Growing up, my siblings and I loved thrift stores. We were too young to understand that our family patronized the shops because the only clothes mami could afford were hand-me-downs and cast-offs. We kids didn't mind, though, busy as we were running along aisles crammed with books, toys, old television sets and racks of clothes where we and other kids would play hide-and-seek.
My favorite thrift shop was in Orange: close to the train tracks and across the street from a park, but also next to a taquería that produced the softest, most luscious tacos I'd ever eaten. We didn't visit that thrift store often, which only increased the taquería's mystique. The thrift store visits became less frequent and finally disappeared as the Arellanos sweated their way out of poverty and into the lower-middle class, but the memory of that taquería remained.
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A couple of weeks ago, a faithful reader wrote in to claim that Taqueria Guadalupana served the county's best tacos. I visited on a Sunday afternoon, and damned if Taquería Guadalupana isn't the taquería of my childhood. The massive shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe remains; the menu is the same—tacos, burritos and tortas filled with carne asada, al pastor, tongue, chicken or head meat. Tart salsa still comes in little paper cups or already drizzled on the meat. The cups of aguas frescas are still large enough to keep three noisy kids quiet.
I ordered a carne asada burrito and a chicken taco. The taco, though small, contained enough meat for two tacos, and caramelized onions added sweetness. The carne asada in the burrito, meanwhile, was black and charred as it should be rather than grayish and clammy like the carne asada cooked at too many taquerías. The beans were mushy, the rice fluffy, the salsa unending. My childhood memories and source failed me: these aren't the best tacos in Orange County, but I can think of few better.
My family's economic life flashed as I enjoyed Guadalupana's tacos. I saw the lonely, mulleted Mexican men with grim faces; the harried mothers reprimanding their children, who talked back in English; the young men in high school jerseys who had just played baseball across the street at Schaffer Park. Whether poor or pocho, Guadalupana's tacos soothed everyone—even the gabachos who walked in, ordered their tortas and sat outside on the curb because Mexicans filled all the tables.
TAQUERIA GUADALUPANA, 1997 ORANGE OLIVE RD., ORANGE, (714) 637-1160.