Restaurant of the Week: Ramon’s Cactus Patch

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Ramon’s Cactus Patch, 647 W. California St. (at Mission and San Antonio), Ontario

A model home turned into a restaurant with a cactus garden out front, at the confluence of three streets, the location of Ramon’s Cactus Patch is as unusual as its name. (The simplest way to get there is to take Mission Boulevard.)

Ramon’s is also the oldest restaurant in Ontario, opening in 1937 and still owned all this time by the same man, Ramon Sanchez.

Inside this quirky gem are high-backed wooden booths salvaged from the old Orange Hotel in downtown Ontario, where Ramon’s plied its trade before moving here in 1962, and framed photos of various old Ontario buildings. A vintage painting of a mysterious Mexican beauty is the focal point of one wall. The pre-electronic cash register is decades old. The overall effect is like stepping into another world.

The two-page menu is faded, like an artifact from an earlier era. Other than the prices, the menu probably hasn’t been updated since the 1960s. The cooking is plain and comforting, a reflection of mainstream Mexican American food from midcentury, stubbornly untrendy.

Some don’t like the tacos, which use essentially a hamburger patty as the filling; I haven’t developed the habit either. I always go for the chicken burrito ($5), which comes with a tiny salad with a salsa-like dressing. The complimentary chips and salsa are always good, the lightly spicy salsa arriving in a curious tapered glass bottle that resembles the one Barbara Eden slept in.

Like Vince’s Spaghetti and Yangtze, Ramon’s is a time capsule, one that offers a taste of old Ontario. Ramon still visits his restaurant most days. Today (Friday, May 21), he turns 96. Go wish him a happy birthday.

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