Tacos and a Side of Tacos

Photo by Jeanne RiceWhen I spotted the Taqueria Mexico sign in a strip mall off Katella, visions of a torta stuffed with meat, lettuce and avocado danced in my head. But though the left side of the menu on the wall was in Spanish and the other half in English, the message in both languages was the same:

No torta tonight, amigo.

Taqueria Mexico sells tacos—nothing but tacos. A little glass case on the counter holds Mexican candies, but they appear to have last been touched during the Carter administration. If you're in the mood for a Mexican food item other than a taco, you're out of luck. The only variety in this place are the taco fillings, and they are a veritable barnyard mosaic: beefsteak, barbecued pork, chicken, carnitas, beef tongue, beef head, beef brains and something called "buche." I looked up "buche" in a Spanish/English dictionary: it means "stomach." No matter what kind of taco fills your stomach—yes, even if stomach fills your stomach—the cost at Taqueria Mexico is the same: 85 cents per taco.

I passed on the stomach and got three chicken tacos instead. The man preparing tacos assembly-line-style behind the counter worked with speed and precision. For each of my three tacos, he grabbed two warm (not fried), homemade corn tortillas about the size of yarmulkes. Holding the tortillas like a catcher's mitt in the palm of one hand, he used the other to toss in chunks of chicken so tender it probably took only a gentle tug to pull the meat off the willing bird.

With the fowl in the mitt, the preparer then put his hand in a pan of chopped onions on one side and fresh cilantro on the other. He pushed some of each to the center of the pan, mixed them together, and sprinkled it over the filling.

Before I could finish saying, "Hey, is that red sauce hot?" he'd spooned it over the taco filling. Turned out it was hot, but not overpowering. The chile verde sauce in the pan next to the red was milder, but you've obviously got to ask for it much earlier in the process.

The taco man finished by throwing two lime slices on the paper plate, which he then spun toward his colleague at the cash register. I told the register man to give me a Coke (there's also Nestea, Diet Coke, Sprite, horchata, tamarindo and Jamaica).

Total tab: $3.60.

As I pulled up a chair across from a stack of Miniondas newspapers, I figured I'd be making a return trip to the assembly line. But the three tacos weren't just delicious—the secret must be the warm homemade tortillas and fresh cilantro-onion mix—they were also enough to stuff.

Cheap, tasty, original eats in this land of chain restaurants is swell enough, but what really makes this place a find is its hours: 24 hours a day, every day. Knowing that there's a fine taco joint open whenever the urge hits you is like having a warm tortilla security blanket.

Polishing off my meal to very loud ranchero music—you know, the song that sounds like a tequila-drenched klezmer band with the hoarse-voiced singer belching, "Peradelamuchusonada perrrrrra, seamigocortesabahhhhh-ha . . ."—I noticed two of the city of Orange's finest sitting across the room. Cops know all the best places, I figured. Then I took a closer look and noticed the half of the room they were in was not part of Taqueria Mexico, but an adjoining doughnut shop. I suppressed my laughter so hard I nearly had Coke/chicken/ cilantro stew shooting out of my nose.

Speaking of nasal excretions, as I looked in my rear-view mirror before starting the drive home, I noticed the spicy red sauce had caused my nose to start running. This means only one thing: I'll be back, and I won't be getting the chile verde sauce.

Taqueria Mexico, located at 108 W. Katella Ave., Orange, is open 24 hours a day, every day. (714) 538-5772. Lunch for two, $3.40, food only. No alcohol. Cash only.


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