Finding Paninoteca Maggio requires some doing. Its general location--in the plaza with Mother's Market on Main Street in Santa Ana's northernmost reaches--is pretty easy to find, but Paninoteca Maggio is in one of the live-work lofts that ring the strangely built central parking lot. If you walk along the sidewalk outside Mother's Market, away from Z Pizza, you'll walk more or less into the tiny space.
It's worth the hunt, though. As you'd expect from a place called a paninoteca, they make sandwiches. In fact, that's pretty much all they make; sandwiches, side salads, and one main-course-size salad. They make exactly one dessert to complete your meal (a Nutella and peanut butter panino), and there's a small case with San Pellegrino and San Benedetto Italian sodas.
The porchetta sandwich--garlicky, juicy, slow-roasted pork and crispy chicharrón piled into a ciabatta roll with lemon aïoli and arugula--is absolutely stunning and the best choice, though be aware it also sells out fastest.
The meatballs? Perfect. If you had an Italian in your family growing up, you'd have eaten meatballs like these every Sunday, simmered in a beautiful tomato sauce. This is served on baguette rather than ciabatta, for obvious reasons. The vegetarian sandwich, with roasted eggplant, zucchini and red bell peppers and artichoke pesto on the good, chewy ciabatta, would be my Meatless Monday sandwich of choice if the place were only open on Mondays. (Phooey.)
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My true love for Paninoteca Maggio, though, is not the sandwiches. It's the espresso. There is something genetic in the makeup of Italian people that makes them create the world's most perfect coffee. (It happens with Portuguese people, too.) When non-Italians try to recreate it, maybe 1 in 1000 can do it. Paninoteca Maggio owner Sharron Barshishat is half Italian and half Israeli, and obviously, he's got the knack.
Paninoteca Maggio's espresso comes from a machine that takes up nearly half the space behind the counter. It's rich, slightly bitter, slightly tannic, and with a thick layer of crema on top. A thing of beauty, and all it needs is sugar--less than you'd think, O drinker of Starbucks' over-roasted, over-extracted cat poop tea--and two or three sips.
The restaurant is open only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, but go early: at about 11:45, the office workers pour out of OCTA and downtown Santa Ana and converge on the place. By 2:30 p.m., your sandwich choices will be limited as they'll have run out. You can always have an espresso, though.