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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  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:
    Ontario is fortunate to still have Ramon Sanchez and The Cactus Patch as a part of the wonderful tapestry that is our community. Ramon’s children, Rocky and Ramona, have kept this restaurant true to its heritage; the same great food coupled with friendly, welcoming service that has kept me coming back for 40-plus years and my father for more than 65 years.

    Thank you, David, for helping provide much-deserved attention to this gem of an establishment and such a fine and upstanding family.

    Oh, and try a chicken taco next time you visit. That and the chile verde burrito are personal favorites!

  • Tara Carrillo

    Dave,

    Thanks for sharing this. I used to go to lunch there with my Mom when she worked for GE. In those days they made irons there. It brought back some fond memories to see it! I had no idea that it was still there. Thanks again!

  • Pat Flinn

    When I was a young woman (about 18 years old and we were called girls forever and always in those days), I used to sometimes eat at the Cactus Patch when it was in the Orange Hotel on Holt Blvd. (“A” Street at that time). I particularly remember dining there with my father’s secretary one time.

    Because I was living in a semi-dream state from seeing so many movies of the day, I felt as though I was in some movie in the dark place with its dark booths and food so different from what I had grown up with just a few blocks away. I just loved that feeling.

    There was a coffee shop further east on Holt, but I believe in that same block, where the mother of my brother’s best friend waitressed. I used to go there and — again, just like the movies, but this time also just like real life — would love to see Bill’s mother in her crisp uniform, a handkerchief in her pocket that was embellished with a beautifully crocheted, varigated colored wide border artfully arranged so that the crocheting was well displayed.

    Some people have dream-like experiences, I have movie-like experiences!

  • Pete Bentley

    I have been eating at the Cactus Patch since 1943 at the old Orange Hotel on Holt (A Street) Blvd. and still go there when in Ontario (I live in San Jacinto). The food is still the same. A big Saturday night after shining shoes at the California Barber Shop on Euclid Avenue was dinner at Ramon’s and a movie at the Granada theater. Having seen Rocky and Ramona grow up I know that the place is in capable hands tho Ramon is still THE BOSS. Another happy birthday and MANY more.