Hole In the Wall: Mi Tierra Caliente Is Michoacán-Ascendant

For as long as I've been a food critic, I've been saying the best way to track immigration is by following a city's restaurant scene, and the proof is in the mitote at Mi Tierra Caliente in Anaheim. When I was growing up, this big restaurant was called Birrería Nochistlán and attracted all the zacatecano and jalisciense parents of my generation. It was always fun to swing in and see the parking lot bustle with Romanians, Koreans and Mexicans, each group going to their respective restaurants, emerging only to smoke or to sober up with a doughnut from the corner store.

For the past couple of years, though, this restaurant has operated under the current name—a shoutout to the Mexican region (“The Hot Country” is its inexact English translation) that spans the states of Michoacán and Guerrero from which the current generation of brown Anaheimers originate. Commuters on busy Euclid Avenue can be forgiven for ignoring the place, even if its logo—a smiling, sweating, sombrero-wearing sun—is among the most smile-inducing in la naranja. And a quick look at the menu finds mostly pan-Mexican favorites—fine carne asada, hefty burritos, gooey chile rellenos. There are also beers, desserts and a great octopus soup that's like sipping on a live wire.

But the true stars occupy a page under the title “Antojitos Michoacanos” (Michoacán Delights). Here, you'll find the state's enchiladas, folded as if a quesadilla and using cotija cheese. Also available are chavindecas, a version of a mulita, and albondigas de pollo (chicken meatballs). But the best dish is something called a mitote that I've never seen in a restaurant setting in el Norte: a hefty serving of morisqueta (itself a rare dish of rice cooked in tomato salsa) topped with a pork tamale. It's a Mexican Hungry-Man meal that takes three days to whittle down and has about a million carbs, but whatever: You'll probably never eat this dish again. And while I wish there was also a guerrerense aspect to Mi Tierra Caliente, value your rarities when you find them.

Finally, pro tip: Ask for the salsa de aceite instead of the red water that is the table salsa—your sweat pores will thank you later for the workout.

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