I find myself in downtown SanTana more and more these days, whether it's buying clothes at Fallas-Paredes or having a drink at the Little Sparrow, and I love it. I love that it's a place that's still got one foot in its traditions and the other in its future. But from a food and drink perspective, there are a few things that would truly make it a one-stop destination for pretty much anyone.
1. Great Pizza
A few weeks ago I was in downtown Santa Ana and I wanted pizza. After thinking about the possibilities, and then checking my phone, it's true–there's no great pizza in downtown Santa Ana. There's chain pizza, and there are "flatbreads" that cost a ridiculous amount of money, but what I want is for downtown Fullerton's Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana to clone itself on la Cuatro.
2. Comida Corrida
Downtown Santa Ana may be evolving away from what one particularly obtuse Orange County Register writer called "the immigrant shopping district", but comida corrida needs to come back. Santa Ana has precious few comida económica restaurants left, where you get soup, rice or beans, an entree, tortillas, and a drink for a low price. It'd be nice if there were just one in downtown Santa Ana.
3. Chinese Food
The Chinese food in downtown Santa Ana–what there is of it–is God-awful. It's the worst of steam-tray glop with tons of sugar in it. Can you imagine a downtown Santa Ana where you could get dim sum, or a noodle shop, or even a reinvented Cantonese-style restaurant à la 1950s with egg foo young and pressed duck?
4. An Agave-Centric Bar
How is it possible that there's not an agave spirits-centered bar in downtown Santa Ana, like Las Perlas in L.A. or Cantina Mayahuel in San Diego? There are plenty of bars with tequila and mezcal, but the paisa bars specialize in blended whiskey and cheap beer, and the fancy bars don't have the shelf space for a serious agave spirits collection.
5. Date-Night Vietnamese
Nothing against 828 Pho, but it's not a date-night destination, and downtown Santa Ana is just far enough out of Little Saigon that a nice, sit-down Vietnamese restaurant with great food and American-style service could do well there. Where is Haley Nguyen when you need her?