By its very nature, chilaquiles is a breakfast of utility, not elegance. In its most basic form, it consists of corn tortillas cut into bite-sized chips that are lightly fried, soaked in sauce, and finished with scrambled or fried eggs, salty cheese, tart crema, and a bit more sauce. The dish is a jumble, a messy heap that’s a good excuse for using up leftovers. If it were a child, only a mother could love it. But entrusted to the right cook, even the homliest chilaquiles inspires fervent devotion.
In Mexico, the dish has a number of regional variations. In the port city of Tampico, for example, you might find it soaked in a sauce of tomatillos, charred poblano chilies, cilantro, and epazote. In Aguascalientes, you’ll encounter a version that employs chipotle chilies and crumbled chorizo. The chilaquiles at Anepalco’s Café in Orange, however, is unlike anything else—chilaquiles at the height of refinement.
Chef Danny Godinez’s dish is a marvel: The fried mass of tortillas is formed into a thin cake, topped with a fluffy omelet and dressed with avocado mousse, pico de gallo, crema, and sprinkles of cotija cheese. It’s surrounded by a pool of brilliant brick-red sauce that tastes of smoky, toasted chilies. The tiny Main Street cafe serves an equally good second version, chilaquiles verdes, made with a tomatillo-based sauce and sprinkled with a scattering of pumpkin seeds. Both iterations are precisely prepared, their contrasting flavors and textures balanced in every bite.
This year, Godinez parlayed the success of the original Anepalco’s into a second location in Orange that also serves his signature chilaquiles. Dinner is an option at this much larger space attached to the Ayres Hotel, but brunch is paramount. Anepalco’s, after all, is the restaurant that chilaquiles built.
Anepalco’s Café 415 S. Main St., Orange, 714-771-2333
Ayres Hotel 3737 W. Chapman Ave., Orange 714-456-9642
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
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This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.