The older white lady stood at the counter, perplexed. She looked at the glossy menu, then looked at the marquee that hung on the wall above the cashier, then back at the menu. It’s as if the lady—probably from Western High, Class of 1963—was trying to figure out what some of the entrées were and why they didn’t sync up to the Mexican food that she knew.
Finally, she asked the cashier, “What’s a pambazo?”
But the cashier ignored her—not because she was a gabacha, but because there was a line out the door on this Saturday, when El Chilango Villa adds barbacoa to its list of Mexico City specialties. Tables groaned under the weight of shredded lamb as hungry families in their quinceañera best grabbed tortillas and salsa and made impromptu tacos.
The white lady asked again. This time, the cashier responded, “It’s like a sandwich,” which is like saying a Stradivarius is a violin. The woman no doubt got that she was being undersold because she walked out in a huff. The Anaheim of her youth no longer exists—but neither does mine. My beloved hometown is experiencing a Mexican regional cuisine boom, with chilangos introducing the city’s old families of zacatecanos and Jalisco natives to Mexico City’s million mediations on masa: long quesadillas with huitlacoche or squash blossoms. Tacos de canasta, in which fresh-made tortillas hold ingredients led to steam until they nearly liquefy. Delightful tlacoyos, masa spears stuffed with fava beans. El Chilango Villa moves around its hometown classics with verve, serving sturdy, just-fried chips and table salsas that are among the best in Orange County.
I ordered after the spurned lady left and got a pambazo. I was also ignored for too long—the lunch rush was still on. But the cashier eventually apologized as I washed down the sandwich with tepache, a pineapple-based drink that’s the original kombucha. Fluffy, spicy and gargantuan, the pambazo was perfect. Hey, older lady: Our Anaheim ain’t around anymore—the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop is long gone, for chrissakes—but newcomers such as El Chilango Villa show we’re better than ever.
El Chilango Villa, 9828 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 590-1548.