Feast on Croatian-American Cuisine in San Pedro: The Storied City by the Sea

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In Southern California, nestled between Long Beach and Palos Verdes, is a city called San Pedro

To the locals, it is pronounced San PEE-Dro. It’s also known as the Port of Los Angeles, and it’s the busiest port in the country.

San Pedro is approximately 20 miles south of Downtown Los Angeles.

And it’s truly a city like no other.

Over the past few decades, we’ve heard it described many ways…

·     An “east coast” port town on the west coast

·     A place where generations grow up… and never leave

·     A beautiful melting pot of community and culture

·     A place like the TV show Cheers…where “everybody knows your name.”

But perhaps the most fitting description is…

·     Wow…do they know how to eat!

San Pedro is home to an ethnically diverse population. The primary groups are European immigrants from Italy, Croatia, Norway, Ireland, and Greece. There are also sizable populations from Portugal and Mexico.

Thousands of seafarers and fisherman from the Dalmatian coast, particularly the islands of Brač, Hvar, Vis and Korčula have been coming to San Pedro for the past two centuries.

San Pedro is considered the hub of the Croatian community in Los Angeles. It is estimated that over 30,000 people of Croatian descent live in San Pedro today out of a population of well over 80,000.

San Pedro: Then and Now

One thing’s for sure…the history of San Pedro is colorful, and anything but boring.

It has grown from a place dominated by the commercial fishing industry in the early 1900s to a working-class community in the county of Los Angeles.

Today, San Pedro is one of the more affordable beach towns in Southern California. (although these days, affordability in SoCal is all relative!).

In 2012, San Pedro became the home of the World War II U.S.S. Iowa Battleship and museum.

World War II U.S.S. Iowa Battleship and museum San Pedro
Image Credit: DailyBreeze

Approximately 26 miles away from San Pedro is Santa Catalina Island, a popular year-round tourist destination. You can pick up a boat from San Pedro to take you to Catalina year-round.

In addition, many of the major cruise lines have ships that regularly depart from San Pedro. Throughout the day, locals are used to hearing the theme from the 80s TV series “The Love Boat” as a cruise ship departs on its next voyage.

In fact, the Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Center in San Pedro is where The Love Boat was filmed in the 1980s.

Image Credit: SanPedro.com
Image Credit: SanPedro.com

San Pedro Café: Croatian American Food Found Here

A few blocks from the wharf and the massive cruise ships in San Pedro is a legendary local café on the Southwest corner of Pacific Avenue and 6th Street called San Pedro Cafe (also known as SPC).

Image Credit: SanPedro.com

In the early years of SPC, one of the regular customers was the prolific poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski. Charles was born in Andernach, Germany in 1920.

Image Credit: Poets.org

He was the son of an American soldier and a German mother. When he was 3 years old, he moved to the United States, and grew up in Los Angeles. Bukowski lived in San Pedro from 1978 until his death in 1994.

It was in San Pedro that Charles produced some of his best writing. He was known for his stories about human suffering and survival in a corrupt society.

His “usual” at SPC was the Turkey Clubhouse sandwich and French fries.

Image Credit: Poets.org

John Marovich is the current owner of San Pedro Cafe (aka SPC). In 1988, John was a young and ambitious college student working as a server at San Pedro Cafe. 

John Marovich is the current owner of San Pedro Cafe
Image Credit: San Pedro Cafe

One day, John, who is a native of San Pedro, California mentioned to his boss and the owner of SPC, that he would someday love to open a restaurant himself. 

Shortly after this conversation, John’s boss decided to put the restaurant up for sale, and John thought he was going to soon be out of a job.

Through a surprising and fortunate turn of events, the deal to San Pedro Cafe fell through, and John’s boss offered him the chance to buy the restaurant instead!  

With endless determination and a tireless work ethic, John successfully purchased SPC and has owned and managed this popular local cafe ever since. 

John, along with his loyal and dedicated staff, set out each day to make their customers feel at home and coming back for more. This shows in the hundreds of repeat customers he has coming through the doors seven days a week, along with more and more new faces.

SPC serves a mix of favorite ethnic dishes that San Pedro is known for, particularly Croatian-American dishes like Croatian Mostaccioli (nicknamed “CroMo”) and Croatian-American style Sauerkraut (nicknamed “CroKraut.”)

Croatian Mostaccioli or CroMo is a dish featuring tube-shaped pasta covered in a rich, meaty tomato sauce with several other delicious ingredients like short ribs, onions, and crushed tomatoes.

It’s akin to a “Pasta Bolognese” in Italian cuisine, but CroMo has more onions and different kinds of meats mixed in. It is often served on Sundays in Croatian American households.

It is a beloved dish, but it takes a solid investment in time and effort to prepare. Hence San Pedro Cafe is especially known for keeping this dish alive and well in the community and surrounding areas.

Croatian-American Mostaccioli (“CroMo”)

Croatian-AmericanMostaccioli (“CroMo”)
Image Credit: San Pedro Cafe

Croatian-American Sauerkraut (“CroKraut”)

Croatian-AmericanSauerkraut (“CroKraut”)
Image Credit: San Pedro Cafe


Watch John Marovich prepare his popular “CroMo” and “CroKraut” here.

Croatian American Hot Spots Throughout San Pedro

A few blocks from San Pedro Cafe is another cultural destination called the Croatian American Hall. Local members of Croatian descent regularly gather here for events, dances, and other celebrations. 

Image Credit: Croatian American Hall of San Pedro

One of the more popular holidays is Croatian Independence Day on June 25. This marks the day in 1991when Croatia got its independence from the former communist Yugoslavia.

The Croatian American Hall has an annual street party to celebrate their homeland’s Independence Day. They close down 9th Street in front of the hall and costumed dancers and other performers entertain the crowds and celebrate.

Another well-known Croatian destination in San Pedro is the Dalmatian-American Club. This was established in May 1926. The Dalmatian American Club hosts many events each year such as weddings, parties, and receptions.

Traditional Croatian American fare is also served here such as Mostaccioli, Sauerkraut, Fried Chicken, and Cevapcici. Cevapcici is a small, rolled patty of ground meat, usually beef, which is seasoned with paprika, garlic, and other spices and popular in Croatia and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Image Credit: Daily Breeze
Image Credit: Daily Breeze

Ante’s Restaurant (1951-2012): A Croatian American Institution For Over Five Decades 

Although this restaurant has been closed for about a decade, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the landmark establishment, Ante’s Restaurant. It was the most beloved and influential Croatian restaurant in San Pedro during its time.

Ante Perkov, a Croatian immigrant founded Ante’s. It was open from 1951 through 2012.

Ante, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, was well known for donating meals to local charities, as well as helping other Croatian emigrants settle into their new lives in San Pedro.

Image Credit: Random Lengths

Ante was born in Tribunj, Croatia, in 1924. He came to San Pedro in 1941 with little. Soon after, Ante got a job washing dishes for $2.50 a day at the Victory Cafe. He was later a chef on some of the local fishing boats.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1954, nearly 10 years after he opened Tony’s Cafe, the precursor to Ante’s Restaurant.

Perkov’s signature look for many years was donning a red carnation over his ear. He would joke with his customers and say it was “for handsome.” But it also made him stand out in a crowd.

Ante knew everyone in San Pedro. And everyone knew and loved Ante, his warm and friendly personality, and delicious Croatian American cuisine.

Ante’s was revered for its ethnic specialties such as pot roast and mostaccioli, stuffed cabbage rolls (also known as sarma), leg of lamb, stewed tripe, and cevapcici.

Ante’s also served beloved American dishes such as Beef Dip sandwiches, Crab Louie, and Pork Chops. Favorite desserts included apple strudel and rice pudding.

For over 50 years, everyone in San Pedro went to Ante’s for weddings, parties, funerals, banquets and lunch or dinner on an ordinary day.

Ante passed away in 2001. Two of Ante’s sons, Tony and Marion eventually took overrunning the restaurant from their father. They ran Ante’s for two decades until Tony’s death in 2012.

A Delicious Home Away from Home

Since many of these ethnic groups, such as Croatians, Italians, Norwegians, Japanese, Mexicans, and many others settled in San Pedro over the last two centuries, it has become a delicious melting pot of cuisines.

Many locals in San Pedro and the surrounding areas visit the Farmer’s Market in the Little Italy section of downtown each Friday to get their fresh produce and other cooking ingredients.

Image Credit: SanPedro Chamber of Commerce
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