Catch a Ride on the Little Caboose

The Little Caboose No. 1 at Beach Boulevard and Ball Road in Anaheim is about as unassuming as eateries get, residing in a free-standing fast-food shack that started out as an Orange Julius in the '50s. That laid-back locale suits owner Evangelina Savala fine, because she doesn't want anything pretentious about her food.

"I want our clientele to feel they are coming into a family kitchen, not a restaurant," says the transplanted Texan. Toward that end she and her family cook up fare she learned from her mother, traditional recipes that originated in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Guanajuato.

You can get a burger out of them if you insist, but the specialties on the extensive Mexican menu are the tortas and the machaca burrito. Unlike the tough tortas other joints serve up, the Caboose's handmade ones have surprisingly soft shells, available stuffed with carnitas, carne asada, chorizo and egg and machaca fillings for $3.

The machaca torta and burrito (also $3) is a tangy blend of shredded beef, scrambled egg, onions, tomato and spices, great on its own, but also an ideal host for the eatery's dusky hot sauce. The rest of the menu ranges from $3.50 menudo daily (triple-cleaned with the fat cut off) to a respectable vegetarian burrito for $2.80 to fish tacos that are generous if a tad too thickly breaded for $1.40 per taco. And unlike most fast food joints, they also serve beer and wine coolers.

The Savala family's second location in Buena Park is more of a sit-down restaurant with table service. An attraction of the original restaurant, which has indoor self-serve seating, is that it's open 24 hours. According to Kenny Savala, one of three siblings who help their mother run things, "A lot of night people come here to eat: bartenders, police, hookers and musicians. There have even been times when people start up the juke box and start dancing."

Mrs. Savala said the first restaurant opened in 1976, the result of "a lot of determination to make a dream come true. So many friends said they liked my cooking that I was encouraged to do this. That's why I want to keep it being my cooking. My own personal reason for not opening a chain is I want to be able to be there to make sure everything is being served right. If we expanded to more restaurants, we wouldn't have enough family to go around to take care of them."

The Little Caboose No. 1, 2952 West Ball Road, Anaheim. (714) 995-4230. The Little Caboose No. 2, 8951 Knott Ave., Buena Park. (714) 995-4231. No. 1 is open 24 hours daily. No. 2 is open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

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