No. 96, Clayuda at El Fortin
Hey, don't ding us for listicles: Weekly DataLab studies show ustedes love this gimmick, launched in honor of our coming Best Of issue. Besides, it is rather fun to do this for us Forkers--an opportunity to highlight dishes from restaurants we'll never full review, or secrets from old standbys. Anyhoo, let the march begin...
Dave and I have a big personal issue: he doesn't care for El Fortín, while I love it. He doesn't care that El Fortín was the first Oaxacan restaurant in Orange County, that their breakfasts are awesome--he's an El Moctezuma guy. And the big fight goes down to clayudas: he can't stand El Fortín's version, while I love them.
How can you not love it? The gigantic landscape of masa? The smear of black bean paste? The savannah of quesillo? The choice of chorizo or cecina for meat? Their black mole salsa as a dipping agent. So the repollo is a bit pointless, but not the crispiness, its utilitarian nature, its foolproof way to introduce folks to the ways of the Oaxacan.
And, actually, Dave and I are both wrong: the best Oaxacan restaurant in OC is Casa Oaxaca--but when I go there, it's for the mole. And that's another post...
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.