My in-laws make the best pozole in the world. This is not open for
discussion; anyone who has ever had it at any Gutierrez family gathering
knows the truth. Come Christmas time, certain houses from here to Lake
Los Angeles smell like what my sister-in-law graciously refers to as
“feet and butt soup” after the acrid, nasal-passage-clearing scent that
characterizes newly boiling pozole. When it stops smelling bad, it's
ready to eat. But I digress.
The best pozole in the world is the home-cooked stuff you can only have
if you're lucky enough to score an invitation. The second-best pozole in
the world comes from a new restaurant on the corner of Bristol and
Cubbon streets in Santa Ana, called Potzol den Cano.
Potzol–the word is Nahuatl–is the brainchild of the Cano family. They hail from Querétaro, a central Mexican state that's near the epicenter of pozole creation in Mexico, and the restaurant is named after the small chain of pozole restaurants called Potzol del Cano (with an L–don't ask me what that weird N is doing in there).
Shockingly–I know–the place specializes in pozole. My earlier knock on its larval-stage scent notwithstanding, this is the sleeping giant of Mexican soups. Sure, every man with two functioning testicles eats menudo every weekend, and birria is the best hangover cure since hair of the dog, but pozole is everyone's comfort food. Potzol den Cano sells two kinds: the traditional pork pozole, and a chicken version for people who are afraid of the muted funk of pork soups.
Go for the pork. Order a mixto–a “small” bowl makes for a hearty lunch–and the table fills up with dishes, Korean panchan-style; a bowl of shredded lettuce, another of chopped onions; a bowl of radish half-moons, a bowl of Mexican limes; a bowl of vinegary, thick, elemental salsa de chile de árbol, and a basket of tostadas. Try to avoid eating the tostadas with the salsa while you wait for the soup; you'll need both for the soup.
Once the soup comes, look at the hominy–the single largest specimens of nixtamalized field corn I've ever seen, corn kernels that would make a Peruvian's jaw drop in astonishment–and the just-slightly-thicker-than-soup broth. Cubes of pork head and long strings of pork shoulder vie for supremacy at the top of the bowl.
There are other things worth eating. There's a whole roster of tortas and a tostada de pata (cubed, springy, gelatinous pig's trotter) that I mistakenly thought was a tostada de pato (duck), but these are just distractions; the single best thing on the menu, the thing that has made me return more times than I strictly needed to for this review, is the enfrijoladas.
Enfrijoladas are just tortillas that have been dipped in bean sauce and stuffed. Picture enchiladas, but earthy rather than spicy. Stuffed with shredded chicken and panela cheese, then–the menu says this is optional but I am telling you it's not–showered with bits of dark red chorizo. It's an amazing dish. I'm not proud of the fact that I dumped the entire bowl of pozole cabbage into my plate rolled it around until every single iota of that sauce was trapped in the vegetal matrix I'd created, and shoveled it down my capacious maw, but I did it and I would do it again.
I'm thinking of doing it again tomorrow. It's that addictive. The pozole is that good; the enfrijoladas are even better.
Potzol den Cano, 1003 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana; (714) 664-0558; potzoldencano.com.