The food pickings remain slim in Brea—mostly burgers and Renaissance Bistro, really. So I allow a bit of culinary affirmative action when considering restaurants for review in this north OC town; even then, few pass muster. That said, don’t consider DURANGO MEXICAN GRILL a quota write-up. Granted, I wouldn’t order about 75 percent of the menu, but the rest of their offerings deserve inclusion in any conversation of great Mexican cuisine in la naranja.
About the verboten three-quarters: All those meals can stand against competitors. Their tacos will please the Mexican in your party but won’t scare the gabacho. Tortas come spiked with grilled onions and a chipotle-lime mayo on a toasted bolillo. Meats inside said standards are top-notch. And the only place you can find tastier quesadillas is my mami’s kitchen on a Sunday morning. But I will never order those plates again, as delicious as they may be, simply because Durango is ripping eaters off: $2.25 for a taco?! Six bucks for a torta or quesadilla?! I understand the economy blows, and Brea eaters will pay extra for convenience, but Breans (Brea-ites?): You’re better off driving a couple of minutes west or south to visit La Habra or Placentia, respectively, for cheap, delicious Mexican grub. Everyone else: Visit your local barrio.
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But it’s the specials that make Durango. Most of them exist not on the menu, but as pictures taped to the wall and the glass panel separating eaters from the kitchen. A binder also keeps past specials—a $9 charbroiled salmon treated with a mango relish and mango butter, for instance, or lobster tacos juicy with sweetness. I ordered a wet burrito on my most recent visit, drowned in green and red salsa, with crema fresca in the center—the colors of the Mexican tricolor. So cute I took a picture. But its taste went beyond kitsch. The green salsa exhibited tomatillo undertones; the red, a bit of spice. And the crema fresca will persuade you to never buy sour cream again. Inside waited soft refried beans and sturdy carne asada bits; to the side lay rice. One of the finer wet burritos I’ve tasted—actually, the only good wet burrito, as the salsa didn’t sog up the tortilla.
Durango consistently surprises me—a hole-in-the-wall setting with the trappings of a serious restaurant. Only a hole-in-the-wall would offer sopa tlapeño, a chicken soup native to central Mexico famous for its complex-yet-homey layers; only higher-end restaurants experiment with classics, as Durango Mexican Grill does when it prepares carnitas enchiladas slathered in an achiote salsa. Visit this treasure, and don’t let the ashes from the recent fires settle on your platter!
Durango Mexican Grill, 730 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 255-5660; www.durangomexicangrill.com.