Pop's Cafe - Santa Ana
Pop's Cafe is the kind of place I didn't think existed any more--the type of diner you only see in either old film noirs with Bogart or latter day movies that involve DeLorean time machines. The tiny-as-a-shoebox dining room, heck, the entire building seems stuck in a Norman Rockwell painting, dated somewhere between the 30s or 50s.
There's a counter with red swivel stools that's already loose and wiggly from decades of use. You'd half expect the customers who saddle up to it to read newspapers with Dick Tracy comics and hang up their fedoras as they enter. Above our heads, precariously hung fans sweep the air like the sputtering propellers of a plane about to take off and attack the Germans. Quaint is the word I'd use here, and in a good way.
As Gustavo Arellano wrote in his excellent Hole-in-the-Wall piece on it this week, breakfast is the meal to get here. And they serve it up until the point they don't, in the early afternoon. The best time to come are Sundays when street parking is free and eating breakfast for lunch can be called brunch.
The matriarch of the Korean family that runs the place, a warm and affable lady, will refill your coffee mug till you can't bear to consume any more caffeine. But once the clock ticks 1:30 p.m., she'll start turning away any new customers. "By 1:30 p.m., we're outta here!" she smiled at me, glancing up at the clock. Weekdays, they finish up by 2:30.
Their hash browns are hash browns as hash browns should be: massively portioned, gilded in a crispy browned outer crust where starch met griddle. The rest is fluffy and ethereal, resisting little to your fork as if it were mashed potato, and actually, just as buttery.
A plateful of it, partnered with two eggs and corned beef hash that's got the same nice sweetly crisp brownness on its crust, will fuel you up for hours, supplanting the need for lunch and dinner. The meal comes with buttered toast, the densest I've ever seen and completely unnecessary if you don't intend to chop down a tree afterwards.
And oh, the way they do their eggs here is also notable. Unlike say, your local Denny's, they know the difference between over-easy and over-medium.
Even better than the hash browns are the Irish potatoes. It's crispy on two fronts: that now-familiar outer browning for one, but also bits of green pepper and onion that snap with garden freshness. It's the kind of counter balance you need when you tackle the gut-bomb of the sausage biscuit they've drowned in a gravy as rich as a milkshake. Underneath that white and silky loveliness is a bonafide sandwich with a patty as thick as a gourmet burger.
You wish there's one of these in every street corner, perhaps your own. There'd be no trouble getting up out of bed in the morning when breakfasts like these await. Nevermind that you would not likely want to do anything else besides crawl back in it afterward.
112 East 9th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92701-3505
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