For almost 40 years since she inherited the family restaurant in 1985, Teresa Rodriguez Nieves, current owner and fifth generation member of the family behind Sariñana’s Tamale Factory has served her loyal customers over the years, herself and her family growing connections with the community along the way with each coming sale.
“Everyone I know and grew up with comes here. It’s a staple of the city. We just come here and kick it and eat and drink and have a good time. It’s like family here, you know?,” said Gilbert Ochoa III who’s 47 years old and a loyal customer. He recently moved back to Santa Ana and has eaten at Sariñanas since childhood and has brought his friends and family to eat there.
The oldest Mexican restaurant in Orange County has served, among other things, tamales, taquitos, soups, and tacos since its founding in 1939 on 2216 W. Fifth St in the Santa Ana neighborhood of Artesia Pilar. Nowadays it continues to serve old regulars who grew up with the restaurant and their families and new customers alike. On special occasions like the holiday season, there can be lines filled with a diverse array of people that go past the adjacent and frequented Sariñana’s Market and along the block.
Walking in, there’s the noise of cooks talking in the kitchen, the hum of the drink machines flowing with the luminous colors of the Agua Frescas, and the smell of the cultural dishes and drinks made with recipes honed over the course of their generational Mexican lineage stemming from the immigrant founders Juan and Felipa Sariñana. The Sariñana’s came to Santa Ana from the Mexican state of Durango in 1921 and the restaurant’s food style reflects the families’ Durango heritage.
From the menu, customers can order an albondiga (meatball) soup priced at $10.50, cheese enchiladas for $10.50 and $11.50 for the chicken and beef, and tamales Duranguenses A La Carte at $3. Some of the more popular dishes are the taquitos with sour cream or avocado costing $10.50 and menudo at $9 for a single serving and $11 for a quart.
“Our tacos dorados and menudo are world famous,” Nieves says.
“Like how this place has been operated by generations of family, we have served generations of our customers,” Nieves said when asked about the kinds of customers they serve. “Myself, my sons, and my grandson all work here and I work here between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. and my grandson who comes here from 6 to 9 p.m.” The family works a variety of positions in the restaurant and Teresa hires more employees to give them a helping hand so they can keep giving quality service to their customers.
Ochoa remarks on how he grew up with and went to the same school as Nieves’ son, sixth generation family member named Robert Salcido.
Now several years later Ochoa says he got engaged and has a daughter named Leila Ochoa who’s 14 years old. The Ochoas come to eat at the restaurant often for some of their favorite meals like taquitos and pozole and Lelila says she loves the rice from there.
Leila also mentions how she first came here when she was 8 years old, “This whole apartment building [in front of the restaurant] wasn’t even here. It was just a big parking lot,” said Leila.
The apartment building in question is the La Placita Cinco which has only been here since Spring 2021.
Since the apartment building was opened, there has been an increase in foot traffic from clients to Sariñana’s adjacent building called Sariñana’s Market, run by a family friend of Nieves, 49-year-old Mauricio Rodriguéz, a Mexican immigrant who first met the Sariñana’s family in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico. He’s known them for at least 30 years, lived with them for 22, and worked with them for over a year.
Rodriguéz often interacts with the customers amicably and beer is one of the top sellers of the store. The store gets especially many customers during the summer months. Customers from near and far paying a visit to either location can feel at home partaking in the rich gastronomy and the immense hospitality shown within the yellow walls of Sariñana’s.
“There’ve been more customers coming here and it’s more work for us and there’ve been more Vietnamese, African Americans, and Latinos and Latinas. I want the people to visit us when they can.”