Sometimes, the readers are right. Few restaurants have sparked more review requests than Taquería Los Grandes in Santa Ana, a long-standing, clean restaurant in the middle of one of the city’s rougher patches. It’s what an eater wants in a taquería—delicious tacos and burritos, sugary aguas frescas, Mexican music muffling conversations, and a kitchen staff who will infect you with joy, whether you speak Spanish or not, simply by their hearty laughs and clanging pots. And their breakfast burritos might be one of the best bargains in Orange County—three bucks gets you a brick of morning get-go.
Sometimes, the readers are wrong. Taquería Los Grandes is not the best taquería in la naranja—not even close. It’s more accurately a Mexican-American dive, with taquitos, tostadas and other superfluous heresies on the menu. The tacos, while worth the $2 price tag, could stand to be smaller, since Diosito en el cielo never meant for tacos to fill you after chowing down just two. Plus, they contain guacamole and shredded cabbage instead of onions and cilantro. This is SanTana, for Chrissakes, not H.B. The burritos, while delicious, are strangely slim. And Los Grandes closes at 9 p.m., way too early for a true taquería. It makes sense, given the neighborhood—but hey, gangsters get hungry, too.
Most of the time, though, the readers are right. Here you’ll find one of the greatest salsas in the region, an oily concoction that Taquería Los Grandes serves in help-yourself bowls next to the register. It looks like used motor oil, and the seeds lie in the bottom unless you give the bowl a good scraping. A mere dab will ooze through your meal, leaving a trail of heat and flavor as well as a lingering kick you’ll want to experience again. It costs 75 cents to take the salsa home—to paraphrase Milton Friedman, there is no such thing as a free salsa—but you’ll then own a container that will meet your hot-sauce needs better than any Tapatío bottle.
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God bless the readers. Taquería Los Grandes is a true hole-in-the-wall: a place that looks like an ordinary, boring Mexican restaurant but offers delights. I still say they should concentrate on tacos, burritos and tortas, but every time I try one platter—last week was enchiladas as perfectly gooey as Mami’s—I return for another. So, a special gracias to all of you who suggested Los Grandes, especially those commentators in our Stick a Fork In It blog. Now, if only ustedes can suggest a local Colombian restaurant . . .
Taquería Los Grandes, 1736 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 647-9862