What is it about Huntington Beach that it gets great Mexican restaurants that its residents don't deserve? Tacos Jerez, Tacos El Chavito, any number of mulitas specialists over the years—these are all regional Mexican stars, but the majority of Surf City folks who patronize them never veer past the taco/burrito/combo-plate trinity that defines Bro-Mex cuisine, a term we just coined on our Stick a Fork In It blog.
Taquería Don Victor suffers the same fate. If you believe those crazy Yelp kids, the narrow dive is little more than a clone of Mario's or Fred's, a place for safe Mexican grub. How can those pendejos miss the mounds of barbacoa steaming under maguey leaves near the cashier, the scent of fried lamb that dominates the restaurant, the humongous menu featuring dishes unseen almost anywhere else in Orange County? Here (and in its sister Anaheim location) is perhaps la naranja's most-thorough restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of Hidalgo, the Mexican state best known for its obsession with roasted lamb.
Barbacoa de borrego estilo Hidalgo, like Oaxacan mole and Baja fish tacos, is one of Mexico's culinary treasures, at its finest a heap of stringy, gamy meat, sweet and almost crispy. Back in the old country, Hidalgans dig a pit and bury a whole lamb in it, placing maguey leaves over the coals for a slow roast; at Taquería Don Victor, a steam plate is substituted for the coals and pit, but the maguey leaves remain. They are crucial, imparting a distinct, slightly sour bouquet that creates a vegetal aftertaste—delicious. Most consumers also order the rich, intoxicating consommé, the drippings that pool underneath all that barbacoa. Don Victor's barbacoa is lamb without par in Orange County—you can taste the baa.
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But the summit of Don Victor's lamb is the weekend-only pancita de borrego—lamb's stomach stuffed with the little guy's organs. Unlike haggis, Don Victor doesn't even bother to mitigate the funky flavors with oatmeal or other fillers: It's all unapologetic liver, heart, tripe and sweetbreads, rubbed with chile, stuffed into a stomach, then roasted—impossibly fatty and incredible. And Don Victor's stacks them, the better for you to choose your pancita—don't be shy like those typical HBers!
There are other Hidalgan specialties as well—tulancinguenses, a quartet of quesadillas stuffed with ham and covered in crema fresca, that are reminiscent of a croque monsieur and puntas al albañil (bricklayers points), which is really just carne asada and bacon mixed with grilled jalapeños and onions. The mixiote is barbacoa with nopal; the menudo is divine. And yes, wimps: Combo plates exist here, but they're as relevant as a heater in the Sahara at noon.
This column appeared in print as "Taste the Baa."