Restaurant of the Week: Tony’s French Dips

Tony’s Famous French Dips, 986 E. 2nd St. (at San Antonio), Pomona

It’s called Tony’s Famous French Dips, but chances are you’ve never heard of it. Located in an unassuming building in an industrial zone, Tony’s is 10 long blocks east of Garey, and thus on the far edge of anything that could be considered downtown Pomona (although the skyline is visible in the distance, like Oz).

That said, Tony’s has been dipping roast beef into au jus since 1958 (55 years in 2013!), and somehow hangs in there, the Inland Valley’s counterpart to Philippe’s or Cole’s (both in L.A. since 1908). I’ve eaten at Tony’s maybe a half-dozen times over the years and returned recently, a few years since my last visit, for a fresh look.

Comfortingly, nothing seems to have changed, including the staff, the cane chairs and vintage Pomona photos on the walls, although presumably the sawdust on the floor has been swept out a few times. OK, one change, which is that due to the Health Department, you now have to ask for a small refrigerated container of horseradish sauce instead of using a shared dispenser on the counter. Hey, even Philippe’s had to put its mustard in squirt bottles after inspectors frowned on the open mustard and tiny spoons.

Tony’s has beef, pastrami, turkey, ham and corned beef dipped sandwiches ($5.75), grinders ($5.75), and liverwurst, egg salad, tuna salad and salami cold sandwiches ($5.50).

I went for lunch with a Tony’s veteran, who hadn’t been there in a long while, and two newcomers. We all got beef dips. “That was really good!” one of the first-timers exclaimed, pronouncing himself stuffed. More critically, the weak spot is the soft rolls, no match for Philippe’s crunchy, fresh-baked rolls. On the other hand, Tony’s is a lot closer, and you won’t have to wait in line.

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Restaurant of the Week: JN’s BBQ

JN’s Original BBQ Pit House, 1180 N. White Ave. (at Orange Grove), Pomona

When they say house, they mean house: It’s in the front portion of a single-family home. But JN’s — I know, it looks like NJ’s on the sign, but the menu and website is JN’s — has done a decent job with it. Once you’ve turned the doorknob and stepped inside, you see a tile floor, wooden booths, high tables, a flat-screen and a counter, just like a regular restaurant. You just have to get past the feeling that you should ring a doorbell.

My first visit, the day before the Super Bowl, they were sold out of almost everything, having only chicken, hot links and tri-tip left. I got a tri-tip sandwich ($7), which came with a side (I chose slaw) and soda. The tri-tip was a little tough and with a few too-large pieces that I had to tear off with my fingers. It might be heretical to say, but I could have had a better sandwich at a Dickey’s. But I resolved to go back on a typical day for a truer test. I was glad I did.

Two friends and I met for lunch and ordered three dinners: rib tips, beef links (both $9) and pork ribs ($10). We shared everything, including the sides: slaw, beans, potato salad, hush puppies and collard greens. We were all impressed. My least favorite was the rib tips, but the one who ordered them liked them best, so there you go. The service was also exceedingly friendly. We liked the whole vibe.

For Pomona barbecue, I might give the edge to J&J’s, but JN’s is pretty good too. (Imagine if they merged. What would they call themselves: J&JN’s?)

Sidenote on JN’s home-like look: If you use the bathroom, there’s a scale under the sink. I pulled it out and found, no surprise, that I weighed a couple of pounds more than before my meal. Last time I use that scale.

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Restaurant of the Week: J&J’s BBQ & Fish

J&J’s BBQ & Fish, 751 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Holt), Pomona

J&J’s opened in 2009 in a downscale strip center just above Holt, where it replaced a Vietnamese bakery. I had a catfish dinner not long after they opened, thought it was okay but didn’t write about it. For one thing, I wondered how long J&J’s would survive; for another, it’s a hard place to knock even if you’re not sold on it. The usually opinionated New Diner gave it a mixed review in 2010.

Some three years later, J&J’s has hung in there. When a friend recommended it recently, both for its food and the unusual kindness shown to his elderly mother, I decided to drop in for lunch. The menu has all the usual barbecue specialties and, as the name implies, a variety of fish ready to be fried.

I got the pork rib plate ($9, pictured) with two sides: collard greens and hush puppies. (A larger portion, the dinner, is $12.) The plate had five ribs and was a satisfying size. That said, the ribs, cut St. Louis style, were softer than I like. On the other hand, I ate them all and the sides were good.

Returning a month later, I got the beef brisket, potato salad and hush puppies ($9, second picture below). Bingo: A delicious heap of smoked meat and an excellent mustardy potato salad. I got a couple of slices of bread to sop up the barbecue sauce. Best barbecue I’d had in months and deeply satisfying.

Tables have spindles of paper towels to use as napkins, an old barbecue tradition, and some have tearsheets from black newspapers under the glass, a neat touch (bottom photo). A small statue of James Brown stands next to basketball trophies from a team the owner’s son coaches.

It’s a homey place and seems to be a hub for the local black community, as well as barbecue lovers. I hope they keep on keepin’ on.

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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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Restaurant of the Week: Mexico Lindo

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Mexico Lindo, 1060 S. Garey Ave. (at 11th), Pomona

Called to the Pomona courthouse for jury duty this week, I soon began mulling my lunch options. The courts give you a generous 90 minutes, long enough that a person could drive somewhere, but there are walkable options nearby. Mexico Lindo is one of the best.

I’ve been there a few times over the years, including on previous jury duty stints. The walk from the courthouse is about five blocks. Mexico Lindo has reputedly been there in its block building since the late 1960s. The Lepe family, the current owners and operators, bought it in 1982. They also have Tropical Mexico on East End, another Pomona favorite.

Mexico Lindo’s interior has brick arches into the kitchen and in the wall separating the two halves of the dining room, but otherwise looks a lot like an American coffee shop, down to the green vinyl booths and service number at the end of each table. The menu has all the basics plus seafood dishes with shrimp, lobster, tilapia and octopus.

I had a carne asada torta ($4.50), which came on a fluffy bun and filled me up for the afternoon. Because that seemed inadequate for a Restaurant of the Week, I went back the next day for a late lunch after being excused from jury service.

This time I had camarones con hongo ($10), which is shrimp with mushrooms, plus tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. This came with fries, rice and a cup of albondigas soup (or a salad). There was nothing revelatory about either meal, but both were solid, filling and tasty. I took almost half the shrimp entree home.

Mexico Lindo isn’t hip or exciting, but they do a good job, and the restaurant is worth a visit even when you’re not stuck downtown. And since it’s open 365 days a year, their schedule will always coincide with yours.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tijuana’s Tacos

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Tijuana’s Tacos, 485 W. Holt Ave. (at Wisconsin), Pomona

Holt through Ontario, Montclair and Pomona may have more taquerias than it does bus stops, muffler shops, 98-cent stores and streetwalkers — a bold claim, I know, but probably supported by the evidence. A dedicated eater could spend months sampling all the taco stands and ranking them for us. I don’t have the patience or the chops, but perhaps some foundation or other would sponsor a grant to an expert for such an undertaking. The results would certainly benefit mankind.

In the meantime, I can direct you to Tijuana’s Tacos. It opened in 2006 and I’ve been eating there most of that time. It was a surprise to find I’d never written it up here on my blog.

The storefront is broad but so shallow that when you step inside, you’re practically in the kitchen, and you’re almost guaranteed to be in at least one patron’s way. (Virtually the entirety of the interior can be seen in the photo below.) For seating, there are two dinky tables inside, a counter with five stools and two larger tables outside.

The menu has tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas, as well as the more unusual huaraches, vampiros and mulitas, with housemade guacamole a specialty. The women who work the register are bilingual, a helpful touch.

On my last visit I had al pastor tacos ($1.69 each), the marinated pork carved off a spit in Lebanese style, grilled until charred and crispy, served on doubled tortillas with onions, cilantro and guacamole, a piece of tinfoil on the side laden with grilled onions, peppers and nopales (cactus) for snacking or garnishing. They also hand you a small foam cup for beans or salsa from the bar.

You can see the menu here. Tijuana’s Tacos also has locations in Ontario (1702 S. Euclid), Fontana (9260 Sierra), Riverside and Moreno Valley. Those cities will have to pursue their own taqueria grant.

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Restaurant of the Week: Emiliano’s

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Emiliano’s, 896 E. Mission Blvd. (at Caswell), Pomona

Open only a few weeks, Emiliano’s replaced a seafood restaurant on the outer reaches of downtown Pomona. I met four friends there for lunch last weekend.

It’s a large place on a corner with a big, fresh parking lot. The restaurant interior features thick wooden tables and chairs, a ceiling with wooden beams and fans, adobe-like walls and a stage for live music on weekend nights. It’s a sitdown restaurant.

After above-average chips and salsa, our table got tostadas with shrimp and fish ($8), quesa fundido ($6), chicken enchiladas ($9.50), skewers ($11.50), huevos rancheros ($5) and, for me, mixed fajitas ($12.50, pictured). I can’t remember the last time I got fajitas; these came with shrimp, chicken and steak, onions, green peppers and tomatoes, and made for a filling meal.

Comments from our group were uniformly positive: “This is cool,” “I like the atmosphere,” “I would come back.” Also, “powerful jukebox,” a dry reference to the overly loud music that thankfully was only intermittent. Many of the prices on our menus were blacked out and not replaced by new prices, and the service was friendly but a little haphazard; we had to ask for silverware, that sort of thing.

So, Emiliano’s isn’t perfect. Pretty good, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sabor Mexicano

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Sabor Mexicano, 180 E. 6th St. (at Garey), Pomona

Sabor is across Garey from City Hall and the Library and ensconced behind a vacuum cleaner repair shop. But — capsule review — it doesn’t suck.

I’d been to Sabor Mexicano (“Flavors of Mexico”) a couple of times five years ago for dinner before council meetings, but the kitchen tended to take longer than I had. It’s not a taqueria, it’s a real sitdown restaurant. Casting about for a place to meet a friend recently, I remembered Sabor and that it served food from a couple of regions of Mexico poorly represented in restaurants.

Imagine my delight in rediscovering that one of them is Mexico City, which I visited early in 2011 on vacation. When I inquired in print after my return about Distrito Federal-style food locally, nobody mentioned Sabor.

The menu has sections for the DF and Oaxaca, as well as offering tortas, mariscos, jugos and licuados. (A mural outside the restaurant depicts a map of Mexico with Oaxaca pinpointed.)

The DF section (comida estilo Distrito Federal) has alambres, quesadillas, huaraches, gorditas, sopes, pambasos and cemotas poblanas, plus tacos and burritos. Admittedly, I didn’t know what some of these were, and many seemed like variations of the same item, but at least it was something.

I went with a quesadilla with squash blossoms (top right), which was familiar. The quesadilla was long, more of an oval than the circular U.S. version, and the squash blossoms were much like mushrooms. (I had a burrito with squash blossoms on the street in the DF, and a homemade quesadilla at my friends’ apartment; this was a melding of the two and pleasingly reminiscent of each.)

My friend had a huarache with cactus and beans (bottom right), holding the cheese and onions. A huarache is a sandal-shaped thick piece of fried masa with toppings. She pronounced it “quite tasty.” For beverages, she had a horchata and I had a watermelon drink. Our items were $5 to $6; exact prices forgotten.

Service was friendly and bilingual. Windows surround the restaurant on two sides and let in plenty of afternoon sunlight. A telenovela played on the TV. Life could be worse.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jinza

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Jinza Teriyaki, 3425 Pomona Blvd. (at Temple), Pomona

I called a Cal Poly Pomona friend for lunch and suggested Curry Up, a campus-adjacent fast-food restaurant I’ve wanted to visit based on the name alone. She said Curry Up is nothing special and countered with Jinza. Deferring to the local expert, I met her at Jinza.

Housed in a business center, Jinza’s storefront isn’t much to look at. If you step inside during a lunch hour, as I did, the first thing you notice is lots of people. There was a line to order at the counter and most of the tables were filled.

The restaurant has a kind of food-hall ambience, with plain wooden tables and chairs, cement-block walls, Japanese screens and paper lanterns. Jinza is so popular it expanded into the space next door.

Jinza is beloved by Cal Poly students and Lanterman employees. On Yelp, one student says Jinza is as close to a a college-town gathering spot as Cal Poly has. It’s only open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The specialty is teriyaki bowls and plates, although they also have udon, tempura, yakisoba and a few sushi rolls. I had the vegetable pork bowl with brown rice ($7, pictured); my friend had the spicy chicken bowl.

My humble bowl was actually pretty tasty, my friend loved her spicy chicken, and the portions were large. I wouldn’t drive across the valley to eat here, but it was a good experience.

In a nice touch, Jinza offers free green tea and prominently displays glasses for serve-yourself water, both no doubt aimed at the penny-conscious college crowd (although this journalist appreciated it too).

The New Diner blogger likes Jinza. I don’t know if he’s ever been to Curry Up.

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Restaurant of the Week: Table to Farm

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Table to Farm Dinners, Fairplex, Pomona

This will be a little different. For one thing, it’s fine dining; for another, my meal was comped, i.e., free. I always pay for these Restaurant of the Week meals out of my own pocket, but $75 was a bit much to absorb, so I took the Fair up on the meal (on their third invitation) rather than not go and not write about it. Take this writeup with all that in mind.

McKinley’s Grille, the Sheraton’s restaurant at Pomona’s Fairplex, has been growing produce on an acre in the FairView Farms area of the fairgrounds for its own use and last year began hosting outdoor dinners there on roughly a monthly basis — bringing, as the name suggests, the dining tables into the farm area.

I attended Aug. 19. So did a lot of people. After a writeup in the Bulletin’s Home & Garden section, attendance was 102, more than double the usual number.

After taking a tram from the Sheraton, you walk past the garden plots, where hors d’oeuvres and wine are offered, and then are seated at communal tables. Food is prepared on a grill a few feet away and in an enclosed kitchen. The effect is pleasingly rustic and yet it’s also fine dining, which this night included wine pairings, as a jazz duo played.

Dishes, to quote from the menu card, were Santa Barbara spot prawn with chili-fermented tomatillo; farm tomato with dill pollen, extra virgin olive oil, tomato tarragon jam and crisp pappadam; Hoja Santa steamed king salmon with Thai basil fig compote (pictured); Duroc pork belly with farm muscat grapes (pictured); Colorado lamb loin, farm eggplant and toasted sesame; and, for dessert, a cheese plate, farm strawberry creme fraiche tart and creme fraiche ice cream with ginger mint syrup (the syrup was missing, by the way).

Most of this was good to very good, the tomato appetizer, pork belly and tart being the standouts; the bread assortment was also excellent. The salmon was unseasoned and boring, the shrimp soggy. Two people who had the clam fritter hors d’oeuvre said it was rubbery and unpleasant. In another demerit, the plates given to two of us were dusty and we had to wipe them off with our napkins.

As a non-drinker, the wine pairings weren’t of interest to me. My friend was of two minds: Because the wines all came from the same winery in Paso Robles, there wasn’t a wide range; on the other hand, everyone received the equivalent of a half-bottle or more, which made the $75 price fair. Service was attentive and friendly, although most of the food was presented family style, and the wine kept flowing.

A couple from Chino Hills sitting next to us were there for the first time and were enthusiastic about the food (except the salmon) and the uniqueness of the setting. “It was absolutely worth it,” the man said.

A dissenting view was heard from a man who’d been to previous dinners, saying the usual $50 price was a great deal but that $75 that night was too much, especially without the usual individual service.

It’s a lovely setting, a novelty night out and a rare chance for fine dining in the Inland Valley, but the experience wasn’t without problems. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s worth your $75. The last dinners for the year are planned for Oct. 7 (details are here) and Nov. 4. Contact McKinley’s Grill at 909-868-5915 for reservations.

Next week in this space we’ll be back to regular-folks food, where we’ll all feel more comfortable.

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