El Torito Nuevo Is the Barbacoa King

Over the past decade, Orange has turned into the barbecue capital of OC. From the down-home grub at Smokey Fred's to the epic platters at Smoqued to the eternally delicious Johnny Rebs', mainstream respectability of Lucille's, old-school charm at the Tulsa Rib Co. and so many more, few cities take their 'cue more seriously—and all of us are better for it.

But the city's best low-and-slow meat isn't even American. El Torito Nuevo is hidden behind a Michaels, of all things, and anchors a strip mall that consists of a car-radio store, a laundromat and a Mexican supermarket. The only customers it attracts are residents of the shabby apartments down the street that end just against the 55. El Torito seems like a standard taquería, with good combo plates and a great aguas frescas selection that rotates throughout the week. But here is also barbecue unlike any you've ever had: barbacoa de borrego estilo Texcoco, lamb barbecue from the Mexican state legendary for making lamb into an ethereal wonder.

An order gets you a mound of shredded borrego, many chunks glistening with rivulets of fat at their edge. On the side, the waitress gives you tortillas, onions, cilantro, salsa, and a bowl of consomé made from the lamb's drippings and garbanzo beans. It's up to you to decide how to eat the borrego (you can make at least six bulky tacos from it), but just eating it piece by piece, splashing just a bit of green salsa on each bite, is like munching on life itself—intensely gamy, supremely soft, magnificent. The only thing that tops it is the actual consomé, musky and earthy and meal enough to take you into the evening.

All this said, the real Gs will go for the montalayo de borrego—lamb haggis, with the offal minced and mixed with chiles, then cooked in the lamb's stomach. It's barbacoa that reaches 100, so intense it makes a steak from Fleming's seem as flimsy as carpaccio. Nothing against the other barbecue joints in town, but learn something from the masters at El Torito Nuevo: Mexicans invented barbecue, after all.

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