I get tired of covering downtown Santa Ana's gentrification wars: on one side, you have hipsters who openly wish for all the Latino vendors on Fourth Street (especially the quinceañera shops. Ask a Gentrifier: Why do quinceañera shops bother ustedes so?) to get the hell out of there; the other side consists of lifetime residents who don't have any problem slurring other lifetime residents who happen to support gentrification. And then there's another side, which includes me, who slams the landlords and politicians that enable them but not individual business owners (unless they're bona fide racists), and then gets crap from the other sides for this. Whenever I get fatigued by all this, I go to Red Hill Cafe to see the city at its finest.
There is no pretension here—the baked goods are muffins wrapped in cellophane; the orange juice, Rockview. There is heritage: My muy Mexican dad ate here back in the 1980s, when he worked at Royalty Carpets just across the street. Here, there is no tension between the races: The eaters, almost all working-class heroes or retirees, pass the Tapatío to one another or leave copies of the Orange County Register or La Opinión for other folks to read. The classic diner food—omelets and short stacks and sandwiches and breakfast burritos—is befitting of the café's honest-to-goodness counter. The chicken-fried steak special on Thursday would please anyone in the Panhandle; a two-egg, two-pancakes, two-sausages-or-bacon special for five bucks is manna for anyone. And the chorizo scramble is something all mamis make.
More important, for the future of SanTana, here at Red Hill Cafe are Mexicans. Preparing these all-American dishes are immigrants in the back kitchen; manning the counter are Chicanas; eating are paisas and pochos alike. Hipsters can come, and hipsters can go, but the city's present and future are inextricably Mexican—just not the revolutionaries myself and other anti-gentrification warriors might want. Because the dirty little secret in SanTana is that most residents just want to eat and keep politics out of their hash browns and tacos. And, for the moment, Red Hill is this majority's Switzerland.
Red Hill Cafe, 420 E. Dyer Rd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0605.
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