It's Cinco de Mayo weekend, and what better way to celebrate this pseudo-Mexican holiday than by eating at Latino restaurants devoid of Mexicans? Yes, there are some purportedly Mexican eateries on this list, but we guarantee you their crowds for the next couple of days will consist primarily of gabachos sporting "Drinko por Cinco" sombreros and telling inappropriate donkey-show stories to any curvy mexicanawithin the reach of their leers. As for Mexicans at the South and Central American eateries on this list? Ha! If you think any Mexicans are amongst their regulars, then you don't know the depths of Latin American rivalries—consult previous entries of ¡Ask a Mexican! for further details.
Quasi-Cajun-Mexican cuisine with blackened shrimp tacos and burritos, blackened chicken burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. There's grilled fish tortas as well as beer-battered and blackened ones. And, of course, there's the fish tacos, which have that clean, healthy, tangy thing going on. 3664S.Bristol,SantaAna,(714)641-4836;alsoat23020LakeForestDr.,Ste.130,LagunaHills,(949)587-0920.$
Carpi's bakes pastas and pizzas, but more memorable at this cluttered gem—every section of the tiny deli that's not a table or wine case is paintings and pictures of Buenos Aires, tango dancers or tango idol Carlos Gardel—are the Argentine specialties squeezed within its sparse menu. The empanadas are flaky stunners: toasted brown, melted with a stretchy mozzarella, and encasing a thick ham slice curled within its buttery crust. 320E.KatellaAve.,Ste.H,Orange,(714)639-3551.$
The ambiance makes this the perfect date restaurant. The Nuevo Latino menu leans toward Cuban but mixes in Jamaican, Mexican and other flavors. The bar serves some of the best sangria around, and the lemon-drop martinis are near-legendary too. 2930BristolSt.,CostaMesa,(714)556-0176.$$
Ana Montoya-Ives cooks up the spicy food of her native northern Peru. Her extensive 42-entrée menu is entirely derived from family recipes such as the arroz con mariscos, a dusky fire of a meal with fish, calamari and shrimp. 23600RockfieldBlvd.,Ste.2K,LakeForest,(949)587-9008;260S.E.BristolSt.,CostaMesa,(714)444-4652;301MainSt.,HuntingtonBeach,(714)374-3399.$$
If there's a drawback to this place, it's the temptation to order too much. The portions aren't for dainty appetites. Like most good-if-slightly-yuppified Mexican restaurants, the meals are best enjoyed on the outside patio while drinking a cool margarita in the warm Laguna air. 480 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-1239; www.javiers-cantina.com. $$
If you haven't dined at this Italian-Argentine chain, you're at least familiar with its logo—a picture of a howling toddler with spaghetti dripping from his head, an Orange County advertising icon as beloved as Mickey Mouse or the Spanky's guy. As the name suggests, Pasta Connection likes to prepare pasta—silky fettuccines, blockish raviolis and lasagnas that look like a Bicycle pinochle deck. 1902 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-3484; 2145 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 541-0053; www.pastaconnection.net. $
Despite its name, the snacks of choice here are strictly Peruvian, from popular selections such as tender rotisserie chicken and chilled-Velveeta-drenched papas à la huancaina to more deliciously esoteric choices such as cau cau (diced potato sautéed with chewy, pale tripe) and salchipapas, hot dog slices buried under French fries, a meal destined for baseball stadiums. La Pizza Grotto does maintain a neighborhood pizzeria feel, but futbolbanners stand in for football pennants and all the big screens flash highlights from Latin American soccer leagues. 13008ChapmanAve.,GardenGrove,(714)750-7343.$
Plaza Garibaldi is named after the famous square in Mexico City where mariachi bands play. Their dinner shows feature Mariachi Garibaldi, a nine-piece band that warms your dining experience, Mexico City-style. 500 N. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 758-9014; www.plaza-garibaldi.com. $$
No red meat at this lonchera:Los Primos Mariscos makes seafood with a Nayarit twist. This means the freshness and sourness for which the coastal Mexican state's cuisine is famous reverberate from every plate. Most impressive is Los Primos Mariscos' ceviche: so many chunks of shrimp or fish are packed on the large tostada it's only a matter of time before the Santa Ana PD cites Los Primos Mariscos for overcrowding. OnthecornerofFirst&Hesperiansts.,SantaAna.¢
Argentina lives in this tiny strip of Garden Grove's Westminster Boulevard, and the results are incredible: cheesy, fresh Argentine-style Italian pastas, gut-busting dishes of beef (the parillada has five different types alone) and more than 30 native Argentine wines. But the best part is gracious owner Elías Niquias, who will greet you by name the second time you visit. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595; www.reginaargentina.com. $$
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Ignore bustling Lincoln Avenue outside, and you can almost imagine Puerto Rico transplanted to this pedacitoof Orange County's industrial-park northwest. Many grand borinquenappetizers, but Señor Big Ed's platoderesistanceis the canoa de plátano maduro, a banana bloated with so much ground beef and melted Cheddar cheese that it looks like a quesadilla for Horatio Sanz. 5490LincolnAve.,Cypress,(714)821-1290.$
You'll love everything about Taco Mesa, especially their calamari taco. Wrapped in a steaming flour tortilla, the thick, juicy slabs of chile-coated calamari-steak strips are among the tenderest sea creatures that will ever touch your lips. 3533 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-3922; 647 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0629; 22922 Los Alisos Blvd., Ste. P, Mission Viejo, (949) 472-3144; 27702 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ladera Ranch, (949) 364-1957; www.tacomesa.net. $
Wahoo's makes the best fish taco. Ever. End of story. 1862PlacentiaAve.,CostaMesa,(949)631-3433;alsoat...really,wherearen'ttheylocated?$
View our complete dining guide at www.ocweekly.com/food.