Break of Dawn: Kangaroo Sausage

After quite a long time of hearing about Break of Dawn and having friends highly recommend it to us, we finally tried it! We loved it, of course.

Now I’m always the first to come to Orange County’s defense when someone starts calling it a “culinary wasteland” or “land of chain restaurants” (those are both actual insults I’ve heard), but even I was surprised that a restaurant of this caliber is nestled in the quiet, slightly rundown Laguna Hills Mall. We met friends for a birthday brunch, and as soon as we sat down, we were off. The attentive waiters immediately took orders for starters and drinks (see Break of Dawn Part II).

Interestingly, this was one of the few times I had difficulty deciding what to get. Everything sounded, and looked, as I could see on surrounding tables, great. But a closer reading of the menu turned up a surprise. Beef tongue!

The name of the dish may not shed much light on its actual form, but I sprung at the not-so-common chance to eat one of my favorite meats in a non-Mexican setting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleased with what was set before me: a stew! Yes, a stew for breakfast. I can honestly say I had never thought of that, and I have had some unique things to break my fast. I’m probably more surprised than I should be, to which I can only say “I am as god made me.”

Upon eating, I was even more surprised to find flavor the likes of which I hardly ever find outside of my house and my mom’s cooking. The dish obviously had much thought put into its construction and preparation. Everything had its place. The beans, the two proteins, the romano cheese, and even the egg all played in the orchestra that was playing the symphony of flavors in this dish, conducted by Chef Dee Nguyen.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano.

Cajun baked beans, beef tongue, fava, bourbon, romano. The crust (I use that term with love) of rustic bread was a nice touch too.

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Taqueria Guadalupana: Torta Lengua

Taqueria Guadalupana is my all time favorite Mexican place, and consistently in my top 5 restaurants of all time. This is the place where I first had lengua many years ago, in torta form, and I haven’t gotten anything else there since. While the lengua is, of course, the star for me, the thing that really elevates this torta is the whole avocado that is simply scooped out of the skin and smashed onto the bread. Taqueria Guadalupana’s lengua is very simply prepared—I don’t taste much of anything other than proper seasoning—so the richness and tang of the tongue really shine.

Torta also with a capital T. Also described by me as "Only the best sandwich ever." Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Torta also with a capital T. Further described by me as “Only the best sandwich ever.” Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

I’ve had trouble finding it in the past, so here’s the Yelp page with the address, map, etc.

This concludes the planned Mexican portion of my tongue survey, unless I somehow happen upon a new place in the next two hours before I go to class.

El Toro Carniceria: Taco Lengua

El Toro Carniceria of Santa Ana is a very well-known spot at 1st Street and Bristol, a stone’s throw from the hip Arts District. It’s actually a two-part affair, composed of the main store and the smaller prepared food annex. The main store is very useful in its own right, but the tacos, among many other things, come from the prepared-food annex. The annex isn’t tiny, but it fills up fast. El Toro’s lengua has pleasant aromatic notes of cilantro and onion, and, like all their meats, is always cut up to order and steaming hot. Like any taqueria, you can of course get any meat in any form, and everyone has their favorite dish with their favorite meat. The star of any taco from El Toro is definitely the meat, although every component has its place in the dish. Usually, I go for a torta, but the first time I went to El Toro Carniceria, I saw some tacos being made for another customer, but it was how they make their tacos that really appetized me. For a taco lengua, the person behind the counter simply grabs a handful of lengua, kept in large pieces in the case, runs a cleaver through it a couple of times, and scoops it into double-layered house-made corn tortillas. A generous pinch of onion and cilantro finishes the simple, delicious, and massive taco. There are a variety of great salsas available, but for me that just detracts from the simple perfection of the meat, tortillas, onion, and cilantro.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Taco with a capital T. Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Tacos Ensenada: Wet Burrito Lengua

I have no idea how I did not about Tacos Ensenada before a couple of months ago. I had always thought the area around El Toro and the 5 was something of an culinary wasteland – Guitar Center and Smart & Final were always the main reasons to venture to the area. To illustrate just how bleak my perception of the area was, I can say that I was genuinely happy when Lee’s Sandwiches opened there! Tacos Ensenada is somewhat hidden from view off Raymond, a small side street, in one of the many subdivided shopping centers running along each side of that stretch of El Toro. I don’t usually get wet burritos, but the first time I went there, the person taking our order offered the wet option. Without really thinking, I said yes, and chose green sauce over red. Going to a new place always spurs me to try something new, and it turned out I had no idea what I was missing. The burrito is massive, wet or not, and filled simply with meat, rice, and beans. Wet, it comes covered in melted, not to mention activated, cheese and your chosen sauce. Silverware is, of course, needed.

I did say it was big.

I did say it was big.

El Fenix: Burrito Lengua

El Fenix was a godsend when it first opened in little ol’ RSM, but thanks to the city’s weird (or possibly nonexistent) zoning logic, it was slotted in just two doors to the left of a well established Mexican restaurant. Fortunately, El Fenix distinguishes itself from its neighbor not only with far superior food, but with a very useful market, the opening of which spawned my family’s Taco Friday tradition. The Reuben’s Tortilleria tortillas delivered daily, hot off the shelf, their wonderful salsas, and great prepared and pre-marinated meats make every Taco Friday an excellent Taco Friday.

El Fenix’s lengua is a lengua verde—nice chunks of tongue in a slightly spicy green sauce, with the tongue’s richness complementing it nicely. It adds a wonderful saucy element to whatever you use it in. Pictured: burrito lengua with rice, beans, serrano salsa, and guacamole.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it's dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

Maybe not the most photogenic burrito, but it’s dang good! Taken from my Foodspotting profile.

It went very well with Cismontane Brewing Company’s Coulter IPA and Citizen California Common.

Beef Tongue Survey

My parents are the kind of people who, when they find something they enjoy, like to research it and get a comprehensive picture of the thing or things in question, be it food, music, a TV show, or anything, really.

Making a survey, we call it, and they made sure to pass this tendency down to me. We’ve done a sangak survey, multiple farmers’ market surveys, a long term macaron survey, and my mom is, in a way, always doing a thrift store survey. Our surveys provide very useful information for daily life, or in the case of a pop culture-centric survey, much enjoyment and cultural enrichment.

I’ve been working on my own survey of beef tongue in Orange County. Given the ethnic diversity of our food offerings, and the prevalence of tongue in cuisines the world over, I’m having no difficulty finding data.

I will start posting my findings today, roughly grouped by cuisine and method of preparation. Enjoy!