Tortilla Tuesday: El Campeón

el_campeon_san_juan_capistrano.jpg
Cool logo, though...

Geographic isolation has the unfortunate tendency of making people over-estimate the worth of their restaurants, and nowhere is this more true than South County and its Mexican food scene. Oh, there's Mexi restaurants a'plenty, mostly Cal-Mex dining (and Dana Point's own curious scene, which I'll examine at a future time) and the occasional wab shop. But between Albatros in Lake Forest and The Surfin' Chicken in San Clemente, it's a vast wasteland for Mexican food.

Nowhere is this more true than El Campeón, a San Juan Capistrano institution that wouldn't rank as the eight-best tortilleria in SanTana but is lionized by South County types as more Mexican than the Templo Mayor. As if! The food is fine, if not particularly memorable. Their masa, as Dave can attest, ain't much. And their tortillas? A grand disappointment.

Dave brought me a pack last week, and I used them for my usual test: the quesadilla. But from the moment I opened the pack, disappointment set in. The tortillas were clammy and easily tore; they were thin, and too pale. On the comal, the tortilla didn't heat thoroughly and quickly curled up. Once cooked, the taste was bland, with next-to-no nixtamal tang. They didn't roll up properly, and they were worse once made into tacos for lunch.

Grade: C-. Four stars on Yelp? Shows how much those crazy Yelp kids in South County know about Mexican food. The only thing that saves El Campeón from a D is that they're local and independent. But if they're the best Mexican restaurant in South County, then I'm Javier's biggest fan.

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8 comments
Richie
Richie

This self-appointed food critic doesn't know the essence of Mexican cuisine. Just out of curiosity, did Taco Bell get better ratings?

Sm00thie
Sm00thie

Graded the entire place (which has a huge selection of tons of meats, etc) on tortillas ONLY?  How's that axe you're grinding with yelpers working out?  #Santaanahipsternonsense

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@Sm00thie The feature is called Tortilla Tuesday, genius. We review the county's tortillas. And I bought two pounds of masa regular that required almost a cup of water before it made tortillas moist enough to puff properly on my comal.

Sm00thie
Sm00thie

@Dave_Lieberman Oh sorry I forgot "South County types" will never be able to understand the true hipster mecca of SanTana.  The clientele here is mainly Latino, not "South County types" but of course hipster cred bashing South OC and "yelpers" is way more cooooool bro.  Please don't let me get in the way of being that cool guy with the 1 star yelp review.

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@Sm00thie I have yet to see hipsters outside of the designated hipster zones (that one part of 4th St. and the Artists' Village area). The actual Mexican places we write about are frequented by actual Mexicans.

Again, about the tortillas ONLY, there are not tons of places in South County to buy tortillas, but these tortillas were not very good. Tula is better.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Sm00thie @Dave_Lieberman Oh, and classifying SanTana as a "hipster mecca" in the context of Mexican food is perhaps the silliest thing ever written on this blog—and given that Rick Bayless has left his mental droppings here, that's quite an accomplishment. Congrats!

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Sm00thie @Dave_Lieberman SanTana, hipster? Yeah, because those chilangos over at Alebrije's are SO down with gentrification. And while El Campeón has "a huge selection of tons of meats) so does EVERY DAMN CARNICERIA in OC. Praising El Campeón for that is like praising McDonald's for selling hamburgers.

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