Tacos y Carnitas Sahuayo Offer Nose-to-Tail Tacos
The tacos and carnitas at Tacos y Carnitas Sahuayo in Santa Ana are fine at best, and mostly inconsistent—if you go with the tried and true. The carne asada is juicy, crisped on its edges, but the al pastor is too oily, the chicken dry and the carnitas cooked too long. Baptize them in the salsa provided at a salad bar, with a too-large sneeze guard that forces you to have to crane your arm to put salsa on your tacos because the ladle is far too long, and you might wonder why the hell I'm sending you here.
Note the operative term: tried and true. Veer from the meats you usually get, and instead go with the naughty bits, and you'll discover a restaurant that takes the current foodie obsession with nose-to-tail eating literally and beautifully. You get a hint of this methodology from the restaurant's name—Sahuayo, of course, is the Michoacán city that functions as the Iowa of Santa Ana, a place that has sent thousands of its residents to our county seat for the past 60 years. These are people whose worship of pig makes our obsession with bacon seem vegan—carnitas, most famously, but also chicharrones, blood pudding, ears, virtually every part of the animal. Slabs of chicharrones bake under heat lamps near the front—some as large as a desk calendar, others rutted like a timing belt, both concentrated fat from which I honestly can only handle two or three bites before collapsing in a quivering, frothing food coma. The chicharrones are also cooked for taco consumption, a process that essentially melts them into globs of fat—by far the most popular taco on sale. Also available is something I've never before encountered in Orange County: chicharrón de aldilla, or pork belly.
Another length of the long restaurant is devoted to guisados (stews). Some are straightforward, like the carnitas mixed with squash and corn, but choose the black-as-midnight trays holding soricua and moronga: different versions of blood sausage, but here prepared as a stew, impossibly rich and spiced with onions, chile and little else.
You'll notice a sign at the end of the small menu (tacos, burritos and quesadillas filled with many meat options) warning in Spanish of a salsa "for men." You'll have to buy this salsa, which they store in a small refrigerator and sell next door at their sister carnicería: a green sauce made from serranos that can make habanero salsa seem downright vanilla.
Finally: pork-snout tacos. Called trompa, they are jellied cubes of porcine wonder. Order now, and thank me later.
This column appeared in print as "Nose-to-Tail Tacos."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.