Variety Seasons 1st Street’s Ever-Changing Melting Pot : Cultural Crossroads Features Diversity of People, Products

<i> Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition</i>

The long stretch of 1st Street in Santa Ana that extends west of Interstate 5 has to be one of Orange County’s most ethnically diverse boulevards. Much of the street is either Mexican or Vietnamese, but Koreans, Peruvians and other ethnic groups make it a real melting pot.

Near the corner of Townsend Street are two large shops, an ethnic supermarket, a juice bar and a great neighborhood restaurant.

It’s here that you can experience an interesting cultural encounter, find bargains and get a feel for an ever-changing neighborhood.

11 to 11:30 a.m.: Your first stop should be a refreshing one, at Jugos Acapulco, a wonderful place specializing in concoctions made from fresh fruit and vegetable juices.


Health benefits notwithstanding, these juices are pulpy and delicious, and it’s fun to watch the women behind the counter work, selecting fruits and vegetables from huge piles, peeling and chopping them to order, then feeding them to a giant metal esprimidor, Spanish for juicer.

Try the great pineapple or beet juices, or creations such as Grani-Plat, a mix of plantain, granola, rompope (Mexican eggnog), vanilla, sugar, milk and ice.

11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.: The first thing that impresses you about Bargain Mart, an indoor swap meet where individual merchants rent space to sell their wares, is the sheer size of the place.

There are nearly 100 mini-shops and--because of low rent--merchandise at prices far lower than usual retail.


At E&M; Joyeria, for instance, you can buy silver and gold jewelry and Citizen watches for $50 to $70. At Electronic Plus, there are phones, boomboxes, car stereos and TVs. Mrs. Shin, the proprietor of Accessory World, is Korean and speaks limited English, but she’ll probably sell you leather luggage or a handbag anyway.

All these and more merchants are under the huge Bargain Mart roof.

Outside on the eastern perimeter of the store is a huge fruit market with half a dozen vendors. This is where to find whole watermelons for $2, colorful chilies in all shapes and sizes, edible cactus and much more.

12:15 to 12:45 p.m: All the merchandise at Thrift Stores Inc. has been donated, because the store is owned and operated by Children’s Hospital of Orange County; 100% of the profits benefit the hospital.


There are some pretty good bargains to glean from this huge place, all 25,000 square feet of it. Most of the stuff is presentable, though not showroom quality: sofas for $50, lots of older glassware, books such as Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy in hardcover for only $2.

You’ll also find rack upon rack of clothing, appliances, household items and old records. The store even sells cars from time to time. Remember, all sales are final.

12:45 to 1:15 p.m.: In case you need to do a bit of grocery shopping, there is a Viva market here in Rona Plaza.

Viva caters to a largely Latino clientele. Signs are bilingual--in English and Spanish--and there is a plethora of foods to prepare anything Mexican, from tamarind seeds and fresh quince paste to habanero chilies.


1:15 to 2 p.m.: El Pollo Ricky is a Peruvian counter place that specializes in pollo a la brasa-- rotisserie chicken. You won’t leave hungry.

The restaurant has curved-backed, particle-board booths, six or seven posters and loud Peruvian music to go along with such classic dishes as ceviche mixto, papa a la Huancaina, tamal, chaufas-- platters of peppery fried rice mingled with various seafoods--and, of course, Ricky’s popular chicken. Ricky is Ricky Benites, who runs the business along with brother Isidro.

Ricky’s wife, Aurelia, is a stalwart behind the counter, taking the orders and bringing them over to your table.

Try the hearty cornmeal tamal stuffed with chicken, a cooked egg and olive, or papas a la Huancaina, literally potatoes cooked in the style of the northern Peruvian city of Huancayo, a classic dish.


Most everyone, though, will be eating the chicken, available in quarters, halves or whole and served with good french fries.

Ricky’s is not a particularly crisp chicken, but a complex garlic-infused marinade makes it a standout.


1. Jugos Acapulco, 2003 W. 1st St., Suite A (in the Rona Plaza). (714) 558-1414. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Juices $2 to $6.


2. Bargain Mart, 2029 W. 1st St. (714) 953-9768. Open Thursday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

3. Thrift Stores Inc., 2025 W. 1st St. (714) 543-9745. Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

4. Viva, 2009 W. 1st St. (in the Rona Plaza). (714) 569-0760. Open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.

5. El Pollo Ricky, 2015 W. 1st St. (in the Rona Plaza). (714) 667-0701. Open Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Cash only.


PARKING There is plenty of parking in the Rona Plaza lot and in the lots next to the other stores.