On West 5th Street in Santa Ana there is an excellent collection of taco trucks. They seem like satellites orbiting around Sariñana’s Tamale Factory. The tiny casita shares a parking lot with the liquor store that the family owns. Sariñana’s has been here since 1939, earning new fans every year. Count us in.
Sariñana’s has kept its food the same over the decades. Among the low-rider car club members and families eating breakfast when we last went was a gent who’s been a regular diner since the 1950’s. He said the food hasn’t changed since then. This is real down-home Mexican, still aimed at mid-century USA palates. The food is more sweet than spicy and more salty than bitter.
The menu is large and covers all of the Mexican classics. We recommend keeping it simple. Namesake tamales are an excellent way to start. They are slim, fairly well-filled, and saucier than most. They’re good gateway tamales for those who usually find steamed masa boring. These offer more meat and more flavor. They are benchmark Southern California tamales.
Soft tacos are classics, dressed with cilantro, onions, and tomatillo salsa, served on plump, fresh tortillas. Hard shell tacos are better. They come on crispy corn shells, fried until the masa toasts bronze. They are stuffed with a pinch of iceberg lettuce, a small slice of tomato, a cigar sized stuffing of finely shredded cheddar and a liberal dusting of Cotija cheese. These crunchy, cheesy tacos were the height of taco fashion in the late 1930‘s. Their chicken or beef are finely chopped and peppery. The vegetarian “papa” taco is stuffed with bland mashed potatoes. It eats better than it sounds though: Neutral potatoes are actually a contrasting cushion for the abundance of salty cheese on these crunchy beauties.
Enchiladas are covered with a rather sweet mole. They’re rich and rustic, but ultimately a bit too sugary for our tastes. We don’t recommend the taquitos. They come with an old school guacamole that recalls times when avocado sauces were a dull cream rather than the tangy, thick, bright green silk that they’ve developed into at more modern Mexican places. Table salsa might have saved the taquitos, but it, like all the food here, lacks any heat.
Since it was Sunday, we joined everyone else in a bowl of the weekend special: menudo. This is anything but bland. It smells and tastes richly of tripe and Mexican oregano. If you come on a weekend and have a taste for tripe, this is a great version of red menudo.
Sweet tamales are a surprise highlight, a must-eat. They are larger packets of firm corn stuffed with raisins and pineapple, heavily seasoned with cinnamon. The pineapple adds perky fruit acidity. The delicious, fluffy masa eats like a dry cinnamon corn porridge.