Photo by James BunoanA year ago, you might have recoiled: Eat at the swap meet? The fetid, malodorous, B.O.-meets-churros-stinking flea market? But thanks to the faltering economy, even the Olive Garden is starting to look like a restaurant.
As a lifelong member of the working class—a status the Weekly has done nothing to change; we work here for the cool T-shirts—I welcome you to the wonders of the weekend swap meet. In the future, I'll give you tips on which $2 boxers last longest, but today I share with you the county's finest food alternatives. Due to the ephemeral nature of flea markets, the businesses with which I'll regale you often move from location to location and sometimes don't show at all.
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Cypress Swap Meet Your stomach will half-digest itself while searching for parking, but it's worth the effort. Cinnamon Bun sells a tasty trio of these delicacies for $5 along with an iced cappuccino (powerful enough to cure narcolepsy) and hot chocolate at $1.75 each. The main culinary concerns are troqueras Sunshine Nguyen and Mex Express, each with two locations. The former serves traditional breakfast eats, from French toast and egg rolls to something called a fried burrito (proteins from which my clogged arteries refused entry). Mex Express' menu doesn't stray from Mexican grub, specializing in ginormous dollar tacos slathered in a tomatoey salsa. They also serve liver tortas (I don't eat organs, but my dad vouches for their delectableness) and a great goat-stew birria. 9179 Valley View St., Cypress. Golden West Swap Meet Vietnamese/Mexican troquera stands dominate; George and Gina's Catering is probably one of the few places in the country where you can find good chow mein alongside Michoacán-style birria. Nearby, a nameless troquera serves spring rolls, funnel cakes and sugarcane juice to delight the appetite (you'll know it by its Vietnamese/Spanish/English placards). And if brain freezes are your desire, then the many-flavored swirlies, cones and raspados of Snowbird Frozen Yogurt will be your frigid heaven. But Jimmy's Hot Dogs rule the scene here. The small stand offers wiener choices of turkey, Polish sausage and something called a fire dog that tempts me to become a permanent fan of animal scraps in cases. 15744 Golden West, Huntington Beach. Orange Swap Meet Mexican food is sovereign over the meet's vast meal options. Five separate troqueras operate here, but only Martha's Catering is worth mentioning. Martha's prepares salads, excellent salami and patty melt sandwiches, and even strawberry milk. But you're going to eat there for its superb huaraches, which come in every cow meat imaginable. The only non-Mexican cuisine is found at the food court that used to anchor the old Orange Drive-In on which the swap meet meets. The pizza there is okay, but, dear God, stay away from the tacos. Paying $1.60 for a taco—no matter how delicious, and these aren't—is theft. By contrast, the nachos supreme are worth $5, including as they do such savory Mexican-prepared meats as carne asada, tongue and carnitas. Afterward, give your health a much-needed tune-up at Tejuino Estilo Jalisco. Right outside the food court, the father/daughter team that runs the stand packs fresh fruits such as watermelon, mangos and coconut into monstrous plastic containers. They'll add lime and chili powder in lip-puckering portions. 291 N. State College Blvd., Orange. Anaheim Indoor Marketplace The king of swap meet eats, where cooks prepare every quasi-food group known to dentists. Nearly pure cholesterol awaits you at Happy Shack in the form of buttered-beyond-belief popcorn; greasy hot dogs; and cheesy, salty nachos. Sugar enthusiasts can indulge themselves at Yum Yum Snack Shop, where you can explore a world of smoothies, teas, flavored milks and slushes in countless flavors (I lost track after lychee). The large food court features two delicious sit-down Mexican restaurants—Rincón Michoacano and Cocina Latina. The latter offers such Mexican standards as flautas, enchiladas and burritos; Rincón features more adventurous fare, including lomo saltado (mmmm. . . luscious loin) and rotisserie chickens. If you hate Mexican, partake of Azinoya Teriyaki's six passable teriyaki dishes. And before you leave, drink healthy with a fruit shake or fruit juice at Juguería Latina. 1440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim.