Bulletin assistant city editor and history columnist Joe Blackstock retires today after nearly 48 years in the news biz. He’s the subject of my Wednesday column.
Readers tend to ask me the same general questions, namely, ones that might occur to anyone (do I work at home, what’s my favorite column, how’s the paper doing, did you grow up here, etc.). But now and then a question seems to come out of nowhere.
For instance, there was the woman who, after a book signing in Pomona in February, asked conspiratorially, “Are you really bald or do you just shave your head?”
This brings us to last week, in a Q&A in Rancho Cucamonga, where a man threw a very original Q at me: “Is ‘David Allen’ your real name or a pen name?”
After a couple of seconds of gaping at him, I replied, “Because ‘David Allen’ is such a glamorous and exciting name, it can’t possibly be real?”
“It’s a yes or no question,” he said defensively. (It’s not, though, is it?)
For the record, it’s my real name. I’d like to think that if I wanted a pen name, I could come up with something a little more exotic.
On Thursday I spoke to the Rancho Cucamonga Kiwanis Club and received a gift in a be-ribboned box, which I opened that evening at home. Expecting a coffee mug, the typical takeaway from these gigs, I was instead surprised with….punctuation. This statuette is now in an honored position on my desk — at least until Crosby Stills Nash Young tell me it’s theirs and ask for it back.
Sunday’s column starts with news of Oct. 3’s inaugural “Pomona Reads!” book festival, with events for young and old, and well-known authors in attendance. I’ll be there too with “Pomona A to Z.” Come check it out. Also in my column: an event at Mitla Cafe involves writer Gustavo (“Ask a Mexican”) Arellano; scary movies are creeping into the Ontario library; and a farewell to my optometrist, Joe Trezza.
Friday’s column starts off with two reader anecdotes about their Vince’s Spaghetti obsession. After that: cultural notes and people news from around the valley.
Mitla Cafe, 602 N. Mount Vernon Ave. (at 6th), San Bernardino
I’d never heard of the Mitla Cafe until Gustavo Arellano dined there with the New York Times in 2012 to talk about his book “Taco USA,” but it seemed very similar to the place to which I subsequently introduced Arellano, Ramon’s Cactus Patch in Ontario. Both were family operations launched in 1937, serving Cal-Mex food, although Mitla has the distinction that its cooks taught Glen Bell how to make hardshell tacos, a skill he eventually parlayed into Taco Bell.
Mitla also has the distinction of remaining in business; Ramon’s closed in 2013, shortly before its founder, Ramon Sanchez, died. Descendants of founders Vicente and Lucia Montano still operate Mitla, which is now the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire, and among the oldest in Southern California.
Rarely do I head east, but in July I had to go to Redlands, and on my way back I eschewed eateries in that burg to go to Mitla. It’s pretty much equidistant from the 210 and 10 freeways, but only blocks from the 215, in the West Side barrio.
Mitla occupies what appears to be its original building and once inside, past the glass bricks in the entry, you’ll take in the front room with its counter, swivel seats and vintage Mitla calendars, and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
That first visit, I ate in the dining room and got the No. 6 dinner ($8.75), with a taco, enchilada and chile relleno, a kind of sampler platter. “Have you ever been here before? Everything on the menu is simply delicious,” the server said. “But, the one everybody likes is the No. 6.”
The enchilada and chile relleno were covered in a meat sauce that was reminiscent of Ramon’s, a good sign. Those two items were good, but for me the taco was the standout, and I wished I had more. It was very similar to Ramon’s: fried with a ground beef patty, plus shreds of lettuce, diced tomatoes and yellow cheese.
“Now you’re part of the family,” the server declared. How could I not like this place? (And I had not introduced myself. He was just being friendly to a stranger.)
On Tuesday I had to be in San Bernardino for work reasons and took that as an opportunity to go back to Mitla — and order more tacos. This time I sat at the counter and got the three-taco combination, ground rather than shredded beef ($7.25), and got to marvel at them anew.
To be clear, there is nothing cutting edge about this food, and the menu even has a section I believe was called “American Tastes,” with hamburgers and hot dogs. Mitla is almost a classic coffee shop, only a Mexican-American version, where you can get fries with your huevos rancheros. My point is, you could have superior tacos and burritos at many other places, possibly even at the two Mexican restaurants on other corners of the same intersection.
But as an admirer of Ramon’s and all it stood for, Mitla Cafe fills that void for me, and might for you as well: food, ambience, family, tradition, history.
Heck, there are even two cactus gardens outside.
(Incidentally, it would be possible to take Metrolink to Mitla, as the San Bernardino station is visible from the restaurant. It’s probably a half-mile walk. After a meal, though, I’m not sure you could find anything else to do.)
Wednesday’s column presents an update on the train museum at Pomona’s Fairplex. Two years after giving up its centerpiece, the 1941 Big Boy locomotive, how is the museum doing? Fine, as it turns out. It’s got other rare trains, and a modern diesel locomotive that actually runs.
I’d had three or four meals at Jeni Wren’s, a new cafe in what had been the Inka Trails location in Claremont on Foothill Boulevard just east of Towne Avenue, and was stockpiling photos and notes for a Restaurant of the Week. It was a cute place, the food was good and the owner was nice.
My last meal there was Aug. 21, a breakfast pictured above. Isn’t that lovely?
The next time I pulled in was Sept. 2. The restaurant was closed, the exterior was bare and in the back, a faux shutter from the front (pictured up top) was propped up by the trash. Noooo! A few days later, Yelp, where the cafe had a 4.5-star rating, was reporting the restaurant had closed. It had only opened in February.
A new cafe opened up the next day (there was no exterior sign, so I don’t know the name), also serving breakfast and lunch. It may be perfectly good or even better, who knows, but I’m sorry Jeni Wren’s is gone. It was becoming my new favorite restaurant before it was nipped in the bud.
In its honor, here’s a link to Paul McCartney’s 2006 song “Jenny Wren,” which came to mind every time I thought of the restaurant.
Sunday’s column focuses on Rabiaa Albaghdadi, the namesake of Rabi’s Cafe in Upland. She’s about to become a U.S. citizen. I share her story of emigrating from Syria 18 years ago and we talk about the refugee crisis.