Cinco de Mayo is Tuesday, and it is a great opportunity for students to go out and celebrate.
No celebration would be complete without food, and this Cinco de Mayo will be a great opportunity to try regional Mexican food in Orange County.
Most Mexican food in the United States has been heavily influenced by the cuisine of Northern Mexico. This arid region proved ideal for raising cattle and wheat, but less so for fruits and vegetables. Northern Mexican cuisine tends to focus on outdoor grilling of meat, a wide variety of cheeses and flour tortillas.
For those seeking to stick to their basic authentic favorites, like burritos and flat steak, El Nopal restaurant in Anaheim is a smart choice.
The menu offers a wide range of quesadillas, tacos, burritos and fajitas, as well as traditional dishes like molcajete. The fajitas al res burrito with grilled beef, onions, bell peppers and a mild sauce in a fresh flat-top grilled flour tortilla is excellent.
While many Americans have grown to love North Mexican cuisine, Californians are lucky to have local Mexican restaurants that cook dishes from Southern Mexico as well.
These dishes offer a stark contrast to their northern counterparts, thanks to influences from Mayan and European cultures.
The state of Oaxaca in Southeast Mexico is known as the birthplace of mole, a layered sauce that often requires hours of labor to complete.
The mole negro is one of the most well known moles—it tends to be slightly smoky, chocolatey and indelibly smooth.
Casa Oaxaca in Santa Ana wholeheartedly embraces its traditional roots; the interior is heavily influenced by Mexican culture.
In traditional Oaxacan style, tamales served by Casa Oaxaca are wrapped in a banana leaf, rather than a corn husk, and are filled with shredded chicken, fine masa and drizzled with mole negro.
While both El Nopal and Casa Oaxaca offer excellent Mexican food at an equally excellent price, there are a few restaurants in Orange County that offer more nuanced Southern Mexican cuisine for more money.
Gaby’s Kitchen in Orange offers a wide variety of dishes influenced by the cuisine of Yucatan, Veracruz and Chiapas.
One of the more difficult dishes to find in Orange County is a well executed pozole verde—a hominy soup with meat and vegetables from the Chiapas region.
Gaby’s serves a pozole verde that has swordfish, littleneck clams, shrimp, arugula, radish and avocado. Drinks can also be purchased but can get pricy, with most cocktails priced at $12 or more.
For a blend of Yucatan influences and French cuisine, look no further than Anepalco’s Cafe near The Block in Orange. Along with a slew of delicious dishes, Anepalco’s offers Yucatan’s most famous dish—the cochinita pibil.
The cochinita pibil is a suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves and cooked for hours, making it incredibly tender and is often paired with achiote, the regional spice of Yucatan. Anepalco’s offers cochinita pibil on a cuban sandwich, in enchiladas, or even sprinkled over Anepalco’s chilaquiles.
All of these restaurants can be found on Yelp, and have no less than a four-star overall rating.