In addition to its stellar lonchera scene, SanTana has its own ecosystem of entrepreneurs who float among the food trucks, offering eaters another slice of working-class capitalism. Late nights at Rubén’s Mulitas brings a guy warbling corridos; a frutera hangs out just across the driveway from the taquero that parks next to Chase Bank off Main Street. A churro guy recently popped up near the clustertruck that gathers around Warner Avenue and Bristol Street late at night; more than a few loncheras have smaller trucks attaching themselves, remora-like, to the big boys. And, of course, guys selling piratería CDs and DVDs are legion.
But the most beloved vendor is also the most mysterious. She’s a young woman—early 20s, maybe even late teens—who goes from truck to truck, from DTSA to Delhi, Santanita to industrial parks, hawking gelatinas—home-made gelatins. It’s about as niche a Mexican food product as you’ll find in la naranja—while Mexicans do like Jell-O, it’s not as significant a dessert to Mexico’s culinary identity as, say, pan dulce or even candied squash. As a result, nearly all the gelatins in OC are mass-produced and bland.
Not those sold by the Gelatina Goddess (my nickname for her). Her parents whip up the dessert every morning, preparing equal amounts of de agua (“of water,” referring to classic Jell-O flavors) and de leche (“of milk,” referring to ones made with condensed milk). Throughout the rest of the day and into the night, the family drives around SanTana’s loncheras, with the daughter lugging a tray full of gelatins and asking people in Spanish if they want some ($1.75 for one, or three for 5 bucks).
Once you eat one, you’ll wonder why more Mexican restaurants don’t offer them. Don’t expect a sugar rush; Mexican-style gelatina is subtle, light, refreshing. The best of the gelatinas de agua are the orange and cherry flavors, the latter beautifully tangy; on the de leche side, pistachio and strawberry créme is nearly as luscious as ice cream. Most eaters order about a dozen at a time, not knowing when they’ll see the goddess again—Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” manifest.