Restaurant of the Week: El Pueblo Meat Market

El Pueblo Meat Market, 13218 6th St. (at D), Chino; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

I pass carnicerias in many of our cities, like El Tarasco in Rancho Cucamonga near Red Hill Coffee Shop, or Mi Mercadito in Pomona, without ever going in. But after a recommendation from a (*cough*) highly placed law enforcement figure in Chino, I gave El Pueblo a try. It’s across from City Hall and the old police headquarters and courthouse.

Downtown Chino, such as it is, is light on places to eat. A couple of times now while attending council meetings, I’ve needed a quick bite and walked over to El Pueblo. They have some grocery and convenience items, but largely it’s a butcher shop, plus a counter for ordering food to go. They sell tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, menudo and a few more items.

My first visit I had an al pastor torta (price forgotten, but around $6). This was consumed on a bench outside the council chambers in near-darkness in January. It hit the spot.

And this month, on a summer evening after a meeting ended early, I got an asada burrito ($6), then walked it over to Aguiar Square, the plaza behind the Children’s Museum, to eat. A fountain is circled by amphitheater-type seating, but a transient was there talking to himself, and sitting near him might have resulted in getting hit up for the money I’d saved by eating a cheap dinner. So I took a spot on a bench elsewhere in the plaza.

The burrito was okay, nothing special, but filling. On Yelp, someone gripes that they mix the steak with ground beef, which I can’t say is true, but which might be true. The torta was a better choice. Even better might have been the taco Tuesday special, which I noticed too late: three chicken tacos for $3.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Patron

El Patron, 9269 Utica Ave. (at Sixth), Rancho Cucamonga; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends

El Patron has spawned a second location, El Patron II, in La Verne. I tried to eat there recently but unfortunately chose a Monday, the only day it’s closed. A few days later, I went to the older one in Rancho Cucamonga. Who can judge the sequel without having seen the original?

It was in a business park and hard to find, but the key is that El Patron faces 6th, not Utica. The facade is biz park bland, but open the door and you’re hit with bright colors, as the walls are painted mustard, maroon and orange. (Your color wheel may differ.)

I took a seat, examined the menu and was delivered chips and salsa. I asked the server about the specialties and he pointed to menu items 6 (chile relleno, taco or enchilada) and 7 (chile relleno, taco AND enchilada). I went for No. 6 ($10), with a hard shell shredded beef taco.

This proved to be a great choice. While I’m not a big fan of chile rellenos, this was a good one, smothered in green sauce, and the taco was freshly fried, something you don’t see all that often. It made me think of Ramon’s Cactus Patch and the Mitla Cafe.

I could see El Patron becoming an occasional lunch stop for me as it’s not that far from our office and the food is very good, with friendly but low-key service. Now I feel prepared for El Patron II. By the way, readers say the same family runs Los Jarritos in Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Pescador

El Pescador Mexican Restaurant, 636 N. Euclid Ave. (at G), Ontario

There’s a chain of El Pescador restaurants around L.A., including two in Ontario, one of which is at Mountain and the 60 Freeway. I’ve only been to the one at the edge of downtown, on Euclid at G in a former Bob’s Big Boy.

But my two visits a decade or so ago, shortly after it opened, had not been followed up, even though my impression was positive. In fact, when the state librarian was in town a couple of years ago, I directed him there for dinner, and he responded later that he had liked it. In the neighborhood recently, looking for somewhere to eat, I decided to try El Pescador again.

It’s pretty nicely appointed, with a chandelier, Tiffany-style lamps, art, pottery in wall sconces and etched glass on the partitions between booths. There are probably few Mexican restaurants in Ontario, or the rest of the Inland Valley for that matter, in a setting quite this nice.

Chips and a bowl of chunky salsa were delivered to my table as I scanned the menu, banda music playing in the background. The menu has a lot of meat and seafood entrees. I went with a standby, camarones al mojo de aja ($17.50), or shrimp in garlic sauce.

The platter came with a small green salad, rice with vegetables (ugh, peas), beans with cheese, 13 shrimp, six tortillas and an orange slice. I can’t find anything wrong with the portion, but the food struck me as very average. El Pescador was better in my memory, or maybe my tastes have changed.

Still, this was only one meal, and you could do worse when downtown. And they make margaritas and have happy hour specials, so there’s that.

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Restaurant of the Week: Imperial Sushi

Imperial Sushi, 108 W. Holt Blvd. (at Euclid), Ontario; open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday

Downtown Ontario now has a sushi restaurant — but not a Japanese restaurant. That’s because Imperial Sushi, reflecting the demographic, is Mexican-run and Mexican-focused. They have sushi, but also tacos.

I was skeptical, but when a friend proposed meeting there for lunch, I was willing. Imperial Sushi is a couple of storefronts west of the downtown epicenter of Holt and Euclid, in a former mariscos spot.

There’s no sushi bar, just a kitchen, plus booths in the fairly large dining room. To start, a server brought out a cup of tortilla chips and, for dipping, a cup of ceviche. Right off the bat, this was going to be a different experience.

The menu has sushi rolls (but no nigiri or sashimi), plus ceviche, fish tacos and cooked seafood dishes. Just to further mix up the cultures, one of the latter includes fettucine.

We got a spicy tuna roll ($10), a crunchy roll ($11) and a guamuchilito roll ($12), pictured in that order below.

Overall, this is the brownest sushi I’ve ever seen. These and all other rolls use cream cheese. The spicy tuna was close to a Japanese restaurant version, except for the spicy orange sauce squirted on it; the others appeared to have added crunch through deep-frying rather than using tempura.

There was no wasabi, although we were given a small carafe of what the server called salsa soya, or soy sauce.

At another table, a man was matter-of-factly shaking Tapatio sauce on his roll.

“For a Mexican place i’d say the sushi’s not bad,” my friend observed. “For a sushi place it’s … adequate.” We didn’t finish our rolls and I doubt I’ll be back.

Imperial Sushi would be easy to mock, but let me say something in its defense. Americans are notorious for adapting foreign cuisines to their taste. This includes Mexican food, Chinese food and Japanese food. In Japan, they do not eat California rolls, obviously, nor do they serve the kind of party rolls many Americans love.

So, Mexican-Americans have adapted Japanese food to their taste too. Good for them. Imperial Sushi isn’t to my liking, but it’s a fascinating cross-pollination of two cultures, and I wish them well.

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Restaurant of the Week: Los Jarritos

Los Jarritos, 3191 N. Garey Ave. (at Foothill), Pomona; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. except Sundays, until 2 p.m.

For years this restaurant was known as Los Jarritos II, because the original Los Jarritos was on Towne Avenue near downtown. But that one closed a year or so ago, it seems, turning the more-popular II into simply Los Jarritos. Probably as it should be. I never went to LJ I but have been to II several times over the years. It’s in the Grove Center south of Foothill Boulevard.

It’s a well-liked spot, busy with takeout orders and with full service in the two dining rooms, where tables are neatly arranged in rows on the tiled floors, lots of natural light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. They sell menudo on weekends, filling pots that people bring in from home. Los Jarritos isn’t fancy, but on the other hand it’s in better shape than a lot of restaurants in aging shopping centers.

I was there for lunch this week with John Clifford, a frequent commenter on this blog, who has been blogging at Eating Garey for the past year as he hits every food establishment on that thoroughfare. His wife, Deborah, tagged along. He blogged about our lunch the next day, a post that can be read here.

Los Jarritos has a short menu, consisting mostly of burritos, although they’ll make you tacos, enchiladas or breakfast (where burritos again seem to be the main event). Asada, shredded beef, chorizo and machaca are the main fillings. I went with chicken, Deb got asada and John got a chile relleno and enchilada plate. (I’m not sure of the prices as Deb grabbed the check while I was interviewing John for an upcoming column, bless her heart, but the burritos were around $7 each and the total came to $35 with drinks.)

John found his rice pleasantly garlicky, his beans creamy and his entree very good, other than his chicken enchilada being on the dry side. Deb liked her burrito and side of beans. John and I were unexcited by the liquid salsa, although Deb was all praise. My burrito was a little dry, as chicken tends to be. I recall liking earlier meals more, probably asada and shredded beef burritos, if memory serves. It had been five or six years since my last visit.

Service was acceptable, and it was interesting to see the ebb and flow in the two hours we spent eating and blabbing: Plenty busy upon our 1 p.m. arrival, nearly empty by 2 and, around 2:30, half full again as a new wave of customers drifted in.

Los Jarritos, now the one and only, is hanging in there as a solid neighborhood choice in north Pomona.

Update: A couple of you in the comments urged me to get a chile verde burrito, enchilada style with green sauce. So I went back and did so (see below). It’s not on the menu, but chile verde is, and they didn’t bat an eye. It was really good, and I recommend it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria El Sol

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Taqueria El Sol, 2129 N. Towne Ave. (at La Verne), Pomona; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

I’ve passed Taqueria El Sol for years; it’s on Towne Avenue a couple of blocks north of the 10 Freeway, and I had wondered if it was any good without ever stopping to investigate. But then someone recommended it, and when a Pomona pal wanted lunch, I chose it.

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It’s small, and fast-food style, but homey; the owner came to our table (we were waiting for a third person who never showed) to chat, and I asked if they had specialties. They do: al pastor, which is marinated pork, and pork leg.

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So my friend got al pastor tacos ($8 as a plate) and I got a pork leg torta ($7). We were both satisfied. “That was really good!” my friend exclaimed. “I would come back here.” Me too. I liked my sandwich and the vibe of the place, and it’s even freeway-close.

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The salsa is too potent for me, but the presentation was nice, with paddles no less, and a side of radishes and limes. The menu is simple, with $6.25 breakfasts and $7.79 plates. It’s family run, open since 2003 and with Guadalajara-style food. To answer my original mused question, yes, it is good.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mar y Tierra

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Mar y Tierra, 826 W. Mission Blvd. (at San Antonio), Ontario; also 1754 S. Euclid, Ontario

There’s a Mar y Tierra on Euclid near Chino that I pass now and then, and which a friend recommended years ago. Or was he praising the Mar y Tierra on Mission, only a couple of miles away, which I discovered via Google when searching for the address to the one I knew?

Either way, I made plans with a friend to meet up, and at the one on Mission, as its blue paint scheme and more expansive size made it look more like the one to visit. It’s got an interesting layout: You walk in past a large covered entry to find yourself almost in the kitchen; a few tables are nearby, and then there’s an L-shaped seating area technically outdoors but almost entirely enclosed.

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According to the sign, this is Mar y Tierra No. 1. And for the record, Mar y Tierra translates as “Sea and Land” and is the equivalent of surf ‘n turf. The menu is heavy on seafood — shrimp, oysters, octopus, lobster — while also offering tacos, burritos, soups, breakfasts and combination plates, many with meat. The menu’s cover depicts a mermaid on a desert island.

I ordered the house special, pulpo, or octopus, “Mar y Tierra style” ($13); asked if I’d like shrimp as well, I said sure. My friend, who apparently has an eye for bargains, had the ceviche de tiritas de pescado ($5.50).

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Mine came with shrimp and chopped octopus in a spicy sauce, plated with rice, beans and salad, tortillas on the side. It was a little spicy for my tastes, which is more a reflection on me than the dish, but was otherwise good. The ceviche was very good, lots of lemon, and with tostadas for dipping.

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The Euclid location is smaller and entirely enclosed. “I like the vibe of this one,” my friend said approvingly of the Mission location. Me too.

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Restaurant of the Week: Arturo’s Puffy Tacos

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Arturo’s Puffy Tacos, 15693 Leffingwell Road (at Lambert), Whittier; closed Sundays

Only a couple of times before (Covina’s Capri Deli, San Bernardino’s Mitla Cafe) have I written a Restaurant of the Week about a spot outside the Inland Valley. Both were worthy spots, in business for decades, that seemed of potential interest to you.

Arturo’s in Whittier is a similar case. I wanted to go there as I’d had puffy tacos while on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, in November, at Ray’s. Puffy tacos are kind of a San Antonio thing. Except they’re not, exactly, because they may have originated in Southern California in the 1960s at Arturo’s, and Art is said to have exported them to Ray’s. (The official story is here.)

I met up with the New Diner blogger at Arturo’s one night earlier this month to try the SoCal version. Arturo’s was brightly lighted and occupies a vintage if divey building with this quaintly awkward motto emblazoned along the roofline: “For a new taste in Mexican food try California’s only…the original Puffy Taco.”

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It’s a walk-up, where you order through a window, pick up your food inside and dine there. I got two puffy tacos: carne guizado ($2.50) and carnitas ($2.65), plus a horchata ($2.05); the New Diner, who’s gone vegetarian on us, got a bean and cheese burrito and taco.

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There were customers when we arrived and nobody when we left near closing time on a weeknight. The walls have a lot of San Antonio memorabilia.

A puffy taco comes in a flash-fried shell that turns flaky and delicate. Have you had cinnamon crisps, those pseudo-Mexican puffy chips dusted with cinnamon as a dessert? I’m not even sure where I’ve had them, Taco John’s maybe. Well, puffy tacos are kind of like that.

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Jonathan Gold once rhapsodized about Arturo’s in LA Weekly: “I’m not sure how I managed to live in Los Angeles this long without even knowing that these puffy tacos existed.” So has OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, who advised readers: “It’s as if a taco dorado decided to evolve into a sope but quit halfway, and it combines the pleasures of the two: thick yet airy, earthy, crispy, golden, one of America’s great regional treats.”

I don’t think I’ll develop a taste for them, but they’re interesting in the best sense of the term, and the carne guizado filling, a beef stew, was especially good. The tacos seemed identical to the ones in Texas — and, obviously, are far more easily obtained.

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Restaurant of the Week: Juancho’s, Upland

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Juancho’s Mexican Cuisine, 2440 W. Arrow Route (at Monte Vista), Upland

There’s a Juancho’s in Ontario, which I’ve heard is good, and now there’s a larger, nicer one on the border of Upland and Claremont, i.e., Upmont, in a center by the colleges and next door to Noodle World Jr.

I’ve been there for lunch twice and had a favorable impression both times.

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There’s a main dining room and a smaller bar area with a couple of booths and a couple of tables, separated from the main room by a faux-brick archway. While the dining room is kind of a big box, there are pleasant touches: heavy wood tables and chairs, faux plaster walls, slow ceiling fans and subtle lighting, plus some interesting tile murals.

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The first visit, a friend from the colleges got shredded beef flautas (pictured above), while I had an asada torta (pictured below), both ordered off the lunch menu and both $7. We both liked our food, and my friend was impressed that my torta didn’t fall apart in my hands.

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Maybe three weeks later, I returned on my own and got the Juancho’s burrito with carnitas, again off the lunch menu and priced at $7. This was good too. There are better burritos, but you’d have to drive two, three, maybe four miles to find them. Juancho’s has fancier furnishings than many Mexican restaurants too, akin to Tio’s Tacos.

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My only regret was I forgot to eat the orange slice.

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