa Ana's Panadería y Antojitos Guatemala, one of the county's two Guatemalan concerns, along with pan dulce and other Guatemalan antojitos. Best are the paches, potato-based tamales swollen with two chicken wings and a jalapeno. Like the Trinity, there exists no complete explanation for paches' beatific quality. They just are. Special salsa:A light red salsa that's more like ketchup but complements the mild flavors of Guatemalan food. 1331 E. First St., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 542-4223. ¢
RICAS TORTAS AHOGADAS
Ricas Tortas Ahogadas offers no seating except a shade-free street curb where it parks on Santa Ana's Fifth Street, next to a host of auto shops. But this lunch truck is a barrio culinary school: the guys inside slap out hellacious tortas ahogadas, the Guadalajara specialty involving luscious carnitas, crispy French rolls, cold onions and a pool of salsa. Special salsa: The aforementioned pool is the best burn since Chris Rock ragged on his own kind. On the corner of Fifth and Townsend streets, Santa Ana.¢
Taco Adobe's impressive gourmet platters emerge from a seemingly mundane menu. The camarones con chipotle are butterflied, grilled and slathered with a creamy, sweet chipotle sauce that complements the beautiful pungency of the shrimp. The hefty Adobe burritos could stand proudly against anything rolled in the Mission District and feature three types of cheese within their flour tortilla wrappers. They even experiment successfully with the Adobe pasta platter, linguine sautéed with garlic and that wonderful chipotle cream sauce of the camarones con chipotle. Special salsa:Not the first, weak bowl waiters place on your table. Ask Argentine co-owner Patricio Dillon for the "real" house salsa: a thick, habañero-laced magma with citrus undertones and an enduring scorch. 1319 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-2411. $
It's not just the wide swath of Mexico—Mexico City, Oaxaca, even the Yucatan—that makes Taco Rosa one of the few truly successful gourmet Mexican restaurants. Taco Rosa succeeds because its few tweaks are Mexican-based and surprising. Ask for the aguas frescas, and instead of horchata, waiters will recommend a frosted, freshly squeezed cup of cantaloupe or melon—¡delicioso!Special salsa:All of them are tame for Newport Beach taste buds, but profoundly tasty. 2632 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980. $$
TAQUERÍA EL GRANJENAL
Named after a Michoacán rancho that has sent thousands of its residents to Orange County, the colorful restaurant makes the best tacos in the county. They deviate from taco protocol by using full-sized corn tortillas and pile on chunks of your choice of grilled meat. Special salsa:Extraordinary, a dark-red lava extract whose burn factor is unknown outside Paricutín. 899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-4964. $
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