Last month, The Orange County Register published a piece on the decline of luxe loncheras, those "gourmet" food trucks that caused such a ruckus among foodies for the past five years. While spending a thousand-plus words on the genre, it only devoted two to the scene from whence those luxe loncheras came and continues to go strong: the original loncheras, the ones that have parked in the barrios of OC for decades. And the Reg's two words to describe this vibrant industry? "Roach coaches"—never mind that they are subject to the same health regulations as luxe loncheras and must park at the same commissaries every night for inspection.
While non-Mexicans went bonkers (and bankrupt) in trying to outdo themselves with newer and nuttier concepts, the rollout of new loncheras in the scene's capital, SanTana, has been far more deliberate. The city, especially along its Boulevard of Burritos, Main Street, has long been carved into fiefdoms by entrepreneurs with gentlemen's agreements that ensure everyone gets their slice of the quesadilla for years. It's rare, then, to see new loncheras pop up, such as Tacos Radioactivos, perfectly parking between two medical-marijuana dispensaries and thus guaranteeing a crowd. But Mexicans are filtering in as well, drawn by the small but perfect chilango menu. Primary among the listings is the pambazo, that sandwich of renown that finds chefs dunking a bolillo in a salsa, grilling the results so the salsa magically gets encapsulated in the bread, then stuffing it with repollo, crumbled cotija, and a spread of mashed potatoes and chorizo. Radioactivos' pambazo is open-faced—if you touch it with your fingers, the yummy red stains will stay with you for days—and so soft you can easily eat it with a spoon. And the flavors within—spicy because of the guajillo salsa, crunchy with chorizo, salty gracias to the cheese—makes me think pambazos will finally cross over come 2015.
While the regular menu itself is limited—the rest of the offerings are just tacos, burritos, Sonoran dogs, alambres and tortas—visit often to check out the specials. Some days, it can be Mexican-style Jell-Os of pistachio and lime, silky and tart; other days, savory menudo or pancita, the infamous Hidalgo version of haggis that's like scooping up a handful of lard and eating it all at once. May Tacos Radioactivos stand for years—and may the lonchera scene return to Mexicans for good, as we'll always love 'em and never treat the scene like last night's sloppy seconds.
Tacos Radioactivos, on the corner of 15th and Main streets, Santa Ana, (714) 650-2777.
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