Restaurant of the Week: Guasalmex

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Guasalmex, 150 W. Holt Ave. (at Garey), Pomona

A pupuseria, a word that by the way is great fun to pronounce, is a restaurant that specializes in pupusas, a dish from El Salvador in which a doughy corn tortilla is filled with one or more items and cooked on a griddle. Pupuserias are rare in this area, but one that has some longevity is Guasalmex.

It’s been ensconced on Holt for at least a decade. The owners are a couple who hail from Guatemala (him) and Mexico (her), and the menu reflects those two cuisines as well as that of El Salvador, hence the combo name Guasalmex. (Their website and menu can be found here.)

I’ve eaten there a few times over the years and recently had dinner with two first-timers. It’s an unprepossessing place, small but comfortable. The menu is divided into three pages, one for each cuisine, as well as a beverages page.

Despite there being three of us, we only ordered off the Guatemalan and Salvadorean sections. From the former, the Atitlan Special ($10), a sampler of chorizo, tamale, plantains, beans and tortillas. From the latter, Special No. 8 ($8, pictured below), with a pupusa (pork, beans and cheese), plantains, rice and beans, and the pollo encebollado ($9), a plate of chicken sauteed with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.

We liked everything to one degree or another, but the pupusa was the big hit. I think my friends would come back just for more of those. We also enjoyed the ball-sized bites of chorizo. The tamale, thick, a bit sweet and with the consistency of cornbread, was fine if you like that style but was our table’s least favorite item.

We also had and liked a couple of beverages, a strawberry mango smoothie ($4) and an ensalada, which is a Salvadorean fruit punch ($3).

One word of warning: They close at 7 p.m. most nights, although the staff didn’t say a word as we chatted obliviously until close to 8.

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The L.A. County Fair is almost here

The Fair begins at 3 p.m. Friday when the gates open early for the Labor Day weekend. The Fair runs Aug. 31 to Sept. 30. I’ll have an overview in my Friday column.

In the meantime, here are links to lacountyfair.com, the Fair’s official blog, Hot Blog on a Stick and a list of promotions to get in cheaper.

Are you looking forward to the Fair or (gasp) could you not be bothered?

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The profound plumber

A plumber visited my Claremont rental the other morning to fix a troubled toilet. At one point his partner remarked on an object in the tank: “Is that a rock?” “It’s there to displace water,” the plumber explained.

I overheard the exchange from the other room and felt a touch sheepish. The rock, large enough to break a window or brain a fellow with, was in the tank in 1999 when I moved in. I have the idea the goal is, as the plumber said, to displace water, i.e., to use slightly less water with each flush than would otherwise flow. But does it work that way? Or am I merely a man with the beginnings of a toilet tank terrarium?

Before they left, I said to the main plumber, quietly: “I inherited the rock. Does it do anything?”

Not really, was the reply. Should I remove it, I asked? No need.

“It’s found its natural place of rest,” the plumber said with a wry smile. “It’s not hurting anything. You wouldn’t want to disturb the natural order of the universe.”

We can’t let things get out of balance, I agreed.

“If you take it out,” the plumber continued, “you’ll be wondering why everything else in your life starts going wrong.”

Leaving well enough alone, I left the rock undisturbed.

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Remembering the San Gorgonio Inn

Reader Michelle Young emailed a question recently about a restaurant a little east of us, but one some of you may remember. Take it away, Michelle:

“Watching my local news here in Chicago this morning I heard about San Bernardino’s financial problems and it made me think about a restaurant I believe to be called The San Bernardino Inn. [*She really means the San Gorgonio Inn. -- DA] It was just off the 10. The last time I remember eating there was 1986, my senior year of high school before I moved away. It was a favorite of my parents in the ’70s and ’80s and we always stopped in when we drove between our home in Carlsbad on the way to Big Bear or Palm Springs.

“Today I came across your Eateries Past category and thought you might know something about it. What I remember most vividly about the restaurant was the tattered newspaper-like menus and dinners that started with your choice of various items including Tomato Juice (I never chose this; wouldn’t taste good with my Shirley Temple), Chilled carrot and celery sticks with radishes, and Chicken livers.

“I Googled everything I could think of/remember about the place to with no luck and the San Bernardino Historical Society doesn’t seem to have any information on their website. And ideas?”

She probably came to the right place. We’ll see, anyway.

* Update: Michelle has agreed via email that based on the first reader comment, she’s wrong and the place was the San Gorgonio Inn, not the San Bernardino Inn. I’ve changed the headline to match.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dragon Loco

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Dragon Loco, 2509 S. Euclid Ave. (at Walnut), Ontario

Dragon Loco bills itself as Chinese-Mexican fusion, its logo featuring a dragon wearing a sombrero. It’s right off the 60 Freeway in a semi-populated strip mall where you might expect Chinese or Mexican fast food (in fact, a Del Taco is at the edge of the parking lot), but it’s not where you would expect a concept as odd as a fusion of both.

The menu does feature standard Chinese fast food in one-, two- and three-item combos, besides the goofy fusion items. Visit the restaurant’s website here.

Owner Mario Luna had phoned me a couple of times and tweeted me once to invite me down, which almost never happens (for the sake of independence, I prefer that it doesn’t, actually); when I finally showed up unannounced for lunch, he recognized me right off, which also almost never happens. And so, anonymity gone, I could do little but let him bring me items, which I sampled.

I tried the chorizo wontons ($1), chicken teriyaki quesadilla ($6, pictured above), kung pao taco ($2), asada fried rice ($6, pictured below) and a horchata frappe ($3, pictured at right). Just typing those names makes me smile.

The asada fried rice was the best of the lot, to my taste buds, and the horchata frappe hit the spot on a steamy day. The rest was more like stunt food. The wontons and taco had two sauces laid over them in squiggles, which made them overdressed, not better.

People on Yelp seem to love the place, with the overall rating 4 stars out of 5. I enjoyed meeting Luna, who likes my work, but Americanized Chinese food inside tortillas didn’t appeal to me. Luna compares his fusion offerings to those of L.A. food trucks. As a concept, yes, but Dragon Loco doesn’t use the higher-end ingredients that the trucks do.

Luna has big dreams for the place, which is open until 3 a.m. on weekends. I applaud his ambition and wish him well.

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Remembering Euclid Liquors

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The Euclid Liquors building at 140 S. Euclid Ave. in Upland is for sale — asking price: $1,250,000 — and the real estate agent asks if I know anything about its history. Brenda Delgadillo-Doolin, of MGR Real Estate in Upland, says she thought I “may have come across some interesting historical (or hysterical) knowledge of the building.”

Afraid not, but perhaps some of you have. About all she knows is that the distinctive building was erected in 1930, but surely not as a liquor store originally, as that was during Prohibition.

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