Restaurant of the Week: Mitla Cafe


Mitla Cafe, 602 N. Mount Vernon Ave. (at 6th), San Bernardino

I’d never heard of the Mitla Cafe until Gustavo Arellano dined there with the New York Times in 2012 to talk about his book “Taco USA,” but it seemed very similar to the place to which I subsequently introduced Arellano, Ramon’s Cactus Patch in Ontario. Both were family operations launched in 1937, serving Cal-Mex food, although Mitla has the distinction that its cooks taught Glen Bell how to make hardshell tacos, a skill he eventually parlayed into Taco Bell.

Mitla also has the distinction of remaining in business; Ramon’s closed in 2013, shortly before its founder, Ramon Sanchez, died. Descendants of founders Vicente and Lucia Montano still operate Mitla, which is now the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire, and among the oldest in Southern California.

Rarely do I head east, but in July I had to go to Redlands, and on my way back I eschewed eateries in that burg to go to Mitla. It’s pretty much equidistant from the 210 and 10 freeways, but only blocks from the 215, in the West Side barrio.

Mitla occupies what appears to be its original building and once inside, past the glass bricks in the entry, you’ll take in the front room with its counter, swivel seats and vintage Mitla calendars, and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.


That first visit, I ate in the dining room and got the No. 6 dinner ($8.75), with a taco, enchilada and chile relleno, a kind of sampler platter. “Have you ever been here before? Everything on the menu is simply delicious,” the server said. “But, the one everybody likes is the No. 6.”


The enchilada and chile relleno were covered in a meat sauce that was reminiscent of Ramon’s, a good sign. Those two items were good, but for me the taco was the standout, and I wished I had more. It was very similar to Ramon’s: fried with a ground beef patty, plus shreds of lettuce, diced tomatoes and yellow cheese.


“Now you’re part of the family,” the server declared. How could I not like this place? (And I had not introduced myself. He was just being friendly to a stranger.)

On Tuesday I had to be in San Bernardino for work reasons and took that as an opportunity to go back to Mitla — and order more tacos. This time I sat at the counter and got the three-taco combination, ground rather than shredded beef ($7.25), and got to marvel at them anew.


To be clear, there is nothing cutting edge about this food, and the menu even has a section I believe was called “American Tastes,” with hamburgers and hot dogs. Mitla is almost a classic coffee shop, only a Mexican-American version, where you can get fries with your huevos rancheros. My point is, you could have superior tacos and burritos at many other places, possibly even at the two Mexican restaurants on other corners of the same intersection.

But as an admirer of Ramon’s and all it stood for, Mitla Cafe fills that void for me, and might for you as well: food, ambience, family, tradition, history.

Heck, there are even two cactus gardens outside.

(Incidentally, it would be possible to take Metrolink to Mitla, as the San Bernardino station is visible from the restaurant. It’s probably a half-mile walk. After a meal, though, I’m not sure you could find anything else to do.)


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Column: Rail Giants train museum still on track despite loss of Big Boy

Sam Calderwood, in the cab of the Union Pacific 9000, chats with a patron of the Rail Giants train museum. (Photo by David Allen)

Sam Calderwood, in the cab of the Union Pacific 9000, chats with a patron of the Rail Giants train museum. (Photo by David Allen)

Wednesday’s column presents an update on the train museum at Pomona’s Fairplex. Two years after giving up its centerpiece, the 1941 Big Boy locomotive, how is the museum doing? Fine, as it turns out. It’s got other rare trains, and a modern diesel locomotive that actually runs.

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Farewell, Jeni Wren’s


I’d had three or four meals at Jeni Wren’s, a new cafe in what had been the Inka Trails location in Claremont on Foothill Boulevard just east of Towne Avenue, and was stockpiling photos and notes for a Restaurant of the Week. It was a cute place, the food was good and the owner was nice.




My last meal there was Aug. 21, a breakfast pictured above. Isn’t that lovely?

The next time I pulled in was Sept. 2. The restaurant was closed, the exterior was bare and in the back, a faux shutter from the front (pictured up top) was propped up by the trash. Noooo! A few days later, Yelp, where the cafe had a 4.5-star rating, was reporting the restaurant had closed. It had only opened in February.


A new cafe opened up the next day (there was no exterior sign, so I don’t know the name), also serving breakfast and lunch. It may be perfectly good or even better, who knows, but I’m sorry Jeni Wren’s is gone. It was becoming my new favorite restaurant before it was nipped in the bud.

In its honor, here’s a link to Paul McCartney’s 2006 song “Jenny Wren,” which came to mind every time I thought of the restaurant.

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Restaurant of the Week: Padua Pasta Makers


Padua Pasta Makers, 300 E. Arrow Highway (at 3rd), Upland; closed Sundays

Two friends teamed up to open an Italian market in March, after more than a year of work and a failed crowd-funding campaign. But that didn’t deter them. Padua Pasta Makers took over a former dance studio, which operated as a cleaners prior to that, that now is a gleaming, tiled shrine to Italian food.

There’s a deli counter with meat and 18 kinds of pasta; refrigerator cases with pre-packaged pasta and sauces made onsite; shelves and tables of canned tomatoes, olives and olive oils; and fresh bread, baked daily. Also, a light fixture made, upon closer inspection, from utensils.

You can get hot or cold sandwiches at lunchtime, 6 inches for $6.50, 10 inches for $8.50. I met a couple of friends there for lunch recently and ordered the Padua Special, the 6-inch version, with mortadella, salami, capocolla and provolone. I got it as a box lunch for $9.50, which gets you a soda, a tiny salad (I chose pesto pasta salad) and a piece of chocolate, not to mention a box.

The sandwich was quite filling, and I ended up taking half of it home. Should they make a 3-inch version? You might be better off skipping the box, as the extras may not feel worth $3. (Although the small piece of chocolate was awfully good.) I’ve meant to go back and buy pasta or sauce to go and will have to do that.

The business is evolving: When I was there late in August, they’d just got their beer and wine license, and they’ve added more dine-in tables because people want to eat there. And I can’t blame them: It’s lovely and sparkling, almost like a tea room. Also, the bathrooms may be the nicest in all of Upland. One friend said: “It’s like a men’s room in a Manhattan hotel lobby.”

Nothing but the best for the City of Gracious Living.





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Sprinting toward Arby’s


The former Arby’s at 2250 N. Garey Ave. in Pomona, which dated to 1970closed in 2012 and almost became a Boost Mobile store in 2013, reopened recently as a Sprint store. The building has been cleaned up and painted gray with yellow trim, matching the adjacent McDonald’s. The result looks appealing, actually. But the Conestoga wagon roof and original poles, now holding a modest sign, betray its Arby’s origins. Check it out and see if the staff is sick of Horsey Sauce jokes yet.


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