Now that the luxe-lonchera craze is nearly over, it's time to go back to the roots to visit where it all began: Main Street in SanTana. Every day, nearly 20 taco trucks park on the thoroughfare's side streets, hawking everything from tacos to regional specialties to more. These are the best:
Tacos Radioactivos has a small but perfect chilango menu. Primary among the listings is the pambazo, that sandwich of renown that finds chefs dunking a bolillo in a salsa, grilling the results so the salsa magically gets encapsulated in the bread, then stuffing it with repollo, crumbled cotija, and a spread of mashed potatoes and chorizo. Radioactivos' pambazo is open-faced—if you touch it with your fingers, the yummy red stains will stay with you for days—and so soft you can easily eat it with a spoon. Corner of 15th and Main streets, Santa Ana.
Tacos y Mulitas Rubén is one of two loncheras on this list that hipsters know. It's also one of the few that move: The truck parks on the corner of Main and Bishop streets in the morning, then goes to Main and Walnut streets in the evening for the downtown crowd. Regardless of location, they serve the same menu: huge tacos, bigger tortas, and regional specialties ranging from Cuernavacan picaditas and Mexico City-style quesadillas to tortas ahogadas from Guadalajara.
Though it sells tacos, tortas, burritos and even raspados, the emphasis at Los Reyes del Elote Asado is on roasted corn—take a cue from the squat, dark man flipping cobs on a grill as if they were flapjacks. And keep some room for esquite, a wondrous roasted-corn soup that will comfort you come winter. Corner of Main and Chestnut streets, Santa Ana.
The shrimp tacos at Mariscos Los Corales are unlike any found in Orange County. Instead of small shrimp mixed with cabbage and a sauce and folded into a corn tortilla, they grind the shrimp, mix in red onions, then stuff the mixture in a tortilla that gets the fried treatment akin to potato tacos. The shrimp becomes sweeter because of the grease; the taco shell glistens. And the fish taco is so buttery and crunchy. Corner of Main and Pine streets, Santa Ana.
We've written so much about Alebrije's over the years that if you don't know about it yet, I'm betting you're a new reader. Google “Alebrije's battleship taco” and learn! Another hipster fave. Corner of Main and Cubbon streets, Santa Ana.
The corner of Main and Wilshire Avenue hosts two loncheras. Each morning, Ricas Gorditas makes the masa-heavy disk the way my army of tías have since they were teens living on the rancho: a thick base with a thin flap on top, as crispy-feathery as nori, bulging because it's holding back a hill of some type of steaming guisado (stew) that's spilling from a small slit on the side. At night, Tacos El Zaga serves only tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas, with the usual meat offerings of any taquería—this ain't a regional-specialty type of place. And it doesn't have to be, so wonderful the food is. The burritos are hefty, wrapped in silky flour tortillas; the quesadillas are gooey and the size of a drafting triangle.
Your last stop is El Camarón Borracho. It's more of a taco trailer, hitched to the back of a van every morning and dropped off in a part of SanTana far from gentrification and even houses. Get one of the mega-dishes: furious aguachile, shrimp in their shell and spiked with salsa de pequín (the notorious pepper as small as your pinky nail that nevertheless is hotter than a habanero). Then there's the epic quesadilla à la diabla, a gargantuan shrimp quesadilla slathered with salsa, then fried; afterward, your fingers will look as if you had eaten olive oil-spiked Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Corner of Main Street and Anahurst Place, Santa Ana.