(Originally posted at http://mangelorange.wordpress.com/200...)
You know, to look at the menus of soi-disant “Mexican” restaurants around here, you’d think the entire nation of Mexico subsisted on tired, overcooked meat, rice, beans and tortillas. You would think that not a single vegetable besides peppers and onions (for the so-authentic fajitas, of course) was grown in the entire country.
Well, it just isn’t so. Mexicans subsist PRIMARILY on vegetables. Mexican madres make their niños eat their vegetables the same was American mothers do. The vegetables might be a little bit different, but they’re there.
And so every now and then, when I feel the need for vegetables cooked Mexican-style, I head down to El Rincón Chilango on 17th Street in Santa Ana and get myself a mushroom quesadilla or maybe a huarache (a large, sandal-shaped tortilla-like object) topped with nopales (cactus paddles). I usually get a strange look (why is the white guy ordering this stuff? does he actually know what huitlacoche is?).
Today, though, I didn’t. My Spanish-language order of a squash-blossom quesadilla and a huitlacoche (“Mexican truffle”, i.e., the black mushrooms that grow on certain ears of corn) sope must have done the job convincing the waiter that I really do love Mexico City-style antojitos, because after I finished eating, I got a flyer about a new place, run by a family member, with a similar menu.
When I got home tonight, my wife expressed a desire for Mexican food, and since I wasn’t averse to trying a new place, off we went to northwest Anaheim.
Los Chilangos (literally, “the guys from Mexico City”) has been open about two months, according to José, the owner. It’s in one of those depressing-looking L-shaped mini-malls, this time on Lincoln Ave. a couple of blocks west of Euclid, in a shopping centre with a Subway, a very shiny barbershop and a Chinese place. Six tables line the wall and the kitchen takes up the other half of the restaurant. Mexican percussion instruments up on the wall provide the décor, it’s brightly lit, and it is spotlessly clean.
The menu is, like its sister restaurant, a litany of all the antojitos Mexico City loves: huaraches (large, sandal-shaped platforms made out of masa, the dough from which tortillas are made), sopes (shallow bowls made out of masa), quesadillas (in this case, like long, folded-over tacos that have been filled with cheese and your ingredients of choice and fried crisp), tlacoyos (smaller versions of the huarache, with the ingredients stuffed inside), pambazos (bread rolls dipped in chile sauce and griddled) and the heart-stopping alambre (carne asada, ham, bacon, onions and red pepper griddled together and topped with melted mozzarella cheese, which gets served with a large stack of hand-made tortillas).
We ordered a quesadilla with squash blossoms (for comparison’s sake), a pambazo with potato and chorizo and a huarache al pastor with nopales (cactus paddles).
The quesadilla was quite good, but a little heavy on the lettuce and sour cream. It was served with a thin green salsa which went nicely with the fairly delicate flavour of the squash blossoms. The quesillo (string cheese) inside was nicely tangy and had appealingly-long strings, like really good mozzarella on pizza. I did like my lunch quesadilla at El Rincón Chilango better, but only because there were more squash blossoms in my lunch than in my dinner. I do love squash blossoms…
The pambazo, however, was much, much better than El Rincón Chilango’s. Surprisingly light, like a chile-head’s twisted idea of French toast, with a nice spread of beans, potato and chorizo. As much as I like El Rincón Chilango, their potato-and-chorizo pambazo tastes mostly like potato and not enough like chorizo.
It takes talent to cook nopales, because they ooze like okra, and you run the risk of serving a pile of green snot to your guests. Los Chilangos did a great job on the nopales, and they really added a necessary note to the chile-marinated pork in the huarache.
Los Chilangos, like El Rincón Chilango, sells menudo (spicy tripe soup), posole (pork and hominy soup) and barbacoa de borrego (pit-roasted lamb) Friday through Sunday. I haven’t been to try it, but I’m thinking about it, because while all the posole in the world tries to live up to my wife’s family’s recipe, there’s precious little bad posole in the world… and I love barbacoa and the consomé with garbanzos that usually comes with it.
Service is genuinely friendly. I think perhaps Jose was the only person working in the whole place, but he came over to chat with us and with the table that came in after us. He got my wife an English menu, answered questions, and played with our daughter, who took immediately to him and spent the time he was back in the kitchen looking for him.
While Los Chilangos isn’t as big or as popular (yet) as as its sister in Santa Ana, Los Chilangos is a worthy addition to our city. Next time you’re looking for vegetables in a Mexican restaurant, hop off the 5 at Lincoln and head a bit west, and enjoy.
1830 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801
El Rincón Chilango
1133 W. 17th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706
1830 W Lincoln Ave, Anaheim, CA 92801
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