|Taqueria Zamora |
3121 S Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92707
Listing on Local.com
Listing on Urbanspoon
If you look up at the top of this blog it says that the number of restaurants reviewed so far at this blog is 262. That number is only going to go up. Some of those reviews are guest reviews of places I haven't personally been to yet but most of them are ones I wrote. How many have of those have I been to? I'd say a good guess is 230. Plus there's all the ones I'd been to in the county before starting this blog that haven't been written up yet and a small handful that I've been to since starting this blog where I just wasn't in the mode for doing a review. If you take all those places and rule out half or three-quarters of them or maybe even more than that as too Americanized I still think I've been to some pretty darn Mexican places. I mean places where only Spanish is spoken, where they laugh at you for ordering a burrito (even when you actually said "Jarritos"), where at least one kind of meat is served that gives gabachos second thoughts about eating there. So, yes, I think I've had a pretty good breadth of experience, notwithstanding the fact that my quest is still under way and there's still untamed horizons out there.
So imagine my surprise when Gustavo Arellano recently mentioned at the OC Weekly that the two most Mexican restaurants in Orange County were Taqueria Zamora and La Raza, two spots I had never been to. I had to get to one of them and soon and find out what was so Mexican about them.
A week or so later I made it to Taqueria Zamora on Main St. in Santa Ana. When I pulled in the parking was so crowded that I figured I'd have to come back another day but I waited a little bit and somebody finally pulled their car out from a spot right in front of the restaurant.
I walked in only to find that it's like many other Mexican restaurants I've been to, same kind of menu, same kind of clientele, same kind of interior with the Budweiser sign on the wall, pictures of youth soccer teams, etc. I tried to hard to find something that made it even more Mexican than "already very Mexican" and was hard pressed to do so until . . . until the mariachis came. One by one they filed in. But they didn't necessarily play to the crowd. They went over to one guy's table, played two songs for him . . . and left. And I thought, "Maybe that's what makes this one of the most Mexican places round."
In addition to starting you out with free chips and salsa you also get a little plate of beans with some cotija cheese sprinkled on top:
When I ordered I asked for a bowl of pozole and a birria taco. Somehow it came back as two tacos, one birria and one something else, possibly lengua. The tortillas are so large and they give you such a mound of meat on each that I decided to save the pozole for my next visit. Both meats were very moist and tender with flavors rounded out by onions and cilantro (lots of cilantro), radish and limes. The photo doesn't quite convey that these were BIG tacos:
When I made it back a few days later to claim my bowl of pozole I grabbed a Sidral Mundet apple soda from their fridge and took it to my table before ordering. The next thing I know a guy with a bottle opener came right over and popped the lid off the bottle for me without me even asking for help. This was an employee taking a break at a nearby table and he saw the need and he addressed it. Now that's what I call service.
The pozole was very standard, not bad but not at the level of some others I've had. It had chunks of bone in it that were easy to pick out and for some reason they served shredded lettuce on the side with it rather than cabbage. Maybe I caught them at a cabbage-less moment?
On the third visit I found the front dining area full so I went into the back dining area for the first time. On my prior two visits I had peeked into the back dining area and saw it full and festive each time. This time it was empty and cavernous and lonely but there was nowhere else to sit so in I went. But before my food was ready a table up front opened up and one of the employees found me and asked if I wanted to take it. They are anticipating my needs without me even expressing my needs. Now that's what I call service.
I tried the chilaquiles that Gustavo had called the second-best chilaquiles in the county. With so many choices second-best still isn't bad. Next time I'll get it without the steak, which was unfortunately too tough. But there was nice fluffy rice and eggs and chips that soaked up all their spicy, spicy sauce until they maybe weren't even chips anymore but triangular pieces of hot sauce. And I also got a salsa verde this time that I hope they bottle because it had possibly the most full-bodied and satisfactory flavor I've ever had in a salsa. I couldn't finish the whole chilaquiles dish there (my bad for having had more cereal beforehand at my place than I should've) so they gave me one of the typical styrofoam to-go containers but untypically included a baggie of fresh chips and a clean, plastic cup of fresh hot sauce. Now that's what I call service.
When I saw Gustavo giving a lecture at the Fullerton Public Library later I asked him what he thought made it the most Mexican place and confirmed that even more than the food it's the service and hospitality and overall vibe there. Agreed. Forget Olive Garden; when you're at Taqueria Zamora you're family. Four Speedy Gonzaleses:
The complete photo album (16 photos so far) can be viewed at flickr.
OC Weekly entries on Taqueria Zamora: