No. 76: Wet Burrito at 301 Cafe

No. 76: Wet Burrito at 301 Cafe

Welcome to the Weekly's list of our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2011! Tune in every day until we get to número uno! Now, on to the latest entry. . .

I just did an interview with KPCC-FM 89.3's Multi-American blog about my coming book on the history of Mexican food in the United States and, of course, pissed off the purists. They're mostly pissed at my assertion that "the Mexican combo platter smothered in yellow cheese is as Mexican as the chilango tlacoyo, as the Taco Bell taco, as whatever comes out of Rick Bayless' kitchen. They're all different regional manifestations of the mother tortilla." You'd think I blew up the Virgin of Guadalupe.

What they're not realizing is that I'm not necessarily asserting the greatness of Americanized Mexican food. Cal-Mex, at its most spectacular, is only filling, satisfying, never reaching glorious heights ala regional Mexican in Mexico--and that's perfectly fine. Take, for instance, the wet burrito at 301 Cafe in Placentia.

301 Cafe is a Cal-Mex classic on the levels of Mexi-Casa and the Little Onion, one that stopped caring about changing restaurant tastes around 1975. It's a dingy place just waiting for hipsters to discover it and turn it into some precious place (hipsters: please leave it alone), with fogged windows the only illumination, Naugahyde-upholstered booths, a long wooden bar and a jukebox that stopped updating around Los Cadetes de Linares. The food always fills, never stuns--or so it seems.

Consider its wet burrito, a mass of beef con chile colorado, the ever-present melted yellow cheese, and canned red salsa on top. It really is a mundane thing--but sometimes, man needs comfort more than thrills. Look at the pureed guacamole at the left, something out of a Sunset article from the Nixon administration. And all works. The salsa toward the right tastes more like New Mexico-style green chile: not just relishy but with heat. The side of pickled carrots and jalapeños is a wholly Mexi innovation. I'll almost always prefer regional Mexican to Cal-Mexi, but to deny Cal-Mex's own unique, humble brilliance is as great an affront to Mexican cultural legacy as Glen Bell ripping off an Inland Empire restaurant for his tacos--wait, I can't mention that just yet...

Click here for our 100 faves from 2010! The list so far this time around:

No. 77: Pork Curry at Miyabi-Tei
No. 78: Bánh Tieu at Bánh Mì So 1
No. 79: Any Sandwich at the Crosby
No. 80: Fish Pho at Pho Vinh Ky II
No. 81: Quesadilla Chilanga at Alebrije's Grill
No. 82: Lobster Roll at Lobsta Truck
No. 83: Nem Nuong Cuon at Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
No. 84: Wild Boar Balinese Sausage at Valhalla Table
No. 85: Comida Corrida at Taquería La Raza
No. 86: Breakfast Burrito at Troy's Drive-In
No. 87: Mandoo at L&M Liquor and Deli
No. 88: Chicago Dog at Chicago Harv's
No. 89: Sweet Potato Tater Tots at Pee Wee's Famous
No. 90: Kaya-Stuffed French Toast at Chomp Chomp
No. 91: Egg Breakfast at Rick's Atomic Kitchen
No. 92: Sticky Rice With Chicken at Quan Hy
No. 93: Beef Koobideh at Hen House Grill
No. 94: $5 Fish Bento at Bentoss
No. 95: Milanesa Sandwich at Piaggio's Gourmet on Wheels
No. 96: Samurai Burrito at Wafu of Japan
No. 97: Carnitas Gordita at Bodega R Ranch Market
No. 98: Spam Musubi at k'ya Street Fare
No. 99: Tortilla Andorra at Anepalco's
No. 100: Lemongrass Chicken, Extra Spicy at Vietnam's Pearl

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