Great Food Moments in Weekly History

Photo by Tenaya HillsThere are at least three kinds of culinary adventures: eating food that's bad—terrifyingly, esophageally wounding (in this paper's very first issue, my predecessor Tom Vasich was legitimately offended by the poor taste of most Orange County Register readers; I still am)—and there's food that's sublime (I still think, with moist eyes, of the $150 prix fixe, eight-course “tasting dinner” at the late, great Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point).

And the third: food that's barely imaginable in most American kitchens.

I, for instance, am still looking for a dog—not for companionship, but for supper. (Know of a place? Give me a ring.)

In the meanwhile, here are a few of my favorite things, discovered while writing about food for the Weekly:

GOAT SPINE IN TIJUANA. El Rincón del Oso (The Bear's Corner) is a favorite of many Orange County Mexicans for its buttery gorditas, primal goat stew and an atmosphere that suggests mami's kitchen—if your mami fed immigrant smugglers. I return to El Rincón for its peinecillo: goat spine slathered with red chile, the membranous seven or eight inches chewy like intestine but sweeter. Mercado Miguel Hidalgo Internacional No. 44, Zona Rio, Tijuana, Baja California, 011-52-664-684-24-91.

CRICKETS IN FULLERTON. Oaxacans love to snack on chapulines—crickets dried, salted, sprinkled with chile then doused with lime juice. The only place to get them in Orange County is El Fortín. . . unless you consider your garage a pantry. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., (714) 773-4290.

TURTLE IN SANTA ANA. I spent years haunting Mexican seafood restaurants in Orange County until I found one that sold caguama (sea turtle soup)—and with good reason: killing a caguama is illegal in the United States and Mexico, punishable by a minimum $5,000 fine in the former and nine years in prison in the latter. Mariscos La Sirenadoesn't seem to care, and proudly advertises a caguama soup. Those rumors that caguama invigorates your manhood? I get a woody just writing about it. 515 S. Main St., (714) 541-0350.

PORK BLOOD SAUSAGE, LIVER, TONGUE AND INTESTINE SOUP IN GARDEN GROVE. Soondae guk is a Korean specialty renowned for its aphrodisiacal powers, but it's really just a spicy bowl of offal. People gag and turn ashen when I take them to Seoul Soondae, which sells the soup and nothing but the soup—except for a stuffed pig's foot. The blood sausage is soft and smooth, the tongue and liver beaming with flavors, and the intestines are the chewiest source of fun since Bubblelicious. 8757 Garden Grove Blvd., (714) 636-0686.

A POUND OF PORK IN WESTMINSTER. They sell pork only by the pound at Duong Son BBQ, so I eat accordingly when I visit the butcher shop. A full hour later, trembling, I slowly place the final slice of ruddy, honey-sluiced pig in my mouth. Porky Pig is now me. 9211 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 115, (714) 897-2288.

TORTAS AHOGADAS IN SANTA ANA. I once took a gabachoto the lunch truck that is Tortas Ahogadasto try the tortas ahogadas—a tasty, salsa-soaked sandwich native to the Mexican city of Guadalajara that's quite possibly the spiciest foodstuff on earth. My gabacho's face was as red as a brick when we returned. He was crying. Me? Just wiped my brow. On the corner of Fourth and Mortimer sts.

SISIG IN LA PALMA. I always whine about how Americans just can't warm up to Filipino cuisine, but when I remember the wondrous sisig—grilled pig's cheeks and ears chopped with chicken liver, onions, chiles and pepper—at Ellen's Pinoy Grille,I remember why: Americans are culinary cowards. 7971 Valley View St., (714) 522-8866.

PIG KNUCKLES IN ANAHEIM. Picantería Ariqueña El Mistiis the rarest restaurant in Orange County, a Peruvian place that specializes in the cuisine of a single north Andean city. Primary amongst its delicacies is the sarsa de patitas—pickled pig knuckles, velvety and buttery. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., (714) 995-5944;

CHICKEN HEARTS IN IRVINE. Agora Churrascaria is an all-you-can-eat meat parade with about 12 different cuts, but the rarest is coração—grilled chicken hearts about the size of a pencil eraser, gray but moist with minerals. Tastes like pebbles—gravel, not the Flintsones cereal. You can feel yourself getting stronger. 1830 Main St., (949) 222-9910;

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