Growing up in Mexico City I used to go eat tacos al pastor in the middle of the night with my family, waiting in the car for el cuñado to take our order. Having the flexibility to eat garnachas- street food- any time of the day was truly the way to live.
As a preteen, moving to Temecula was a huge cultural shock that wasn’t easy to cope with. Everything was different, especially the food around me. If there was a Mexican place, the food was often Americanized, think the typical chile relleno and over-cheesy refried beans.
Santa Ana had better Mexican food, especially the tacos, but I couldn’t find my Mexico City al pastor. I spent long nights looking for it. What I was really missing was the feelings of childhood in my city.
On a recent trip to Downtown Santa Ana, my mother and I were searching for al pastor again. It was past 8:30 and the taqueros were out. The smoky flavor of cooked pork wafted through my window. The memories of home returned.
Hungry, we pulled over on 1st Street at a taco truck next to a tire shop. ¡ Ah, Carbon Tacos! has Tijuana-style tacos that are known for having lots of different things in them, like beans, guacamole, asada and corn tortillas.
Seeing the cooks slicing the well-done pork on the little tortillas and adding a slice of pineapple on top of the taco made waiting in line to order feel like an eternity.
Eating this perfect taco al pastor, using a stool as a table and drinking a mango agua fresca, somehow made me feel like I was six years old sitting in the car with my family waiting for our tacos while sipping on a mango-flavored Boing.
The smoky flavor of the charcoal combined with the onions, cilantro, pineapple and spicy red salsa was a shocking explosion of flavors. Even though the salsas weren’t exactly as I remembered, it was the closest replica of what my mom and I miss from Mexico City.
It’s already hard enough trying to re-create childhood memories, but at least I know I can find something that gets close enough to fill the comfort that I need.
¡Ah, Carbon Tacos! had it: the comfort, the flavor— and the approval of two real Mexico City garnacha lovers.
¡Ah, Carbon Tacos! Is located at 1201 E 1st St., Santa Ana. Hours: 5:30 p.m.- late every day except Monday and Wednesday.