Restaurant of the Week: Chapala Restaurant

Chapala Restaurant, Bar and Grill, 1542 W. Holt Blvd. (at Benson), Ontario; open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., except Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

You could date your longevity here by whether you know the low, long building at Benson and Holt as Last Round, or Las Playas, or Antonio’s, the latter of which occupied the corner for a few decades until the mid-’00s. The latest restaurant and bar is Chapala.

I learned of its existence from a rare mention of an Inland Valley restaurant in the Times food section’s news briefs column. The paragraph cited Chapala’s ceviche towers, tortas ahogadas, birria de res and handmade tortillas, plus mariachis on Friday and Saturday. To be clear, the Times didn’t visit; the mention was merely a rehash of a news release.

Still, I was impressed by the savvy of a local restaurant able to insert itself into the Times. So when a small group wanted lunch in Ontario, I chose Chapala. It’s named for a city in the Mexican state of Jalisco by a lake, accounting for the restaurant’s lighthouse logo.

The building has two halves, a restaurant side and a bar side. We checked out both and both were empty at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, perhaps not the best sign. We were seated in the bar area. I counted nine TVs, so it’s probably a fun place to unwind after work and watch sports.

Two had shrimp tacos ($2 each), said to be “all right” but served on cold tortillas. Handmade, but cold. Someone else got carne asada tacos ($1.55 each), which he said were “good.”

I had a chicharron torta ($6.75), decent but unexceptional.

The asada guy also got a shrimp cocktail ($13). He said the shrimp had been frozen and thawed in the cup, which might have accounted for the watery cocktail sauce.

Perhaps we came at the wrong time and ordered all the wrong things. But for what we experienced, Chapala was disappointing. On the bright side, we weren’t disturbed by the conversation of other diners.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fat Burrito

Fat Burrito, 9608 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Have you had puffy tacos? They’re a specialty in San Antonio, Texas, where I ate them at Ray’s, but they’re rare in SoCal, with Arturo’s Puffy Tacos in Whittier being the prime exemplar. Bar Ama in downtown L.A. makes them, although they’re off-menu; personally, I found them oily and disappointing on a visit earlier (oilier?) this year.

But now comes Fat Burrito, a family owned Tex-Mex restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga that opened last December in what had long been home to the late Chile Red.

Fat Burrito is a good name for a Mexican restaurant. But the specialty is puffy tacos.

On my first visit back in April, a friend got a chicken huarache ($8), seen above. He hadn’t had a huarache before. “That was excellent,” he said after finishing. “I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone.”

I got the puffy tacos ($3.55 each): one al pastor, one chile verde. They come with onions, cilantro, cotija cheese and sour cream. The tortillas puff out, as if the tortilla were an animal in defense mode. These were delicious tacos, and scarcely oily at all.

On a subsequent visit I got carne asada and pollo asado in my puffy tacos (above). I was back this week and got the final two meats: machaca and carnitas. I have completed the Fat Burrito meat circuit.

I’d be hard-pressed, though, to tell you which meat to get. They were all tender and moist. But as a pork fan, I’m partial to the al pastor and chile verde.

You order at the counter, by the way, and take a seat in the small but comfortable dining room. The menu has a couple of other items, including something called a burrito salad, plus standard tacos for $2.25, but that’s about it.

All told, I’ve eaten at Fat Burrito four times so far, and I’m sure I’ll return many more times. Between Fat Burrito and El Patron, Rancho Cucamonga now has a couple of very good Mexican restaurants. (And perhaps more of which I’m unaware.)

On one visit, I tried a burrito. It’s in their name, right? I got chile verde ($9.25). You know, the burritos here are good too, wrapped in flour tortillas, the interior a pleasing mishmash of rice, beans and meat, everything kind of fusing into one filling.

It’s also true, though, that you can get a good burrito plenty of places, but you probably can’t find puffy tacos anywhere else in the Inland Valley. Go for those. You’ll thank me.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pola’s Mariscos

Pola’s Mariscos, 8801 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I’d noticed Pola’s while driving along Central Avenue, in the aging center with Dolce Bistro, Tokyo Kitchen and more. Pola’s took over a long-vacant Quizno’s whose sign’s ghost image could be easily read even years after its departure.

While no expert on Mexican seafood, mariscos sounded appealing, and a new restaurant in Montclair is almost news in itself. So I arranged to meet a friend for lunch there. I could accurately say this took place on a cold, blustery day, even though this was in the middle of January rather than any time in the four weeks since then, which have largely been just as dismal.

It’s a simple operation with a short menu. I got the campechana ($12.50), with shrimp, octopus, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado.

The seafood, simply prepared, tasted fresh and of the sea. Does the serving look large in the stemmed glassware? It was. It was all I could do to finish it.

My friend got Reyna’s mix ($13.50), with shrimp, octopus, crab (hence the extra $1), cucumbers and tomatoes. He pronounced himself equally satisfied and stuffed.

The menu has aguachile, shrimp cocktail, molcajete and tostadas, plus menudo on weekends, but no tacos or burritos.

We were given crisp tostadas as accompaniment, plus ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce. The staff was friendlier than the norm. Pola’s is a nice place.

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Restaurant of the Week: Corazon Urban Kitchen

Corazon Urban Kitchen, 1637 N. Garey Ave. (at McKinley), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday

Pomona has a lot of Mexican restaurants, most of them taquerias, but places taking a more chef-driven approach are rare. There’s been some movement in that regard in the past year with the vegan Mexican spot Borreguitas, the cholo-friendly Dia de los Puercos and the modern Mexican Corazon Urban Kitchen.

Among the experimental restaurant’s experiments was where to locate. Corazon opened on East Second Street earlier this year, was raved about and then within weeks closed in a landlord-tenant dispute. This summer it surfaced on Garey Avenue above the 10 Freeway between a tire shop and a liquor store across from Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

I had lunch there recently with a friend who’d eaten there once before. A window seat will put you practically on the sidewalk.

Parking is either on the street or in the lot immediately to the south, which the server assured me was fine. The exterior is a muted red with a stylish metal sign, the effect somewhat offset by a banner or two. The interior is inviting with faux wood flooring, pumpkin-colored walls and portraits of such Mexican icons as Frida, Cantinflas and El Santo.

Lunch started with chips and salsa. The chips were warm, the salsa fresh tasting.

My friend and I ordered from the lunch specials, which are $8. I got a carnitas sope with rice, he got a chicken tinga torta with fries. We both thought they were great. A reader had recommended the sopes, two discs of masa with a meat (or not), queso fresco, cilantro and crema, and I was not disappointed. I should have asked my friend to cut his torta in half for a better photo, but I swear there was chicken inside. We both left full.

“I would say ‘Delicious torta,’ which is a boring thing to say,” he said. “Not only would I come back, I did come back.” While he preferred his first-visit quesadilla, he said: “The taste is prima.”

Plates cost $10 to $25. Entrees include short rib tacos, potato taquitos, chicharron tacos and a chorizo burger. Their Facebook page says they now have a vegan chile relleno. Blogger John Clifford gave a detailed account of a meal here back in June. Owner Sergio Nogueron, he said, is a Ganesha High graduate who worked in restaurants in LA before returning to his hometown. Welcome back, Sergio.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dia de los Puercos

Dia de los Puercos, 115 W. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday except until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday

You may recall this corner spot as home to Joey’s BBQ, or later The Rookery, which has moved a few storefronts west. Since August it’s been home to Dia de los Puercos, a Mexican restaurant that began as a food truck and added a West Covina restaurant, as well as becoming a vendor at the LA County Fair. Shuttering Covina, owner Rick Garcia has now opened in Pomona and also at the new Riverside Food Lab food hall.

I’d been to the Fair spot and to the Covina location, enjoying both, and was happy to see the restaurant in a permanent spot closer to home. I went in for dinner earlier this month.

It was populated on a Saturday night, but low-key. It can be hard to tell if the dark-windowed restaurant is open but for the open front door. A greeter is right inside when you enter. Here’s the menu; click on the image for a readable view.

For a place whose name translates as Day of the Pigs, pork is obviously a theme, but there are other meats too, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. I got the El Tri ($10), the three-taco plate, with pastor, barbacoa and huitlacoche.

Underneath the cabbage were three very good tacos, and filling too, on handmade tortillas, with some fresh chips on the side.

The dining room has banquettes, a bar and two original Joey’s picnic tables as well as some newer communal tables. The walls have graffiti-style art, street signs for 6th Street and Brooklyn Avenue, and a wall-length photo mural of the 6th Street bridge, all appealing for the Boyle Heights diaspora. Latin and soul oldies such as “Sideshow” and “Ring My Bell” played. The place had a mellow, friendly vibe.

In addition, there’s a front dining room with a bar as well and a patio. As with Joey’s and The Rookery, the space is larger than needed, and a bit awkward, but they’re trying to make use of the entire floor plan.

I went back a week later for lunch on a Sunday. There were some large groups, including extended families with men in buttoned-up flannel Pendletons. A Latina reader saw me and later shared that while I was the only Anglo in the restaurant, “you looked totally comfortable” — which I was.

Anyway, I got the El Sangweesh ($7), a sorta with pork mole as my meat. The result, which I cut in half for easier eating, was flavorful and carried me through the rest of the day.

Eater LA’s Bill Esparza has produced a close look at the restaurant, which he describes as “a shrine to Chicanismo, or Mexican-American street culture” and an exemplar of “pocho cuisine.” Recommended reading, and the photos are great.

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Restaurant of the Week: Borreguitas

Borreguitas, 977 S. Garey Ave. (at 10th St.), Pomona; open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sundays

This is a rarity, a vegan restaurant, and in a smaller subset, vegan Mexican. A vegan friend who lives nearby had eaten at Borreguitas several times since its July opening and invited me and two other friends to lunch.

Seating about a dozen, it’s a small place, sandwiched (possibly with sprouts) between a barbershop and La Fuente, a 24-hour Mexican restaurant. The story is that there’s an ownership connection with La Fuente, where vegan items were introduced and ignored because nobody really knew about it. Borreguitas, however, seems to be a hit. In the two hours we were there, people kept cycling through or picking up to-go orders.

The menu has tacos, burritos, quesadillas, mulitas, enchiladas, tortas, pozole and ceviche, all Mexican staples, only with soy meat, vegan nut cheese and the like.

Of our group of four, three got the “asada” burrito with either red or green salsa ($10). I photographed the green. You can imagine the red, I trust.

“This is magnificent,” one carnivore declared. “This sauce is fantastic.” (He had the red. Maybe I should have photographed it instead.) “This was the best vegan burrito I’ve ever had. Also the first,” he clarified. “But it won’t be the last. I’ll be back.”

The second carnivore also liked his burrito and said, “I will gladly take my meat-loving friends here.” He had earlier joked: “My comment is, ‘Add a little meat and: delish.’ You don’t need to put that.” I didn’t need to, but I try to go above and beyond.

Of course the vegan liked it. She’d had it before.

I had the street tacos, four of ’em ($1.25 each): two “asada,” two “al pastor.” They looked much like the real thing, dusted with cilantro and chopped onion, the asada looking steak-ish, the al pastor ruddy, with (a nice touch of authenticity) thin-sliced pineapple on top. Even though they were all from soy meat, there was no question which was which.

They did taste fairly convincingly of the meats they replicated, although the mouth feel wasn’t the same. Neither was the fat content, of course. I also had one of the aguas frescas, pineapple-spinach ($3), an unusual combination but one that worked. Someone else got a horchata ($3) and liked it.

I’d be open to returning, even if I prefer the real thing. Borreguitas is definitely a welcome addition to Pomona and the rest of the valley. As I write this, Borreguitas has 61 reviews on Yelp and a five-star ranking.

As you might expect, customers were mostly young, including a hipster with a lumberjack beard. But they also included families with young children. It was a nice scene, akin to something you might see in Silver Lake.

By the way, Borreguitas means little lamb. “Which is adorable,” one friend remarked, “but which they don’t actually serve.” Maybe over at La Fuente.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria La Oaxaquena

Taqueria La Oaxaquena, 825 E. Mission Blvd. (at Towne), Pomona; open daily, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. except Friday and Saturday until 4 a.m.

I’ve noticed Taqueria La Oaxaquena from across Mission Boulevard at Taqueria Guadalupana, one of my haunts, always meaning to give it a shot. On a lunch break a few weeks ago, I did so.

It’s a large space occupying two storefronts, with a bare floor and few frills. You order at the counter and sit at one of the basic fast-food-style booths lined up in rows. A mural of a Mexican village scene, probably meant to represent the pilgrimage town of San Juan (the exterior sign is Taqueria La Oaxaquena de San Juan), decorates one wall and spills over onto the next.

The menu is confusing and incomplete — a few pictured items on a couple of banners and some signs noting specials — and the staff is more comfortable in Spanish. They sell tacos, quesadillas and mulitas with the standard fillings, and some uncommon ones, plus breakfast, some seafood items, aguas naturales (bionicos, licuados and smoothies) and ice cream. Based on the exterior signs, their specialties include birria, barbacoa and mole con pollo.

My first visit I had one of the specials, four tacos ($5) al pastor, plus a Coke. They arrived with double tortillas, handmade and crisped on the grill, with a generous amount of barbecued pork. They were quite good, and there was a bar of salsas, limes, etc. to choose from.

I took a flier that listed a few of their items, plus the fillings. Three are vegetarian: huitlacoche or corn fungus, champinones or mushrooms and flor calabeza or squash blossoms. On a return visit, I had a huitlacoche quesadilla ($6.50, I think), which took me back to my vacation to Mexico City. It’s a rare item in these parts. It had mushrooms, corn fungus, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

I also got an aguas fresca ($2.50, I think), serving myself with a ladle from one of the five jugs. Mine was strawberry, and I liked it.

The clientele on my visits was very Mexican-American and working class. I can’t tell you whether the food is from the state of Oaxaca or the state of Jalisco — anyone able to explain this to me? — but I can tell you this is among Pomona’s better Mexican restaurants. For the adventurous, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos Jalisco

Mariscos Jalisco, 753 E. Holt Ave. (at San Antonio), Pomona; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Wednesday

The arrival of Mariscos Jalisco in Pomona in mid-March was excellent news for foodies, as well as for anyone who appreciates cheap eats and Mexican-style seafood. The restaurant, the celebrated Boyle Heights’ food truck’s first brick and mortar spot, was written up in my column, which included an interview with founder Raul Ortega.

But as it would seem like an oversight not to make Mariscos Jalisco a Restaurant of the Week for my blog, listed alongside other Pomona eating places, here it is.

There’s a limited menu, all seafood-based. Don’t go in thinking you can order a chicken burrito. As there are only 10 items, I had some thought of trying all 10 before writing something. I didn’t get quite that far, as you’ll see.

The shrimp taco is the must-have item. You order them individually, and so on some visits I’ve had one, plus a second item, like the campechana, a seafood cocktail with shrimp, octopus, oysters, fish, onions, tomatoes, avocado (virtually every item here uses avocado), and eaten with a spoon or on a tostada, or the coctel, pictured second, which is the above but without oysters. I enjoyed both.

I’ve had both ceviches, seafood, below, and shrimp, which I can’t find my photo of.

Above is the mixta, a ceviche with shrimp, fish and octopus. All the ceviches are chilled and refreshing.

Finally, I ordered the Poseidon, basically the mixta but with aguachile. It’s spicy! I was crying and blowing my nose and using up a dozen napkins in the process.

So I can’t see myself ordering the aguachile on its own, foiling my thoughts of trying all 10 items.

Or can we pretend I had the aguachile, since here it was atop the Poseidon? Hmm.

The other two untried items are possibilities: peinados, which looks from the photo like a seafood assortment, and a botana, the menu’s priciest item at $19, and meant for two people. I’m not sure what it is from the photo. A friend owes me a meal there after I had to pay for hers when she didn’t have cash (the restaurant has since begun taking cards), so I could always try persuading her to get the botana.

Or I can just continue happily eating a taco or two a week, with the occasional ceviche or cocktail to mix things up.

Business has been good, but not explosive; I haven’t encountered a line longer than four people, although I haven’t tried going during a traditional lunch hour. So don’t be deterred, but also bear in mind the early closing time. Below is the small dining room shortly after my column was published. It was nice to see the place full, whether or not I had helped.

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Restaurant of the Week: Chuy’s Cocina

Chuy’s Cocina, 10285 Central Ave. (at Kingsley), Montclair; open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A friend who drives up Central on a frequent basis noticed Chuy’s and suggested a group of us meet there for lunch. I had overlooked the restaurant, which opened last September in a small, multi-tenant building, but agreed instantly. Always nice to find a new restaurant to try in modest Montclair. (The current Yelp rating, by the way, is five stars, based on 63 reviews.)

You generally order at the counter, it seems, although a staffer came to our table to take our order based on the menu behind the counter. Hey, it’s a family-run place, they can make their own rules. Menu board is below; click on the photo for a more readable view.

I got a sope (with pastor) and a mulita (with asada), each $4. I think I’d had a sope once, which is pictured at top below, but not a mulita, foreground. A mulita is somewhere between a taco and a quesadilla. I liked it. It turns out I’m not a fan of sopes, which are hard to pick up and eat, and have crumbled cheese and other toppings that fall off, but there was nothing wrong with this version.

One friend got the chile relleno and enchilada combo ($9) with beans, rice and a wee salad. “Esta muy rica,” he said, practicing his Spanish. “Very delicious. I liked it very much.”

The other two friends each got three-taco combos ($7), one with bean tacos — “Tasty. I really liked the salsa,” she said — and one with chicken. After much thought as to a pithy comment, he settled for: “The tacos were excellent.” Posterity thanks him.

Chuy’s seats about 30. The staff was helpful, even if their English is lacking. When the vegan in our group had a question about the preparation, the chef came out to answer. When our complimentary chips were finished, they brought out more, and also refilled our drinks.

The friend whose idea it was to meet there mused aloud, “My thought was, how could a place so small be a restaurant? In the inside, it’s a lot larger than it looks from the outside.”

“Like the Tardis,” said another.

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Restaurant of the Week: Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan

Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan, 818 S. Mountain Ave. (at Mission), Ontario; open daily

Ontario doesn’t show up as often in these Restaurant of the Week posts as some cities. So when a friend suggested meeting at a carnitas specialist in south Ontario, I was all for it. Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan is in the shopping plaza on the southwest corner of Mountain and Mission.

You order at the counter, by a steam table of meats. Here’s the menu; click for a larger view. As befits the restaurant’s name, it’s pork-intensive: pork, stomach, skin and the carnitas mix, pork with brains.

But they also have beef. My friend got the two-taco combo: one pork, one birria, which is stewed beef, with rice and beans (about $9, below); I got the same, except both birria. This wasn’t on purpose. I can get a little tongue-tied at unfamiliar and ethnic restaurants.

Their tacos are large and meaty; I ate about half the beef with a fork before picking up the remainder. We both thought the tacos were quite good. She bought a bag of housemade pork rinds for her parents.

A couple of weeks later, I returned for two carnitas tacos, again as a plate. Couldn’t very well write about Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan without trying the carnitas. It was tender and flavorful.

Next door there’s a La Michoacana Ice Cream shop in case you’d like to continue the theme and maybe cool off the spicy salsa.

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