Growing up, my fondest memories are that of my naña cooking in her cramped boiling kitchen; flipping freshly rolled out tortillas with just her finger tips. I would creep up behind her so I can snatch a few from the top of the pile. Then I’d burst into a sprint before she could turn around, while stashing my prize in my tiny pockets. This was 25 years ago back in Tucson, Arizona. Sadly she has since passed and I have relocated to Huntington Beach to live that coastal life I dreamt of.
When I moved to this crazy but almost whimsical southern California beach city, I immediately took to the streets to search for those childhood memories. I’ve been up and down Beach Blvd, scoured the “authentic” Mexican restaurants in downtown HB, and I just couldn’t find the meal that just hits that spot. After about two years of failed missions, it is safe to say that I finally found my refuges:
1.) Carlitos Diner: I’m sure if you’re a local, you have driven down Warner Rd and pass this gem a million times. Located on Warner and Gothard, near the Brusters Ice Cream in the office complex, you would have never thought that this has some of the best breakfast burritos and menudo in possibly all of Orange County. I just assumed this diner would be like any other diner that’s in SoCal. Generic. Bland. Boring. Boy was I WRONG. Their breakfast burritos are ginormous, straight to the point, and on point. If I’m feeling froggy, I’d get their eggs and cheese enchiladas breakfast platter. Now, real quick background on me and menudo. If I was on death row, menudo, fresh flour tortillas, and a horchata would be my last meal. My naña made menudo every Sunday morning when I visited and I would eat until I was sick. Menudo is my jam. Now, ever since she has passed, I was never able to find menudo that just slaps. However, Carlito’s menudo gives me that Ratillou moment of being back in that kitchen. I lived here for a year and a half before I “discovered” this place; I guess that’s what I get for assuming.
2.) Cancun Tacos Al Carbon: Down the street on Warner and Goldenwest, in the Stater’s plaza is Cancun Tacos. I learned after about three months of living in Huntington, that if I want some REAL authentic mexican, I need to get off of Beach Blvd and stay away from where the tourists are. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s good places on PCH and up and down Beach, but I would just leave it at “good”. I had a friend who’s a HB native recommend this place to me. Per usual, I’m highly skeptical. First time I walked in, no one was speaking English to each other. First good sign. Took a look around, horchata at the soda machine. Awesome. I walked up and saw they have lengua (cow’s tongue). Another great sign that what I am about to experience is the real deal. I ordered a lengua and carne asada taco with a horchata. I hit up the salsa bar and get one of everything; if their salsa is trash, then what’s the point? I get my tacos and sprinkle over a little of each salsa, then take a bite. The lengua was wonderful, tender and beautifully seasoned. The carne asada actually tasted like carne asada. By that, let me explain: you know when you go to those quick drive through mexicans joints with some type of “erto” at the end? The carne asada always comes out bland and essentially steamed because they cook it on a flat top. At Cancun Tacos, they actually take the time and cook it over an opened flame. You get to enjoy the citrus marinade that the rancherra has been bathing in for hours. It got to the point I was coming here weekly, but not for their tacos. Oh no, I came for their carne asada fries, AKA, Cancun Fries. If you want to read more about that, check out my blog post that’s strictly dedicated to that.
3.) Oscar’s Food Truck: Who needs Taco Tuesday when tacos are only a buck each, every single day? Oscar’s Food Truck is located off of Beach Blvd and Cypress Dr, right behind the UFC and Slater’s 50/50, in the Oak View neighborhood. I absolutely love coming here between showings, and even bringing my clients that are new to HB. I can positively say they have the best street tacos in Huntington Beach, if not of all the beach cities. As with Cancun Tacos, Oscar’s carne asada is flavorful, their al pastor has a nice spice and tang to it, and their carnitas are juicy. Word of advice: make sure to get your tacos “for here” and put on your own salsa. There have been times where I had them put it on themselves, and it was so spicy, that I almost (ALMOST!) could not enjoy my food! Plus, who doesn’t like eating tacos off the trunk of their car with an ice cold bottled Coca Cola or Manzanita?
It’s comforting to know whenever I want to feel close to my naña, all I have to do is visit these three family owned restaurants. Be it menudo on a chilly Sunday morning or sharing my favorite taco truck to a client, I know my naña would be impressed if she was there with me.