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Last month, I wrote a rant online that defended the honor of Mexican-American chefs, the young men and women who dare play around with abuelita's carnitas recipe to create dishes hailed by critics but reviled by many Mexicans as somehow not "authentic." Nothing against other chefs in OC, but anything I can do to raise the profiles of those culinary Zapatas—Carlos Salgado and Roland Rubalcava at Taco Maria, Gabriel Zambrano at Soho Taco, Anepalco's Danny Godinez, and precious few others in OC—I absolutely will because our people gotta work some things out, you know? And in that vein, let me praise Urbana in Anaheim.
It just celebrated a year in a food hall down the street from where I grew up, initially wowing people with an awesome cocktail menu and keeping them with dishes that have improved with time. Customers usually gorge on the tacos, and they're good—try the marlin taco, as it's one of few sit-down places in OC to offer the beautiful fish. But what I like best about Urbana—and what relates its chefs back to my rant—is how they consistently nail working-class and high-end Mexican food. So not only will it offer paisa dishes like the Gringa (a glorified quesadilla) and aguachile straight outta Sinaloa, the kitchen will mix it up with a silky squid-ink risotto or pork-belly tacos that approximate the juiciness of al pastor. The street dog, while delicious, is a bit too food-porn-y (instead of burying your hot dog in a thick bread, do like Tucson and get a smaller, lighter bolillo), but the flavors work. And the pozole de camarón, when on the menu, is one of the best Mexican dishes in OC right now.
Urbana's happy hour is when to visit, but make sure to enjoy a full dinner amidst the chill music and great artwork. And full disclosure: It once offered a drink named after my ¡Ask a Mexican! column on the menu. I appreciated the gesture, but I refused to visit because of that—conflict of interest, you know? Now, with the drink long gone, I'm going at least weekly, excited for the desmadre ahead.
Urbana, 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 502-0255; urbanaanaheim.com.