There’s a certain type of Mexican restaurant in SanTana that’s not meant for you and I. It’s the equivalent of a barrio diner, where the menu doesn’t necessarily hew to a region or tradition so much as give the locals what they want. They almost always have single-digit Yelp reviews (because hipsters are too afraid to step in) and are always next to a laundromat or school, the better for hungry parents to feed the family while waiting for their kids or chonis.
These restaurants offer comida corrida, the paisa equivalent of a combo plate: beans, rice and a guisado bubbling underneath heat lamps. They’re usually forgettable, just cheap calories meant for immigrants who don’t have time to cook. But then there’s El Comedor, which might have the most truthful restaurant name in Orange County: The Diner. The menu ranges from burritos to tacos to pozole on weekends and teriyaki hamburgers and asada fries for the pochos who attend next-door Carr Intermediate, across-the-street Diamond Elementary and down-the-street Valley High. No matter what, there’s care in the food here: The chef usually wears a chef’s skull cap and wipes clean your cup of perfectly creamy horchata after pouring you a cold one.
El Comedor’s best dishes are the guisados—the daily stews. Milanesa de pollo in a tomato sauce is the mestizo chicken-fried steak; the albóndigas, fat meatballs, come not in their customary soup, but in a spicier sauce. They all come with handmade corn tortillas, misshapen and toothy and awesome. And they’re even better as potato taquitos, here called tacos dorados. The mashed potatoes inside the golden taquitos are creamy and herby thanks to strands of epazote; dunk them in the green and orange salsas, and you get a one-two of heat and more heat—as good a potato taco of any form as you’ll find in la naranja.
As for those scared hipsters? They’re far away: El Comedor doesn’t even have an up-to-date Yelp listing, despite being open in its current location for some years. Don’t bother playing catch-up, crazy Yelpers—y’all been exposed as chavalas.
El Comedor, 2202 W. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 206-2668.