Restaurant of the Week: El Merendero, Pomona

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El Merendero, 242 S. Garey Ave. (at 2nd), Pomona

El Merendero, which already had (and still has) a La Verne location, was a pioneer in downtown Pomona, arriving in 1980 and occupying the corner of the Fox Theater building until moving a block away in 2008 to much nicer quarters. Check the lovely mural. The new location has table service too. Alas, two years in, service remains shaky. I’m not sure the expanded menu has adjusted to the new surroundings either.

Five of us ate there prior to a concert at the Fox. Chips and salsa arrived. We liked both but the salsa’s presentation in a plastic to-go container, with a lid, hints at the awkward transition to a full-service restaurant.

Our table had two enchiladas ($5.95), a chile relleno and carne asada ($8.50) (pictured), camarones rancheros ($9.25), a chile relleno ($5.95) and a milanesa steak torta ($4.95) (also pictured). The first three plates were enjoyed by their diners; the camarones customer was impressed by the number of shrimp. My torta was acceptable, although I’ve had better. The solo relleno diner, who’s more exacting, said it wasn’t cooked through and had a crunchy rather than soft exterior. She doesn’t intend to go back.

The service was friendly, when we got it; nobody came to the table for the first 10 minutes (the first-timers began to wonder if they were supposed to order from the cashier) and at the end, the credit card transaction took at least five minutes.

I like El Merendero but have to say it’s not my first choice for downtown dining. Somehow I liked it better when it was basically a taqueria and burrito joint in the then-dumpy Fox and you ordered at the counter. The new location raises expectations but can’t quite meet them. That mural sure is pretty, though.

Next door is El Merendero’s popular panaderia, which moved along with the restaurant and seems to have made a more successful transition.

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