One of the great frauds perpetrated by local Mexican restaurants is that of naming themselves after the home city or state of the owners, but not offering any regional specialties. Tacos Sinaloa in Santa Ana? Good, cheap burritos but nothing sinaloense. The recently opened Tacos Jerez near Huntington Beach’s Slater Slums? The owners claim they’ll eventually expand the menu to include Zacatecan specialties such as the mole-like asado and salty queso añejo, but this dive currently sells big, cheap tacos and little else. Taqueria Arandas in Anaheim? Sigh . . .
Thank God, then, for Taqueria Morelos in Garden Grove. I long resisted visiting this place in the northern part of Little Saigon, burned too many times by false advertising. It’s in a depressed shopping plaza where the nicest-looking business is the Laundromat, and Taquería Morelos’ space is rather uninspiring: a lonely jukebox in the back; fading pictures that act as the restaurant’s sole menu; and wall photos of the state’s beloved son, Emiliano Zapata. But here is the only true Morelos-style restaurant in Southern California.
There are tacos acorazados, of course; the legendary specialty of the state’s capital, Cuernavaca, consists of a massive, handmade corn tortilla topped by rice, grilled onions and jalapeños, and sweet, crunchy milanesa. Those at Taquería Morelos aren’t as epic as the acorazados served at Alebrije’s in Santa Ana, but their extraordinary interplay still impresses—the earthiness of freshly formed, slightly crisped masa; the moist suffocation that well-made rice causes on the esophagus; the buttery, sweet milanesa (beef or chicken); the grounding effect of the grilled veggies. The kind woman who runs the restaurant by herself (so do be patient, considering everything here is made to order) even offers a taco acorazado made with chopped-up hard-boiled eggs—not breaded or fried, alas, but still a breakfast taco with peer only in San Antonio.
Other morelense gems dot the menu: picaditas, thick masa discs buried under cabbage, queso fresco, Mexican cream and your choice of meat (though opt for the jerky-like cecina); pork rib served with squash and slathered in a fine red sauce; molotes, more traditional to Oaxaca but here airier, crunchier, like a fried taco fused shut with red-orange ground chorizo inside, then bathed in Mexican cream and a watery salsa que pica. I still need to try their mole verde, decorated with pepitas but always out of stock when I’ve visited. You can even order pupusas at Taquería Morelos, more a nod to Garden Grove’s emerging Central American community than anything else and not worth going out of your way for. But the bottle of Sriracha alongside the Valentina? The stuff cross-cultural, regional-rarity dreams are made of . . .
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Taquería Morelos, 12631 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 554-1556.