You’re in Anaheim. Not the fantasy Anaheim of Disney, but the real Anaheim, the one in which people work and live. On the way to your destination—a new taquería called Mr. Taco Nice—you pass a liquor store that doubles as a payday loan. And when you arrive at the restaurant, you notice the menu offers no translations for any of the taco fillings because, well, if you’re here at all, you already know what’s inside a buche or a cabeza taco.
From an unseen kitchen, you hear the familiar thump-thump-thump of a cleaver chopping meat to bits on a wooden cutting board. At this taquería, however, there is also pizza. However, the toppings include not only pepperoni and sausage, but also chorizo, carne asada and al pastor—the meats that normally go into tacos. These Mexitalian hybrids are the reason you’re here.
It’s also probably why the two twentysomething white guys behind you in line have come. As have you, they surely found the place while thumbing through Yelp. But you peg them as not from the neighborhood: There are BlizzCon badges on lanyards hanging from their necks, and they were just dropped off by an Uber.
Behind the two BlizzCon dudes are two auto mechanics in grease-streaked jumpsuits. At the front of the line, a woman in a hijab cradles her child as her husband places an order. Finally, it’s your turn at the cashier. You tell the young lady with the fake, inch-long fingernails you want the “Mexican Meat Lovers” pizza—the one with todas las carnes. But you also can’t resist asking for the birria taco combo, which, the menu says, “incluye consommé.”
In anticipation of your meal, you stock up on all the salsas the self-serve bar has to offer. You ladle out samples of each one, as well as a few sliced cucumbers and radishes. You take your stash outside to the plastic picnic table shaded under a makeshift canopy.
Soon, the food arrives. The consommé turns out to be a small Styrofoam coffee cup containing soup made from the drippings and dregs from the pot that cooked the birria. And since you asked for the chivo, it’s filled to the brim with the brick-red brew in which the sopping shreds of goat float. You take a sip and are immediately invigorated. It’s spicy, salty and packed with the distilled essence of the beast. You feel the luscious fat and gamy meat slicking your lips with red grease the same time it comforts and satisfies your soul. To counter its richness and heat, you bite off some cooling radish and refreshing cucumber.
Tucked into the folds of two yellow tortillas with onions and cilantro, the tacos are filled with more goat meat. Some have sharp, crisped edges, as though they’re deep-fried. You slather the salsa, take a bite, and notice the tortilla in the middle is soft and pliant while the one on the outside is coarse and crunchy. You devour the tacos, alternating between them and more sips of that addictive consommé.
Then the pizza arrives. It’s exactly as you imagined: carpeted with pencil-eraser-sized nubs of all the taco meats and finished with a zigzag of sour cream and salsa. It’s also garnished with lime wedges and rounds of radish, which seems merely cosmetic. You hold up a slice to take a bite. But since the meat is only loosely connected to the crust and cheese, you have to keep it level to keep them from tumbling off. The crust is thick and bready and could have used a few more minutes of baking to firm up the bottom. But the pieces of carne asada, chorizo and al pastor—especially the ones that are closer to burnt—prove that taco meat has just as much reason to be on a pizza as pepperoni and sausage.
But you notice you were wrong about the two BlizzCon dudes. They didn’t order the pizza; they went for the burritos, which they’re now holding in bags while waiting for another Uber to take them back to the convention center.
As you wonder why they decided not to eat on the premises, you hear someone yell, “Hey, fucker!”
You look up to see a grown man in baggy clothes and a shaved head riding a BMX bike on the sidewalk. The colorful greeting wasn’t for you or the BlizzCon guys, but rather for his friend, who was walking the opposite direction across the street. He waves back. This is the real Anaheim.
Mr. Taco Nice, 1867 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 603-7564. Open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Pizzas, $6.99-$15.95; tacos, $1.39-$8.49.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.