There was no such thing as regional Mexican restaurants in Anaheim while I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. There were tacos made similar to how we did during carne asada Sundays at Taqueria de Anda, fancier Mexican food at El Nopal #2, gabacho Mexican at El Conejo and MexiCasa . . . and that was it. I remember some boy at Anaheim High selling tamales wrapped in banana leaves, a heresy we zacatecanos and Jalisco kids laughed off as a dumb Indian tradition.
Thank God those sad days are over. Nowadays, Anaheim rivals Santa Ana in terms of Mexican-food diversity. You have Sinaloa-style aguachile, barbaco estilo Hidalgo, Mexico City forays and, yes, Oaxacan food. The latest treasure to enter the dining discourse is Taqueria La Poblanita, a ramshackle restaurant up the street from Angels Stadium that's half unfinished produce market, half restaurant, and all about towering masses of food reflective of its name. "Poblanita" refers to the owners' home state of Puebla, so understandably getting major play on the menu is the cemita poblana, a boulder of a sandwich that finds a challah-like bread encasing a crunchy slice of milanesa, milky cheese, smoky chipotle and other goodies for the best sandwich in Mexico . . . unless you count the pambazo. La Poblanita's version is the pambazo of perfection: a soft French bread drowned in red salsa, then grilled until toasted yet still moist enough that your fingers get salsa on them if you touch it. Inside is a spread equal parts potatoes and chorizo, crema fresca, queso cotija, and repollo to create a meal that burns and cools, one that hits with salt and sweetness until you vow you'll never taste another sandwich again.
And yet the pambazo isn't La Poblanita's greatest meal. That would be the quesadilla Coyoacán, a fried, folded expanse of puffy masa, airy and chewy and gooey, as long as your forearm and everything wonderful about Mexican food—more deity than tortilla. Coyoacán, of course, is most famous for being the Mexico City neighborhood in which Frida Kahlo lived, but its quesadillas are almost as beloved, titanic things prepared with milky Oaxacan cheese and filled with chilango favorites: earthy huitlacoche, spicy tinga de pollo or soft squash blossoms. The shell of this quesadilla is the best part—fried so it's simultaneously greasy yet redolent of freshly prepared masa, still pliable so you can fold it as though it were a taco. And whatever you order, feel free to drown your meals in La Poblanita's great salsas—the green one is spicier, very much so.
Regular tacos and burritos? They're here. But we're in a brave new era in Orange County, one in which the tyranny of Jalisco-style food is over and gems such as La Poblanita now rule. Don't make the same mistake this nerd did in high school, OC, and embrace the nuevo.
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This column appeared in print as "Embrace the Nuevo."