‘Pomona A to Z’: X is for Xochimilco

[As you can imagine, finding an X was exceedingly difficult when I was writing the “A to Z” series. (Although writing the intro was fun.) Xochimilco was one of Pomona’s longest-lived Mexican restaurants — perhaps only Tropical Mexico was older — but a few months after publication, Xochimilco expired. Its replacement, Mariscos Ensenada No. 5, is, candidly, far superior.

But a couple of generations of diners enjoyed Xochimilco and its colorful exterior mural, so this piece has value, perhaps, as history. It was published April 24, 2005.]

X marks the dining spot in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Step away from your Xbox and turn down your X record! Your full attention is needed for “Pomona A to Z,” my love letter of X’s and O’s for Pomona, as I embrace the letter X.

From Xenia, Ohio, to Xian, China, readers are wondering how yours truly, the Inland Valley’s answer to Xenophon, will find an X in Pomona.

The answer: With X-tra difficulty. To paraphrase the country song, all my X’s are in Texas, not Pomona.

Still, even if X candidates aren’t exactly springing up through xenogenesis, we can luxuriate in these runner-ups:

* X-rays at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, where the radiology department handled more than 155,000 x-citing procedures in 2004.

* “X-Files,” which filmed its Jan. 13, 2002 episode, in which Agent Doggett is in a Mexican jail with amnesia, in the 500 block of West Second Street. A Virgin Mary painting done for the shoot is still visible on a brick wall.

* The businesses Xcessories N Things, Xemco Inc., Xepa Car Wash, Xiomara Beauty Salon, XLent Technology and — hold onto your hat — Xochiquetzal Dance Studio.

X-cellent! With this bounty, it must be Xmas.

Yet the X in my little xylograph is a different choice. Before you start nagging me like Socrates’ wife Xanthippe, here it is: Xochimilco Mexican Restaurant.

Opened in November 1969 and still in the same minimall at Indian Hill and Holt, Xochimilco (pronounced “ZO-chee-meel-co”) is one of Pomona’s oldest Mexican eateries.

“People used to line up 20 minutes or a half hour outside because there weren’t that many Mexican restaurants,” said waitress Elsie Alvarez, who grew up nearby.

It’s been an oasis of stability in a changing world. The name, address, recipes, much of the decor and even the phone number have stayed constant.

“Oasis” is appropriate because the real Xochimilco is a garden and series of canals outside Mexico City known as “Mexico’s own Venice.”

Restaurant founder Carroll Gauslin loved vacationing in Xochimilco, Alvarez said. But he wasn’t from Mexico.

According to the story on a past menu, Gauslin was raised in New Mexico and Texas, where he picked up a love for chiles. He created the recipes for Xochimilco himself. A friendly, well-liked man, he married one of his waitresses, Dolores.

After his death, she kept the restaurant for a spell, then sold it in October 2001 to Carlos Argueta. Since May 2004 it’s been in the hands of David Gutierrez, only the third owner in the restaurant’s 35-year history.

Xochimilco has regulars who’ve been coming for years, first with their parents and now as adults.

Cathy Goring is one of them. She e-mailed to suggest I write about the place, which she’s been frequenting pretty much since it opened. So I invited her to lunch.

“I grew up a few blocks from here. We used to come here once a month when I was growing up,” Goring told me. Those were the days when the nearby mall, now the Indoor Swap Meet, had a Sears and a Zody’s Discount Department Store.

She recalled Xochimilco’s decor as being largely the same — quirky but memorable.

Bird cages with carved birds still hang from the ceiling. (“I Know Why the Caged Fake Bird Doesn’t Sing:?) Some diners sit under a shingled covering or a trellis. Odd, but nice.

The upholstered chairs and the beautifully tiled tables are said to have been brought from Mexico by Gauslin.

But the food is key. An online dining review says that “generations have enjoyed the chile rellenos,” and Goring said they’re among her favorites too. I tried one and liked it.

“It’s always good to come back and see the food is just as good as it used to be,” Goring said of her enchilada plate. “That was my fear when it changed hands, that the recipes would change.”

One reason they didn’t is that Serafin Juarez was the cook from the beginning until just two months ago, when he retired.

The original written recipes are still used, said manager Blanca Linebaugh, who is Gutierrez’s sister.

“I have them,” Linebaugh said. “And I make sure we’re following them.”

She might go one step further and make a Xerox.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, anxiously.)

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  • rose

    could you tell me if xochilmicos is still in pomona went there last year to the old location and it was gone

    [nope it closed. — da]

  • Brenda

    Serafin Juarez retired over 5 years ago. The receipes were not charged with anyone.

  • Staci Roberts

    I literally grew up going to Xochimilco, brought first dates there in high school (when dad would no longer buy 🙂 And eventually my now husband. It’s been 18 years since we have moved away and wanted to go back. My question is: Do the new owners make ANY of the old recipes? There tacos were TO DIE FOR!

    Thank you!

    [Sorry, Staci, but as noted in the intro to that piece, Xochimilco closed about six years ago. Too bad. — DA]

  • Matt W

    Love(d) this place. My family has been going here from the first day it opened to the day it closed. Drove from north Alta Loma for this fine mexican food. The recipes were amazing. We miss you Xochitlmilco : (

  • Edgar Alan Poerio

    My mom worked at Zody’s and she would take me to the carnivals that would set up in the parking lot a couple times a year. I was only about 7-9 at the time, I would talk her into going on the Farris wheel then rock the chair and make her scream. That was hilarious to me at the time. As for Xochimilcos’ it was by far my favorite restaurant of all times. Both the food, the salsa,s the home made salad dressings, everything had such an amazing flavor. The had some kind of magic cheese that was just the right balance of oily and yet creamy texture and very flavorful. It was piles high on the salads and melted thick on the nachos, beans and it was never scrimped on. They had a semi sweet taco sauce that to this day I cannot replicate. Their Chili Colorado was so rich in flavor, my mouth waters just thinking about it. I know I am nostalgic because we went there since I was a kid, but I have ate Mexican food all over the country and theirs just stood out as special to all others, even the great Santa Fe (and that is saying something). One of teh new owners admitted he changed vendors and freshened up the menu and he realized quick he had made a big mistake. He asked us to please come back in a couple of months and that the menu would be restored, he did not lie, but it may have been to late. It was never packed out again after that. I drove over an hour to eat there at least once a month. I suspected that may had been a death blow to my child hood restaurant. All the birthday’s, anniversaries, family get together’s. Nobody likes change and it hurt when I left California in 2005. When I returned to visit it was still open and seemed to had picked up. But then the following visit (2 year later), it was gone! I have looked for pictures and info, but it just wasn’t the tech age when it was in it’s prime. I assure you if it lived today, it would be all over people’s face book pages, blogs twitter and show up in all kinds of selfies. It is a shame that it never made it on any of the food network shows. I would pay money to get my hands on the recopies and some more of that amazing cheese.

    • davidallen909

      I’m wiping a tear after reading your comment. Thanks for the heartfelt paean of praise. You’re right, Xochimilco closed a little too early to get FB love. You may be interested to know that my book Pomona A to Z collects all these alphabetical columns, including the one on Xochimilco, which memorializes its existence in print for those who might never have heard of it.