Where to eat on jury duty in Santa Ana

I got summoned to jury duty last month at the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. Just before lunch, they called my name. I got thrown into the pool for a very high-profile trial. For our own safety, they gave us each a number and said we were to no longer use our names in the courthouse. The next thing they told us was, “This trial is scheduled to last 4 weeks.”

My first response was, “Oh, crap. What did the defendant do?”

My second thought: “Oh, crap. Where am I going to eat every day for the next four weeks?”

As it turns out, my service as a juror ended after only a few days, which is a relief because the answer to that first question was rape and murder.

But I still didn’t have an answer to that second question, so I kept returning to the area around the courthouse almost every day for three weeks. After sampling more than a dozen lunchtime meals, all within walking distance of jury duty, here are my top nine picks:

Tabu Burgers & Bites
This little burger joint opened in January, and while burgers are the main focus, there’s a not-so-subtle undercurrent of Mexican cuisine that infiltrates the entire concept, from the decor to the menu. What to order: The best thing on offer is the signature chile relleno burger, which involves a high-quality, handcrafted meat patty topped with a fried poblano chile stuffed with gooey white cheese. It is unavoidably messy but incredibly delicious. Also great: the Mexican street-style corn. 306 W. Fourth Street, Santa Ana, 714-600-2244

La Chonita
Several taco trucks park on Sycamore between Civic Center Drive and 14th Street. The first one in line is always La Chonita, and they accept phone-in orders if you want to call before walking over. What to order: The burritos and tortas are why you’re here. The carne asada is good, while the carnitas and lamb barbacoa are truly outstanding. Skip the pastor. Sycamore Street, just off Civic Center Drive, 949-552-5457

Lola Gaspar
There’s an impressive modern Mexican spirit to the menu at this gastrobar/pub these days. What to order: Vegetarian quinoa enchiladas. Sounds weird, yes, but just try it. Also, the burger is superb, as are the hand-cut fries. If you’re rushing back to jury duty, you probably won’t have time for dessert, but if you do, the butterscotch pudding is creamy and decadent. 211 W. Second Street, Santa Ana, 714-972-1172

C4 Deli
This is the casual offshoot of Chapter One across the street, with a limited menu of salads and sandwiches. What to order: If it’s made with pork, it’s really good, especially the porchetta and pork belly sandwiches. The house-cured beef pastrami Reuben Martinez sandwich is insanely good, too, with a fried egg stuffed into the middle, which shouldn’t work but it does. 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, 714-263-1555

Crave serves an excellent beef dip sandwich.

Crave
This place swarms with caffeinated gun-toting detectives and buttoned-up lawyers. They’re here for the sandwiches, mostly, but often they eat salads. What to order: The grilled tri-tip dip is loaded with thickly sliced beef stuffed between layers of buttery sourdough. The delicious kale salad makes no overtures to vegans: It contains nearly as much Parmesan as it does kale and arugula. 310 W. Fourth Street, Santa Ana, 714-907-0063

Tapatia1

Taqueria Tapatia #2
This cheap 24-hour taqueria is quite a hike but entirely doable with an hour-long break. Plus, the food comes out lightning-fast. What to order: Go straight for the pit-roasted al pastor tacos. The rotisserie chicken tacos are good, too. Although they offer a variety of salsas, everything comes automatically doused with red sauce unless you speak up. 1118 W. First Street, Santa Ana, 714-835-8168

Izalco
The menu at this Salvadorian cafe includes both Salvadorian and Mexican cuisine, and the place fills up quickly at lunchtime. What to order: Try the chorizo revuelta pupusa, which is a thick corn tortilla-like pancake stuffed with chorizo, refried beans and cheese. The Mexican-style tostadas are very good, too. 300 W. Fifth Street, Santa Ana, 714-973-0554

Mil Jugos
“My mother is the chef,” says my waitress at this Venezuelan cafe. “She makes everything herself from scratch, every day.” What to order: Watermelon yogurt juice. And the carne desmechada arepa. The beef is slow-cooked and shredded, intensely flavored with chilies and a handful of spices. The garlicky asado arepa is also great. Get two; they’re small small. 318 W. Fifth Street, 714-836-4601

There is a line at the window of Tootsie pretty much all afternoon every day.

Tootsie
Sometimes all I want for lunch is ice cream. Judging by the line all afternoon at Tootsie, I’d say it’s a popular sentiment. There’s nowhere to sit. It’s an ice-cream truck without the truck. Just a window on a sidewalk. What to order: One scoop of espresso explosion, one scoop of coconut pineapple, and a strawberry shake on the side. 307 W. Third Street, Santa Ana, 714-480-0320

This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. To view more of my work for the Register, check out the archives. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


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