Hole In the Wall: S & J Gran Cafe Is the Crossroads of OC

Census figures show that Garden Grove is Orange County's most diverse city, a fascinating combo of old-time gabachos, fourth-generation Chicanos, Vietnamese refugees, Middle Eastern immigrants and Korean hipsters, all of whom seem to happily get along. And they all seem to hang out at a tiny restaurant wedged deep inside that massive shopping plaza off Harbor Boulevard and Lampson Avenue that houses a Lee's Sandwiches, a Japanese store, a Latino cell-phone store and so much more. The last time I visited S & J Gran Cafe, I saw an old white couple working through a shared omelet, Muslim women giggling in their hijabs as they downed Mason jars full of watermelon juice, a Mexican college student and his Vietnamese girlfriend throwing woo at each other—and there was even a black guy!

S & J has been here almost three years, but it trumps its lack of a web presence or even takeout menus with a loyal clientele that comes multiple times per week, the better to enjoy a Mexican-American approach to breakfast and brunch. So you'll find hamburgers and French toast, but also crunchy chilaquiles; the espresso machine always gets work, but so does the container of agua fresca. There's a fine grilled cheese, a better torta Hawaiiana (pineapple and meat and cheese—oh, my!) and even weekend menudo good enough for your mami to take a break. Think of S & J as an intimate Norms, except in a far-classier location and with a gorgeous flat-screen usually tuned to sports.

What gets me most excited about S & J is the Central American dishes. Sure, there are just three, and they're simple pupusas and combo platters. But this is the best way to introduce non-Central Americans to the beauty of eating a chunk of cheese, black beans and fried plantains. I'm assuming the owners are Guatemalan because the two Central American breakfast plates are called the Chapín (the nickname guatemaltecos call themselves) and Antigua. Part of me wishes said owners were more adventurous with the Central American grub. But then I see Koreans feast on Latino food while drinking a latte, and all remains wonderful with my OC.

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