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: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

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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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Restaurant of the Week: Mi Cafecito

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Mi Cafecito, 101 S. Main St. (at First), Pomona; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

A coffeehouse with a Latin twist, Mi Cafecito is the first independent coffee shop in downtown Pomona in some years. It’s in the former VFW building, renovated and carved into storefronts and offices, by the railroad tracks.

I met a Pomona friend there on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. It’s a small place on the corner, with floor to ceiling windows on both sides, letting in lots of light, and the interior is cheery.

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The menu has espresso and coffee drinks, most available hot, iced or frozen, all 16 ounces, with such flavors as cajeta, caramelo and hazelnut, plus brewed coffee and pour-overs. They also sell some bakery items, including flan, cookies, dessert empanadas and cakes, made by a bakery owned by the owner’s father.

My friend had a frozen coconut latte with almond milk ($6) and I got an iced horchata latte ($5.45). We took one of the small tables and on this warm afternoon caught up over our cold drinks.

She called hers “yummy,” said she’d be back (she has) and hoped Mi Cafecito would succeed despite its corner location a block above Second Street.

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Since then it’s become a near-weekly stop for me. I’ve ordered something different each time. I’ve had two iced lattes — tres leches (made with three milks: regular, condensed and evaporated) and coconut — and four frozen lattes: mocha Mexicano, churro (!), masapan and vanilla. The latter three are my favorites. Tres leches, pictured above, was a little sweet for my taste, but that’s personal. I tried an apple empanada ($1.50), which I liked, on the same visit. The churro latte is below.

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The staff I’ve dealt with are exceptionally nice and remember my name, and on my fourth visit even recalled the three previous drinks I’d ordered. On one visit they had cafe de olla, which they don’t always make, and gave me a small cup. (They have no idea I have a blog or anything; they just recognized me as a regular and gave some away near closing time.) That was actually among my favorite drinks too, and I’m not a hot coffee person.

Mi Cafecito seems to have caught on. It’s got a five-star rating on Yelp, and on my visits, a heartening range of customers walk in, from chipsters to middle-aged couples to families with small children or grandchildren. Hours have increased, another good sign: They recently added an extra hour in the evenings and two hours more on weekend mornings, although they’re still closed Mondays.

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A bookish friend doesn’t like the stark, modernist seating, all stools with high-top tables, and it’s true too that the tables are so small it’s hard to get more than two drinks (if you’re with someone) or a drink and a laptop on them; on one visit I put my dessert plate on a nearby chair.

But they’re trying to make good use of a small-ish space, and they are. Warm regards to them. Also, you can watch trains go by, which is kind of cool.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lily’s Tacos, Pomona

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Lily’s Tacos, 919 N. Garey Ave. (at Kingsley), Pomona

When last we left Lily’s Tacos, operating from a former Orange Julius stand since 1992, the shopping center it was in was being renovated and the stand, then on the edge of a construction zone, was due to be demolished.

Lily’s moved earlier this year to an indoor location below the 10 Freeway. There’s also a second location, in the La Verne Village center, at 2855 Foothill Blvd. The La Verne restaurant appears almost genteel. Even the Pomona restaurant is a big step up from the picnic-style seating of the original.

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It’s in a brown, stuccoed building next to Flower Lane Florists, with parking in back or on the street. You order at the counter from the limited menu of tacos, burritos and combination plates. I got an al pastor burrito (about $5.50).

The burrito was pretty good, and I think Lily’s place as one of the better taquerias in Pomona has survived the move, even if the ambience of the previous incarnation is missed. The plate still comes with a scattering of tortilla chips with a smear of beans and salsa, just like the old days.

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Perhaps the spirit of the old surroundings lives on in the slightly makeshift quality to this Lily’s. I asked for utensils and was directed to a cheap, three-drawer plastic dispenser on the counter, from which I withdrew an aluminum fork and a plastic knife, one of them from a drawer that wouldn’t open all the way. It was a little comical given the relatively upscale interior. And the restaurant still doesn’t appear to have an online presence.

The building occupies a corner and is angled toward the intersection. Through the expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows, the sidewalk is just steps away. Cyclists rode past. Pedestrians walked dogs or pushed shopping carts. Cars whizzed by. The windows were a screen on which the passing parade played. Needless to say, a window seat is recommended. As is the al pastor.

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Restaurant of the Week: Day Day’s BBQ and Waffle House

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Day Day’s BBQ and Waffle House, 994 E. Holt Ave. (at Reservoir), Pomona; closed Mondays

In my world Day Day’s for years was more rumor than fact. It was originally known as Day Day and Duke’s and had limited hours, but despite having a rough idea where it was, I never saw a sign in my occasional drives on Holt and was never entirely sure where it might be. I don’t know if it’s been in continuous operation or not, but the name (despite what the old sign says) is now Day Day’s, and its Duke-less incarnation seems to be more of a going concern, open six days a week and with the recent addition of dinner hours, until 8 p.m.

I still couldn’t find the place without looking it up on Google and noting the address, and without that I might never have found its unassuming storefront and small sign, especially after dark. Next door to the east is East End Liquor (despite the corner being Reservoir, not East End); next door to the west is an auto repair shop that was once the bar where the Mothers of Invention formed. So it’s a neighborhood with character.

Entering requires opening a screen door, a nice touch for a soul food restaurant, and inside it’s a small diner, with six booths and a short counter, everything in shades of brown. A friend and I met there for dinner recently, curious how the chicken and waffles would stack up against Ontario’s Maple House.

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Confronted with the extensive menu, though, we each opted for other things. I got the Aunt Toe’s pork chops, smothered, with greens and mac ‘n cheese ($15), and he got the Big Pimp omelet with shrimp, chicken, jack and cheddar cheese, and mushrooms, plus a chicken wing a la carte ($14 total). Breakfast is served all day.

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The omelet was inexpert, perhaps, but enjoyed despite its lumpiness, and the wing was praised. The pork chops themselves were the weakest part of my plate, with the gravy, rice and two sides the standouts. My friend had a Kool-Aid and, offered a refill, later wished he’d been told he’d be charged a second time. But overall, he liked the experience.

So did I. The place had a friendly, relaxed vibe. A TV in the corner provided the entertainment, “Wheel of Fortune” and a sitcom with a laugh track, rather than music.

There’s barbecue on the menu, but only on weekends. I went back that Sunday about 1 p.m. for lunch, hoping for ribs or brisket. The dining room was busy, but I got a seat and watched as several other tables turned over. Alas, barbecue, which seemed to be prepared at the owner’s whim, would only be available after 2 p.m. So I scanned the menu and got chicken and waffles: the Teasha combo ($12), with two wings, one waffle, an egg and grits.

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This was excellent: a fluffy waffle and prime fried chicken.

It came with three pieces, not two, which made up for the fact that other tables within earshot were told they had all-you-can-eat that day, and my server didn’t mention it. And also for the fact that my waffle arrived five minutes after everything else. Day Day’s is a little haphazard, perhaps, but the food and atmosphere more than compensate.

I even liked the grits, a dish I’d had once, in childhood, and didn’t really care for but thought I ought to try again. Since then I’ve had grits at Maple House, and Day Day’s were better; the chicken and waffle battle ended in a draw.

As the dining room slowly cleared out, and nobody needed my booth, I settled back to enjoy my Sunday newspaper in peace.

I would definitely return. If I ever get the barbecue, I’ll update this post. Or maybe I’ll let the barbecue remain as mysterious as the fate of Duke.

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Update August 2016: So I did go back for barbecue. Just as I was ordering pork ribs, the fellow taking my order, who happened to be the owner, said for $2 more I could get the Big Dave ($17), with ribs, chicken, sliced beef and hot links, plus two sides. So I did that. (Mac and cheese and cornbread were my sides.) The ribs weren’t the best, but the rest was pretty good. That said, I like the breakfasts here more, and you can get them all day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Onishicho

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Onishicho, 504 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Sumner), Pomona

I remember Onishicho when it was Classic 66 Burgers, where I ate a downscale Sunday afternoon lunch a decade ago and from my booth half-watched a reality show on the TV mounted behind the counter. The restaurant, midway between Towne and Garey avenues on Foothill, later became a Chinese fast-food spot, with two or three iterations, one of them gone in the wink of an eye.

Since 2015 it’s been Onishicho, a Japanese restaurant specializing in ramen. This is why we love the crazy-quilt of Southern California, where otherwise-bland restaurant buildings can prove endlessly adaptable depending on the tenants or market forces. Reader Megan Gearhart alerted me to the latest incarnation and said it was doing a brisk business.

On a cold, rainy night last week, I was driving home, thought it’d be a perfect night for ramen and made for Pomona. I pulled into the lot, stepped inside and was shown to a booth that may have been the one I sat in a few years earlier.

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The interior has been cleaned up and made over considerably. It may be a little stark and brightly lit, but Japanese fans, lanterns and umbrellas add color, as do green vertical blinds.

The menu consists mostly of ramen and teriyaki, no sushi. I asked the difference between the No. 1, Tonkotsu Ramen, and the No. 2, Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, and was told the second one was saltier. (A friend subsequently told me “shoyu” means “soy sauce.”) I went with No. 1 ($8) and the straight noodle recommended by the server.

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The bowl arrived with slices of pork belly, green onions, a hard-boiled egg, pickled ginger and the noodles in broth, throwing off steam. I’ve had ramen only three or four times before, in Little Tokyo, on Sawtelle, at Noodle World Jr. and, recently, in Chinatown at the well-regarded Ramen Champ. Onishicho’s broth did not rival Ramen Champ’s, although I don’t have the expertise to tell you why, but there’s no need to set the bar that high. This was good ramen, close to home.

It was filling too: There was an option to get a combo with curry rice or teriyaki, and at first I regretted not getting the latter. But after draining the bowl, I was full.

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Service was polite and friendly; my server, eyeing my humble glass of water, insisted on bringing me a cup of hot matcha tea, and it was good. I expect to return.

I’m fairly sure there is no other place specializing in ramen in the Inland Valley, and to find this in Pomona, in a former fast-food outlet on old Route 66, is a bonus.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cachanilla

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Cachanilla Chinese Restaurant, 305 E. Holt Ave. (at Palomares), Pomona

Once upon a time, I believe, this restaurant was an American coffee shop, Hull House; later it became a series of Mexican restaurants, among them La Cabana and Molcajete; later still it was a Chinese buffet. Now it’s Cachanilla, which bills itself as Chinese food in the style of Mexicali.

Mexicali, in Baja California, at one point had a high concentration of Chinese immigrants and still has more Chinese restaurants than any other part of Mexico. I had no idea.

Intrigued, a friend and I gave Cachanilla a try recently for lunch. The interior is kind of swank, an upgrade from what I recall of a decade-old visit to La Cabana.

The menu seems very American Chinese, with chow mein, chop suey, orange chicken (“pollo a la naranja”) and the like. I got Mongolian beef ($8, “carne deres estilo mongolia”), my friend got the house special chow mein ($10, “chow mein de especialadad de casa”), and we shared dumplings ($8).

Well, these all tasted pretty standard to us, and a query of our waiter about what made the food Mexican got us an off-point answer about how people in Pomona wouldn’t care for San Gabriel Valley-style authentic Chinese food. A better answer had come via email from reader John Clifford, who learned from a server that Mexicali Chinese tends to use fewer vegetables and more bean sprouts and that some dishes include jalapenos or cilantro.

To be honest, we were a little disappointed by our lunch, having envisioned something more fusion-y. (But not like the Ontario Chinese-Mexican fusion place.) This was just regular Chinese food, which can be found seemingly everywhere.

That said, Chinese food is as scarce a commodity in Pomona as it is in Mexico, with a Panda Express in the Target center perhaps the only other edible Chinese food within city limits, unless fried rice specialist Kwon’s or the teriyaki bowls at Jinza count. So I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for liking Cachanilla, but also I wouldn’t steer anyone there from out of town.

By the way, I guess what I had really is Chinese food. An hour later, I was hungry again.

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Restaurant of the Week: Spike’s Cake Shop

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Spike’s Cake Shop, 660 Fairplex Drive (at Holt), Pomona; open daily, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

I had never noticed Spike’s, which turns out to be within a minimall I pass all the time, and had I seen it I wouldn’t have thought to go in. But the chef and co-owner of Pappas Artisanal Sandwiches in La Verne advised me that he gets his rolls from Spike’s and that they make excellent burritos there. I made a point of going.

The sign, hard to see due to foliage, appears to be repurposed from a Spike’s Teriyaki. As one Spike’s observer put it, the name might sound inauthentic, but “you don’t get more authentic than saving some coin and using the previous sign.” Point made. Neon signs at the entry tout tacos, burritos, bionicos, licuados, tamales, champurrados and “sanwiches.” No hours are posted, but they seem to be open seven days, and well into the evening. (*Update: Either I didn’t see the sign before, or hours have since been posted; see above.)

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The doors are perpetually open, with plastic hanging strips to keep out flies. The interior is confusing on a first visit, not to mention subsequent visits: Your clockwise view is of refrigerated cases with pan dulce and bottled beverages; a small open kitchen with a grill and a stove with a couple of pots; a line at a counter to order; and a cake counter. I wondered if I had stepped into the wrong place.

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If you want pan dulce, then you take a tray and tongs at the pickup counter. You probably won’t get a tray liner. Otherwise, you get a beverage and get in line, even though virtually everyone in front of you will have a tray of bakery items, and at the register, where there is no menu posted, you’ll attempt to order a torta or a burrito, the ease of which will depend on your facility with Spanish or the employee’s facility with English. You’ll pay and get a receipt, you’ll listen for your number to be called out in Spanish, and probably won’t hear it.

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But once you get your burrito ($5.50), you’ll find it long and slim, wrapped in a springy, light and fresh tortilla. A carne asada burrito will contain a kind of stew with rice, beans and bits of meat, a style closer to what I believe is the Mexican version of a burrito than I’ve ever had. An al pastor burrito was meatier. Both were surprising and intensely satisfying, among the best I’ve had, although fans of Chipotle-like stuffed burritos may find them baffling.

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The second time, I also got a puffy sweetbread (50 cents). I liked it but have very little experience with pan dulce. A Pomonan whose office has been sampling panaderias hadn’t heard of Spike’s either but, after a couple of visits, was impressed enough to rate it second best in town after Panaderia La Mexicana. And the tri-color cookies at Spike’s were rated No. 1. Here’s one.

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Seating consists of a few small uncomfortable tables with swivel seats and a counter for four by the door, which is where I’ve sat. There’s usually a few carts with stacked trays of pan dulce, perhaps cooling, out on the floor as well.

Spike’s is one of the more visually confusing places I’ve eaten, up there with the chaotic Porto’s in Glendale. For the adventurous, the food is good enough to be worth the hassle. You’ll probably want to take it to go, though.

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