OK, just got back from visiting my wife's family on the west coast in HB and wanted to report a few things. First, thanks to those who recommended good mexican places in santa ana (emily, professor salt, blazer and al). Man, driving through there reminded me why southern california remains supreme in the mexican food arena - mostly because there really isn't much difference between the mexico and california. In one dilapidated strip mall I even saw a place selling agua electro pura - purified water that they sell everywhere in mexico. Not sure what the point of that is up here where clean water is plentiful, but hey, it sure underscores the great mexican influence in santa ana.
The best place I ate at was El Gallo Giro - I had a truly supreme tamal there that I'll always remember - queso con rajas. It was flavorful, moist and quite possibly the world's perfect food. My only regret is I didn't have a chance to go back, buy a dozen, freeze them and take them back to NYC with me. The gorditas they serve are just like the ones you get in mexico city - about 6 inches wide and almost a full inch thick. They slice them in half and serve them almost like a torta - with your choice of meat, lettuce, crema and crumbled cheese. Enough to fill my usually endless pit of a stomach. The agua frescas were great as well. I had jamaica and strawberry (can't recall the spanish term). Both were good, but I liked the latter the best. All this made me wish I'd been one of those cool kids that went to Mater Dei across the street...
I also checked out Carnitas Uruapan on 5th in Santa Ana. I already posted my experience, so I won't repeat that. Wasn't the best experience, but it may have been out of the norm: [BROKEN LINK REMOVED]
As for groceries - I went to the massive Gigante (lives up to its name) on euclid near fullerton. great selection of mexican products from fresh banana leaves to molcajetes. Poor fish selection, but I'd go elsewhere for that anyhow, like 99 Ranch across the street. Awesome place, by the way. I also went to Gonzalez Northgate, another big grocery store that seemed to have an even better produce selection than gigante. Although, I must say that the best mexican grocery store I went to was way out in Corona - El Tapatio. Awesome selection of everything mexican. Like Gigante, it is part of a chain - I think - though I don't know where other branches are.
Anyhow, I could go on, but should wrap this up. Many thanks again to those who recommended these places. I scouted out a few other restaurants, groceries and the like, but didn't get as much of an opportunity as I'd have liked to do proper research into them. Guess that will have to wait until next time. That is, if I can peel myself away from el gallo giro's tamales.