Latinos We Like
NICK GARFIAS, SENIOR DESIGNER, MERCEDES-BENZ
Nick Garfias is a senior designer at Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design lab in Irvine and half-Mexican—his mom is Japanese; his dad, legendary UCI ethnomusicologist Robert Garfias, is puro mexicano—but his favorite Latino restaurant in the county is Salvadoran: Pupusería San Sivar."I like the fried yucca and the pork," he says. "I think they call it chicharrones, but it's not skin like your normal chicharrones. It's like carnitas, only more dried out, and then they serve it with the yucca. It's great." Pupusería San Sivar, 1940 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-2952.
ROBERT CHAO ROMERO, LAWYER/PROFESSOR
Robert Chao Romero is many things at once: Chinese (on his mom's side) and Mexican by his father; a lawyer with law offices in Yorba Linda; and a professor of Chicano studies at UCLA, where he teaches courses on the history of affirmative action and the law and Latinos. Chao Romero is also the country's pre-eminent scholar on the history of the Chinese in Mexico: his forthcoming book, The Dragon in Big Lusong: Chinese Immigration and Settlement in Mexico, 1882-1940, will further examine the subject. But when it comes to dinner, Chao Romero is straightforward: "El Farolitoin Placentia is a cool place," says Romero. "When I walk into the restaurant, it brings back childhood memories of my Aunt Carmen's kitchen. The food, served Zacatecas-style, is good and served in big portions. I especially like their chile rellenos, and my family is a big fan of their menudo." Chao Romero's one quibble with the place: "I wish that more Spanish was spoken in the restaurant." And they say Mexicans don't assimilate . . . El Farolito, 201 S. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-7880.
JIM GILCHRIST, FOUNDER, MINUTEMAN PROJECT
The scourge of young Chicanos is more Mexican than most of them. His son-in-law is Mexican, he owns a Chihuahua named Tía, and nothing stops him from enjoying the taquitos at El Torito. "I like any Mexican food that's crunchy," says Gilchrist. "The taquitos at El Torito have a good snap to them." Gilchrist also remembers a restaurant on Warner and Bristol years ago that sold great taquitos, but it's no longer there—you know, because Mexicans took over Santa Ana long ago. El Torito, located in cities without significant Mexican communities near you.
ROBERT ACOSTA, IRAQ WAR VETERAN
We caught Acosta on the celly as he and his girlfriend were driving to the Sundance Film Festival, where he was scheduled to speak after the premiere of The Ground Truth. The hour-and-a-half documentary, which deals with troops returning from Iraq and includes Acosta, will come to Orange County soon, says Acosta. But first he wants to eat crickets at El Fortínin Fullerton: "You can get them as appetizers, where you pop them in your mouth like popcorn. But I like them better inside a huge quesadilla. The crickets are like dried shrimp—really meaty, salty and crunchy." El Fortín,700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also at 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com.
STEVE TOPIK, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, UC IRVINE
Topik earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas and teaches Latin American history, particularly the histories of Mexico and Brazil. What really seems to interest him is what kids call mash-ups—what students of Latin America call the Columbian exchange, the flow of people, things and ideas between the New World and the Old. He's documented that pattern in books and essays, most notably in "Looking Back," a column he shared with UCI historian Kenneth Pomeranz in World Trade Magazineand which the two turned into a 1999 book,The World That Trade Created. Among his favorite local Latin American restaurants? Newport's Taco Rosa, where he finds yet more evidence of the Columbian exchange:
Taco Rosa is pretty well-hidden, in a Pavilion's shopping center behind the university. How'd you find it? Some of my colleagues go there frequently—particularly Vicki Ruiz, who does Chicano history—and they've raved. Grad students too. Grad students. So it's cheap. Well, it's reasonable. Nothing's cheap, particularly in Newport Beach. It's kind of high-end Mexican, isn't it?I got the enchiladas Oaxaca, which the menu said are stuffed with Oaxaca cheeses and something called "epazote refried beans." I'm pretty used to enchiladas stuffed with whatever cheese hasn't gone bad in the refrigerator and beans from a can.I don't know if it's all that exotic, frankly. It's not Tex-Mex or California cuisine. It's pretty Mexican. I got the enchiladas Oaxaca too, but what I like best is enchiladas de pollo en mole. What do you like about that?I love mole sauce—it's hot and it's sweet. You know, all of these meals are creole—a combination of indigenous ingredients and . . . And European? Yeah, the Spanish. Take, for example, the enchiladas we're talking about. If the tortillas are corn, they're Mexican—indigenous. If they're wheat? That's Spanish. And in terms of tomatoes or chiles, those are native American plants. On the other hand, chicken and pork are European imports. It's history on a plate. Exactly. What I like about chocolate—the key ingredient in mole—is that it's a native American spice. A spice? I think of it as, well, candy.Well, think of it as you want, but when you use it to cook as Mexicans do, think of it as a spice. Remember, Mexico's indigenous people didn't use sweeteners except honey, and when they used chocolate, it was always with chile. I had dessert at Taco Rosa, the churros, and they come with chocolate—not a sweet chocolate, but a wonderful, bittersweet chocolate. You spent a lot of time in Mexico. I don't know about a lot of time—a couple of months back in college, a couple months here and there for research. Thinking back on it, anything you really miss, food-wise?I think what's wonderful in Mexico are the fruits—fruit salads and drinks, especially. And they actually serve those drinks at Taco Rosa—watermelon and cantaloupe. They're very good. I didn't see those.They're not on the menu. You have to ask for it. Taco Rosa, 2632 San Miguel Rd., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980.
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