Screw breakfast burritos, breakfast sandwiches–all of breakfast, really, except chilaquiles. This is the greatest Mexican desayuno of them all, a deceptively simple dish that'S fiendishly difficult to master. Most places think chilaquiles gives them a license to chop up some stale Guerrero corn tortillas, lightly fry them, then splash some trashy red or green salsa, creating something softer than mush but not as tasty.
No. Chilaquiles is a fugue: the interplay between the crispy edges and somewhat soft center, the sharp notes of a great salsa that doesn't sog everything up, the crispness of the cheese tying everything together. It's one of my all-time favorite meals, and here are 10 great versions in OC.
10. Chaparosa Grill
One of the few reasons to stop in Laguna Niguel (unless you're going to the sex dungeon of folks at the Nellie Gail Ranch), Chaparosa Grill is as good a South County Mexican restaurant as you'll find. Their chilaquiles run toward the crispier part of the spectrum–just how I like 'em. 30271 Golden Lantern St., Laguna Niguel, (949) 363-9888; www.chaparosa.com
9. Amorelia Cafe
Am glad this place is still around long after it became a Chowhound (see how old it is?) obsession. From my review long ago: “It's a big plate, with big portions of each–look at that fluffy, perfect mound of scrambled eggs. But the actual chips in the tortilla section achieve the impossible–a meeting between the just-hardened-and-fried pieces of my mom's chilaquiles and the softness of Zamora's. And the sauce–a tomato-based condiment that nevertheless sneaks up on unsuspecting sinuses–is as intricate as a harp.” 2200 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, (949) 646-1422; www.mexicancafecostamesa.com
8. Pizza del Perro Negro
I wish I had a picture of the chilaquiles pizza that this Mexican pizzeria on the Balboa Peninsula makes, so you'll just have to take my word that their take makes a deep-dish pizza taste as dense as water–and is far tastier. 2233 W Balboa Blvd #102, Newport, CA 92663 Phone:(949) 873-5190
7. Restaurant Mary
The most underrated Mexican restaurant in SanTana prepares better dishes than its chilaquiles, but that's like saying Lou Gehrig was the fourth-best Yankee after Ruth, DiMaggio, and Jeter. Great attention to the creaminess and cheesiness aspects, per its michoacano roots. 1819 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-1744.
6. Mini Cafe
From my review: “Mini Cafe's chilaquiles are simply magnificent, even if they're not fully Mexican. Instead of the rice that customarily accompanies the dish, the cooks sauté potato slices until they're a crisp golden-brown. The pinto beans have Cheddar cheese on them instead of queso fresco. But it doesn't matter: These chilaquiles are as perfect a testament to the beauty of their genre as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is to Cubism.” 2370 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 648-0891.
5. Taco Maria
You know this list is brutal when Carlos Salgado's awesome chilaquiles, enlivened with chicken confit and chile cascabel, only get a #5 spot here. Better luck next year, Chef! 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444; www.tacomaria.com
4. El Camino Cafe
From the review: “And then come the chilaquiles: perfect, striking the ideal balance between crunch and softness, with an egg downright gossamer in its look. Yeah, I wish the salsas were spicier, but this is down-home Mexican food for the masses–so folks should sneak in some chiles de mordida if they must.” 195 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 573-5898; elcaminocafe.com
3. Ktchn DTSA
From the review: “And lest you think Barron is all fancy paisa, he makes chilaquiles that are already among my top five in the county: crispy, saucy, amazing. Did I mention chilaquiles are the one dish I'm most biased against, given my mom makes the best on Earth? Move over, mami; there's a new master in town.” 201 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 418-5010; ktchndtsa.com
2. Taqueria Zamora
My all-time favorite restaurant chilaquiles in OC: a gargantuan plate of slightly crispy masa. This is my personal office–no joke. The primos here know my order, and never bother giving me a menu, so committed I am to these. 3121 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 557-0907
But the best chilaquiles in OC are also the most legendary…
Danny Anepalco's chilaquiles remain a game-changer in Orange County dining, something so audacious that the mere mention of it turns off folks–until they taste them, and they become acolytes on the level of Paul. But don't take my word for it: Dave called it the third-best dish in OC this year, writing “Breakfast, lunch or dinner: whenever you have your first Anepalco chilaquiles, they'll haunt you until you return.” DAMN STRAIGHT! 3737 Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 456-9642.