Cochinita Pibil and Beyond
After years of hiding in dives across Southern California, the Yucatan pork specialty known as cochinita pibil is now a nouveau-cuisine sensation. The Crosby makes a killer torta from the shredded piggy baked in a citrus marinade and achiote, while the high-end places usually forget the pickled red onions that are mandatory with it. At Anepalco’s Cafe, you can try the treat four ways: tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas or the torta, each featuring a particular pleasure. The tacos fill you up and don’t rip you off too badly; the enchiladas, stuffed with the cochinita and cotija cheese, redeem the whole idea of meat inside enchiladas. Though I am a quesadilla fiend, I prefer the torta, only because the marinade soaks into the toasty bolillo, imparting a slight tartness reminiscent of carbonated pineapple.
The funny thing about Anepalco’s—located just outside St. Joseph’s Hospital and CHOC, so expect a lot of smocks and scrubs on your fellow diners—is that it’s not even a purely Mexican restaurant. Though the chef is Mexican, he jumps from the Sierra Madre to the Pyrenees to the Rio Grande to combine French, Spanish, American and Mexican traditions into one of the better cafés around. This is the type of place where crepes exist alongside huevos rancheros, where you’re apt to enjoy a croque monsieur (like eating a flavored pillow) as a beef dip, where “tortilla” can mean the rolled-up vessel of the Aztecs or the Spanish version (a kind of potato-egg pancake). More than novelty, nearly all the attempts at transcontinental and trans-Atlantic fusion work wonderfully.
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Start with the coffee—I’ve heard nothing but raves about it from people who love Kéan and Alta. Follow with a crepe; the best of the savory variety is a delightful legumes version stuffed with garbanzos, zucchini, squash and red peppers, as hearty and refreshing as it sounds, while the cajeta on the crepe de caramel is a welcome twist on a familiar meal. I don’t really care for their salads, but the sandwiches are among the most inventive you’ll find, with aiolis derived from poblano chiles, chipotle, even pineapple. The chilaquiles try too hard—I’d prefer some crunch instead of a soggy-tortilla mound, but I did appreciate the four layers of cotija cheese, eggs over-easy, avocado mousse and crema fresca on top. And the chefs introduce new items regularly—last time I visited, I saw a picture of an Argentine-style cheese empanada.
One very important note: Anepalco’s occupies a spot in a strange strip mall whose parking is perpendicular to—nearly on—Main Street. Back up with caution—and take some cochinita tacos to go!
Anepalco’s Cafe, 415 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 771-2333; www.anepalcoscafe.com.