The Best Taqueria in Orange County: Taqueria Tapatia
I've been on the local lecture circuit recently, talking to students at Irvine Valley College, UC Irvine, and Saddleback High School. At all talks in Southern California, I tell the audience I'm the food editor for the Weekly, and that it's acceptable for them to ask for restaurant recommendations. Inevitably, someone asks about the best taco/burrito/Mexican food in la naranja. I always give shout-outs to Tacos El Chavito, Mariscos Licenciado #2, and Taqueria Tapatia in SanTana, amongst others. But of the restaurants that I utter, only the latter brings nods--vigorous nods with a massive smile.
I loved Taqueria Tapatia's old location, a shack in a bad part of the county seat where Sprite was spelled "Esprite." I knew that this place had been so successful for years that the owners not only owned a second location around the block but that they decided to take Don Papi Pulido's redevelopment money late last year and open a bigger, nicer location next door to the original. I recommended Taqueria Tapatia to others because I knew that no matter where it moved, the food would remain divine: big burritos, tasty tacos, and a couple of Tex-Mex dishes to satisfy the gabachos. But I hadn't visited the new spot--I pass by it often, and I always see lines (even in the wee hours, being Taqueria Tapatia is open las veinticuatro horas) at the place, but just never had the time to stop by.
I went there last night, and am happy to report that not only did the quality of Taqueria Tapatia remain, but that it's better--it's now the best taqueria* in Orange County. The burritos are fatter, fluffier, yet lighter than ever before. The restaurant is cleaner; staff friendlier; drinks sweeter. More crucially, the prices are some of the best in town--93 cents for delicious tacos of all kinds of meat, three bucks and change for the burritos. Tacos for more than 75 cents still make me cringe, but you're just not going to find tacos anymore for less than a dollar--on that reason alone, go. But the tacos are how Villa would've wanted them: light, with a steamed tortilla that nevertheless keeps its consistency, with properly spicy salsas.
Much better, however, are the burritos--Orange County's non-breakfast best. Seriously: I had forgotten the glorious joy of unwrapping a burrito from its foil, chomping down bit by bit, adding salsa and lime juice along the way. The county's burritos generally make me blasé, but Taqueria Tapatia's is the kind that can win friends.
*Note I said the best taqueria, not tacos. The best tacos remain Tacos El Chavito. But Taqueria Tapatia's tacos are nevertheless damn good.