Chowing around Santa Ana, kare_raisu found plenty that’s Chowhound-worthy.
Conde Cakes is actually a Yucatecan restaurant (disguised as a panaderia). People stop by to start the day with pan dulce and coffee, or steaming hot tamales.
The panucho, a fried corn tortilla filled with black bean paste topped with achiote-tinged turkey shreds, pickled red onions, and a light cucumber salad, has a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Yucatecan pan de nata is almost like a Bundt cake, and perfect with coffee. They have vaporcito and colado tamales—both simple and excellent. The husband-and-wife owners are planning to offer more comida Yucatecan in coming months, like kibbe, salbutes, queso rellano, and more.
There’s a line outside Ricas Tortas Ahogadas at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its famed tortas ahogadas—the French dip sandwich of Mexico, with a fiery tomato-arbol sauce instead of beef jus drenching the crisp roll. It’s a beautiful, sloppy thing. Best choice of fillings: carnitas. It doesn’t have the crunchy bits of classic carnitas, but it does have that deliciously musky flavor. Lightly pickled onions are great for contrast; don’t forget the minced onion, cilantro, and lime.
Northgate Market is a chain, but its Oaxacan tamales are authentic down to the leaf of chaya tucked in with the masa. Pork in chile rojo is fragrant, high-quality, and lightly sauced.
Rivas is a tiny shop chock-full of mole. You know they’re serious when it turns out there are only two types: verde and rojo. Both are from Teloloapan, a town in Guerrero.
El Rincon Chilango specializes in Mexico City eats, including the tlacoyo—an oval of masa like a huarache stuffed/topped with some kind of filling. The masa (though from a mix) is crisp and warm, the salsa verde bright and flavorful, just right with salty queso fresco. Skip the flor de calabeza filling—probably from a can. Other specialties de la casa: borrego and tacos de canasta.
The former Nancy Puebla restaurant is now Guerrero’s, but the Pueblan menu is the same, with specialties like Cornish hen and posole verde with pumpkin seed paste and garnished with chicharron. Mole negro is complex and delicious.
Conde Cakes & Bakery [OC]
2050 N. Grand Avenue, Santa Ana
Ricas Tortas Ahogadas [OC]
Taco Truck at W. Fifth Street and N. Townsend Street, Santa Ana
Northgate Markets [OC]
El Rincon Chilango [OC]
1133 W. 17th Street, Santa Ana
Guerrero’s (formerly Nancy Puebla) [OC]
1221 E. First Street, Santa Ana