Of Taco Trucks and Battleships
You’ll have to read my cover story to understand why these distinctively pink camiones are the Mendez v. Westminster of OC taco trucks; here, we talk food. You can find the usual suspects of the genre at Alebrije’s—tacos with hand-made tortillas, burritos, tortas that double as barbells in a pinch, fine sopes. Try them once, just to appreciate their high rank in the local taco wars, but only once: The name of the Alebrije’s game is chilango cuisine (mostly).
Mexico City food makes its mark with nigh-endless configurations of tortillas and masa; Alebrije’s is one of the few outposts of this high art in la Naranja. Stretch the latter so it looks like a sandal, and it’s a huarache; order your meat (or even the off-the-menu cactus), and enjoy it with crema fresca and cabbage. Fry a corn tortilla, and out comes a crunchy vessel perfect for a pile of fatty cow’s-foot meat—a tostada de pata. Combine three tortillas; pile on bacon, ham, carne asada and peppers; and fuse with queso fundido—that’d be an alambre, Alebrije’s most-famous dish, the ultimate nachos. The quesadilla de hongos features a flour tortilla thicker and toastier than expected, cheese as gloriously creamy as good brie, and mushrooms for earthiness. Only the gargantuan Oaxacan quesadilla can top this manifestation.
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But the true treasure can be found in the tacos acorazados, a specialty of Cuernavaca, Morelos, that lives up to the heft of its name (acorazado is a battleship). The taco acorazado is simple: massive corn tortilla, rice and meat. Alebrije’s makes it with milanesa, and this is the richest taco I’ve tasted, more so than chicharrón tacos: Imagine fluffy rice, eggy breaded beef and a tortilla the thickness of a key fob, and you’ll understand why another meal isn’t necessary for the day if you eat Alebrije’s taco acorazado for breakfast—and you should.
Other small touches make Alebrije’s lord over competitors. Sweet cactus strips accompany most orders; instead of the customary pickled white onions, carrots and radishes, they redden the mix to create a sweeter taste. Habanero slivers are added for bits of decadent hell. Salsas get whipped up fresh daily; faded pictures of the “exotic” items stick to windows to guide the uninitiated. I’d recommend Alebrije’s solely on historical importance, but that it sells great food is the proverbial oregano on the menudo (available only weekends, but oh-so-good).
Alebrije’s Grill, on Cubbon Street between Main and Sycamore streets, Santa Ana; on Pomona Street between Main and Sycamore, Santa Ana. No phone number.