'Onion, cilantro and salsa': The success behind this O.C. taco chain is simplicity

'Onion, cilantro and salsa': The success behind this O.C. taco chain is simplicity

9/26/2021 6:09:00 PM

'Onion, cilantro and salsa': The success behind this O.C. taco chain is simplicity

Since 1980, Taqueria De Anda has been a family business that serves simple Mexican street tacos to all corners of Orange County.

Consider the Mexican street taco, superior in its simplicity.“Our concept is very basic and simple,” said Jaime De Anda, partner at popular Orange County taco chain Taqueria De Anda. “Onion, cilantro and salsa.”The distinct characteristics of Taqueria De Anda’s authentic Mexican tacos make them a favored meal that can be found across Orange County at any of its 12 locations.

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But Taqueria De Anda’s style of street taco wasn’t always so plentiful.AdvertisementWhen Jaime’s father, Rafael “Don Rafa” De Anda, migrated to Fullerton in the 1960s, he learned the traditional flavors he used at his taco cart back in Jalisco were not as easy to come by in Orange County. So Rafael and his wife, Guadalupe “Doña Lupe” De Anda, decided to bring their tacos to the Fullerton community.

Rafael “Don Rafa” De Anda and his wife, Guadalupe “Doña Lupe.”(Gary Apodaca)Jaime said his parents always knew they wanted to open a business.“So the first idea was to save up a little bit of money and buy a lunch truck,” he said.By 1980, the family had a truck parked near the corner of Valencia Drive and Highland Avenue in Fullerton that served a simple menu of tacos and agua frescas. headtopics.com

“Our original menu was carne asada, al pastor, cabeza, lengua and cecil,” said Jaime.Doña Lupe would spend weekends preparing meat and making her signature salsa with tomatillos at home, while Don Rafa would work the truck.Advertisement“During the week he had his regular job, and on the weekends, he worked the truck,” Jaime said.

But soon the demand for tacos led Don Rafa to quit his day job at a cement factory to pursue the restaurant business full time. After less than a year, the family bought a brick-and-mortar location near where they parked their truck. It was a small 600-square-foot space with just enough room for four tables.

The family moved the truck to a new location on 4th Street in Santa Ana where a following grew. A small store in La Habra followed.“The growth came little by little,” Jaime recalls. “If we find a good location, then we jump on it.”AdvertisementToday, Taqueria De Anda’s sleek corporate office stands where the original location once stood, overlooking its flagship Fullerton location across the street.

Your guide to the best Mexican restaurants from The Times’ 101Los Angeles is blessed with an array of exemplary Mexican food. These 21 restaurants are proof.Jaime and siblings Marcella, George, Lourdes and Juan are all partners in the business, and they are committed to continuing their traditions alongside their parents. headtopics.com

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Though Jaime admitted it isn’t always easy. “We are constantly trying to evolve but also maintain the same quality,” he said. “We want to make it better, but we also don’t want to make it too different.”AdvertisementTaqueria De Anda’s menu offers a variety of tacos, burritos, rice and beans created with a traditional lineup of meat options like al pastor, carnitas, carne asada, buche, pollo and lengua. All tacos are topped with the same three simple ingredients — cilantro, onion and salsa.

Al pastor nachos at Taqueria De Anda.(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)The restaurants still use the same recipes Doña Lupe used, and the recipe for her signature salsa remains a closely guarded secret. (Only immediate De Anda family members are allowed to craft the salsa at the restaurant chain’s headquarters.)

Instead, Taqueria De Anda has found other ways to evolve.AdvertisementThe locations in Lake Forest and Mission Viejo for example, are considered Taqueria De Anda Grills. The Grill restaurants have more menu options, such as high-quality angus beef, chorizo, bacon breakfast burritos and shrimp tacos. They also serve beer.

Jaime said the work ethic his parents demonstrated inspired him to work just as hard.“Working alongside my dad in the restaurant, I used to admire the way he would talk to the customers, with such respect,” Jaime said. “The business is what would pay our rent and pay our bills, so we owe everything to the business. We owe it all to our customers.” headtopics.com

Jaime De Anda stands at the entrance to the original Taqueria De Anda in Fullerton. The restaurant evolved from a taco stand started by his immigrant parents in this same parking lot. The chain has since grown to 12 locations throughout Orange County. A 13th location is planned to be opened in Huntington Beach.

(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)AdvertisementIt is the customers and their love of Taqueria De Anda tacos that has kept the tradition going for the last 40 years, an anniversary Jaime said will not go uncelebrated.“We wanted to do something last year, but we couldn’t because of COVID, and this year we are still limited in what we can do but we might wait another year,” Jaime said. “Definitely next year.”

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More immediately, fans can look forward to Taqueria De Anda’s 13th location, set to open in Huntington Beach in October with a menu of the same simply delicious tacos. Read more: L.A. Times Food »

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