For a city that’s nearly all Mexican, Santa Ana sure takes its American breakfasts seriously, and its long section of Main Street serves as a Champs Elysées for a stack of pancakes and morning scrambles. Each restaurant along the thoroughfare serves a particular stratum of the city’s social life: To the north is Polly’s Pies for the politicos, Corner Bakery for the old guard, and Norms for the wabs. South Santa Ana finds working-class stiffs at Cowgirls Café and Irvine office drones schlepping up to Qwik Korner for the gargantuan breakfast burrito. The downtown area has the Gypsy Den for hipsters and leaves Mill Bakery for retired Mexican men who want nothing more than to see the morning turn into the afternoon while munching on doughnuts and gossiping about the rancho back home and the expat community here.
And then there’s Pop’s Cafe, just off the Main Street drag, an old-time diner down to the checkerboard floor tiles, red-vinyl counter seats, and vintage knickknacks ranging from old Coke signs to Life magazine covers and pictures of Santa Ana before the Reconquista. It’s the type of place where the most innovative dish is a chicken-caesar-salad sandwich, a crunchy thing that’s best left unordered because of the waves of fat-drenched goodies available. Oh, the Pop’s country breakfast: a haymaker to the arteries, a biscuit drenched in creamy, peppery gravy, the patty inside chewy like the late Jimmy Dean would’ve approved, with an egg cooked your way and the largest side of hash browns I’ve encountered in a while, taking up nearly three-quarters of the plate. Aside from their enormity, the hash browns impress: Nearly burnt on the outside, firm inside, delicious. The omelets work, though they are a bit expensive, but the country-fried steak is a bargain given how golden-great crunchy its breading is. And the deep-fried French-toast special—meat and two eggs on the side, crunchy and velvety toast drenched in syrup—just might bring Guy Fieri back to our fair domain.
Lunch brings a slew of straightforward sandwiches and burgers; a fine pastrami, salty and pink; a misspelled patty melt that makes up for the mistake by reducing its grilled onions to a caramel-like state; plus passable salads. Pop’s Cafe is no Break of Dawn or even a good dish of chilaquiles, but if comfort food is what your soul needs nowadays, Pop’s sells veritable pillows of reassurance—but make sure to run 5 miles after your meal is done.
Pop’s Cafe, 112 E. Ninth St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-2772.
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This column appeared in print as "Breakfast By the Boulevard."