Restaurant of the Week: Tacos Baja Ensenada

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Tacos Baja Ensenada, 853 E. Route 66 (at Elwood), Glendora

Probably the most highly regarded fish tacos in L.A., Tacos Baja has locations in East L.A. and Whittier. But, improbably, there’s also one in Glendora.

I knew it was there but had never seen it. When I tracked it down, it turns out I’ve driven past it for years, noticed only the “Tacos” sign on what seems to be an old Streamline Moderne building and didn’t realize it was Tacos Baja Ensenada. I was happy to find it. Parking is a challenge; there’s a lot behind, but it’s small.

Tacos Baja is known for 99-cent fish tacos on Wednesdays. I went on a Sunday, guessing the location would be less busy. It was my lucky day, because on a temporary basis, they’d lowered the Sunday price to 99 cents.

The decor is much like a Rubio’s, only smaller. I ordered two fish tacos and a shrimp taco ($2.09) at the counter, plus a Jamaica drink. Essentially all they have is fish and shrimp tacos and burritos, plus ceviche, shrimp cocktails and fish soups.

I haven’t been to the other locations and thus can’t compare them, but these tacos were really good, as expected, with cabbage, cream and onions and crunchy fish or shrimp. A refrigerated case holds bottled sodas, including Mexican Cokes, which I didn’t see until after I’d ordered. Next time. Families were enjoying lunch and an American football game on the TV. I’m sure I’ll return.

It doesn’t hurt at all that Donut Man is a block away. I stopped there for dessert before heading home.

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Sayonara, Tokyo Tokyo

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Tokyo Tokyo, 990 Ontario Mills Circle, has changed hands and is now ShinBashi, as tipster Bob Terry alerted me. If the faded condition of the sign is any indication, the restaurant was not being kept up.

But 15 years ago, Tokyo Tokyo was a big deal. In the Ontario area, it was a happening spot, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. Newsroom colleagues and I had many lunches and dinners there in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Come to think of it, Tokyo Tokyo may have been the first place I ever had sushi.

The interior seemed glitzy in those days, almost like a nightclub: patio dining, Japanese paper screens, a couple of private rooms with sunken seating. A signature feature was koi swimming under glass tiles in the floor leading from the entryway back to the sushi bar. This must have tripped up hundreds or thousands of others as it did me, the first time or two. You had the sense you were stepping into water.

The food may only have impressed those of us who didn’t know much about Japanese food, which at that point was practically everyone who lived here. But it seemed good.

I don’t know when or how Tokyo Tokyo lost its mojo, or why. In one period, the health department grade was a C, a shocker for a business-lunch spot. Quite likely, tastes for Japanese food became more sophisticated, and Tokyo Tokyo would have gradually been lost in the shuffle as more restaurants opened around Ontario Mills. The increasingly faded sign seemed to show the bloom was off the rose.

“The whole place is worn out,” one Yelp commenter wrote in July, saying the restaurant had never been remodeled.

In August, another wrote: “WTF happened to this place?!?!? So sad! We haven’t been here in years and we were regulars before. On a Friday night back in the days this place was packed and now not one person at the sushi bar. The fish in the glass at the bar was old and we were scared to order anything not cooked, the sushi chefs were helping from another sushi place and didn’t even know the menu, the food was awful, the waitress tried to be friendly but it just wasn’t enough, the lights at the sushi bar were turned off and it was dark and depressing. This place used to be the spot and now it’s a run down has been. It still has potential and a great location they just need the right owner to fix it up again. So disappointed.”

So, inevitably for rundown has-beens, Tokyo Tokyo is gone. Welcome to ShinBashi. “Koi still there, for now,” Terry reports. Good luck to the koi and to the new owners.

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Column: In dish vote, the doughnut ran away with the poll

Somehow, Glendora’s Donut Man beat out such L.A. heavyweights as Philippe’s, Langer’s, California Pizza Kitchen and even In-N-Out in an online poll to determine L.A.’s iconic food, sponsored by KCET. I chat with a surprised but pleased Jim Nakano, the Donut Man himself, in Friday’s column.

See the whimsical voting brackets here, and if you’ve got 26 minutes, you can watch Huell Howser’s visit to the Donut Man (and for 56 minutes, his Philippe’s segment) here.

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Strawberry donuts beat french dip sandwiches

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In KCET’s charming sports-bracket-type poll to choose LA’s Iconic Dish, Glendora’s Donut Man bested all comers, from Kogi’s short rib tacos and Langer’s pastrami to CPK’s barbecue chicken pizza and, in the final pairing, Philippe’s french dip. How about that!

Their last day of cutting strawberries will be Saturday, they say on their Facebook page. I stopped by last Sunday after lunch nearby and got one, pictured above, without even knowing they’d won the contest.

Watch a 45-second video here of two workers making them, shot through the window as I stood in line. I love how the guy stuffs one extra strawberry into the donut.

Maybe Philippe’s would have won if they’d put just one extra piece of roast beef into their roll…

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But when in the week?

My Restaurant of the Week feature was traditionally found here on Fridays, probably because some weeks it took me until Thursday night to find time to produce it. Recently, though, I moved the feature to Thursdays.

My logic was that posting it Friday around lunchtime, and sometimes forgetting to post the link to Facebook until mid-afternoon, was perhaps not the most useful approach. Also, I already gave you a column to read that morning, and maybe a blog post at mid-day was too much of a good thing.

So, Thursday. Seems like a good day to me: If I post it in the morning, you have Thursday and Friday to get there if you’re a weekday diner, or you have some lead time if you want to plan a weekend visit. (Many of you read them purely as armchair diners, and that’s fine too.)

I don’t know that I’ve asked this before, so let me put it out there: I’m curious how you use these Restaurant of the Week features, if you use them that is, and if Thursday works for you or if you’d prefer a different day. Any other feedback is welcome too, as are questions.

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Thai royalty lived like princes in La Verne

elvis_presley_the_king_and_queen_of_thailand3Above, Elvis Presley meets the queen and king of Thailand in 1960 during the filming of “G.I. Blues.”

The king and queen of Thailand visited the United States in 1960, a vacation that began with a week seeing the sights in Southern California before turning into an official state visit. They flew into Ontario International Airport and stayed, believe it or not, at a private residence in La Verne, with much of their retinue lodging at the Uplander motel in Upland. The story is in my Wednesday column.

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Claremont hosts first Restaurant Week

City of Eats? July 9 to 16, Tuesday to Tuesday, is the first “Claremont Restaurant Week,” in which 20 participating restaurants will offer two-course lunch and three-course prix fixe dinner menus. The city’s goal, says the Chamber of Commerce, is “to showcase its many pubs, grills, sandwich shops, bakeries and fine dining restaurants.”

The menus will run $10 to $40, depending on the restaurant, and all will have their regular menus too. Participants: Aruffo’s (Italian), Casa de Salsa (Mexican), Casa Moreno (Mexican), The Lounge at Hotel Casa 425 (small plates), Eddie’s New York Pizzeria (Italian), Espiau’s (American and Mexican), Euro Café (Portuguese), Kazama Sushi (Japanese), La Parolaccia Osteria Italiana (Italian), The Last Drop Café (special lunch menu), Loving Hut Claremont (vegan), The Orchard at the DoubleTree by Hilton Claremont (California fusion), Packing House Wine Merchants (American bistro), Pita Pit Claremont (Greek), Pizza ‘N Such (Italian), The Press Restaurant (American), Saca’s Mediterranean CuisineTutti Mangia Italian Grill (Italian), Walters (Mediterranean, American) and Z Pizza (Italian).

For more information, including menus, see www.ClaremontRestaurant.com.

There are some prominent opt-outs (Some Crust, Back Abbey, Union on Yale, Eureka, to name a few), but the list does include some good places.

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