Remembering Taco Lita

Joseph Ross wrote recently with a reminiscence of Pomona’s old Taco Lita stand:

“It was a small taco place, obviously, located on Holt Avenue, not far from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (though on the opposite side of Holt as St. Joe’s). We would go there a lot when my mom didn’t feel like cooking and bring their awesome tacos home. I have great memories of them as the original comfort food.

“One of my old high school classmates, Steve Julian, now a commentator on KPCC – NPR Radio, actually sent me some little packets of their sauce from what looks like their remaining store in Arcadia, I think.

“My dad remembered that their tacos were 4 for $1, and on Fridays during Lent, when Catholics weren’t supposed to eat meat, they were 5 for $1. Imagine!”

Anyone else want to toss in their 2 cents on Taco Lita?

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Restaurant of the Week: The Basil

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This week’s restaurant: The Basil, 1845 E. Holt Blvd. (at Vineyard), Ontario.

Part of a sharp-looking new complex on the northwest corner of Holt and Vineyard, the Basil is by a Quizno’s, a Starbucks and a child welfare office, with the restaurants obviously aimed at the hotel crowd nearby. The Basil has certainly been anticipated here in our newsroom a few blocks away, the “coming soon” banner for months having drawn my colleagues’ curiosity. I round the corner there on way to Ontario council meetings twice a month and always glance over.

Well, the Basil finally opened in late August, after a long gestation. A couple of us went there for dinner Wednesday.

Inside, the Basil is done in shades of gold, tasteful art on the walls, a candle at each table, a shiny bar specializing in martinis against one wall. The look is very modern and upscale. The Basil, one has to acknowledge, is almost certainly the hippest atmosphere anywhere on Holt from Ontario all the way through Pomona.

Given the attention lavished on the setting, however, the menu was a letdown. Billed as “Thai-European cuisine,” the restaurant promises a fusion of disparate cuisines in creative new dishes. Instead, it’s standard Thai food, plus fettucine alfredo and spaghetti. Other than seafood ka-pow, the only fish on the menu is deep-fried orange roughy.

Adjusting our expectations, we went with mas-a-man pork ($10.95), a peanut and coconut milk curry with potatoes and onions, and drunken noodles with tofu ($9.95), flat rice noodles with chile, bell pepper, onion, cabbage, tomato and basil.

The dishes were okay, the tofu entree being better than the pork, although my friend was less satisfied than I was with the latter. She noticed that the potato was mushy and the onion crisp, indicating the dish was assembled from other parts rather than cooked together.

The kitchen brought out free fried banana for all the tables that evening. Dipped in coconut flakes and fried, the banana was the one unequivocal success of the night.

For that corner of Ontario, the Basil is welcome, and the mildly swanky bar might become a popular spot. For Thai entrees in the $10 to $20 price range, however, locals would be better off at Green Mango or Thai-T in Rancho Cucamonga or Taste of Asia in La Verne, where the menus are more imaginative and the cooking more expert.

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Reading log: August 2009

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Books bought this month: “The Call of the Wild,” Jack London; “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” Walter M. Miller Jr.; “One Fearful Yellow Eye,” John D. MacDonald; “The Prisoner of Zenda,” Anthony Hope; “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson; “Mind Fields,” Jack Yerka and Harlan Ellison; “Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto,” Anneli Rufus.

Books read this month: “Ray Bradbury,” Wayne Johnson; “Robinson Crusoe,” Daniel Defoe; “The Call of the Wild,” Jack London; “Ray Bradbury (Writers of the 21st Century),” Joseph Olander and Martin Greenberg, eds.

First, how do you like the photo? Pictured are my four books from August, arrayed on my living room floor. I’ve gone back and added photos to the seven previous Reading Log entries, which you can find, if so inclined, in the “Books” category. Thought these entries could use some spicing up.

As you can see, it was another four-book month on the reading front, and another month in which I bought more books than I read. Travel (that involves visiting cities with bookstores) will do that. Look for a similar situation in September.

As for what I read, this month’s books represent more evidence that I’m on an esoteric path, one not to be emulated. Really, two out of four completed books are studies of Ray Bradbury’s fiction? And I’m afraid next month’s choices are going to seem even more arcane. Well, I’m reading what I’m reading, not picking books with an eye toward public consumption.

I won’t belabor the Bradbury books: I found them in 1994 at a science fiction bookstore in Berkeley days before moving away from the Bay Area, knowing they might not be of great interest but also knowing if I didn’t buy them, I might never see them again. Fifteen years later, having not seen them again in a store, I read them.

The study by Johnson is worth tracking down if you’re deeply into RB: It explores his themes and preoccupations with clarity. The other book is turgid and academic. All I could do was skim it. The bibliography at the back is useful, however.

“Crusoe,” bought a couple of years back, will be the subject of an upcoming column. Suffice it to say here that while not easy reading, it repays attention.

“The Call of the Wild” is that rare book that I read the same month that I bought it. I got it because it’s the Big Read choice in Pomona this fall. It’s told from the point of view of a dog kidnapped from his Monterey-area life of luxury and taken to the Yukon to work as a sled dog.

I was expecting, and dreading, to read the dog’s “thoughts,” but it’s nothing like that. Buck observes life around him in a way that seems more instinctual than anything else. He becomes more real than any of the humans in the book. As E.L. Doctorow says in the introduction to the Modern Library edition I read, “Call” is a coming-of-age book involving a dog, who over the course of the book sheds rather than gains civilization. But it’s not written in an ironic way; it’s just a good adventure story.

It’s probably the book more of you have read than anything else I’ve listed here this year (it was my 38th book of 2009, btw). Hadn’t I read it in school? It’s possible — it seemed vaguely familiar, and yet I had no recollection of having been assigned it. Well, whatever, I liked it this time.

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Vacation dining

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San Francisco’s Ferry Building was rehabbed a few years ago and converted into a foodie paradise with restaurants and food-related shops. I spent several enjoyable meals there on my trip. Seen below is a cream scone with apricot conserve from Frog Hollow, a bowl of granola and fruit from the Market Bar, a fish taco from Mijita and an ahi tuna burger, pesto fries and blueberry shake from Taylor’s Refresher, whose busy dining room is seen in a second photo. Like the sign says, “Eat.” All items mentioned above were exemplars of the form.

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Meanwhile, on the way back I had a pastor torta at Burrito King No. 8 in Salinas and a slice of apple pie (and a bowl of cream of asparagus soup) at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero, both pictured below.

As a side note, ever order a side of fruit with a breakfast or lunch? It’s almost always disappointing: cantaloupe, melon, maybe a couple of grapes or chunks of watermelon. At Zachary’s in Santa Cruz, my side (to my pesto scrambled eggs) had strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, grapes, blueberries, watermelon, melon, cantaloupe and banana — and as a garnish, the plate had an orange slice. Now that’s how you do a side of fruit.

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This blog turns 2

Terrible twos? Let’s hope not. But, yes, Saturday marked the second anniversary of The David Allen Blog, which launched on Sept. 12, 2007.

This is my 791st entry and as of mid-day Sunday you’ve contributed 3,260 published comments, for an average of just over four per entry.

I’m still enjoying my second career as a blogger, especially the medium’s immediacy, unlimited space, lower-profile nature and more freewheeling character, as well as the interaction with you readers.

My blog and my column remain separate enterprises, generally, although it’s fun to think of ways to tie them together — expanding on column entries by placing photos and further information here, for example. Some interests of mine, local restaurants particularly, are explored more fully here than in my column. And with your help we’re building a nice repository of local history of places and businesses.

I do regret that the technology remains a barrier to a potential audience. Many old-timers who would have the most to contribute to our local history discussions are unable or unwilling to visit us here. Not much we can do about that.

Have things changed on this blog? In the past year, I didn’t post seven days a week as I did the first year. But I did post almost every weekday, sometimes more than once.

Actually, sometimes I wonder if I post TOO often for people to keep up on easily. Your thoughts?

Also, I figured out this past year how to incorporate photos, which I do whenever it’s practical. (It’s a somewhat involved process in which each photo has to be uploaded, edited, sized and imported.) Photos have made the blog more visually appealing.

So we continue to evolve here.

I’ve come to think of this blog as handmade. Perhaps that’s a strange word to use given that a blog is done with software and doesn’t physically exist, but handmade to me is more about the aesthetic, not the means. It’s mine to assemble and present to you.

Any comments, criticism or ideas on how this blog is working and what you’d like to see more of, or less of, is encouraged. It’s your blog too.

Speaking of which, thanks for your time, your support and all those comments.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Yangtze

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Yangtze Chinese Restaurant, 126 N. Euclid Ave. (at B), Ontario

Yangtze has been a fixture of downtown Ontario since 1961 and, with the demise of Jong’s and Chung King, it’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in the Inland Valley. Back then, Chinese food was considered exotic; it was one of the few foreign cuisines available in the area, along with Mexican and (oooh) Italian. Now you can get kung pao chicken and a dozen glazed at any number of local donut shops.

Not much has changed at Yangtze except the prices, from what I can gather. Step inside and you feel you’ve stepped back in time. The interior retains the slatted wood walls, the slender hanging lamps, the avocado booths and the 3-D dioramas that radiate a 1960s ambiance. Author Charles Phoenix likes to say that ’60s icons James Bond and Sophia Loren could dine there and not look out of place.

Mr. Gin, the founder, is gone, but Mrs. Gin, one of my favorite people in Ontario, still greets customers and works the cash register. The waitresses have been there for decades. So have some of the customers.

Now, as for the food. I had dinner there once, perhaps six years ago, before an Ontario council meeting. It was, shall we say, not to my taste. I returned a couple of weeks ago for lunch only because Phoenix was in town and suggested we meet there. He told me he hadn’t eaten at Yangtze in decades.

He cleaned his plate, I ate half of my shrimp chow mein. It would not surprise me to learn that the cook had opened a can of Chung King vegetables into a pan, tossed in a few canned shrimp, cornstarch and some MSG, heated it and put it on a plate. To my mind, retro charm can go only so far.

Yet there are those who dote on Yangtze. Generations of locals had their first taste of Chinese food there and its old-school American take on the cuisine still meets their needs. It’s the food they grew up with, cooked the way it’s supposed to taste. Some of the regulars drive from miles away.

Others barely leave. An older gentleman a couple of booths away from us at lunch was eating a steak, and when he left, the waitress cheerfully told him, “See you tonight.”

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Fox Theater, Salinas

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While visiting the National Steinbeck Center in downtown Salinas, I spotted a Fox Theater a block away. Ah, a Fox.

Its website says it was built in 1921. It’s currently used for concerts, weddings and other events. It’s smaller than Pomona’s, but older, and that vertical sign is great. Check out the ticket booth at left.

Salinas has a surprisingly functional business district. Most of the activity is seemingly centered on three blocks of Main Street, dead-ending at the Steinbeck center, and the cross streets. Plenty of older architecture, with a few modern facades here and there.

Because of the Fox, I couldn’t help weighing this downtown against Pomona’s. I hate to say it, but Pomona’s downtown is so pockmarked with parking lots where buildings used to be that it will take a lot of investment to bring downtown only to Salinas’ level. That said, Salinas’ level is higher than I’d have expected before visiting.

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