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REVIEW: The Chili Pepper, Orange

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We're always on the lookout for Mexican food. Especially the casual kind where we can sit down and have table service. And while I like El Farolito (and El Farolito Jr.) it's not the be-all and end-all of Mexican restaurants... so when we were on our way home from Santa Ana the other day and passed a colourful restaurant on Main Street, I said, "You know, we should try that sometime."

And so last night, as I staggered home after much stupidity on the part of Metrolink, I walked in and said, "I am not making green curry tonight. We are going OUT." Since die Ubergeeklette was actually quiet, we decided to go to this mythical Mexican noshery.

We pulled into the parking lot and it was full -- a good sign, but we worried about the wait at 6:15 PM on a Friday, because while our little cherub is often quite sweet, when she wakes up and wants something, it's all bad for us and for surrounding diners (see my post about Seafood Village in Rowland Heights for an example).

We were seated immediately -- there were a few tables open, which tells me that the parking lot is smaller than the capacity of the restaurant -- and I ordered a beer. (I got ID'ed for the first time in -- geez, years -- which made me grin.)

We perused the menu and the specials board... it's an odd menu, with a lot of very tasty-looking Mexican food, the usual combination plates, a lot of seafood... and Italian food in weird places.

The problem was that then nobody showed up. And nobody showed up. And nobody showed up. Waitstaff and busboys were standing around doing nothing. "Urgh," I thought to myself, "not another one of these places." We marched our way through the chips and salsa (and a note: the salsa is tasty but terrible for dipping -- large chunks with watery juice which gets everywhere)

"Buenas tardes, señores," says a voice from behind me, "we thought maybe you wanted some time to talk while the baby was sleeping. Are you ready to order?"

My wife ordered a "combinacion Guanajuato", which was a taco and an enchilada filled with chicken, potatoes, onions and tomatoes, plus rice and beans. I ordered the red snapper special from the specials board, which came with rotelle pasta (see what I mean?), mashed potatoes with "Oaxaca sauce" and charro beans.

In a minute or two, after a drink refresh, a small plate with two taquitos appeared. "A little appetizer," said the waiter, "on the house." It turned out to be bean taquitos, which were surprisingly tasty.

Then a cup of soup arrived. "The special comes with soup," said the waiter. It turned out to be your usual tortilla soup, but with a lot of chunks of just-barely-cooked Anaheim chile in it... it was actually very tasty.

The dinners arrived -- and as though on schedule, from the car seat we hear "wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA". A quick coin-toss, and I hoisted her out of the car seat and bounced her on one knee. She quieted down right away when she saw the ceiling fan turning slowly (these fascinate her).

Surprisingly, the combination was not "mixed glop". There was no cheese atop the enchilada, just a very good red sauce, the beans were in their own part of the plate, and the taco was wrapped. Of the bites I had, it was quite good. The snapper, though, once I squeezed lemon on it, was fantastic. Very simply cooked -- coated in corn flake crumbs and pan-fried -- it was fresh and flaky and moist. The pasta, which was an odd combination, was very tasty, with cilantro, a few olives, a couple of pieces of tomato, oil, and queso oaxaca. The potatoes were decent but the red mole sauce (and not much of it) really made it happen. The beans, though -- undersalted, a bit slimy, not my thing at all.

At the end of the meal, plates were whisked away (all at once, not one at a time) and another plate of taquitos was set down. "Apple chimichangas," said the waiter, "for you." They were deep-fried small flour tortillas filled with apple filling, coated in sugar. Very tasty and just the right size after a very large meal.

The best part, though, was the bill -- $30 out the door with two beers. The snapper special was $7.49 for all that food!

We'll definitely be back.

The Chili Pepper
167 S. Main St. (just south of Chapman Ave.)
Orange, CA 92868
(714) 639-2840

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  1. Couldn't believe someone wrote about the Chili Pepper. I grew up very close to there and used to go there when I was a kid (over 30 years ago). If I remember correctly they had a location on 17th St. in Santa Ana too? I don't remember it being very remarkable considering Santa Ana has some amazing Mexican Restaurants. Being 1/2 Mexican, it was amazing that my family didn't take me to eat at better places. I didn't discover some of the better places until I was in High School. During High School and after I was the expert on Santa Ana taco places (some of the best).

    For Mexican "comfort food" I really like Anita's, which is actually New Mexican. Have you been there?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bsquared2

      Yes, but I don't "get it"... it's a regular Mexican place plus "red or green?" to me.

    2. I have not been there in years. Glad to see its still good.
      And to the other poster, I think they has a sister restaurant called Juana Marias on Katella and Cambridge a long, long time ago.
      Thanks for the review.