[Hole in the Wall] Tacos On the Hard Shell at Tom's Tacos

A Thousand Gabachos Can’t Be Wrong, Can They?

I’d recommend dozens of restaurants before Tom’s Tacos in Anaheim, but that’s only because I’m Mexican. Its namesake products aren’t my tacos; Tom’s sells hard-shell versions. Those tacos belong to the Southern California generation before me, the people who bought make-your-own-taco kits at Alpha-Beta, who called their neighbor’s kid Jerry instead of Gerardo and went to El Cholo in Los Angeles for “Spanish” cuisine. The Reconquista is holy and righteous in the culinary sense because the resulting invasion brought forth good food to masquerade as authentic Mexican, instead of such cardboard imposters.

Most of the people who patronize Tom’s are either working-class whites or Chicanos, the traditional demographics of West Anaheim and down-Beach-Boulevard Stanton. Photos of them adorn the wall here–they can’t all be wrong, right? Following their tastes, Tom’s hard-shell-taco deal is the epitome of the genre: U-shaped corn tortilla lightly fried before your eyes to a consistency that keeps the maize flavor and doesn’t turn into greasy shards upon the first bite, but isn’t so soft that the beef seeps through (few things are worse in life than a wet corn tortilla). Equal layers of ground beef or chicken, lettuce, and cheese get stuffed in immediately afterward: the meat leans toward dry but keeps a strong flavor; the lettuce remains crisp, wet and refreshing; and the Cheddar shavings are milky and not too strong. Tortilla chips accompany each order, and the salsa makes Pace Picante seem as spicy as a serrano. It’s the best hard-shell taco in Orange County, but that’s like saying Revenge of the Sith was the best of the second Star Wars trilogy.

Probably the least-enthusiastic Hole-in-the-Wall column I’ve yet written, ¿qué no? I just don’t care for hard-shell tacos, as they don’t offer the glorious greasiness of their puffy cousins or tortilla-based older brothers. The dinner roll of Mexican food, they’ve hit their evolutionary end (although that’s an insult to the roll). But if you are into hard-shell tacos, Tom’s is your Cooperstown. If you want to try a great chile con carne, essentially a tub of brown sauce speckled with shredded beef, Tom’s Tacos prepares a version straight from San Antonio: sweet instead of spicy, more bitter than sweet. Tom’s taquitos also receive the fresh-fried treatment, and eating them with a carton of guacamole is just swell. Above all: the Orange Bang! on tap. That alone ensures my return to this living diorama of the way things used to be.

Tom’s Tacos, 3024 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 952-1600; www.tomstacos.com.



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