This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
The emptying of Mexico is almost complete, and Orange County is for the better. The past couple of years have seen these expats introduce regional Mexican cuisine to our diet—fried Cornish game hens from Puebla, powerful Sinaloan ceviches, scintillating moles from Oaxaca, and the hell in a French roll known as the torta ahogada. Add to this list the county's first Yucatecan restaurant, Condé Cakes.
As its name hints, Condé is primarily a bakery, and most of its sales comes from cakes for special occasions—birthdays, weddings, quinceañeras, all blandly American. It also bakes traditional Mexican pan dulcesfamiliar to Americans, like conchas (the small, sugar-specked loaves of sweet bread your wabby co-workers bring in for Cinco de Mayo) and empanadas stuffed with any number of fillings—coconut cream, tart guava, cherry and apple. Ask the bilingual staff for the Yucatecan specialties, and they'll direct you to the rollitos (long, crispy baked tortas filled with meat) or the hearty hojaldra, a Caribbean take on the ham-and-cheese croissant. The most delicious Yucatecan bread is pan de nata: a dense, moist pastry that tastes like a richer bread pudding. You can also buy pan de nata in giant circular rolls—just don't pay much attention to the mistranslated ingredients, especially the one that states pan de nata is made with "homo milk."
Condé Cakes currently offers food on weekends, and the menu is limited to four or five items. But here you can dine like the Mayans. You've heard of tamales, but probably never like Yucatán makes them—steamed in banana leaves, with a Jello-like masa containing long pork strips soaked in a salsa more peppery than spicy. You'll also be vaguely familiar with the panuchos, a type of sope that here is stuffed with black beans and topped with pickled red onions: the perfect combination of bitter and sweet. Fans of Middle Eastern cuisine will recognize the kibi—a gnarled, fried hunk of ground beef and cracked wheat—as a mestizo version of the Lebanese favorite kibbe. But the most famous Yucatecan dish is cochinita pibil, shredded pork marinated with bitter oranges and achiote that's then slow-roasted in banana leaves for hours until the meat has the consistency of a slaw; it's one of the most intensely flavored meats you'll taste. Condé slops its cochinita pibil into tortas with no condiments—one of the best non-Vietnamese sandwiches on Earth.
CONDÉ CAKES, 2050 N. GRAND AVE., SANTA ANA, (714) 560-0844.
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