In 2016, when Ryan Garlitos was preparing to open Irenia, his critically acclaimed Filipino restaurant in Santa Ana, “there was a question of, ‘Is Orange County ready for this place?’” said Mr. Garlitos.
Apparently it is. Why? “Kids like us grew up,” said Sarah Mosqueda, his partner, who is from a Mexican family in Tustin. “That’s what changed.”
Mr. Garlitos and Ms. Mosqueda met working at Taco María, an ambitious Mexican restaurant in nearby Costa Mesa chosen by The Los Angeles Times as its 2018 restaurant of the year.
But the chef, Carlos Salgado, the son of Mexican immigrants, said he had no illusions about how far immigrants still had to go in Orange County. “I have a tall white guy in my kitchen; people think he’s the chef,” Mr. Salgado said.
Local headlines this year have been a reminder that the county is still conservative turf mottled with liberal patches, not the other way around. A dozen Republican-dominated cities recently passed resolutions opposing the state’s new so-called sanctuary state law, which extends more protections to unauthorized immigrants.
Most of them were predominantly white communities.
“To me, it’s the last gasp of a ruling group of Republicans who are on their way out the door,” said Kia Hamadanchy, a son of Persian immigrants who is running for Congress as a Democrat in Irvine.
Whether immigrants will replace them remains to be seen.
“It’s hard to get Asian-Americans to run,” said Cyril Yu, a deputy district attorney who lost his race for the Irvine school board in 2012. “But I think you’re going to get people who are excited, nonetheless, because an Asian-American’s on the ballot.”