It cracked me up when commentator hungrymomma left this gentle scold regarding my taco review–hey, I'm a wab, chula! But I also laughed because I was planning to do a re-review of El Chinaco, the iconic Salvadoran eatery whose owner, Mirna Burciaga, famously took on the Minuteman Project a couple years back. I lectured last week at UC Irvine regarding Orange County: A Personal History, and the small reception afterward featured El Chinaco catering for some strange reason–again, I'm a wab, not a Salvi. There was Mexican food available, but I ignored it in favor of Mirna's pupusas.
Quick aside: earlier this year, I took Ric Salinas and Richard Montoya of the iconic theater troupe Culture Clash to dinner at El Chinaco. They were interviewing me for their Culture Clash in AmeriCCa take on Orange County and wanted to eat at a restaurant with a story. I told them about Burciaga's fight, but Salinas was skeptical. “I've never eaten at a Salvadoran restaurant that I liked,” said the Salvi. “This better be good.” Two hours and multiple pupusas later, Salinas was stuffed and ecstatic. That's how good El Chinaco's pupusas were.
And they still are. They had chicken and cheese pupusas available at UCI–the chicken was sliced as thin as asbestos, while the cheese oozed out of its masa shell so that the ones eaten last featured a dried, crispy cheese blob hanging from the side. Mmm…fried cheese blob. Homer jokes aside, I was done with two and took about 15 home–they're still serving as leftovers and still muy bueno.
But the best part about the catered event: Mirna forgot to leave a tray of curtido, the pickled cabbage-and-carrot topping essential for a proper pupusa meal. A UCI worker called Mirna, who was so apologetic she forsook going to church in Culver City so she could return to her Costa Mesa restaurant, pick up a tray, and return to UC Irvine–a detour of at least half-an-hour. Now THAT'S commitment to customers–and the curtido, of course, rocked.
El Chinaco, 560 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8632.