Why do certain smells unlock certain memories? Case in point: Sitting in front of me at a window-side table inside Hidalgo’s Cocina & Cócteles, with cars whizzing by on Harbor Boulevard in downtown Fullerton, was a plate of cochinitas pibil. The last time I had it was at least a decade ago at a friend’s backyard graduation party, and now I recalled the smell coming from a wide-brimmed, woven-bamboo basket filled with at least 50 neatly folded banana leaves tied shut with twine and steaming in the evening air. After disrobing the citrus-achiote-crusted pork and dropping it in a warm tortilla, I had garnished it with pickled red onions, then doused it heavily with bright-green El Yucateco sauce. Proper.
Hidalgo’s version has that same vibe, but instead of bright-violet pickled onions, a tomatillo pico de gallo livens up the earthy-citrusy braised hunk of pork. The pork is juicy and easily shreddable, and when folded in the taco, it goes incredibly well with the Head Ancho cocktail, a tequila-based drink that was developed a few steps away at the Cellar, which happens to be known for some of the best drinks in the county.
If you had been to Hidalgo’s under the old ownership, the new menu doesn’t feel like Hidalgo’s 2.0. Instead, this feels like a new genre, where flavors are put through tube amps and wah-wah guitar pedals to achieve interesting dimensions. Not only do the dishes seem to be bigger and bolder, but they’re also notably less expensive, with most items hovering between $11 and $13.
Appetizers such as the bacon-wrapped shrimp, which might be good naked on a plate, are amped up to 11 with dabs of creamy goat cheese and citrusy Mayan raw honey and served on chimichurri and Manzano sauce. Brothers Antonio and Chelo Muñoz are true madmen in the kitchen. If I were on death row, I’d order five plates of this and die a happy man.
Dustin Adams and Monica Lynch still manage the bar program, which leans heavily on agave, citrus and chiles. Specialty cocktails run $13, while classics such as a tequila old-fashioned or a Paloma cost $12. Wines tend to stick to the equator, meaning you’ll get a more pronounced fruity character from each.
If you visit on a Tuesday, a two-taco plate can be matched with a white or red sangria, Mexican beer, or margarita for just 10 bucks. Maybe I should call some of my old friends from that party and set up an evening to catch up soon—Hidalgo’s is perhaps the perfect spot.
Hidalgo’s Cocina & Cócteles, 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. 111, Fullerton, (714) 447-3202; hidalgofullerton.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!