Restaurant of the Week: Valentino’s Pizzeria


Valentino’s Pizzeria, 644 E. Arrow Highway (at Towne), Pomona

Pomona isn’t a pizza town; after the usual delivery suspects, and a Round Table, about as exotic as it gets is Pizza Loca. Valentino’s, a hole in the wall spot in a slightly sketchy shopping center at Towne and Arrow, is well-regarded among locals, so when some Pomona friends and I wanted a pizza delivery, I suggested Valentino’s. Anything for a blog post.

We got two customized extra-large pizzas ($15.50 for three toppings, $17 for four items), one with extra-thin crust, recommended by Yelp commenters. The chefs can’t really do extra-thin if you get more than two toppings, but they tried. Delivery took a while, but the driver was apologetic and blamed staffing issues on a busy Friday.

The pizzas had crisp crust, lots of cheese, chunks of sausage, fresh mushrooms. (One had jalapenos and olives, neither of which was my idea.) Our reactions ranged from mildly impressed (“This is pretty good”) to mildly unimpressed (“It’s not slaying me”).

The menu also has a few sandwiches, buffalo wings, salads and calzones. But it’s mostly pizza.

I returned for an early dinner last Sunday. They have a deal, two slices of pizza and a can of soda for $4.99 plus tax, which I’ll try another time. I got a meatball sandwich ($7, bottom), which arrived open-faced, covered in cheese and looking like a Stouffer’s french bread pizza — but better, and with meatballs. I ate the whole thing, later wishing I’d saved half for lunch the next day.

Valentino’s has only five small tables with folding metal chairs, but it has a downscale charm, and the food’s pretty good.

Oh, and they have another deal, written on a pizza box on display near the counter: “Try our Triple Bypass Monster Pizza, win $200, eat the whole pizza, 1 person, 1 1/2 hours. Cheese + 2 toppings.”

I’ll just get the two-slice special, thanks.



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Restaurant of the Week: O’Donovan’s Pub


O’Donovan’s Pub, 101 E. Third St. (at Garey), Pomona

Located in the renovated Mayfair Hotel, cater-corner from the Fox Theater, O’Donovan’s has a great setting, a five-story brick hotel, with fire escapes yet, that dates to 1915. It’s now apartments for students at the nearby medical school. The Irish restaurant occupies the first floor, with the pub portion in the basement.

O’Donovan’s opened in September and the pub is said to be a big hit. Besides the bar, there’s pool tables and darts, a couple of cozy nooks to sit in and neat vintage-style beer signs.

The restaurant portion is quieter, but it’s received strong ratings on Yelp, where it currently has 4 1/2 stars. A friend and I met up for a late lunch/early dinner last month; at 4 p.m., it wasn’t a surprise we were the only diners. (By the time we left, another table was occupied.) The interior has a lot of brick, exposed pipes and hipster Edison bulbs. Our server was friendly and assured.

The menu has sandwiches and salads; entrees range from $12 to $32 and include fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, bangers, salmon and a ribeye steak. They have 26 beers on tap and 30 in bottles.

I had fish and chips ($14), he had shepherds pie ($15), and we shared beer-battered onion rings ($4). He had a pint of Black Butte ale ($6).

The rings were excellent. The shepherds pie, besides mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, has the traditional lamb. I’m not sure how a shepherd would feel about that, but my friend was impressed. My fish was okay but the batter tasted over-fried. I’ve had worse, but I’ve had better at the Heights in Upland.

Four friends dined there recently and had shrimp pasta, fish and chips, a quesadilla (!) and mac and cheese. None of them were dissatisfied, but none was enthusiastic either.

Well, it’s another option downtown, better than some, and it’s open until 2 a.m. daily, although food service stops earlier than that. They also have brunch on weekends. I expect I’ll go back when I’m downtown. It’s well-situated and pleasant, and they’re trying.



*Update: I’ve been back a couple of times, got the fish and chips on my most recent visit in January 2016, and thought it was quite good.


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Restaurant of the Week: Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, Pomona



Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, 1074 N. Garey Ave. (at Columbia), Pomona

Donahoo’s used to be a modest chain, but now it’s down to three or four unconnected stands in Pomona, Ontario, Riverside and maybe up north somewhere. The one in Pomona may be the best known due to its prominent, freeway-close location and fiberglass rooster on the roof.

I’ve been getting food from the Pomona location for years, generally once or twice per year. The owners seem to have changed a few times, always Asian in recent years, but the food keeps roughly the same level of quality. I went in again recently with a Donahoo’s first-timer. The menu board is gone after many years, replaced by tacked-up notices of the most popular items. (Fans of gizzards, livers and the like will find those items on a menu on the counter.) It’s a sensible change.

The box lunch is the most popular: You get your choice of fried chicken or chicken strips, plus a tiny container of salad, a pile of steak fries and a giant roll, served in a white paperboard donut box, with a paper towel liner and a plastic fork wedged into the side. One innovation since my last visit is that the strips meal can be ordered with three pieces ($5.49) or six ($7.25). Before, it was six pieces only. As I always ate three and saved the other three as leftovers, the three-piece strips meal (pictured at bottom) was the obvious choice despite the the-more-you-eat-the-more-you-save pricing. My friend got a two-piece fried chicken box ($5.99, below).

Donahoo’s is takeout only. Orders are turned around quickly, thanks in part to a large staff in the open kitchen (two rows of fryers and some heat lamps) and a towering stack of pre-folded boxes, each no doubt with forks already tucked in. You have to grab napkins from a dispenser at the counter, which I never remember to do.

We took our boxes to Lincoln Park a few blocks east, sat at a picnic table, cut the boxes’ tape, opened the lids and dug in.

Mine was the quality I’ve come to expect, which means excellent. The shell is golden brown and speckled with black, crunchy and not greasy, the chicken white meat and flavorful. I was stuffed even without finishing my fries and didn’t eat dinner that night. My friend was pleasantly surprised by his meal. He took home one piece and some of his fries; he reports that he reheated them in the oven and that even the fries stayed crisp that way.

We saw others in the park toting the distinctive white boxes. Next time Pomona buries a time capsule, it ought to be in a Donahoo’s box, so Pomonans of the future can see how their forebears ate.



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Restaurant of the Week: Pancakes R Us


Pancakes R Us, 2282 N. Garey Ave. (at Arrow), Pomona; open daily.

The first location is in Costa Mesa, the second in Pomona, an expansion model you don’t see very often. Pancakes R Us took over the closed Sizzler between a KFC and a shuttered classic Arby’s in north Pomona earlier this month.

It was moderately busy on a Sunday morning. We were immediately greeted and sat, and our beverage orders taken. Service was a little shaky, but attentive. What surprised me was how few pancakes a place named Pancakes R Us had on its menu: 10 varieties, by my count, including buttermilk. apple, blueberry, boysenberry, peach, strawberry, country nut and grain, chocolate chip, potato and pumpkin.

What, no banana? I thought banana and blueberry were as basic as you could get. I went for pumpkin ($8). They were acceptable, and with no syrup accompanying, I used the maple at the table. The second person got pigs in blankets ($7), four sausages in four buttermilk pancakes. He had no complaints.

That didn’t hold true for the third person, whose huevos rancheros ($8.29) were poor: scrambled rather than fried, with canned refried beans and clumpy rice on the side, and pickled jalapenos on top rather than the roasted whole jalapenos depicted on the menu (with fried eggs). She was told corn tortillas weren’t available for her side, only flour, but the eggs were served atop fried corn tortillas. “I’d give this one star,” she said, picking at her inedible rice.

So, it’s good to see a middle-of-the-road restaurant open in Pomona, one serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, but my first visit was not promising. In fact, it fell flat as a pancake. Well, there’s a Carrows a few blocks away on Foothill, and Flappy Jack’s in Glendora serves up a lot more pancakes.




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Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria De Anda


Taqueria De Anda, 1690 S. Garey Ave. (at Franklin), Pomona

A friend recently ate at a taqueria on South Garey but couldn’t remember the name. The only one I knew of was Taqueria De Anda, which I recall enjoying once maybe six years ago, but never wrote about here. I went back to try it again.

The freestanding restaurant, which has a drive-thru, is neat and clean, with tiled floors, a muted color scheme and art on the walls. And they have tables and chairs. It’s relatively upscale for a 24-hour taqueria where you order at the counter directly from the cook.

Tuesday was my lucky day: That day’s special is 99-cent tacos, cheaper than the usual $1.37. I ordered three carne asadas and a jamaica drink, for a total of $4.71. The tacos were excellent, generous with the meat and cilantro and with a tasty salsa. They’re some of the better tacos I’ve had in Pomona.

They also have burritos and quesadillas, but that’s it. Basic menu, quality food. I emailed a photo of the restaurant to my friend, who replied, “Yes! That’s it! So good!”




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Restaurant of the Week: Thai Orchid Garden



Thai Orchid Garden, 315 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Towne), Pomona

Like an unmarked L.A. nightclub, you have to be an insider to know Thai Orchid Garden exists. Located on an unremarkable stretch of Foothill Boulevard, somewhere west of Towne Avenue but east of Garey Avenue, there is a sign at the curb, true, but the small building is set back from the street beyond probably 100 feet of asphalt parking lot. By the time you see the building, you’ve driven past it.

I ate there once, some six years ago, and had a generally positive impression of the food, and a very positive impression of the decor, which has a lot of ornate teak, and a small shrine, plus booths that feel almost enclosed thanks to a wooden structure around each. For whatever reason, I never wrote about it. Maybe I forgot. The friend who accompanied me says: “I remember liking it and thinking I’d go back. I just never think about it. It’s set too far back.”

An acquaintance suggested recently that we meet up at Thai Orchid Garden for lunch, and I was happy for the chance to try the restaurant I now think of as Thai OG again.

The decor was still impressive, maybe moreso than in my memory. From the extensive lunch specials, 23 items in all, I had the yellow curry, pictured below, and he had the garlic and pepper pork (each $7.75). They came with soup, small salad and rice. Mine was good, and his looked really good. Asked by the server in Thai how we liked our food, he replied in that language, “Delicious! We’re so happy we could die.” He explained: “That’s an idiom.”

The menu has 112 numbered items, plus the 23 lunch specials, plus another 35 special items and desserts. I had a fried banana with coconut ice cream ($5), he had sticky rice with mango ($6). Thai Orchid Garden has been there since 1978, making it one of the oldest Thai restaurants in these parts, if not the oldest. It’s worth a visit, if you can find it. (Offering some assistance, the latitude and longitude are on the restaurant’s website.)


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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.

Update January 2016: I eat here often. Sundays they have a Soulful Sunday buffet where there’s more soul food items. They’ve ditched the cool black newspaper clippings, but the food’s still good, and they use plates, not styrofoam now. Here’s a rib plate with collard greens and hush puppies.


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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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