My listicle last month about 10 great old-school Mexican restaurants in OC was pretty well-received, save for the people who didn’t read the headline and demanded to know why I didn’t include this taquería or that taquería. PENDEJOS! An old-school Mexican restaurant, as I explained, is a specific thing: a place where wet burritos, hard-shell tacos, and fried ice cream still reign and the margaritas flow freely. A taquería, on the other hand, is also as specific: a place that specializes in tacos, burritos, sopes—essentially, any dish with a masa base with a chingo of meat—and little else.
Of course, the way Mexican food is in this country, you have newer taquerías specializing in the cuisines of different regions or places like Taquería Zamora that might serve great tacos but is more properly a full-scale restaurant, so this article is not going to focus on those spots. The following restaurants are OLD-SCHOOL taquerías, places that are local institutions to Mexicans and gabachos alike, where the most recent addition is suadero, where you won’t find regional specialties (sorry, fans of Taquería Don Victor in Huntington Beach and Taquería La Bamba in Fullerton, which hawk the food of Hidalgo and Mexico City, respectively), where the seating doesn’t get fancier than benches, where the food comes on Styrofoam or paper plates and you’re supposed to eat fast and get the hell out—think Taquería de Anda, back in the days when Taquería de Anda was actually good. Enjoy, and before people start complaining about why I didn’t include El Toro in SanTana: some of the owners hate the Weekly for reasons they’ve never bothered to tell us, so they can váyanse a la chingada.
Perhaps the best place to eat an al pastor burrito at 1 a.m. in the morning in Orange County, and the place where the following riddle takes place: The original Taquería Tapatía on Bristol is newer than #2, which is just a couple of blocks away on First Street. How did that happen? In the past decade, santaneros made the original so popular that the owners knocked down the shack and replaced it with a gleaming building. Say hola to the Samoan security guard when he’s on duty! Taquería Tapatía #1, 202 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 972-9115; Taquería Tapatía #2, 1118 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8168.
Long South County’s only entry in Mexican Best Of lists in OC, and as close to an actual taquería as South County gets. Not as good as people make it out to be, but it’ll do here—affirmative action, baby! 31921 Camino Capistrano #15, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 489-9767 www.elcampeon.com
EL TORO BRAVO
Owned by a branch of the Bonilla clan (of El Toro fame) that doesn’t hate us, this legendary spot has comforted many a hipster’s gut over the years. By the way, don’t confuse this El Toro Bravo…745 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4464.
EL TORO BRAVO
…with this El Toro Bravo. This Tustin branch seems to be related to the Costa Mesa location, down to the use of the same name, logo and origin story. But the Bonillas are legendarily feud-y, so the last thing I need is a prima to tell me that they don’t talk to the other El Toro Bravo. Pinche Mexican family beef…anyhoo, this El Toro Bravo is also legit. 1450 El Camino Way, Tustin, (714) 665-1400; eltorobravomexicanfood.com
CARNITAS LOS REYES
From my review of so long ago: “Choose your meat—blackened, juicy carne asada, velvety tongue, the
aforementioned carnitas, even the meat of a cow’s head—it’s all bueno. Two tacos will fill you up, and the meat that will inevitably spill out can make great impromptu nachos. There are tortas, burritos, and
enchilada plates, but save those for next year.” 273 S. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 744-9337.
TAQUERÍA EL GRANJENAL
This place was Costa Mexico before there was a Costa Mexico, cabrones. The fortunes of this place go up and down depending on who owns it at any particular moment, but right now the food is delicioso. Has a slightly bigger menu than some of the other spots here, but that’s mitigated by the fact you’re eating your food in a parking lot. 899 W. 19th St., (949) 645-4964.
TACOS Y CARNITAS SAHUAYO
The name Sahuayo pops up around SanTana, mostly because there are so many michoacanos in the city—DUH. But this is the best of the bunch, a place where carnitas are brewing around the clock and weekends bring luscious tacos de trompa—snout tacos! Mmm…snout…165 W. Pomona St. Santa Ana, (714) 547-6031.
Immortalized by Manic Hispanic, popularized by Chapman University kids and Old Towne Orange residents, this war horse is still going at it. Another spot with a larger than average menu—hey, it’s my listicle, so I get to cheat when I want…HA! 480 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 771-5819.
Do they serve carne asada here? I’m not sure, and neither should you be, since the name of the game is pork in all its wonderful porkiness, from uterus to chicharrones as crunchy as toffee, carnitas to even eyeballs when they’re available. Also, do what everyone else is doing and don’t order tacos: order your pork by the pound, get some tortillas, make your own tacos, and start pigging out. 2106 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 953-0295; carnitasuruapan.com
TAQUERÍA EL TRIUNFO
One of Orange County’s oldest taquería chains, El Triunfo is always reliable for a quick bite, fast service, and tiny, tasty tacos. Deme cuatro de DESMADRE, por favor! 922 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-8050; also at 2502 Westminster Ave., #B, Santa Ana, (714) 265-0798; 903 S. Bristol St, Santa Ana, (714) 558-0349; 1018 E. Sycamore St, Anaheim, (714) 491-8070; 1840 S. Standard Ave. # 107, Santa Ana, (714) 836-1990.