Santa Paula, California, USA – Part 2

If you need to catch up, see Santa Paula – Part 1.

I spotted Vince’s Coffee Shop from the balcony of the Santa Paula Inn soon after I arrived and decided to check it out for breakfast the next morning.

I sat by the window and studied the menu while the three blokes sitting at a table in the corner watched – in a curious, not unfriendly way – if this was a Western movie, I was the stranger who just rode into town.

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Vince’s serves “American and Mexican food”. I ordered chili verde (US$8.95) with home fries. Complimentary (and extremely addictive) corn chips with salsa were brought to my table right away. The rest of my food didn’t take long to arrive, and I noticed that the conversation in the corner slowed down while I took photographs of my food – not just a stranger, but a strange stranger! I grinned to myself and kept snapping away.

It was my first chili verde and I enjoyed the spicy start to my day – a homestyle dish with chunks of pork and green chilli in a tasty sauce that would’ve unblocked a stuffy nose, with more salsa and cheese melted on a soft tortilla AND a basket with more warm soft tortillas. I really appreciated the free drink refills.

When I was done, I paid the check, left a tip and gave a nod and smile to the blokes in the corner on my way out.

Chilli verde with soft tortillas, corn chips and salsa Chilli verde with home fries, soft tortillas, corn chips and salsa.

Vince's Coffee Shop Vince’s Coffee Shop

During my pre-trip research into Santa Paula, I found out about the Santa Paula Murals Project and the town’s 9 murals which capture and celebrate stories from Santa Paula’s history. Over the next two days when I wasn’t at the hot air balloon festival, I walked around town guided by Google Maps on my phone and a mural map printout. My timing wasn’t always great – bright sun and shadows made it difficult to take decent shots of the murals. Still, it was a fun way to explore the town and learn a little about its history.

Transport in Time & Place: Trains, Planes & Automobiles, 1890s-1940s by Wendell Dowling, at 815 Santa Barbara Street - Ventura County Agriculture building Transport in Time & Place: Trains, Planes & Automobiles, 1890s-1940s by Wendell Dowling, at 815 Santa Barbara Street – Ventura County Agriculture building.

Our First Inhabitants: The Chumash Indians by Ann E.Thiermann, 119 North 8th Street, Santa Paula Library Our First Inhabitants: The Chumash Indians by Ann E.Thiermann, 119 North 8th Street, Santa Paula Library.

Santa Paula Family Farms, 1880s-1930s by Chuck Caplinger, 715 East Main Street Bank of America building Santa Paula Family Farms, 1880s-1930s by Chuck Caplinger, 715 East Main Street
Bank of America building.

Santa Paula Citrus Capital of the World by Don Gray, assisted by Jared Gray, Corner Main and Davis Streets, Ray & Brenda Padgett building Santa Paula Citrus Capital of the World by Don Gray, assisted by Jared Gray, Corner Main and Davis Streets, Ray & Brenda Padgett building.

DSCF7733smI liked how the mural was reflected in the windows of the bank opposite.
There’s a very cool hot air balloon photograph inside.

DSCF7633sm-2Main Street Santa Paula, ca 1910 by Art Mortimer, Corner of Main and Mill Streets, Oscar Morales Family building.

DSCF9439smI like the placement of this mural – almost looks like another street you can drive into.

Celebrating Santa Paula's Latino Culture by Eloy Torrez, corner of Main & 10th Street -  Jose & Felisa Barcelona building. Celebrating Santa Paula’s Latino Culture by Eloy Torrez, corner of Main and 10th Street –
Jose & Felisa Barcelona building.

Discovering Black Gold in Santa Paula, 1860s-1950s by Jim Fahnestock, 123 North 10th Street Century 21 building Discovering Black Gold in Santa Paula, 1860s-1950s by Jim Fahnestock, 123 North 10th Street
Century 21 building.

Santa Paula Artists and Architects by Wei Luan, 136 North 10th Street (corner Santa Barbara Street) Santa Paula Artists and Architects by Wei Luan, 136 North 10th Street (corner Santa Barbara Street, opposite the Santa Paula Train Depot).

Moreton Bay fig tree, planted on 4 July 1879The Artists and Architects mural is right next to this magnificent Moreton Bay fig tree, which was planted on 4 July 1879.

Honoring Founders and Pilots of Santa Paula Airport, 1890s-1940s by Wendell Dowling, 560 E. Main St. Santa Paula Travel Co. building Honoring Founders and Pilots of Santa Paula Airport, 1890s-1940s by Wendell Dowling, 560 E. Main St.
Santa Paula Travel Co. building. This is only part of the mural; I couldn’t get far back enough to get the whole mural in one shot.

After walking off my chili verde, I was ready for lunch. I headed back to Main Street to Rabalais’ where I ordered a catfish po boy, which was served with more of those homemade potato chips and a crunchy sour pickle. My waiter suggested adding strips of bacon to my sandwich – music to my ears – I didn’t need to be persuaded. The fried catfish and bacon were popping hot, the bread roll filled with lettuce and sliced tomatoes and spread with remoulade. It was a tasty and substantial sandwich, great fuel before the hot air balloon festival.

Catfish po boy with extra bacon, potato chips and pickle Catfish po boy (US$12.95) with extra bacon (US$1.75), potato chips and pickle. Iced tea (US$2.95) with free refills.

The view of Main Street from my table The view of Main Street from my table.

Before I left Rabalais’, I bought a bacon scone from the bakery for a snack later. As it turned out, I was too busy taking photos at the balloon festival that evening to stop for dinner, so I was glad I had that scone to munch on before I fell asleep that night.

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The next day, after my early start to chasing balloons and then walking around the balloon festival, I was weary (and possibly a little sun-blushed). If there had been room service at the Santa Paula Inn, I’d have ordered in and eaten my dinner in bed. Since that wasn’t an option, I put my shoes back on and went for a walk.

I ventured beyond Main Street this time and went to Enzo’s Italian Restaurant at the Glen Tavern Inn. Herb bread, Caesar salad and spaghetti and meatballs – just what I felt like.

It was on this trip I discovered something I didn’t know before: Americans don’t put bacon in their Caesar salads. In Australia, a Caesar salad without bacon is not just incomplete, it’s a disgrace!

Herb bread Herb bread

Caesar salad Caesar side salad (US$4.95).

Spaghetti and meatballs Spaghetti and meatballs (US$15.95).

On my final morning in Santa Paula, I couldn’t resist eating at Rabalais’ one last time. More unsweetened iced tea, of course, and I ordered chicken fried steak off the brunch menu. It came smothered in sausage gravy, served with a buttery biscuit and two eggs over easy. This would not be my last chicken fried steak, and in Denver I discovered chicken fried chicken, which I like even more.

Chicken fried steak

A chicken fried steak is a piece of steak that is battered and fried, like a piece of fried chicken, usually served with a ‘ white’ gravy – sausage gravy or country gravy.

Chicken fried chicken is usually a boneless piece of chicken, such as breast fillet, battered and fried like chicken fried steak – except that it’s chicken. If the chicken’s on the bone, it’s not chicken fried chicken, it’s just fried chicken. Plain old fried chicken isn’t usually served with the white gravy.

You can find lots of recipes for chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken via Google.

Chicken fried steak with country gravy, two eggs over easy and biscuits Chicken fried steak (AU$12.95) with sausage gravy, two eggs over easy and a biscuit.

I love exploring a new town and had a great time in Santa Paula, brief as it was. I don’t know if I’ll ever return, but I certainly won’t forget it.

California Oil Museum California Oil Museum.

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Next stop, San Francisco!

Quick facts about Santa Paula

  • Santa Paula is located in Ventura County, Southern California, approximately 104 km (65 miles) north of Los Angeles.
  • The population of Santa Paula was 30,091 in 2013 (US Census Bureau).
  • The town became the early capital for the motion picture industry in the (pre-Hollywood) 1900s and continues to be a filming location for television programs and movies. I didn’t know this at the time, but I saw the The Santa Paula Train Depot many years ago, when it appeared as an Australian outback train station in the mini series The Thorn Birds.
  • Santa Paula was the birthplace of the Union Oil Company and an early centre for California’s petroleum industry. The ground floor of Union Oil Company’s original headquarters on Main Street in downtown Santa Paula is now the home of the California Oil Museum. The building has been declared a California Historical Landmark.
  • Santa Paula’s economy is based largely in agriculture – it is a major distribution point for the citrus industry in the United States. The Limoneira Company, one of California’s oldest citrus growers and one of the largest lemon producers (as well as the largest grower of avocados) in the United States, is based in Santa Paula.

Find out more at the Discover Santa Paula website.

Vince’s Coffee Shop
827 E. Main Street
Santa Paula, CA 93060
United States
Telephone: +1 805 525 0314

Rabalais’ Bistro & Bakery
861 E. Main Street
Santa Paula, CA 93060
United States
Telephone: +1 805 525 2109

Enzo’s Italian Restaurant
134 N. Mill Street
Santa Paula, CA 93060
United States
Telephone: +1 805 933 3444

My solo USA trip (2014) – about this series

I travelled alone to the United States from late July to mid-August. This trip covered California, Wyoming and Colorado. The primary reason for the trip was to attend a couple of workshops, one on hot air balloon photography and the other on photographing wild horses and cowboys. I also caught up with an old school friend.

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  • Cindy M

    Nice! We have quite a few murals here (Las Cruces, NM) as well. Bacon not in the Caesar salad! That would be a big disappointment for you. :-) Most Caesar salads I’ve see don’t have bacon…if I’m recalling correctly. That chile (how it’s spelled here) verde plate looks YUM!!! :-) All restaurants featured seem very nice. You mention free soft drink refills…yep. I’ve heard that’s not common elsewhere (understood for cost versus population density, etc.). It’s UNcommon for US restaurants not to have free refills, and restaurants which charge even 1/2 cost of original price are frowned upon. Chicken fried steak with *sausage* gravy; that’s a first for me. Usually it’s served with a white gravy seasoned with spices (not sausage bits). Now sausage gravy over biscuits…I’d better stop thinking of that. ;-) I’m surprised Calif restaurants serve po boys and chicken fried steak, considering those are Southern dishes and Californians are *supposedly* so health and image conscious! ;-p Not sure I got in on Santa Paula #1; will check later.

    • Cindy, I love checking out public art and murals (I did so in San Francisco and Denver, on this trip). Yeah, I talked about Caesar salads with the American people I met on my photography tours and they confirmed you don’t usually have bacon in your Caesars (most thought bacon in Caesar salad sounded delicious, though). Yes, I loved the free drink refills throughout my USA travels, especially where the soda fountain included root beer – my favourite drink, not easy to find when dining out in Perth! The Rabalais’ family originally came from Louisiana (the story is on their website). I must say I avoided super healthy food the entire time I was in California. I did have sushi, I guess… :P

  • i used to be a courier in ventura county and knew santa paula like the back of my hand. it’s nice to see the transformation the city has gone over the last 30 years since i left the area. and the food in your series looks phenomenal. i’m going to have to start diverting my trips to ventura so i go through santa paula/fillmore/piru from now on to see what i’ve been missing all these years. thanks for a wonderful series in photos and prose.

    • Michael, I’m pleased you enjoyed the blog posts and I’m glad to have helped you ‘rediscover’ Santa Paula. :)

  • Joseph Schey

    Good to see other’s enjoying my hometown and what it has to offer! We may be a bit quaint, but I find that to be one of our best features. You should have stopped by La Cabana or Familia Diaz to get some awesome Mexican food, but Rabalais’ is still a good choice :)

    • Hi Joseph, yes – I did a very un-food blogger thing and went back to the same restaurant repeatedly. Usually I try to eat at as many different places as I can, especially when I’m only staying for a short time. But I liked the food at Rabalais’ so much I just did what I felt like, rather than ‘what I should’. :)

  • I’m constantly surprised by the low cost of American meals. That po boy for example – for a plate as large as that, I’d be expecting pay around $20-$25 instead! It all looks very comforting – real home-style comfort food.

    • Amanda, I loved the food at Rabalais’ and Southern cooking in general – I could eat it all the time (and grow very ‘prosperous’ as my mum would say!). The food in the US seems cheaper overall, but once you factor in the exchange rate and tipping, I don’t think it’s as cheap as it first appears. Having said that, I had no issue with the cost of food in the US, was happy to pay what was asked and ate very well. Oh… the only other thing is sales tax, which varies state to state and is not stated upfront or a fixed percentage like our 10% GST – it doesn’t add a lot on, but makes it impossible to know how much the bill will come to – until you actually get the bill. I’ll comment on this more later when I write about the USA travels with Jac.

      • Cindy M

        Prices are slightly higher (not surprising – Calif) where you ate, as compared to here. That chicken fried steak breakfast would likely be $8.00 tops here. When we have Sunday morning breakfast out, the tab averages $16.00 – which includes his coffee and my soft drink. And it’s a full breakfast plate for each. But this is a generally low-income State…