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REVIEW: El Gaucho Market #2, Anaheim

"He must be really desperate... he's reviewing markets."

I am... and then again I'm not.

It's a market, true -- and they sell fantastic cuts of beef, very, very good alfajores and every South American victual you could possibly need (including frozen purees of Brazilian rainforest fruit from acerola to cacao fruit) -- but the reason to go there is for the sandwich counter, which is adjacent to (and accessible from) the main store.

What is it about store sandwich counters in SoCal? I mean, the killer meatball sandwich in Anaheim comes from Niberino's in the His-Nibs liquor store... the liquor store at Victory and Alameda in Burbank sells fantastic fish and chips...

El Gaucho, then, as its name suggests, serves Argentine (and Uruguayan) sandwiches. The choripán is a delicious chorizo sausage, cut in half ("en mariposa") on a crusty roll. You're meant to dollop some of their delicious chimichurri (in bowls at the register, or ask for a to-go tub if you're not eating inside) on the sandwich. The huge Italian influence in Argentina is evident in the prosciutto sandwich, which can be hard to eat (prosciutto is not exactly a meat that lends itself to neat bites) but is delicious. The matambre is a culinary invention of beef rolled around filling (egg and vegetable), then sliced onto -- you got it -- a crusty roll. Milanesa is a very good rendition of breaded and fried beef, like a meatier schnitzel, on (wait for it) a crusty roll.

In the cooler just over the "border" into the store, next to the (very good) alfajores, you will find sandwiches de miga, which are double-layered, crustless meat sandwiches traditionally served as a snack.

The apotheosis, however, of the Argentine sandwich is the "sandwich de entraña", or skirt-steak sandwich, and it's what I've had two-thirds of the times I've been. Grilled skirt steak with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on another of those addictive rolls. While it's not a neat sandwich to eat, it IS the best sandwich on the menu and the smell will drive you insane. The mayo is important -- the juice from the beef melds with it and turns into this gravy that spreads all throughout the bread, so that when (and this will happen) you accidentally bite off a huge piece of entraña, leaving part of the bread "unmeated", you will still want to finish the bread. I'd say I could eat four at a sitting but this is not some fussy retiring tea sandwich -- this is a MAN sandwich and one is plenty.

El Gaucho also offers empanadas of beef, chicken or spinach. The chicken are particularly good, though I have opted more often for the spinach so that some vegetables may enter my meal. (There are no salads on the menu, so this or a vegetarian sandwich are your two options for plant matter.) The casing is crisp around the edges and surprisingly tender away from the edges. These are better empanadas than the much-vaunted Empanada's Place in West LA and Costa Mesa, and cheaper.

Service varies. One of the guys is very gruff and it can be off-putting, but you're not there for services, you're there for a damn good sandwich and bragging rights to your coworkers. Another of the guys is very open and a total sports nut.

Decor is nil. There will usually be some South Americans sitting at the few (four or five) small tables, watching sports (usually soccer, though one of the guys is an ardent Lakers fan) on one of the three (yes, three) huge televisions mounted on the north wall. Eat, talk, watch TV, leave.

Note that they normally close at 7 PM. I have snuck in just under the wire and been served without complaint, but this is not a place you're going after a day at Disneyland.

Value is, of course, excellent. All sandwiches are either $4.99 or $5.99; empanadas are $1.75 each (I think). While the sandwiches are not the jaw-dropping cheap price of their Vietnamese cousins the banh mi, they are large and well worth it. Go in, and find a little piece of Argentina right in an anonymous looking market on State College, 3/4 mile north of Ball Road. You'll find yourself craving it after a couple of visits. And stop by the meat counter -- after all, one of the aphorisms of the restaurant industry is that a great steak isn't cooked, it's bought -- and you can buy the entraña right there.

El Gaucho Meat Market #2
847 S State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA

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  1. I'm dieting, but may have to sneak in for lunch!

    1. Hi Das,

      Great review! :) Thanks for the info; I can't wait to try it my next time in the area.

      1. OK, which of you snuck in and ate up all the matambre yesterday?? I was forced to accept an amazing choripan instead...

        1 Reply
        1. Yes ! I visited this place over the weekend on your recommendation, and everything I bought was so good. I haven't tried the sandwiches yet, but I bought some items at the meat counter and some amazingly good, freshly made alfajores. The entraña, like the other meats (argentinian chorizo, marinated chicken, sweetbreads), were soo flavorful. Thanks !

          1. Ok, very, very disappointed. It lacks of good service and manners. I walked in with a couple of friends from work (UCI) for a quick bite and sit down for a little while, I never expected they could be so racially prejudiced against Mexicans. I am fluent in Spanish, and so my colleagues, when we heard the derogatory remarks we all looked at each other disturbed. I couldn’t help to ask, of course they were not expecting I could speak Spanish, and they got silenced. Yeah, what a meal! I later found out that the “funny latino” was a local argentinean guy chatting with the owner. I would have never believed it unless I heard it for myself… and this place sells “Latin American” food.

            1. Been to the one in Redondo Beach, which is another hidden treasure. (2715 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Redondo Beach, CA 90278.)

              The Milanesa sandwich is ridiculously good. I get it to go and order a couple empanadas to munch on while they make the sandwich. Both never disappoint.

              The meat counter is excellent as well. Very reasonable prices on high-grade ribeyes and New York steaks that are better quality than a supermarket, yet cheaper. They have chicken, sausages and the more hard-core organ meats as well.

              Also, the marinated carne asada (and chicken) are unbelievably inexpensive and impossibly good. Great for making tacos while tailgating at the Rose Bowl.

              Even their coffee is legit: a double cappuccino will run you two bucks – about half the price of Starbucks, and yes it's better.

              There are usually Argentinians hanging out, drinking espresso or one of the South American beers for sale, and watching soccer on the store's big screen.

              1. Thanks so much for the rec. Tried it this weekend: Entrana was as excellent as promised. Milenesa was also excellent, definitely competitive with the best I've had. Loved the market and can't wait to back and try more.

                1. Three of us went last Friday. We had two of the skirt steak sandwiches, a milanesa, and a chicken. They were all great, but we concurred that the chicken was the best. It is clearly marinated before hand and very moist. The mayo is a good call. I don't usually eat mayo in public but the blending of the mayo with the chimichurri sauce is key and not to be missed. I had missed the note about the empanadas on my blackberry and we stumbled into them at the end. I bought a dozen to take home with some additional chimichurri sauce and again Mr. Ubergeek is dead on: The chicken is the bull goose loony but I would probably order the spinach more often because it is the better complement to the meat festival going on in the sandwiches. We did not get to the matambre or the chorizo this time, but I am headed back there before the end of the month (I live about 60 miles away) to take those into my life. The main market also sells the matambre in packages and you can buy the rolls and one table was rolling their own sandwiches, making it even more of a bargain than the already reasonable prices they have in the little kitchen area.

                  I heated up the empanadas at home and the dozen were gone within 12 hours. My son and I love the Empanada Place on our way to LA but El Gaucho is far superior.

                  My friends tell me that there is a great German place around the corner on State College whose name I have forgotten but it ends in "Haus" and if the Nibs Liquor store has the great Meatball sand, then this little area of Santa Ana has me coming back again and again. Thanks for the rec.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Victor Lieberman

                    Jägerhaus is the name of the German place, I do love the meatball sandwiches at His-Nibs (though the counter hours are erratic -- always open at lunch but only open sometimes in the evening).

                    And I'm glad you enjoyed -- but this is Anaheim, not Santa Ana. Santa Ana has its own culinary riches, mostly in the Mexican food arena. :)

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Sorry, my people are in Santa Ana and we drove about a mile but I get constantly lost back in the 22/57/5 off roads.

                      Would love a Mexican rec in Santa Ana. The offices are in the Main Place Mall and we are always looking for good food up that way.

                      1. re: Victor Lieberman

                        Well, for Mexican you should go to El Rincón Chilango on 17th near Bristol. It's a real hole in the wall -- go to the west end of the building for table service, or order at the window and sit at the benches strung along 17th. Tlacoyos, gorditas de tinga, tacos de suadero, quesadillas de flor de calabaza or huitlacoche, and chilaquiles con cecina... mmmmm.

                        Closer to MainPlace is the Chili Pepper -- kind of a gringo hangout but they have really excellent huachinango (red snapper).

                        Also near MainPlace but not Mexican you have the Greek Garden Grill and Hollingshead's Delicatessen, both on Main just north of La Veta. Across the street in the plaza with the Barnes & Noble is Arriba Baja Cantina, with serviceable (not mindblowing but better than Rubios) fish tacos.

                        And around the corner, where La Veta becomes Bristol, at the corner of Bristol and Memory Lane there's Juan Pollo, with really good rotisserie chicken, beans, rice and addictive potato salad (yes, I'm sure it comes out of a tub but still).

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Thanks, we walk across the street to Arriba and it is a little better than serviceable, so will definitely try El Rincon. Here's one for you if you don't know it:

                          Ruth's place
                          1236 Civic Center Dr W
                          Santa Ana, CA 92703
                          (714) 953-9454

                          Very good Fried Chicken. Pretty solid sides. Great cornbread as I remember. Very small place not very condusive for sitting around (Makes El Gaucho look like Dan Tana's)...but an absolutely real place with very good Soul Food.

                          1. re: Victor Lieberman

                            I thought I'd heard that Ruth's Place closed some time ago ? I hope I'm wrong...

                          2. re: Das Ubergeek

                            Go a bit further on 17th to Super Antojitos, great place! And near the Juan Pollo (hot salsa is HOT), Zamora's for mariscos is pretty good too. Chile Pepper, meh...for that I'd rather go to Azteca in Garden Grove.
                            Ooooh and Holingsheads for sandwiches and... BEER.

                            1. re: ErikaK

                              What dishes do you like at Zamora? It's walking distance from my office but I've always been kind of disappointed when I get food from there, and it smells funky (what a random complaint, right?). Not old-seafood funky, just odd funky.

                              Chile Pepper has that great huachinango but usually when I'm jonesing seafood I go to Mariscos Puerto Esperanza on Taft and Tustin near the 55.

                              Is Azteca the one on Garden Grove Main St.? If so, what's good there?

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Hope Ruth's place did not close. Please let me know. I did find out the exact name of the German place on State College: JaegerHaus and apparently they are now serving beer in "das boot".

                    2. Thanks for the report. I will have to stop by the next time I'm drive out to Fullerton. Can't wait to try the "sandwich de entraña."

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Pinkfoodie10

                        Went there today, for lunch - the sandwich de entraña was really really good - super-flavorful meat, on a nice crusty roll. For $ 5.95 you just can't beat it !

                        Next time, I think I'll try the milanesa....

                        Also picked up a box of freshly-made alfajores, these are soo good !