Restaurant of the Week: Taco King

Taco King, 1317 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Alta), Upland; open Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Sundays

If I understand the history properly, this location was once Taka Taco (take a taco) and became Taco King in 1975. It’s a square standalone building in east Upland with a marvelous image in neon of a guy in a sombrero and serape leaning against a cactus and, elsewhere on the sign, an uninspiring motto, “Home of the Bean Special.”

I have never been tempted to order the bean special, whatever it is, but I have eaten at Taco King a few times over the years. It never struck me as exceptional. But I had a surprisingly good burrito there in October. I didn’t take any photographs except of the exterior because I was sure I’d written about Taco King here before.

Wrong! A search of this blog revealed that I hadn’t. So the next chance I had, I went back and ordered the same thing, pictured above, a combination burrito with carne asada ($6.05). It was light on the beef, which would bother some, but the stew-like filling was, dare I say it, more traditional. The first time I got it as a combo (a combination burrito combo?) with chips and a drink ($9.20).

You order and pick up from a window, where they’ll place squeeze bottles of red and green salsa on your tray. (It’d be great if they also handed out copies of the Sinclair Lewis novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” but no, I brought that with me.)

The small dining room is done in pastels. the wall art includes Mexican currency mounted inside a frame, and a few photos show the place as Taka Taco and then Taco King, labeled with the year.

Was anything here prior to Taka Taco, or was it the original occupant? Inquiring minds want to know.

Taco King has tacos, of course, for $1.90, soft or hard, with carnitas, pastor, asada, chicken, beef and cabeza (head meat), plus burritos, taquitos, burgers, nachos, menudo and breakfast items. It currently has a middle of the road 3 stars on Yelp, the usual split-the-difference rating between those who love it and those who say they threw their food away.

Three stars is about right, though: solidly good. But I have newfound respect for the place. While there’s nothing hip or trendy about Taco King, and the overall look and style may veer closer to Del Taco than Tacos Mexico, when was the last time you had cabeza or menudo at Del Taco?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Favorite films of 2017

Consider this the How Did We Stand the Suspense Edition, coming as it does 10 days into the new year. I had planned to wait on this list a few days into 2018 to buy myself time to see an extra movie or two. But then I came down with a cold, which meant I couldn’t get out to any movies OR produce the list, the pen-and-ink draft of which was on my desk at the office. Sheesh.

At least I got to two movies in the final days of the year, and they filled my No. 1 and 2 slots.

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Lady Bird
  4. Get Out
  5. The Big Sick
  6. Wonder Woman
  7. The Trip to Spain
  8. War for the Planet of the Apes
  9. My Cousin Rachel
  10. Blade Runner 2049

It was hard to know where or if to place Arrival, which was a 2016 release when I saw it last January. Fences was another holdover, but I liked it less. Arrival would have come in around No. 8. From No. 11 down, the rest of my 2017 movies would run like this: Thor: Ragnarok, The Beguiled, Dunkirk, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Beatriz at Dinner, Rat Film.

Obviously I missed or haven’t yet had a chance to see lots of good movies, among them The Post, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour, Molly’s Game, Call Me By Your Name, Novitiate, All the Money in the World, The Florida Project, Mudbound and I, Tonya. Oh well.

What did you see in 2017 that you liked — or hated?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Column: New year cleaning leads to treasure — and trash

In an annual ritual, I clean my desk and get a column out of what I find. In this case, that meant finally dealing with a small bag of crumpled, dirty newspaper pages from 1935 that a reader had “helpfully” donated and which had been put on my desk. Read all about it in Wednesday’s column.

As an addendum, a few items were written or half-written but didn’t make the cut for the column, and most of the notes, etc., were simply tossed because nothing of interest came to mind to say about them. And I didn’t get my desk cleared before the column was due either. So there’s still a slight mess. But things look much better, and there’s a psychological and organizational boost from that. Onward to 2018!

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Off the sickbed, back to the cubicle

I’m about recovered from a bad cold this past week that laid me up. I worked a half-day Tuesday, to finish a nearly completed column drafted the Friday before, and managed another half-day Wednesday, in which I began my annual desk-clearing column by beginning to (duh) clear my desk, but Thursday and Friday I was out of it and stayed home. Thus, no column Friday or Sunday.

As I write this Sunday evening, I’m not quite back to normal, but feeling much better, thanks, and planning to be back at my desk Monday for, I hope, a full day. What a way to start a new year, huh?

While what I had would not have qualified as the flu, the great Roger Miller song “Lou’s Got the Flu” came to mind, and it’s shared above because it’s a hoot.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

A year of dining ahead

As has become standard practice, I expect to continue these Restaurant of the Week posts in the coming year. I like doing them, they get me out to new places and you folks seem to like them too. I’ve been writing them since September 2007.

Let me use this first of the year post to explain how I pick the 45 to 50 restaurants a year that are featured here.

Some come recommended, but many are simply places I drive past or hear about. I may eat there on my lunch break if it’s near our office, which is in Rancho Cucamonga. If on I’m assignment in a farther city, I often make a point of going for lunch or dinner while I’m in the neighborhood. If I’m meeting a friend for lunch during the week or on a weekend, we often pick a restaurant that would be good for the blog.

The restaurant might be new or it might be old. Wherever I go, I’m eating there anonymously and buying my meal without introducing myself. To my mind, I’m just a guy eating lunch or dinner — but taking notes and photos. I have no training to write reviews and don’t consider these blog posts to be reviews. They’re just my take.

If restaurant reviewing were actually my job, I would work harder at staying atop what’s new or popular, or seek out certain restaurants, such as a couple of Mexican restaurants in Rialto recommended by a taco expert. But it’s not. This is just a hobby.

Another note: I try to hit all 10 of our cities at least once in a calendar year. That means at best I may get to only a half-dozen restaurants in any city in a year. So my list of potential restaurants has a big backlog. (A few of them have no doubt gone out of business.)

All that said, I’m always open to your ideas. If there’s any restaurant you’re surprised I haven’t written about, tell me in the comments. If you have any questions about my approach, ask away. Next Thursday I’ll be back with a fresh Restaurant of the Week.

As always, past posts can be found by scrolling through the category listings on the right-hand side of this home page, where they’re organized by city. Or you can search for names in the search feature.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Reading Log: December 2017

Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Woody Allen Companion,” Stephen Spignesi; “True Stories of Claremont, CA,” Hal Durian; “Readings,” Michael Dirda; “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen; “Happiness is Warm Color in the Shade: a Biography of Artist Milford Zornes,” Hal Baker

December sent me off in style with five books read. I didn’t read them all stem to stern that month, but they were all finished in December. It was a fine way to end the year.

The month’s deepest read was Springsteen’s acclaimed memoir, and the longest too at 510 pages. A leisurely, detailed look at his childhood and formative years, stardom and middle age, Springsteen alternately builds up his mythology and tears it down. He’s unsparing as he lays bare his failings and the mental problems that he inherited from his troubled father, and unstinting in his generosity to the love of his life. Pure Springsteen, his 2016 memoir is ruminative, moving, powerful, incantatory and jokey. No wonder he’s the Boss.

Dirda’s book, published in 2000, is a collection of his Washington Post book columns, for which he has won a Pulitzer. He’s better read than the rest of us, but he’s so matter-of-fact about his reading that I found myself jotting down titles of interest rather than cursing him — although now and then I did roll my eyes. While occasionally precious, he’s funny too, such as his essay about how little he can remember about the books he loves. Winningly, his vision of good reading embraces “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as much as “Hamlet.”

The 1992 book about Woody Allen was a gift from a friend circa 1993, and it never occurred to me to sit down to read the collection of trivia, movie synopses and the like, from his early TV work through his stand-up, films, essays and plays. But it’s the only book on its shelf that is unread, and I might have simply sold it if not for the nice inscription. So I put it by my bedside and, over a few months, read it cover to cover. Current only through 1992’s “Shadows and Fog,” this has the benefit of predating the last 25 years of his movies, few of which have enhanced his reputation and many of which have been crummy. Definitely for the confirmed Woodmaniac, if any remain.

Two of my selections this month were local in nature and published in 2017.

The Zornes biography, written by his son-in-law, is a warm recollection of the local watercolorist who died in 2008 at age 101. Frankly, the writing and copy-editing are not professional, but if you’re interested in Zornes, this has a lot to recommend it, including insights, stories and a lot of quotes and facts from the man himself, who was interviewed on tape during a long road trip. And of course the pages are enlivened by many reproductions of paintings and sketches, plus photos.

Durian, a retired teacher and history columnist, has lived in Claremont more than 50 years. His book is made up of short essays on various people, places, incidents and facets of life around town, including a few local controversies. It’s a nice effort. I don’t know that he’s quite captured Claremont in all its glory and contradictions, but he’s not overly reverent and I learned a few things I didn’t know. It’s a limited edition of a mere 100 copies. I attended one of his talks and he gave me one.

The Zornes book was checked out from the Pomona Public Library, long may it wave; the Springsteen was a gift; and the Dirda was bought in 2013 from Magic Door Books in Pomona.

All told, I made it through 45 books in 2017, which isn’t bad, even if it’s about 1/10 of what I’d have liked to have read.

How was your December, readers?

I’ll be posting a list of my year’s books soon and a column is likely to follow.

Next month: shadows and light.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Dog Haus, RC

Dog Haus, 7815 Monet Ave. in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

A Pasadena-based hot dog chain, Dog Haus opened over the summer in Victoria Gardens along what we might call the millennial-friendly street with wider sidewalks, benches, charging stations and, increasingly, a more eclectic range of shops and restaurants.

I’ve been to the original location a time or two and had something of a mixed reaction, liking what they were trying to do — quality links without hormones, etc., and on King’s Hawaiian rolls — but not entirely sold on the rolls compared to good ol’ buns. Still, that the chain was opening one out here was welcome, and I was interested in giving it a try again.

The VG location opens to the sidewalk in decent weather, with a wraparound bar/counter where you can get a local beer (including Claremont Craft Ales, Hamilton Family and Dale Brothers) and the food. There are also tables, a casual counter and communal seating, all under Edison bulbs. I was there on a warm December evening (remember those?) and the restaurant was comfortable even with the door open and grating up.

I got the Das Brat ($8), a bratwurst with sauerkraut, onions and mustard. Very good dog, and the roll caught me by surprise, lightly toasted to a sort of buttery perfection. I’ve been back since and the roll was close but not quite as prime. Still, I’m sold. My only beef, ha ha, is that Dog Haus really lays on the mustard, as you can see. It’s a bit much and a bit messy: I’d prefer about half as much, personally.

The menu has a few burgers too, plus ice cream from Alhambra favorite Fosselman’s. (Note to whoever handles the website: Don’t say you’re “proudly serving” that brand and then misspell its name.) So it’s a limited menu, but Dog Haus sticks to what it does best, and does it pretty well.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email