Good news, Orange County foodies: Beba's Restaurant has finally reopened after shutting down their longtime Santa Ana location last year. Look for one of Southern California's few Bolivian restaurants at 1909 E. Lincoln Ave. in Anaheim (the phone number is 714-535-0051), and enjoy their multiple potato dishes, refreshing beverages, furtive ají salsa and legendary salteñas: massive empanadas filled with beef broth, ground meat, raisins, rice and other chopped vegetables, all steaming inside a crispy, buttery shell.
Only one other local restaurant serves salteñas, and it's not the offices of Santa Ana councilmember and Bolivia native Vince Sarmiento. LA RANCHERITA BAKERY is a traditional Mexican panadería, but painted on their window is the magic word: "salteñas." The joy begins with the crust, as golden and flaky as the best chicken pot pie. You're supposed to eat the salteña with a spoon lest the hot broth inside scald you, and the crust effortlessly crumbles inward when you dig in, releasing a bit of steam that gives way to a dark jumble of foodstuffs. Although the ingredients vary from animal to vegetable to liquid, they all lean toward a sweet flavor—the meat, whether you order chicken or beef, is naturally sweet; the carrot and hard-boiled egg impart their respective charms; the broth cooks everything into a lovely essence that the rice soaks up like the delicious sponge it is. The best thing about the salteña is that it serves multiple purposes: a filling breakfast, hearty lunch, impromptu dinner, or just a quick snack before a bigger meal. La Rancherita bakes its chicken and beef salteñas in the morning, and the batches are usually gone by afternoon. No surprise there, as the salteñas go for 2 bucks.
La Rancherita sells only one other Bolivian meal, pan boliviano, which is really nothing more than glorified rolls, but nevertheless delicious. The rest of this cramped space is devoted to Mexican pan dulce, and La Rancherita is one of the better panaderías around. The conchas (those large, studded sweet breads your Mexican co-worker always brings in to show how Mexican she is) come as small as your palm or as large as your face. I've always favored empanadas, and the bakers trot out about half a dozen types: filled with strawberry, pumpkin, or custard; dusted with sugar and other stuff. But visit this bakery solely for the salteñas. After all, panaderías are not in danger of disappearing, while Bolivian cuisine in Orange County is always just one missed rent check away from deportation.
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LA RANCHERITA BAKERY, 2709 WESTMINSTER AVE., STE. B, SANTA ANA, (714) 554-7265.