Los Anayas

Photo by Amy TheligForget flu shots: exorcise your sniffles this winter at Los Anaya's with a sip from their caldo tlalpeño. In a cavernous white bowl brimming with blood-red broth bob two lengths of sweet corn on the cob; two halves of pulpy tomatillos; a roasted chipotle pepper; a couple of squash slices; cilantro strands; a fatty, delectable beef shank oozing with bone marrow; and plump chunks of chayote, the slightly bitter squash known to Americans as vegetable pear.

This central Mexican soup predates Cortés, and just a spoonful of the stuff stampedes across each section of your palate: sweet and sour, bitter and salty, every flavor distinct but also coalescing into something audacious. And spicy: when the broth gushes down your throat, you'll cough lightly like a horse's neigh, an unconscious reflex that momentarily staves off the currents of sweat about to glisten your face. There's no better soup in Orange County, and it comes with unlimited thick handmade tortillas toasted just the slightest bit.

It does take a while before the caldo tlalpeño cleanses your glands, though. Located in Garden Grove's Harbor Marketplace, Los Anaya's is perpetually understaffed and teeming with the immigrant masses that stop by for lunch or dinner after a search for bargains. So many people patronize the place that the one-room restaurant must set up tables underneath a cheap plastic canopy every day to accommodate them. Like a quinceañera at your uncle's home, kids play soccer nearby, a banana tree hangs low with its fruit and rancheras buzz from bad speakers.

Los Anaya's specializes in Mexico City-style food, so you'll enjoy the hefty hallmarks of that diet here: grilled pambaso sandwiches; buttery quesadillas that look like crepes; diabetes-provoking Mexican Coke and a plantation of fresh fruit juices; and that extraordinary caldo tlalpeño, which hails from the D.F. district of Tlalpán. There's also the appropriately titled pata de elefante (elephant's leg), a burrito washed with green salsa, sharp sour cream, and your choice of meat; it's bulky enough to break Plexiglas.

But more remarkable are Los Anaya's two moles, the finest versions of the complex sauce-heavy dish in Orange County not concocted at an Oaxacan eatery. The green mole is musky, with murmurs of mint, pepper, mild epazote and other verdant goodness; it's served slathered over a chicken breast featuring meat that slides off the bone if you so much as nod at it. As great as the green mole is, though, it ranks a distant second to the mole rojo poblano. There is no just way to describe all the facets of this dish: it's not spicy but eventually burns; it's bittersweet but deserves the dessert popularity of Hershey's; it taints anything it touches with a dark tincture; it contains chocolate, chile, garlic and even plantain, all working in unison; it's . . . oh, go try it yourself if you care an iota about life's wonder.

LOS ANAYA'S, 12662 CHAPMAN AVE., STE. A-4, GARDEN GROVE, (714) 740-1533.


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