Gustavo Arellano

“Everyone knows that In-N-Out is not as good as people make it out to be.” Harsh? Perhaps, but for Los Angeles Times food writer Gustavo Arellano, this sentence is also the truth. An experienced journalist, Arellano has a deep understanding of both American and Mexican culture and starts every morning with breakfast at his wife’s restaurant: a place that serves food influenced by the border between both countries. His eating guide to Los Angeles is equally cosmopolitan and includes advice on the city’s best tacos (and its best, better-than-In-N-Out burgers, too).
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My Favourite Tacos In Orange County

Taco María in Orange County is definitely my favourite spot for tacos, and where I always take people visiting from out-of-town. All of the tacos there are delicious. Chef Carlos Salgado is doing amazing Mexican food – the next generation of Mexican food. It’s really an extraordinary restaurant, but you know, it’s in Orange County and most people just stick to Los Angeles so it doesn’t nearly get enough attention. The late Johnathan Gold called it restaurant of the year in 2018, so it’s not lacking critical praise, it just needs more widespread attention.

More Great Addresses For Tacos

Sonoratown in L.A make great mesquite wood-fired beef and chicken tacos. You have another place called Burritos la Palma that’s a great spot. They have great tacos.

Mexican: High And Low

There’s a place called El Mercado that’s in Santa Ana. It has a Spanish name, but it’s a Mexican restaurant with great food and amazing cocktails. We’re there like two to three times a week. It’s like higher-end Mexican food. Super, super good. I love Al & Bea’s Mexican Food for bean and cheese burritos; that’s a classic.

Getting My Asian Food Fix

For Thai food, I always love going to Ruen Pair, which is one of the famous Thai restaurants here in Southern California.

Food Influenced By The US-Mexican Border

I used to be a fulltime food critic focused on Orange County, which I stopped doing about a year ago. Now that I don’t do as much food criticism, I can enjoy going back to restaurants that I really enjoy eating in. And most of the time, I’m actually eating at my wife’s restaurant Alta Baja Market here in the city of Santa Ana. She makes food influenced by the US-Mexican border, which is great because it’s about celebrating the flavours and food cultures from both sides of the border. It’s sad when you have a relative or friend who owns a restaurant, and the food they make is well, not great, and you feel forced to go there every once in a while. Thankfully I don’t have to force myself; I truly enjoy eating in this one. I drive her to the restaurant every morning, and I always stop to have breakfast. I really like her granola bowl, and the chilaquiles – which are tortilla chips with beans, eggs, salsa roja and avocado – which she makes in a very specific way. They’re so good.

The Places I Keep Coming Back To

For me to want to go back to a restaurant again and again, it has to astound me and it has to make sense to me personally. In other words: it has to be cost-efficient and ultimately the food has to be comforting. My two go-tos are Kareem’s Restaurant in Anaheim, a Palestinian restaurant that has the best falafel in town, and Vishnu in the city of Irvine which is a really good Indian restaurant.

Worth The Splurge

Vespertine is insane, but a meal there will cost you about $500. It’s worth it for what it is, at least for me it’s a one-time place. There’s this one French restaurant called Marché Moderne in Orange County that does really, really good French food. I think Jonathan Gold called it the best French restaurant in Southern California. It’s great food, but it’s only for special occasions.

“Absolutely Way Better Than In-N-Out”

Everyone knows that In-N-Out is not as good as people make it out to be. There’s this whole mythology around it. You know, it appeals to Southern Californian nostalgia – this idea that it used to be a simpler place. I’m not saying it’s a bad burger – no one thinks it’s a bad burger – but people will defend it to death. I think they feel that they have to defend it. But you know, I actually think most people will admit it, if you press them enough and if you don’t quote them directly, that it’s just not worth the hype. There’s a small burger chain in Orange County called TK Burger. It’s way, way better than In-N-Out. It’s a juicier burger. Actually, everything about it is better: the bun, it’s bigger, and it has a secret sauce that’s absolutely way better than In-N-Out’s.

Selected Works: Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (2012), Orange County: A Personal History (2008), Ask a Mexican! (2007).

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