The Border Café Where the Menu Gets Political
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Here, you don’t place a vote. You place an order.
In a time when politics make many feel powerless, one Southern California café lets customers choose a side … with two opposing sandwiches.
At Jay’s Southern Café in Jacumba Hot Springs, elevator music swirls around the understated decor consisting of cutout letters spelling “BBQ” and vintage posters of New Orleans jazz musicians. The blast of air conditioning is a welcome extreme from the suffocating desert air. A woman feeds fried chicken to her poodle, and a table of army-green-uniform-clad Border Patrol agents chuckle.
Located 70 miles outside San Diego and a half-mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, the customers reflect the peculiarities of this town — attractions include a nudist resort, a flying saucer collection and natural hot springs — and its unavoidable position in the national immigration debate. Road workers, temporarily clothed nudists, travelers, police officers and Border Patrol agents stop here for hearty food and good hospitality, and some — like me — are here for two sandwiches in particular.
The Border Patrol sandwich consists of an egg, bacon and cheese roll doused in sausage gravy.
Shining in cheerful neon marker on the blackboard, I spot them. The Border Patrol sandwich consists of an egg, bacon and cheese roll doused in sausage gravy ($7), and the Border Angels sandwich is filled with juicy grilled chicken and greasy bacon smooshed into a bun with lettuce, tomato and onion and chipotle ranch dripping off the edges ($9). I decide on the Border Angels.
When husband and wife Jacari “Jay” and Ashley Cousins opened the restaurant in 2015, they planned to cook classics like ribs, barbecue burgers and fried fish. As Border Patrol agents manning the area became the bulk of Jay’s customers, one agent ordered his own creation: a hybrid of a breakfast sandwich and biscuits and gravy — and he joked that his innovation should be added to the menu. Jay then added a Border Patrol sandwich, and it soon became a favorite. Not to be upstaged, the Border Angels — an immigration-focused activist group in San Diego — swooped in and urged the Cousinses for a sandwich in their name. The group frequently passes through Jacumba Hot Springs to visit a mass grave of unidentified migrants in Holtville, California.
As a pastor in nearby El Cajon, Jay Cousins tries to avoid partisan politics. “I don’t believe in choosing any side, because any side could be wrong,” he says. “I tell people my president is Jesus Christ.” However, his religious convictions and proximity to the pressing immigration issue make ignoring humanitarian issues difficult. While respecting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as an institution, he also sees the necessity of groups like Border Angels, who provide resources and leave water along high-traffic migrant routes to help stop death by dehydration. “We all migrated from somewhere,” says Cousins.
With onion breath and likely a bit of ranch on my face, I approach the Border Patrol agents. Their laughing faces turn stern as I ask their views on the Border Angels sandwich. Falling silent, one eventually admits they don’t care about the sandwich’s name and, in fact, order it all the time.
Apparently, a sandwich can be so mouthwatering, even Border Patrol agents can’t help but bite into the other side.
Go There: Jay’s Southern Café
- Address: 44461 Old Highway 80, Jacumba Hot Springs, California 91934
- Hours: Sunday and Monday: Closed. Tuesday: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Prices: $5-$10 per dish