No. 97: Carnitas Gordita at Bodega R Ranch Market

Welcome to the Weekly's list of our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2011! Tune in every day until we get to número uno! Now, on to the latest entry. . . .

I grew up with gorditas, so I'm always surprised at their relative paucity in Orange County restaurants--really, just loncheras and a couple of Mexican restaurants serve passable gorditas. All bow down to the one above, found at an unlikely location: the Bodega R Ranch Market in Tustin.

If Northgate Gonzalez Supermarket is the Ralphs of Latino grocery stores, then Bodega R Ranch is the Piggly Wiggly, a rundown, grimy place found only in the most economically desolate areas. There are just two Bodegas in Orange County, one off the no-man's land that is McFadden Avenue near Bristol Street in Santa Ana and another in Tustin's barrio.

I only visit for the carnitas gordita, a behemoth of masa and wonderfully baked pork, stringy and strong, topped with all the fixings: sharp cotija cheese, crema fresca, spicy-relishy salsa and crisp lettuce. Best of all, however, is the gordita itself: Look at those char marks! The earthiness of corn, the freshness of the salsa, a size about the girth of a torta--it's worth the trip to the depressing Bodega R Ranch alone.

If it's so delicious, why is it so relatively low on this list? Because of its preparation method: left under heat lamps next to the chicharrones. It doesn't affect the taste or the freshness of the gordita, but the resultant pooled juices of the carnitas, combined with the salsa, disintegrate the gordita's bottom half, leading to a mess of masa. If it only corrected this problem, I could see this gordita in the 30s, if not low 20s of this list. But we must be demanding of our grub.

Bodega R Ranch Market, 1112 Walnut Ave., Tustin, (714) 573-1182.

The list so far:

No. 98: Spam Musubi at k'ya Street Fare
No. 99: Tortilla Andorra at Anepalco's
No. 100: Lemongrass Chicken, Extra Spicy at Vietnam's Pearl

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