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PLACENTIA'S PLACITA SANTA FE : The City's Old Downtown Now Boasts Feel of a Southwestern Neighborhood

April 15, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD | Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

When you walk along the streets of Placentia's old downtown, you might not guess its history.

As recently as five years ago, this lively and quaint Latino neighborhood was a run-down, high-crime area.

But in 1989, the city and a local association of merchants erected signs at Santa Fe and Bradford avenues naming the neighborhood Placita Santa Fe. A redevelopment effort was born.

Today, there are restaurants, markets, apartments and dozens of small businesses lining the streets.

Noon to 1: One constant in this neighborhood has been the Tlaquepaque restaurant. The Tlaquepaque (tell-AH-kay-PAH-kay) bakery and family restaurant, built in 1963, once served breakfast to fruit pickers who were headed for nearby orange groves. The orange groves are gone, but Tlaquepaque still opens each morning at 6.

Brunch time on Sunday is possibly the best time to visit this restaurant. There is an all-you-can-eat buffet that includes eggs, pancakes and sausage and also tacos, taquitos, rice, beans and menudo.

Families dressed in Sunday best appear to linger over brunch to listen to the house band, Mariachi Tlaquepaque. It's an eight-piece group with a sense of showmanship.

The price for brunch is $12.95 for adults, which includes champagne, and $5.95 each for children ages 2 to 10.

1 to 1:30: Across the street from Tlaquepaque is La Superior Ranch Market. It caters to cooks of Mexican cuisine, selling chilies in bulk and corn husks for tamales.

The market also sells Spanish-language comic books (Bugs Bunny), magazines (Cosmopolitan) and short novels.

1:30 to 2:30: This is a pretty neighborhood for a stroll. The downtown area, running along the two main avenues and beside the railroad tracks, is old-fashioned Southwest.

Two of my favorite buildings here are churches. The Iglesia del Nazareno is the older of the two buildings. A couple of the windows are broken, and its coat of yellow paint needs retouching. But the building has a charm nonetheless. Its stained-glass windows are blocky and simple, yet they are beautiful for just those reasons. As I walked by the church, a rooster crowed from a nearby yard, and I felt very far indeed from urban Orange County.

The Calvary Church, on the outskirts of Placita Santa Fe, is more modern, with its huge rose window and red clay roof.

2:30 to 3: As you cross Chapman Avenue in search of the Foster's Freeze, be sure to take a quick look to your left. There's an interesting water tower there painted red, white and blue. It proclaims Placentia an "All America City."

All of this walking might have put you in mind of a cold drink or an ice cream cone. Foster's has a variety of shakes, malts, floats, sundaes, banana splits and twisters. The ice cream is soft-serve, vanilla and chocolate only. But the number of toppings is practically endless.

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