Canto CCCL: Anatomy of a cRancho


Or: The wonders of rancho Spanish, in a sandwich

May 04, 2024

Gentle cabrones:

Tomorrow, May 5, isn’t just Cinco de Mayo — it’s my wife’s birthday. Or, as she’s called it forever:


So please join us TOMORROW at her Alta Baja Market in downtown SanTana. Open 10 in the morning to four in the afternoon. $5 micheladas (alcoholic and not) all day, a set at 11 a.m. by Mariachi Tierra Azteka and a cameo by Hook! GO GO GO!

If you’re reading this newsletter after May 5? Still swing by and say what’s up when you can — but you missed out on the fun!

My honey isn’t asking for gifts other than you showing up and enjoying yourself at her wonderful store. Never been? It’s great! Largest collection of Mexican wines in Southern California. Delicious menu of sandwiches, salads, casseroles and more, all with a border bent. Artesanias, artisanal products like chocolates and hot sauces, and so much more.

There’s also the cRancho.

Simple enough dish: A croissant stuffed with cheese, scrambled eggs, and your choice of meat (bacon or carne adovada, New Mexico-style pulled pork) or not (avocado or pinto beans). A side of fruit and tomato jam, and you’ve got a filling breakfast.

The following photo is not elegant whatsoever. But the name (it’s pronounce “krahncho,” NOT “see-rancho”) is. It’s in homage of my dad, and the glories of Mexican Spanish.

Order that with a michelada, y estuvo!

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My family has supported Alta Baja Market from the start. My mami taught my media chica how to make red pozole, which Alta Baja sells on the last Sunday of every month. My younger sister held her wedding reception there. My other siblings frequently come on their own, or with friends.

My dad also regularly comes, because he has AA meetings in SanTana and he genuinely likes it. He gives Alta Baja the bulk of his mandarins and navel oranges every season. And my dad’s favorite meal is the cRancho. We can’t remember how he settled on that dish, of all the dishes to pick. But we do remember how he named the cRancho.

“GOOD MORNING DELI!” is how my dad always greets my wife. “GIMME A CRANCHO.”

The first time he said it, we had no idea what he was ordering. Delilah and I went through all the dishes to try to figure it out, and then I realized what he was trying to say:


He had never eaten one before Alta Baja, at least consciously. He definitely had never said the word if he had. If you come across a word in a language you never use, how would YOU pronounce a word?

This is how you get from “croissant” to “cRancho.”

In American English, you pronounce “croissant” as “cruh-SAHNt" In the rancho Spanish of my dad, “cruh” turns into “CRAH.” The letter s can turn into a “ch” — the last time I went to Jomulquillo, I remember the elders saying “chí” instead of “sí.”

“AHNT”? It’ll turn into “OH.” And since “nt” at the end of words doesn’t exist in Spanish much (“want” turns into “wah,” with only the slightest hint of an n), and you’re not even supposed to fully pronounce those two letters in “croissant” you just drop it .

So “croissant” logically turns into “cracho.” But that “n” in “crancho'“? Who the hell knows where my dad pulled out THAT.

Once we figured out what my dad was saying, my wife suggested we rename the breakfast croissant sandwich “cRancho” in honor of my dad (she capitalized the R to emphasize the “rancho” part). There are a lot of dishes named after employees and regulars, like the Pinche Miraz” and “We Still (Heart) Richie”. But the cRancho, I dare say, is the best-named dish of them all.

It speaks to how immigrants in the United States will do what needs to be done in order to make it. It reminds me of how Italian Americans turned “capicola” into “gabagool” — exact same process (c turns into g, p turns into a b, o turns into a u, and forget the last a). It speaks to my father wanting to impress us by saying a word he had never encountered before, and turning it into his own.

It’s etymology, food, and family in one damn good sando, or sammie, or sandwich.

My dad once told me the story of when he first came to Anacrime in the 1970s, his friends came across State College Boulevard, which is one of the main thoroughfares in northern OC. They took a look at it, and decided to try and say it.

Eh-stah-teh Co-yeh-hay.

God bless language. God bless my dad. God bless Cinco De Lilah. See you tomorrow!


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

#respect to the legend…

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: A wall of assignments from first graders at Frank del Olmo Elementary in Los Angeles about the late L.A. Times columnist. Had the honor of speaking to kids this week as part of their career day — first graders are smart!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and forget the fire of hell that never burns out" — St. Polycarp

LISTENING: Guns of Navarone (30th Anniversary Recording),” The Skatalites. Seeing No Doubt play “Guns of Navarone” at their recent set at Couchella reminded me of this song, a new edition of the original by one of the best ska groups of them all. I usually prefer originals to re-editions (NEVER listen to Chuck Berry mid-1960s redos of his original hits), but here’s an exception: a spoken-word intro talking about the history of the song, then the triumphant horns blasting all the way. FIRE! FIRE!

READING: To Live and Die in LA’s Diesel Death Zones”: My former managing editor at the Infernal Rag/forever compa Nick Schou with some essential journalism for Red Canary Magazine, edited by my one-article editor/forever compa Joe Donnelly. Support independent journalism, folks!

BUY MY NEW CO-BOOK! People’s Guide to Orange County tells an alternative history of OC through the scholarship and reporting of myself, Elaine Lewinnek, and Thuy Vo Dang. There’ll be signings all year — in meanwhile, buy your copy TODAY. And, yes: I’ll autograph it!

Gustavo Events  

May 18, 7 p.m.: The Mark Taper Forum will hold a reading of The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, a legendary play based on the transcript of a federal trial against Catholic activists that saw them jailed for their activism against the Vietnam War (you’re going to have to go to see what they did). I’ve been asked to give a talk after the reading about the play and its times — WHOA… Buy your tickets here.

May 31, 11:30 a.m.: I’ll be part of a panel about the OC media landscape as part of OC Forum. At the Irvine Hyatt. Cheapest ticket is $125 — WTF?

June 6, 7:30 p.m.: I will be the emcee for the Exposé Awards, the annual gala on behalf of the fine news nonprofit Capital & Main held at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. Tickets ain’t cheap, but don’t be a cheapskate — it’s a damn fundraiser, and you get to see me do my best Billy Crystal impersonation. Buy TODAY.

Gustavo in the News

Ten Palestinian-Owned Restaurants to Support in L.A. and O.C.”: L.A. Taco editor/forever compa Javier Cabral credits me for first taking him to Kareem’s in Anaheim, home of the best falafels in the U.S.

Gustavo Stories 

Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all.

“Orange County Line”: My latest KCRW OC commentary isn’t up, but it’s about the reopening of the Hunt Library.

"Ask a Californian: When Restaurants Go to the Dogs”: My latest Alta Journal co-columna tackles pups, Pilates, and lawyer billboard ads. KEY QUOTE: “Last I checked, the state legislature hasn’t regulated laps outside of a strip club, so you and your fur kid should be good.”

My Mami’s hard life, cut short right when it was about to get really good”: My latest L.A. Times columna is an ode to my mami on the five-year anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer. KEY QUOTE: “I will forever write about your life, your lessons, your great food and wide smile and eternal love.”

The dream of East L.A. as its own city rises again — along with doubters”: My next latest L.A. Times columna talks about the latest incorporation war in Eastlos. KEY QUOTE: “They were senior citizens and youngsters, college professors and business owners, political operatives and regular folks I’ve known for years.”

Watch your step, Democrats. O.C.’s purple shine hides a red underbelly”: My still next latest L.A. Times columna is a warning to OC liberals and outsiders about how power works in Orange County. KEY QUOTE: “Leave the thoughts of a purple reign to Prince, O.C. Dems — there’s still a lot of work to do.”

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here by clicking on their logos down below. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! You can’t get me tacos anymore, but you sure as hell can give them — and more — to the O.C. Catholic Worker!