Give the Satyr a Brew

Photo by Jessica CalkinsRickety lunch trucks begin traversing the county around midmorning, hopping from worksite to worksite, seeking famished lunch-time crowds. But in Santa Ana, many of these culinary coaches park themselves in residential areas in the morning and remain well into the night. They know their customers well: see, lunch trucks—known to the Mexican masses as loncheras—occupy a special place in Mexican lore as gustatory gossip mills, places where men and women buy cheap meals, eat them beneath the loncheraawning, and reminisce about el rancho for hours. And Santa Ana, of course, is the city with the highest percentage of Latino residents in the county. Instead of selling prepackaged salads and sandwiches as their American cousins do, however, these local loncheras make sure to house entire kitchens teeming with fresh masa to make tortillas, ruddy meat ready for carbonizing and aguas frescas chilled to bliss. Each loncherahas its devout following, a special dish and prices so cheap even a liberated Iraqi family could dine comfortably for days. Here are the best loncheras of Santa Ana:

Taquería Guadalajara.The esteemed taquería already owns five restaurants serving some of the best tacos in la naranja. Not content with dominating the taco-tavern business, they load up a lonchera every day with their fabulously grilled meat and park it alongside Bristol. The roadside results are almost indistinguishable from those offered at their restaurants: a steamy tortilla contains many meat morsels, a jungle of cilantro and an accompanying salsa that's light but piquant. Two key differences: the price—50 pinchecents per taco at the loncheraas opposed to the 85 cents deal at the restaurant—and a batch of caramelized onions that gives each bite gourmet flavor. Added bonus: a man dressed up as the mascot of the famous Guadalajara soccer club Las Chivas (the Goats) parades up and down Bristol every weekend beckoning folks to his lonchera. Buy the satyr a drink—he gets sweaty and lonely out there. On the corner of Bristol and Third sts., (714) 953-1191. Open Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-midnight.Los Primos Mariscos. The dominant color scheme for loncherasis porcelain-white with foil-gray sidings and blue windows. Blecch.Los Primos Mariscos enlivens this bland style by painting its truck a pleasant yellow with murals of ocean life. No red meat here: Los Primos Mariscos makes seafood with a Nayarit twist. This means the freshness and sourness for which the coastal Mexican state's cuisine is famous reverberate from every plate. Los Primos Mariscos prepares a surprisingly vast menu considering its humble confines: pucker-inducing cocktails of shrimp and octopus, ardent oysters presented in their shells, and fish tacos that mustoriginate from Ensenada. Most impressive is Los Primos Mariscos' ceviche: so many chunks of shrimp or fish are packed on the large tostada it's only a matter of time before the Santa Ana PD cite Los Primos Mariscos for overcrowding. On the corner of First and Hesperian sts., (714) 543-5560. Open daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.Tortas Ahogadas.This lonchera sells tacos, although their size and taste don't justify the $1 cost. Better are their carne asada hamburgers, greasy huaraches (the edible kind) and a fine flan baked every morning. Take a clue from the lonchera's name and order a torta ahogada, a specialty of Guadalajara. Visualize a giant French—excuse me, freedom—roll crammed with meat, avocado and slices of onions so thick you could hit a baseball with them. Imagine said torta drowned (ahogada means “drowned”) in salsa. Yep, that's what they specialize in here. The torta ahogada is so massive fork and knife are required. Fasting a month beforehand doesn't hurt, either. On the corner of Fourth and Mortimer sts., (714) 235-9125. Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.Tacos Choches.Though they advertise themselves as selling tacos—which they do, and they're pretty damn good—Tacos Choches' true specialty is the mulita, the missing link between a gordita and a pupusa. Consumers can see the miracle of mulita-making through the lonchera's window: cooks place two made-right-there corn tortillas on a griddle and crisp them to a golden hue. Meat, cheese and guacamole soon cover the tortillas—now joined—and the cooks again place the almost-complete mulita onto the griddle. The cheese fuses the tortillas together, the meat crackles until it's a healthy black, and the guacamole clings to anything it touches. Eating a mulita will take you back to Mexico—that is to say, Santa Ana. Not much of a difference anymore. On the corner of Pomona and Main sts., (714) 839-6332. Open Wed.-Mon., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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