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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Viva! for Those Chile Verde Omelets : The savory sauce draws folks from far and wide to Vince's in Santa Paula, an inviting spot for breakfast or lunch.


It may be true that people come from as far away as Los Angeles, and even San Jose to eat Vince Montes' chile verde omelets Santa Paula.

They probably know exactly what they're doing.

When a colleague of mine said that he'd read in a usually reliable travel newsletter that the eggs rancheros and chile verde served at Vince's Coffee Shop are the best, I figured it was worth at least a trip. I made three.

The first time, I drove right by the place, stopped at a service station to check the address, then drove back down Main Street, finally ending up parked under a tree in front of Vince's.

Santa Paula is a very neat little town. There aren't many left these days, towns where there's still the flavor of the early Southern California orange and lemon groves, where the downtown streets still have trees, parking is parallel and lots of people know one another. The Latino influence is also very strong in Santa Paula, with store signs in Spanish and plenty of Mexican restaurants.

Vince's is right in the middle of all this, a sort of turquoise-colored building, the front half seating perhaps 30 people, with the back half serving as kitchen. It has hamburgers and french dips and fried egg sandwiches on the menu, but so much chile verde that you'd have to include Vince's on any list of Mexican restaurants.

I've tried other things at Vince's besides the chile verde. The scrambled eggs with chorizo ($4.75), for instance. Not great; dry and grainy. And I can't say I'd brag much about the brand of tortillas they use.

But Vince Montes, who's been in this location for 15 years, can do a lot of bragging about his chile verde. On the eggs rancheros ($5.75), one of the restaurant's most popular dishes, the eggs are fried, then covered with a ranchero sauce--spicy but not too spicy, with the chile verde served on the side. With the omelet ($5.85), the eggs are soft but not runny. The egg texture is just right--unlike many places where the omelets are overcooked--letting the eggs and the chile merge.

Montes makes the chile verde himself, usually coming in early in the morning, but sometimes turning the cooking over to someone else if the demand increases later in the day (not too much later, since this is strictly a breakfast and lunch spot).

The dish is done from scratch. It begins with a large pot of pork butt cut into cubes. The pork is not marinated, but simmered in its own juices, but not too long--overcooking will cause the meat to fall apart. Montes' pork is exceptionally tender but holds together.

The chile sauce, I'm told, is made of jalapenos, onions, tomatillos and tomatoes, with spicing of oregano, garlic powder and cumin. A little La Palma hot sauce is added and some flour and water to thicken things up a bit.


* WHAT: Vince's Coffee Shop.

* WHERE: 827 E. Main St., Santa Paula, 525-0314.

* HOW MUCH: Breakfast or lunch for two, $8-$15.

* FYI: Open for breakfast or lunch, Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. No credit cards.

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