Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria La Oaxaquena

Taqueria La Oaxaquena, 825 E. Mission Blvd. (at Towne), Pomona; open daily, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. except Friday and Saturday until 4 a.m.

I’ve noticed Taqueria La Oaxaquena from across Mission Boulevard at Taqueria Guadalupana, one of my haunts, always meaning to give it a shot. On a lunch break a few weeks ago, I did so.

It’s a large space occupying two storefronts, with a bare floor and few frills. You order at the counter and sit at one of the basic fast-food-style booths lined up in rows. A mural of a Mexican village scene, probably meant to represent the pilgrimage town of San Juan (the exterior sign is Taqueria La Oaxaquena de San Juan), decorates one wall and spills over onto the next.

The menu is confusing and incomplete — a few pictured items on a couple of banners and some signs noting specials — and the staff is more comfortable in Spanish. They sell tacos, quesadillas and mulitas with the standard fillings, and some uncommon ones, plus breakfast, some seafood items, aguas naturales (bionicos, licuados and smoothies) and ice cream. Based on the exterior signs, their specialties include birria, barbacoa and mole con pollo.

My first visit I had one of the specials, four tacos ($5) al pastor, plus a Coke. They arrived with double tortillas, handmade and crisped on the grill, with a generous amount of barbecued pork. They were quite good, and there was a bar of salsas, limes, etc. to choose from.

I took a flier that listed a few of their items, plus the fillings. Three are vegetarian: huitlacoche or corn fungus, champinones or mushrooms and flor calabeza or squash blossoms. On a return visit, I had a huitlacoche quesadilla ($6.50, I think), which took me back to my vacation to Mexico City. It’s a rare item in these parts. It had mushrooms, corn fungus, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

I also got an aguas fresca ($2.50, I think), serving myself with a ladle from one of the five jugs. Mine was strawberry, and I liked it.

The clientele on my visits was very Mexican-American and working class. I can’t tell you whether the food is from the state of Oaxaca or the state of Jalisco — anyone able to explain this to me? — but I can tell you this is among Pomona’s better Mexican restaurants. For the adventurous, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos Jalisco

Mariscos Jalisco, 753 E. Holt Ave. (at San Antonio), Pomona; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Wednesday

The arrival of Mariscos Jalisco in Pomona in mid-March was excellent news for foodies, as well as for anyone who appreciates cheap eats and Mexican-style seafood. The restaurant, the celebrated Boyle Heights’ food truck’s first brick and mortar spot, was written up in my column, which included an interview with founder Raul Ortega.

But as it would seem like an oversight not to make Mariscos Jalisco a Restaurant of the Week for my blog, listed alongside other Pomona eating places, here it is.

There’s a limited menu, all seafood-based. Don’t go in thinking you can order a chicken burrito. As there are only 10 items, I had some thought of trying all 10 before writing something. I didn’t get quite that far, as you’ll see.

The shrimp taco is the must-have item. You order them individually, and so on some visits I’ve had one, plus a second item, like the campechana, a seafood cocktail with shrimp, octopus, oysters, fish, onions, tomatoes, avocado (virtually every item here uses avocado), and eaten with a spoon or on a tostada, or the coctel, pictured second, which is the above but without oysters. I enjoyed both.

I’ve had both ceviches, seafood, below, and shrimp, which I can’t find my photo of.

Above is the mixta, a ceviche with shrimp, fish and octopus. All the ceviches are chilled and refreshing.

Finally, I ordered the Poseidon, basically the mixta but with aguachile. It’s spicy! I was crying and blowing my nose and using up a dozen napkins in the process.

So I can’t see myself ordering the aguachile on its own, foiling my thoughts of trying all 10 items.

Or can we pretend I had the aguachile, since here it was atop the Poseidon? Hmm.

The other two untried items are possibilities: peinados, which looks from the photo like a seafood assortment, and a botana, the menu’s priciest item at $19, and meant for two people. I’m not sure what it is from the photo. A friend owes me a meal there after I had to pay for hers when she didn’t have cash (the restaurant has since begun taking cards), so I could always try persuading her to get the botana.

Or I can just continue happily eating a taco or two a week, with the occasional ceviche or cocktail to mix things up.

Business has been good, but not explosive; I haven’t encountered a line longer than four people, although I haven’t tried going during a traditional lunch hour. So don’t be deterred, but also bear in mind the early closing time. Below is the small dining room shortly after my column was published. It was nice to see the place full, whether or not I had helped.

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Restaurant of the Week: Alex’s Tacos

Alex’s Tacos, 941 E. Mission Blvd. (at San Antonio), Pomona; open daily 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In Pomona, Mission and Holt are prime taqueria corridors. On Holt, I like Tijuana’s Tacos; on Mission, Taqueria Guadalupana is a winner. But there are others. Lured by reviews on Yelp, I’ve been trying Alex’s Tacos, in a small, battered building a couple of blocks east of Towne Avenue.

Entrance is through the back, from a parking lot that has been full the couple of times I’ve tried it. Might be better to park on the street or a block over on Caswell. There’s a popular boba shop in the building next door, by the way.

Alex’s has a half-dozen booths, often full, and a counter where you can sit to eat or await a takeout order. The menu is tacos, burritos and quesadillas, with a variety of meats, including one I hadn’t seen on a menu before, sessos. I googled it. Let’s say zombies would go right for it. But there’s pork, chicken and beef as well as tongue, stomach and more.

They specialize in birria, the stew that you can get as either beef or goat, and that you can get in taco form. My first visit I got three birria tacos: two goat, one beef ($1.85 each). They came double-wrapped in flaky tortillas, with red and green salsas on the side. The meat was tender, and while my nod would go to the beef, my mind might change by next time.

My next visit, I got an al pastor burrito with everything ($6.10), delicious, the pork nice and crisp.

Realizing they had hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados), I ordered three al pastor tacos on my most recent visit ($1.85 each). The outer tortilla came crisped lightly, but still flexible; the inner tortilla was warm. I prefer soft shell, but these were good.

Alex’s also has menudo on weekends and based on Yelp reviews has a consomme for $1 that people seem to like.

Service is brisk but polite and you’ll probably have to wait a bit for your food due to demand. Be patient, it’s worth it.

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Restaurant of the Week: McKinley’s Grille

McKinley’s Grille, 601 W. McKinley Drive (at White), Pomona; open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

McKinley’s is the restaurant in the Sheraton Fairplex hotel at the Pomona fairgrounds. I’d been there a couple of times for fair-related lunches, and a few times more for service club lunches. Once I met Jon Provost and his wife for an interview over iced teas. But it had not occurred to me to go there for a Restaurant of the Week.

That is, until reader Ken Haerr contacted me to rave about the place. “If you haven’t already reviewed McKinley’s Grille at the Fairplex Sheraton, you must. There is a 5-acre farm to table plot at the LA County Fairgrounds that is dedicated to this restaurant,” Haerr wrote. “There is no reason that this restaurant should not be packed during off-event hotel times. My wife and I ate here tonight in an empty restaurant and the food was utterly spectacular.”

After Haerr’s email I was looking for an excuse to try out McKinley’s when a colleague’s farewell dinner was scheduled there. Bingo.

McKinley’s has a long main dining room with a bar, plus a private room, which is where our dinner was. The decor is all earth tones, comfortable but a little dull. But it’s swankier than a hotel coffee shop, that’s for sure.

The dinner menu has starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees, the latter ranging from $12 to $32. I opted against circling the table to photograph everyone’s food, especially since most people got sandwiches.

But the friend to my right had the Szechuan stir-fry ($12) with chicken ($6). She said the vegetables were fresh and likely from Fairplex’s farm and that the sauce had a pleasant kick to it. She took home half.

Meanwhile, yours truly splurged on the seared rare yellowfin tuna ($28), crusted with yuzu miso and served atop wild rice pilaf with wasabi cream and farm vegetables. This was a winner, light and delicious.

Our dearly departed was given a free dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with berries. I don’t know if it’s on the menu as such, but it was enjoyed by the table. I didn’t poll the table, as I would at a lunch or dinner that was primarily about the food rather than a farewell, but everyone seemed to like what they ordered.

The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch (the $16 burgers are made with ground brisket and short rib), with a mid-afternoon break in service, and has a wine list.

McKinley’s exists primarily for hotel guests and to provide catering for community group events on the premises, and thus perhaps doesn’t live or die by attracting regular folks in for meals. But I can see why the reader was excited about it, because the food is superior, the atmosphere serene and, at least on that Thursday, there was plenty of elbow room.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cross Court Cafe

Cross Court Cafe, 3410 Pomona Blvd. (at Temple), Pomona; open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Pomona is home to many wonders, among them the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club, which contains the Cross Court Cafe, a rare spot for Indonesian food. I wouldn’t have known any of this if LA Weekly, of all places, hadn’t written a restaurant review about it that was forwarded to me by a reader.

Looking for a place to meet a Chino Hills friend (everyone should have a Chino Hills friend), I picked the cafe near Cal Poly Pomona. Once through the doors, non-members have to be buzzed in — just say “restaurant” or “cafe” — and the cafe is down the hall. It’s an unprepossessing place, a few tables embossed with the club log, a paper menu taped to the wall and an order window. The couple who runs the cafe will probably be found seated in the dining area but will scurry to assist you.

Indonesian fried rice is the item to get ($7.50), a melange of sausage, pork and fried egg in a crispy rice with bits of garlic, shrimp paste and fish sauce. This was hearty and very tasty. We also had stir fry noodle ($6), not bad, and steamed egg custard buns ($3), a dessert we liked. I had a taro smoothie ($4) and she had a passion fruit green tea ($2.25).

Three weeks later, I had to be at Cal Poly for an interview about its mariachi ensembles and used that as an excuse to go back to Cross Court Cafe. This time I had pad see ew ($8), or maybe an Indonesian dish similar to pad see ew — it wasn’t clear and it wasn’t on the menu. That was good too, and I got a milk tea with boba ($2.75). But if I return, it will be for the Indonesian fried rice.

The cafe seems to be open much of the day and into the evening, except for a break in the afternoon. I was there past closing without realizing it and the cafe owner let me out.

It’s possible, I think, to rent a court as a non-member, but we didn’t try. It was fun to watch people play for a few moments who know what they’re doing.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Buen Gusto

El Buen Gusto, 360 N. Park Ave. (at Center), Pomona; open daily, 10:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.; cash only; second location at 990 E. Holt (at Reservoir)

Reader Helen Uceda recommended El Buen Gusto to me possibly three years ago (ulp), seconded by a friend of mine, and the restaurant was dutifully added to my list of places to try around the region. Time passed, as it does, until recently I scanned the list and I made a point of finding the restaurant, which I didn’t believe I had ever noticed despite it being on the fringes of downtown Pomona.

But there it was when I looked for it, in a nondescript building alongside a barber and a botanica with its own tarot reader. I parked around the corner and stepped inside for a late lunch.

Even after 3 p.m., there were a few customers inside the modest restaurant. You order in the lobby at the window, where they also dispense takeout orders. I asked the employee, who might have been an owner, what people ordered, and she listed a few items — pupusas, fajitas and beef soup are the ones I recall — while saying the pork, cheese and bean pupusas were the most popular.

I got two of those — they’re known as revueltas — and a guanabana agua fresca. She said I could pay upon leaving.

There are two small adjoining dining rooms, probably evidence the restaurant has expanded into the next door space. An El Salvador flag is displayed in one window. A Spanish-language program played silently on a TV. After a while my food was delivered: a plate of two thick, pancake-like pupusas, plus a bowl of a vinegary slaw to use as topping.

I’ve had pupusas a handful of times. These might be my favorite, stuffed, delicious and filling. The guanabana drink was sweet but light, a good combination.

The bill: $8. That’s hard to beat.

El Buen Gusto may not be much to look at, but the food is good and the staff polite. I should have tried them three years ago.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pomona Valley Mining Company

Pomona Valley Mining Co., 1777 Gillette Road (at Dudley), Pomona; 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

Perched atop a hillside above the 10 Freeway, Pomona Valley Mining Co. is a destination restaurant with a theme. At the bottom of the hill, a sign on a weathered-looking shack points you in the right direction.

That requires a heart-stopping drive up the hill, one that it might be possible to get used to, but which freaks me out the handful of times I’ve done it. (Too bad I don’t still have that F-150.) Once up there, though, you’re rewarded with views of Pomona, the freeway and Elephant Hill. A seat near the bank of windows is a must.

The exterior is meant to resemble a Gold Rush-era wooden building, and wagons, lanterns and other such items decorate the drive up, the parking lot and the interior. The dining room is down a flight of stairs.

I was there for dinner recently with bloggers Dining in Pomona (and wife Mrs. C) and New Diner 2. It was a blogging summit meeting. As with most summit meetings, progress was incremental and deals were elusive. The only photo ops were of food.

I had had dinner at the Mining Co. precisely once and remember only that my cheapskate friends were irate that they were charged for soda refills, which I believe were taken off the bill. At noontime it’s a rental facility and I’ve been to a couple of service club lunches there.

The menu is largely steaks, prime rib and seafood. Two of our party got the shrimp and scallops ($26), one got the ribeye ($32) and I got the Miner’s Filly filet mignon ($34). Salad and soup bar is free with a meal or $18 on its own; you get a chilled plate that resembles a mining pan, except you’re panning for veggies, not gold. I had a little of the albondigas soup, which had (ugh) peas.

Cheese bread was delivered gratis (and au gratin). What’s not to like?

The seafood crowd was perplexed that their shrimp and scallops came in a cream sauce rather than a garlic sauce. (The menu says they’re “sauteed with garlic butter,” after all.)

The ribeye eater was put out by its preparation; it should be cooked “hot and fast,” leaving a char on the outside, she said. Also, her lemonade ($3.50) was never refilled. But then, maybe they don’t do free refills? Still, they should ask if she wanted another. She said that’s typically the way women are treated when outnumbered by men at a table, but noted ominously, “I have just as much influence on the tip.”

I may have been the only satisfied customer, enjoying my splurge steak with herb butter and mushrooms. Overall, though, the salad and soup were unexciting, the service average to indifferent and the mining theme a little dated. Here are the takes of Dining in Pomona and New Diner 2.

So, as a holdover from the era of theme restaurants — it appears to have opened circa 1977 — Pomona Valley Mining Co. is an interesting curio. The food’s okay. But if you go, it will probably be more for the views.

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Restaurant of the Week: Big D’s Burgers

Big D’s Burgers, 135 E. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For a brief spell the three main restaurants in a two-block stretch of 2nd Street were hamburger parlors, which was kind of a drag. Big D’s, which has a location in Whittier, was the latest, joining Burger House and the Rookery. But Burger House has closed, leaving a more manageable two burger specialists.

I hadn’t been to Big D’s due to the overkill factor, and because I like the Rookery, but with the path clearer, two friends and I gave it a shot recently at lunchtime.

It’s the first business on the east side of Garey and in recent years has cycled through a crab restaurant, a sushi restaurant and two pizza restaurants. As before, it’s got exposed brick walls, a high ceiling and a deep layout, with patio seating at the sidewalk.

In recent years it’s been a party spot rather than a serious restaurant, catering to the club and concert crowd, and nothing wrong with that. I’m always up for a good burger.

I got the shroom burger ($11) with Swiss and fries ($2), someone else got the patty melt ($11), which comes on parmesan sourdough, and the third got a chicken caesar salad ($9). None of us were blown away, but our food was fine, and the server was nice. My expectations were low, and they were exceeded.

Besides 10 burgers, the menu has four salads, fish and chips, a couple of sandwiches and a hot dog. Oh, and unless my eyes deceived me, you can get a $12 milkshake. Has anyone had one? At that price, I hope it’s sharing size.

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Restaurant of the Week: Los Jarritos

Los Jarritos, 3191 N. Garey Ave. (at Foothill), Pomona; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. except Sundays, until 2 p.m.

For years this restaurant was known as Los Jarritos II, because the original Los Jarritos was on Towne Avenue near downtown. But that one closed a year or so ago, it seems, turning the more-popular II into simply Los Jarritos. Probably as it should be. I never went to LJ I but have been to II several times over the years. It’s in the Grove Center south of Foothill Boulevard.

It’s a well-liked spot, busy with takeout orders and with full service in the two dining rooms, where tables are neatly arranged in rows on the tiled floors, lots of natural light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. They sell menudo on weekends, filling pots that people bring in from home. Los Jarritos isn’t fancy, but on the other hand it’s in better shape than a lot of restaurants in aging shopping centers.

I was there for lunch this week with John Clifford, a frequent commenter on this blog, who has been blogging at Eating Garey for the past year as he hits every food establishment on that thoroughfare. His wife, Deborah, tagged along. He blogged about our lunch the next day, a post that can be read here.

Los Jarritos has a short menu, consisting mostly of burritos, although they’ll make you tacos, enchiladas or breakfast (where burritos again seem to be the main event). Asada, shredded beef, chorizo and machaca are the main fillings. I went with chicken, Deb got asada and John got a chile relleno and enchilada plate. (I’m not sure of the prices as Deb grabbed the check while I was interviewing John for an upcoming column, bless her heart, but the burritos were around $7 each and the total came to $35 with drinks.)

John found his rice pleasantly garlicky, his beans creamy and his entree very good, other than his chicken enchilada being on the dry side. Deb liked her burrito and side of beans. John and I were unexcited by the liquid salsa, although Deb was all praise. My burrito was a little dry, as chicken tends to be. I recall liking earlier meals more, probably asada and shredded beef burritos, if memory serves. It had been five or six years since my last visit.

Service was acceptable, and it was interesting to see the ebb and flow in the two hours we spent eating and blabbing: Plenty busy upon our 1 p.m. arrival, nearly empty by 2 and, around 2:30, half full again as a new wave of customers drifted in.

Los Jarritos, now the one and only, is hanging in there as a solid neighborhood choice in north Pomona.

Update: A couple of you in the comments urged me to get a chile verde burrito, enchilada style with green sauce. So I went back and did so (see below). It’s not on the menu, but chile verde is, and they didn’t bat an eye. It was really good, and I recommend it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria El Sol

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Taqueria El Sol, 2129 N. Towne Ave. (at La Verne), Pomona; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

I’ve passed Taqueria El Sol for years; it’s on Towne Avenue a couple of blocks north of the 10 Freeway, and I had wondered if it was any good without ever stopping to investigate. But then someone recommended it, and when a Pomona pal wanted lunch, I chose it.

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It’s small, and fast-food style, but homey; the owner came to our table (we were waiting for a third person who never showed) to chat, and I asked if they had specialties. They do: al pastor, which is marinated pork, and pork leg.

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So my friend got al pastor tacos ($8 as a plate) and I got a pork leg torta ($7). We were both satisfied. “That was really good!” my friend exclaimed. “I would come back here.” Me too. I liked my sandwich and the vibe of the place, and it’s even freeway-close.

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The salsa is too potent for me, but the presentation was nice, with paddles no less, and a side of radishes and limes. The menu is simple, with $6.25 breakfasts and $7.79 plates. It’s family run, open since 2003 and with Guadalajara-style food. To answer my original mused question, yes, it is good.

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