OC's Best Aguas Frescas
Bad news, ladies: As of this summer, I'm off the market. She's a real beaut, although one that doesn't accompany me in this column's escapades until I appear on KCRW-FM 89.9's Good Food With Evan Kleiman and plug a restaurant I reviewed for this infernal rag months before. About the most I've been able to turn her on to is aguachile (thanks to the Mexican magus that is Carlos Salgado at Taco Maria) and aguas frescas, those refreshing drinks based on fruits, fruits and more fruits.
Aguas frescas ("fresh waters" in Spanish, perhaps the most beautifully redundant name for a foodstuff ever) are a staple of Southern California at this point—if you haven't yet tasted the saccharine sweetness of horchata, jamaica's tart vigor or the wallop of tang that is tamarindo, you must've moved into Leisure World in the 1970s. And it's this familiarity that unfortunately makes most Mexican restaurants skimp on the quality, leaving them unafraid to buy powdered mierda and pass it off to the public at large. Mexicans can tell the good stuff from the bad, yet far too often, they tolerate the bad. Enough! The following is a list of my favorite aguas frescas in no particular order, along with the best places to buy them.
I hate to admit it, but Salvadorans make a far-better horchata than we Mexis, with its touch of toasted rice and cinnamon. Izalco (300 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, 714-973-0554; www.izalco-restaurant.com) makes theirs fresh daily, and makes sure that no sediments lurk at the bottom like far too many horchatas. For those who want to stick to Mexico, try the horchata preparada at El Fortín (10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, 714-252-9120; elfortinrestaurant.com), spiked with cactus-fruit syrup, walnuts and melon.
AGUA DE LIMÓN
Otherwise known as limeade, the Mexican version focuses on the boldness of lime instead of dumping a cup of sugar in liquid. Café Calacas (324 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana, 714-662-2002; cafecalacas.com) usually has it in stock—order one with which to wash down a spectacular Don Benjamín sandwich.
AGUA DE PLÁTANO
The best variety of aguas frescas is offered by El Gallo Giro (1442 S. Bristol St., Ste. 1A, Santa Ana, 714-549-2011; www.gallogiro.com), everything from the tried-and-true to rarities such as chia and even cactus—not cactus fruit, but nopal (about the best thing that can be said about it is its health benefits). The best choice is the rare agua de plátano—or banana water, which straddles the fine point between being a beverage and being a smoothie and tastes as though you're drinking a banana cream pie.
It translates an classic functions as the best fruit punch in the world: bits of red and green apples, oranges, pineapples and nancés, which are native to Central America. . . . Wait, am I praising Salvis again? Regrettably, yes, but I know when those cerotes have us beat. Try the ensalada at Cuzcatlán (1330 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, 714-503-5814; www.cuzcatlanrestaurant.com) while gorging on a plate-sized pupusa.
AGUA DE MAMEY
Mamey is one of the most underrated fruits of Latin America, a football-sized beast that produces a thick, custard-like flesh. In the drink version, it's usually spiked with condensed milk, producing an agua fresca that makes horchata taste like pond scum. Most weekends, you can find it at the Northgate González Supermarket on the corner of Main and Cubbon streets in SanTana, which just happens to be where the legendary Alebrije's lonchera parks. Order a taco acorazado, go in to get your agua de mamey, get your taco, and then enjoy summer in SanTana.
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