Restaurant of the Week: El Perico Ranchero, El Cerrito

This week’s restaurants: El Perico Ranchero, 1401 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Grove), Upland, and El Cerrito, 7201 Archibald Ave. (at Base Line), Rancho Cucamonga.

Yes, we’re riding the El this week and we’re nowhere near Chicago. El Perico Ranchero was pointed out to me by one of you readers recently when I wrote about Mexican restaurants in Upland. I’d overlooked it. So I rectified that omission by dining there for lunch on Tuesday.

It’s mid-range Mexican with table service and some seafood on the menu. I had the chile verde ($9.95). The plate itself was hot, which always makes me suspicious that the plate is prepared in advance and stuck in the oven. The chile verde, though, was very good. And there was a lot of it. I don’t know who can eat all that; I could barely finish half. I took the rest home and got a snack out of half of it Wednesday night. I had the other quarter Friday night. That’s a lunch that keeps on giving.

On Thursday I hit El Cerrito after a visit to 4-Color Fantasies, the comic shop across the street. Entering El Cerrito was disconcerting because it looks like half a restaurant. All there was to see was a long, narrow space with booths along each wall. No employees or even kitchen in sight. I sat myself and saw the kitchen is tucked away through a doorway on the left. The lone employee I saw during the meal was pretty busy.

I had three soft tacos with chicken, beef and steak ($2.25 each). They were big too and loaded with cheese. I should have asked if they were Mexican style (small) or American style (big). Oh well. They were fine for what they were. The menu was fairly extensive, just like El Perico’s, but I wasn’t in an ambitious mood, so this is a feebler than usual account, sorry.

Maybe next week, instead of eating at another El place, I can do the opposite: a Le place.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Craig Ferguson in Pomona

Tying in with today’s column, here’s the clip from YouTube of the “Late Late Show” host in Pomona…even if he thinks it’s San Bernardino. Here’s Ferguson reciting the Pledge in Pomona.

Here he is taking the citizenship test, in L.A. by the looks of it, and here’s his take on why he loves America.

After deadline for my column, the Kristin Bell clip turned up on YouTube as well. The “circus grounds” comment comes up after the 9-minute mark.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Drive-in restaurants

This was posted recently on the “things that aren’t here anymore” thread, but let’s give it its own blog entry. Take it away, Judi Guizado:

“I was telling my mom, Jeanette (Acuna) Holsten, about this thread, and she was wondering if anyone remembers one of the first drive-in restaurants in the ’40s called Mona’s Drive-In, on Holt near Campus in Ontario. Two of her aunts worked there as car hops, wearing short skirts and serving food wearing roller skates. She remembers it was owned by a man named Price Barrett.”

Leaving aside the visual of “food wearing roller skates” — sorry, Judi, I couldn’t resist — we may as well talk about drive-in restaurants.

I hadn’t heard of Mona’s, but I’ve written about McDonald’s BBQ, a drive-in in Ontario on Holt at San Antonio in the 1940s. It was no relation to the McDonald brothers’ operation in San Bernardino. Then there was Mel’s at Holt and Palomares in Pomona, which opened in 1952, closed in 1995 and sold burgers initially for 18 cents. And let’s not forget A&W on Holt near Mountain in Ontario, which closed in 2006.

Anyone want to share memories of any of these places, or others?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

‘Moby-Dick’ update

You may recall that my New Year’s goal was to read “Moby-Dick.”

Well, at the one-month point, a progress report: I’m at page 248, out of 577, or Chapter 54 of 135. At this rate I’ll finish by the end of March, which isn’t bad; I initially thought it could take me to the end of April.

Did you know Barack Obama cites “Moby-Dick,” and also “Beloved,” as his favorite books? When I read that, I suddenly became an Obama fan.

“Moby-Dick” is an amazing book — there’s a reason classics are classics — although it’s not what you would call a quick read, owing to long sentences filled with semi-colons that sometimes require a second or third reading to decipher. Some of the language is jaw-droppingly lyrical, though. My schedule is such that it’s rare I can find even a half-hour a day to read it, further limiting my progress.

Still, I’ve managed to read a little bit every single day since Jan. 1, usually six or eight pages. It’s not much individually, but nibbling at it daily does make a difference.

Call me Incrementalist.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Slim pickings for Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday, the end of Mardi Gras, is today, and reader/foodie Charles Bentley has a question:

“I was wondering if you have any suggestions for local eateries to enjoy some Mardi Gras cuisine?

“With the loss of the Crescent City Caf (and before that, a place called Gumbos), Ive taken to cooking my own red beans & rice.

“But if you know someplace local especially a good spot that makes good crawfish etouffee I would dearly love to know about it. Plus points if they have nice beignets like at the Caf du Monde!”

Crescent City Cafe was the restaurant by Montclair Plaza that had to relocate to make way for a Chili’s but ultimately couldn’t survive in its Ontario location as New Orleans Express.

With them gone, the best I could come up with was Kelly’s Cajun Grill in the Ontario Mills food court. The Inland Valley surely must have a soul food restaurant or two, but I’m unaware of them.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Alternative Super Bowl

A mid-week exchange at Trader Joe’s in Upland:

Male clerk, making banter: You gonna watch the Super Bowl?

Me: No.

Clerk: Why not? Everybody watches the Super Bowl.

Me: That’s why I don’t watch it.

This was, I think, Super Bowl 42, if my Roman numeral skills haven’t left me, and at this point I have a streak going, not having seen any of them. Not to be a snob about it; I understand the value and comfort and fun of American communal experiences, and I wouldn’t say the Academy Awards, which I sometimes tune in for, are any less ridiculous.

That said, I resist the Super Bowl hype and generally enjoy an afternoon in which the streets and shops are semi-depopulated. Because of the weather, a trip to Pasadena or somesuch was less appealing this year. I considered eating lunch at Ontario’s Super Bowl Thai just for the joke of it; for that matter, I could have ordered joke, which is the name of a porridge, but as ironies go, that’s awfully reductive.

Instead, I had a late lunch out in Pomona in a mostly empty restaurant and bought groceries in Claremont with only one person ahead of me in line. Noticed that 21 Choices frozen yogurt, which usually has a line out the door, appeared empty, but I wasn’t in the mood for something cold. Went to a coffeehouse and read a novel in relative peace.

If you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, what did you do Sunday?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

100 movies

Today’s print column is about watching the Top 100 U.S. movies as chosen by the American Film Institute in 1998. The list was revised in mid-2007, but by that point I just stuck to the original list. I’ll get to the “new” movies on the revised list sometime.

As promised, here are links to see the two Top 100 lists. From there you can get to the AFI’s plethora of other lists. You can visit the AFI and see the lists there, although you have to register.

For the sake of comparison, here are two other best-American-movie lists: a Chicago critic’s Alternative Top 100 and GreatestFilms.Org’s Top 100.

And, to broaden the base beyond American movies, here are the National Film Critics Essential 100 and the British Film Institute’s Top 100.

Happy reading, and happy viewing.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

‘Pomona A to Z’: D is for Drags

To me, a car is simply transportation, while for others, it’s a religion, or a status symbol. Despite driving a Toyota Corolla, I really do like the NHRA Museum at Fairplex. You can’t help but be impressed by the shiny old cars on display indoors, and the obvious affection for the sport of drag racing evinced in the displays. It has that cool ’50s-’60s vibe.

The National Hot Rod Association’s existence is proof that when bracketed by the soothing words “National” and “Association,” anything, no matter how rebellious, can be made to seem respectable. Mark my words, someday we’ll see the National Eminem Association.

This column was published Aug. 8, 2004.

D is for Drags: ‘Pomona A to Z’ gets up to speed

It’s D day as “Pomona A to Z,” my alphabetical survey of the city’s delights, dotes on the letter D.

Which delights should we dwell on? Among the dazzlers:

* Diamond Ranch High, the hillside school whose design, by rising architect Thom Mayne, has been written up in the New York Times.

* Donahoo’s, the popular take-out chicken restaurant with the fiberglass rooster on the roof.

* Dedication of Disaster City, the civil defense bunker under the Police Department whose opening in 1964 was presided over by — whoa! — nuclear physicist Edward Teller.

* Desi Arnaz, who performed at the Fox Theatre in 1947 with Lucille Ball.

What a dilemma! But after some dithering, my decision is that D is for Drags, as in Drag Racing.

Pomona didn’t invent drag racing — I think that was Ben-Hur — but the two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The reason will rock you. Hot rodding became (gasp) respectable in large part because of the Pomona Police Department, specifically, car-loving Police Chief Ralph Parker and a young motorcycle sergeant named Bud Coons.

By 1950, hot rodders who had been racing in dry lake beds were taking it to the streets instead: peeling out, speeding, causing a racket and sometimes killing themselves or others. It was a national problem.

“In the ’50s, if you were a hot rodder, it was the same as being in a gang today,” Coons, now 80, told me by phone from his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

One night Coons was on patrol when he saw a “real nice” Chevy, similar to one he was working on in his spare time. So he pulled over the driver for a chat.

“He thought I was going to write him up,” Coons said. “I was interested in his car.”

The motorist was on his way to a meeting of the Pomona Choppers car club and invited Coons, who practically caused a riot when he pulled up in uniform.

Coons explained his interest in cars, as well as his interest in safety, and found a receptive audience.

Soon he was helping to organize rally runs, shows and barbecues for racers. The Choppers were even allowed to meet in a nook of the police station. The co-opting had begun!

With a pitch from Parker, Coons and the Lions Club, the fairgrounds set aside space for a dragstrip in 1951.

Hot rodders had a controlled, legal straightaway. Deaths from speeding fell dramatically, as did complaints, Coons recalled. That prompted a writeup in an FBI bulletin to police departments nationwide about Pomona’s approach.

In 1954, Wally Parks, who had just founded the National Hot Rod Association, hired a group of four hot rod enthusiasts to travel the country to promote drag racing and safety.

Among them was Coons, who took a leave of absence from the force to join what was dubbed the Drag Safari.

No, they didn’t all wear dresses.

Their Dodge station wagon towed a trailer containing inspection gear and timing devices, everything they needed to run a drag race except white T-shirts and hair gel.

As a police officer, Coons commanded respect from city leaders wherever the Safari stopped. Dragstrips sprouted in their wake. Racing rules were honed.

“Pomona helped legitimize the hot rod movement and drag racing,” Coons said.

Pomona also was the site of the first National Hot Rod Association-sanctioned race, in 1953, and today is home to the association’s Motorsports Museum, housed in a stylish Art Deco building at Fairplex. For museum info: (909) 622-2133 or nhra.com/museum.

Amateur races still take place quarterly on the original Pomona strip, as do the professional Winternationals, to the delight of fans and consternation of neighbors.

Pomona has the oldest dragstrip in the United States still in use, and its bleachers turned drag racing into a spectator sport, museum director Sam Jackson told me.

The connection is even immortalized in song.

“GTO,” the 1964 classic by Ronny and the Daytonas, has the singer expressing his desire to buy a GTO, “take it out to Pomona and let ‘em know/that I’m the coolest thing around.”

And that’s why D is for Drags. Did you doubt it?

(David Allen, the lukewarmest thing around, writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.)

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Harry’s Pacific Grill

49786-harrys 001.jpg
49787-harrys 002.jpg

CLOSED

Harry’s Pacific Grill, 8009 Day Creek (at Victoria Gardens Lane), Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

I’ve been to Honolulu Harry’s, owned by the same chain, but this is virtually nothing like that. It’s a more upscale experience, without the tropical gimmickry (which is fun, by the way).

I had the Paniolo skirt steak ($17), which was said to have been marinated 24 hours, with fries; my friend had the Asian Pacific Pescado ($16), which came with baby broccoli, kalamata olives, fresh tomatoes and white wine reduction.

What was Asian or Mexican about the fish’s preparation wasn’t clear, but it was flavorful and served on a bed of scalloped potatoes. My steak was tender and juicy. Even my fries were good. Harry’s atmosphere hit that sweet spot where you feel you’re in a nice place but it’s not so stiff that you’re intimidated.

On a later visit I had a good “Nuevo Latino” pork chop with pepper jack potatoes and vegetables ($16, pictured). View the menu here.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Richie’s Diner

36476-richies 002.jpg

Richie’s Diner, 8039 Monet Ave. (at Victoria Gardens Lane), Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

I’m familiar with the Richie’s in Victorville, an occasional lunch stop when I lived and worked there in the mid-1990s. That one, if memory serves, had a virtually all-white interior and was fairly utilitarian. The food was OK but nothing exciting. The VG one is more a modern take on a diner, outfitted in browns and gray, with comfortable booths and classier touches. It’s a little disconcerting to see a wall niche with bottles of wine not far from a lineup of classic bottled sodas and emblems of old-school gas station pumps, but it mostly works.

I ordered the California tuna melt ($8.95) on sourdough with slaw as my side and a Pepsi with vanilla flavoring ($2.19), which came in a metal cup. A tuna melt is my baseline sandwich. This one really was a melt — sometimes the cheese isn’t melted at all — and was one of the better examples I’ve had. It came with avocado, probably a treat for most people, but to be honest, I’ve never really liked avocado. The slaw was good too.

All in all, Richie’s beat expectations.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email