Eat This Now: Beans, Rice, Salsa, and Fried Cheese at El Fortin
I've been so happy to see El Fortín grow up ever since first reviewing the Oaxacan restaurant in 2002. When I first went there, the dive was a bare-bones room with a small menu, scruffy floors, and a mostly Oaxacan clientele. Nowadays, this original location (the second is in Stanton, and a third is in Chino) has an ice cream bar, a mini-panadería, a CD rack, and even a business right across the parking lot that helps people ship packages back to la patria. And, more importantly for our purposes, El Fortín's food quality has not only not suffered, it's improved with age, with the menu expanding into its current encyclopedia size.
The establishment is more popular than ever, nowadays attracting a clientele from across O.C., especially from the professor base at Cal State Fullerton, where I currently teach. I met up with a Fullerton College professor for breakfast recently, which happened to be the only time I had never eaten at El Fortín. They've always served morning meals but sometime in the past couple of years, they snuck in the most deceptively brilliant breakfast platter in la naranja: black beans covered lightly in cotija, rice, and fried quesillo smothered in a salsa.
That's it. None of the complexity of their moles, or the Baroque excess of a tlayuda. But this platter is spectacular because of its simplicity. While the beans and rice are as good as they can get, the fried quesillo is as wondrous as Monte Alban: the milky native fromage of Oaxaca now with a light crust, bobbing in tomato salsa that slowly spreads its heat. Coupled with their handmade tortillas, as large as hubcaps, and at a preposterous seven bucks, El Fortín's desayuno of champions is bueno--and sometimes, brevity is all that's needed to describe brilliance.
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