Santa Ana is rightfully known as one of the most Latino big cities in the United States, the type of place where a simple request for Mexican food can be broken down not only by state traditions, but also by a particular rancho. But during the past couple of years, there has been a surprising resurgence in the motherland—not Mexico, but Spain; not the ridiculous fantasy heritage of South County streets, but the real pinche deal. The city is now one of the nation's focal points for flamenco, a Spanish girl is one of the owners of the hopping Copper Door in downtown, and the guys over at Lola Gaspar have finally dropped the ego that characterized their first year to create a Spanish-influenced wonderland of cuisine.
But the most exciting Iberian experiment—and one of the boldest culinary moves in Orange County right now—is at Olé! Spain Delishop, a strip-mall tenant that acts as though it's in a Barcelona barrio. About the only thing Mexican here is the Coke and the owners; all the other products, from the chestnut honey to cans of roe of hake to more than a dozen cheeses and sausages spiced and dried into all sorts of girths and lengths, are either imported or come from the excellent La Espagnola Meats in Harbor City. Sandwiches (called "bocatas") sing of Spanish subtlety—a salty Manchego cheese, for instance, pared with piquillo peppers and Serrano ham in the La Española displays a roundness of flavors that convinces you immediately to return. You can get any of the sandwiches in one of the best lunch meals in the county: a soup (sometimes hearty lentil with blood sausage, but best a potato concoction with hunks of chorizo) and salad, half a sandwich, and a massive slice of flan for about $8, each entrée spectacular, each worthy of the price tag.
The audacity of this place! The Spanish population ain't exactly hopping in OC, and the location (in the same shopping plaza as the iconic Little Onion) is stuck in that weird area between Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Irvine that most folks just drive through on the way to better places. But the young adults who run the place are boldly pushing forward—they're planning to expand the menu beyond sandwiches and tapas (also grand) into paella, into more complex soups, and they want to offer Spanish beer and wine. They proudly display a hock of Serrano ham, bone and all, near the counter, to entice you further as to their chops—a glimpse of the genius already here and to come.
Ol! Spain Delishop, www.olespanishdelishop.com.
This column appeared in print as "Beyond Spanish Rice."
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