San Juan Capistrano’s Ramos House Cafe: Brunch on California’s Oldest Street

by Leigh Schrom
Ramos House Cafe

Having a special secret eating place is difficult to share with others because the next time you go, you may end up standing behind 50 people instead of just strolling in and being seated. Such is the case with Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano, California.

The Ramos House is as much an event as it is an indulgence for the palate. More than just outstanding food, The Ramos House Cafe is a rustic 1880’s home with subtle decor in an easy location for a day trip from almost anywhere in Orange County, Los Angeles, or Northern San Diego County. The food is a tribute to ingenuity: its cuisine imaginative and appetizing: each dish is more remarkable than the last, as stunning as it is mouthwatering.

ramos house cafe

Ramos House serves spectacular brunch on California’s oldest street (Photo Michelle Winrich)

Signature Dishes, House Specialty

The signature dish is the Crab Hash with fried green tomato and bacon scramble–so smooth it melts in the mouth. Fried onion strings add texture, and crème fraiche mellows out the whole dish. The crab cake is on the bottom, so dig in to get a hot, fresh explosion of flavor.

Crab Hash Ramos House Cafe

The Crab Hash is a must-order specialty (Photo Michelle Winrich)

The house specialty drink is the most unique Bloody Mary you may ever have. It’s served in a Mason jar and made with Japanese Soju. Unusual garnishes include a scotch egg, a crab claw, and enough pickled beans to make you feel like you’ve filled your vegetable quota for the day. The still-warm Scottish egg will surprise you with tasty creamy hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage and cooked in panko breadcrumbs.

Ramos House Cafe

Ramos House Cafe’s specialty Bloody Mary is like no other (Photo by Michelle Winrich)

Mimosas made with pomegranate and freshly squeezed juice from local oranges stand out as a one-of-a-kind drink here.

Ramos House Cafe

Minosas are made with pomegranate and freshly squeezed orange juice (Photo by Michelle Winrich)

 More Specialties You’ll Love

Try the small plate basil cured salmon lox; cured salmon, red onion, capers, olive oil, hard-boiled egg bits, and bunches of delicious garnishes coupled perfectly together.

Other offerings include huevos rancheros with sausage and chilis, and a free-range chicken salad in a skillet with a corn cake on the bottom. There are crab cakes and fresh vegetables with fresh herbs. Not to be forgotten are the mushroom macaroni and cheese and the flannel hash.  No kidding, that’s what it’s called. Don’t miss out on the homemade biscuits with apple butter.

Ramos house cafe

Ingredients are always fresh at Ramos House Cafe (Photo by Michelle Winrich)

For dessert, you’ll be delighted by the homemade peach ice cream served in small, crunchy pastry shells or the charred berries and cream.  Pecan pain perdu with apples and persimmon sauce is a treat not to be missed, nor is the freshly baked huckleberry coffee cake with lemon curd or the apple cinnamon beignets.

Chef John Q. Humphreys

The chef, John Q. Humphreys, is very creative but not so much as to make The Ramos House Café one of those swank restaurants out to intimidate you with their over-stylized, minimal portion plates that leave you wondering what you are eating. Portions are generous and the food enticing. Flavorful, fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients, when possible, are clearly this chef’s priority. Fresh herbs are grown in the restaurant and the menu changes daily depending on the availability of the fresh ingredients.

The Historic Charm of Ramos House Cafe

This rustic enigmatic restaurant looks like any other old building from the exterior but will surprise you from the moment you enter. The covered garden dining area is filled with intimate tables that surround you in warmth and intimacy. Straightaway, you’re swept into a calm, tranquil setting, putting “real time” aside, stepping back, and relaxing while you listen to the birds’ chatter. Heat lamps and blankets are spread through to make the covered eating area warm and cozy but still leave diners with that al fresco feeling.

As you enjoy your unique, fresh, and astonishingly good breakfast or brunch, watch the trains pass right next to the restaurant. The Ramos House Cafe is an exceptional restaurant, a charming experience and a place to slow down.

ramos house cafe

San Juan Capistrano’s Train Station (Photo by Leigh Schrom)

History Stands Still on Los Rio Street

Still standing and in use on Los Rios Street are three original adobe structures from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. These were homes for the workers building the original mission or working on the ranch run by the mission priests. In the late 1880’s and early 1900’s, European immigrants began to settle in the area and construct homes along this street. Some 40 homes remain today, mostly as private residences but several buildings are in use by businesses and open to the public.

The Ramos House, built in 1881, belonged to one of the oldest families on Los Rios Street.  Under the original design, the main bedroom in the main house had a hidden room with a trap door for escape. The Ramos House Café is within walking of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, a California landmark. Known in legend and song for its world-famous swallows, the Mission was founded as the seventh of nine missions established by Father Junípero Serra.

Indisputably more shabby than chic, the Los Rios District is filled with 18th and 19th-century wooden cottages. The restaurant and surrounding buildings are the oldest buildings in the entire state.  Los Rios Street isn’t very long but is quaint with homes, gardens, local antique, and gift shops. Bougainvillea grow wildly, wildflowers clutter the edges of the roadway, eucalyptus leaves lazily drift across the road. Palms and cactus stake their claim, and few cars find their way to this rather hidden part of Old World California. Walking around the Los Rios district and to the Mission after your meal is an added bonus.

Ramos House Cafe

The Montanez Adobe on San Capistrano’s Los Rios Street (Photo by Leigh Schrom)

The Bottom Line

The restaurant is open seven days a week from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. Monday through Friday is a la carte and offers both small and large plates. On weekends, the brunch menu is prix fixe. At $35 per person, the brunch menu is a splurge. It includes a small plate, large plate, and a Bloody Mary or Mimosa. This is not your typical bacon and egg joint.

Ramos House Cafe is tucked on the west side of the railroad tracks at the San Juan Capistrano train depot on Los Rios Street, the oldest street in California. You likely won’t find Ramos House Cafe unless you know about it. But people do know about it and come from all over the United States to enjoy its historic charm, ambiance, thoughtful service, and most importantly, incredible, delicious, innovative brunches. I’ll probably be standing in line behind you when you go.

Ramos House cafe

Ramos House Cafe (Photo by Leigh Schrom)

For More:

 -Photos by Michelle Winrich, Manager of Ramos House and Writer Leigh Schrom, as credited.

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Mary Charlebois March 7, 2018 - 9:09 am

I want crab hash and a minosa – rught now! What a find. Thanks for sharing. –MaryGo

Nancy Zaffaro March 7, 2018 - 9:27 am

HA! I agree that crab hash looks fabulous. Two orders, please, but I’ll take one of those Bloody Marys! (Thanks, Mary!)


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