Breakfast in San Clemente can be a melting pot of fabulous food options
By Jim Kempton
With the congressional immigrant bill in full debate now and businessmen all over the nation talking about the importance of immigrants in our society, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the amazing immigrant entrepreneurs right here in San Clemente.
Many think of our town as a beach-blonde WASP community. But we have many first or second generation immigrant families; some that own breakfast spots in town—in fact, many of the best in San Clemente. Here are a few I frequent repeatedly.
Sunday morning’s crowds spill onto the sidewalk. Chen Yen, who also owns Café Calypso, bought the place several months ago and is making this perennial breakfast spot a dynasty again. Cambodian by descent, Chen and her staff cook the best breakfast on the northside of town. It’s a great neighborhood walk for those in the Pico to Escalones section of town too.
Tommy’s has been an icon for San Clemente patrons for decades. But its movie star décor belies its owner’s roots. When proprietor Ed Rock comes out and talks to you, it’s always impressive when he explains his new menu and why he thinks the food will be even better than before. Ed’s family came from Greece—and Greeks my friends, know how to cook.
You wouldn’t think that a lady with reddish hair and freckles would be French, but Antoine’s owner Veronique Price is exactly that—and charming to boot. Crepes and Béarnaise sauce aren’t the only egg concoctions on the menu—there are great burritos and oatmeal too. Just get there early if you don’t want a wait.
You can get a lot more than donuts at this little hole in the wall. A local crowd gathers to greet each other every morning and many hang out until nearly noon. Chinese-American owner Lee Su gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to bake her donuts with a big smile to keep her long-time customers coming back for more. And year after year, they do.
If you live in the north end of town you know this eatery in Shorecliffs next to the DMV. Breakfast at Corky’s is as local as it gets. Shorecliffs residents are the core of the clientele but patrons come from all over San Clemente and beyond. Richard Eshoiee, the owner—an Iranian immigrant who is unfailingly proud of America—is genuinely personable to every customer.
La Siesta was the dream of Carmello Hernandez, who moved to the USA in 1936. A local favorite, it is one of the few family-owned Mexican food joints in town with a full-on “deysauno” Latino breakfast. Sergio, Gustavo, Albert and Ricky Hernandez carry on their father’s tradition of their “familia” recipes.
Nicole and Joey Abi-Loutfi are the San Clemente locals who seem to know everyone—and everyone’s kids. Their dad is a Lebanese immigrant—the kids are pure America. It’s always crowded, always excellent, with the surf crew always in tow. This is Norman Rockwell country. And if you don’t see somebody you know at the SC Café you need to get out more.
Jim Kempton is a writer, surfer and traveler to nearly 50 countries. He has tasted eggs cooked just about every way they can be dreamed up. For the many great restaurants he failed to mention, he has plans to write about numerous other wonderful local food spots in town. If the Times will let him…