A Doug's Life: Annie's Restaurant Satisfies One's Search for the Perfect Little Diner

I drove right past the place once, turned around and almost missed it again.

You won't find Annie's Restaurant on Highway 74 in Romoland unless you look real close. It's tucked between small businesses on the north side of the street, just a few blocks east of Interstate 215. The sign is low to the ground, has no neon nor bright colors.

Only the locals really know about the place.

Acting on a tip from a friend who knows I love old-style diners like this, I walked into Annie's one weekday morning. "Mexican breakfast," the place advertised. I don't know about that, but I was ready for some small town atmosphere and decent grub.

Seating was not a problem. The seven booths were empty and only one gentleman sat at the counter. I chose a stool near him and plopped my appetite down.

"Is this a normal crowd?" I asked, explaining that I was a starving columnist, looking for a hot meal and a good story.

"Come back on Saturday," he suggested.

As long as I was there, why not order? The stranger had summoned "Mike," the waiter. Who also turned out to be the cook. Who also turned out to be the owner, Miguel Villavicencio.

I ordered a ham and cheese omelette, handed him a business card and tried to explain what I wanted. Free publicity, I told him. I write about you and your place on our website. How can you not agree?

"No," Miguel said. "No money. No customers. No money."

"He doesn't understand," the other guy said. "He thinks you want to sell him an ad."

OK, I decided, back on Saturday. So a few days later, there I was on a Saturday morning, excited to see about 10 people in the place, enjoying breakfast.

Again, I sat next to the only guy at the counter, a rather crusty old man we'll call Earl. He doesn't want me to use his real name because he's been cheating on another diner down the road with Annie's and he doesn't want word to get out.

"You'll have to move over one," he grumbled, looking up to greet another regular who had just walked through the door.

No problem. But hey, I know that guy. Didn't you used to sing at The Beer Hunter? Sure enough, it was Jerome Robinson, former singer with The Platters, about whom I wrote in my first article for Menifee 24/7 last fall. Apparently, he lives in the area and stops in almost every morning for breakfast.

This time, because of the "larger" crowd, Mike was joined by his wife, Sidronia, who was taking orders. Everyone calls her Annie, but she doesn't mind. She didn't have much to say either, but seemed to enjoy the attention and allowed me to talk to customers and take photos.

Meanwhile, Earl ordered huevos a la Mexicana and Jerome asked for a large bowl of menudo. I played it safe once again with the ham and cheese omelette.

"This is a real breakfast," Earl mumbled to Jerome, then nodding toward me. "He eats like a gringo."

Sorry, guys. Don't kick me out. I like the place.

"Mike" and "Annie," with help from son Miguel Jr., have operated Annie's Restaurant since 1981. It got a nice facelift, the locals say, a while back when a City of Menifee beautification project renovated the front of the building, making it more attractive to visitors.

Fortunately, the inside still looks old style. One keeps expecting a juke box to kick in with some oldies but goodies. The area in front of the counter is lined in wood paneling and ceiling fans twirl slowly overhead. Counter stools and booth seats, made of brown naugahyde, have a clean, retro look.

Miguel Jr. was 10 when his father, a longtime cook in the Los Angeles area, decided to take a chance, move his family east and buy what was once called Annie's Truck Stop.

"The place has been around since the '60s," Miguel Jr. said. "We used to get calls from truckers, so we took off the 'truck stop' part of the name. My mom and dad couldn't speak English when we first came here, so they took classes.

"The thing that gets me ... did you see the prices? I keep telling my dad to increase the prices. He's afraid he'll scare the customers away."

That's doubtful. He could double the prices with no problem, as Jerome Robinson pointed out as he sipped from his bowlful of menudo.

"You can't beat the food, and the prices! Where else can you go to have bacon and eggs, hash browns and coffee, and with the tip it comes to six bucks?" Jerome said.

With that, I walked to the head of the counter, where "Annie" collected the $4.67 I owed her. She politely thanked me, filed away the handwritten ticket and stuck the money in an old cash register. At Miguel's insistence, there is no computerized order system or ATM machine.

Just a lot of good food and friendly atmosphere.

Annie's Restaurant
Mexican and American Food
27666 Highway 74
Romoland, CA 92585


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