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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Restaurant of the Week: Alex’s Tacos

Alex’s Tacos, 941 E. Mission Blvd. (at San Antonio), Pomona; open daily 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In Pomona, Mission and Holt are prime taqueria corridors. On Holt, I like Tijuana’s Tacos; on Mission, Taqueria Guadalupana is a winner. But there are others. Lured by reviews on Yelp, I’ve been trying Alex’s Tacos, in a small, battered building a couple of blocks east of Towne Avenue.

Entrance is through the back, from a parking lot that has been full the couple of times I’ve tried it. Might be better to park on the street or a block over on Caswell. There’s a popular boba shop in the building next door, by the way.

Alex’s has a half-dozen booths, often full, and a counter where you can sit to eat or await a takeout order. The menu is tacos, burritos and quesadillas, with a variety of meats, including one I hadn’t seen on a menu before, sessos. I googled it. Let’s say zombies would go right for it. But there’s pork, chicken and beef as well as tongue, stomach and more.

They specialize in birria, the stew that you can get as either beef or goat, and that you can get in taco form. My first visit I got three birria tacos: two goat, one beef ($1.85 each). They came double-wrapped in flaky tortillas, with red and green salsas on the side. The meat was tender, and while my nod would go to the beef, my mind might change by next time.

My next visit, I got an al pastor burrito with everything ($6.10), delicious, the pork nice and crisp.

Realizing they had hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados), I ordered three al pastor tacos on my most recent visit ($1.85 each). The outer tortilla came crisped lightly, but still flexible; the inner tortilla was warm. I prefer soft shell, but these were good.

Alex’s also has menudo on weekends and based on Yelp reviews has a consomme for $1 that people seem to like.

Service is brisk but polite and you’ll probably have to wait a bit for your food due to demand. Be patient, it’s worth it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sabor a Mi

Sabor a Mi, 8976 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Vineyard), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

I’m rarely johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to new restaurants. Either I don’t know about them or I wait until they find their footing. I wouldn’t have known about Sabor a Mi if a reader hadn’t alerted me within a couple of weeks of its early February opening and even invited me to join her and her husband for dinner.

So a recent evening found us meeting up at the restaurant, which occupies a storefront within the Thomas Winery Plaza. It’s very well-appointed, with tasteful decor, art on the walls, Edison bulbs and an inviting bar.

The menu has starters, salads and entrees ($14 to $19). Sabor a Mi does not have tacos or burritos, but rather empanadas, carne asada and mixiote. Our table ordered conchinita pibil ($16), chicken enchiladas with mole ($16) and mole poblano ($18), pictured in that order below.

The first is slow-roasted pork in Yucatecan style, the second is self-descriptive other than perhaps the dark sauce (typically containing chocolate, fruit and various spices) and the latter is boneless leg and thigh chicken, also in mole.

We liked all our dishes; mine was the poblano, which came with handmade tortillas. For dessert we shared the creme brulee trio ($6), which were flavored with guava, jamaica and horchata, respectively. Excellent.

Sabor a Mi, by the way, is a popular Mexican song — Eydie Gorme, of all people, did a version in 1964 — and translates as Taste of Me. The Cordon Bleu-trained woman behind the restaurant has worked her way up in the business from bussing tables to chef to owner. The menu has items from various states in Mexico, including mole birthplace Puebla, Michoacan, Mexico City and the Yucatan.

Service was friendly and the owner visited our table as she made the rounds of the room, a nice touch. Things weren’t perfect: The waiter misinterpreted our declining the guacamole appetizer as an order for the guacamole appetizer ($8), not that we minded, one of my sides was wrong and when he brought back the bill and credit card slip, he had to apologetically explain that he’d at first charged another table on the card before realizing his mistake and voiding it. No harm done.

On the other hand, there were little extras, like an aperitif of pork rinds with avocado and sprouts, and small complimentary dishes of avocado ice cream. My friends had been there before and also gotten such fillips. They said the service was better this time. So, be patient.

Few other restaurants in the area (Sabor Mexicano in Pomona comes to mind) seem to be doing quite what Sabor a Mi is attempting, and good for them. Sabor a Mi is also one of the most stylish local Mexican restaurants. They serve beer, wine and tequila, and a Mexico City-style weekday lunch special, comida corrida (“lunch on the run”), with three courses served simultaneously, promises to get you out within 30 minutes. But maybe you’ll want to linger.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Patron II, La Verne

El Patron II, 1524 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily except Monday

A reader told me a year ago to try out El Patron II. This led me to find El Patron (I) in Rancho Cucamonga, which is a couple of miles from our office and has become a favorite. Once I arranged to meet a friend at El Patron II for lunch and, of all the luck, we picked the day it’s closed.

But on a night last month, craving Mexican food, I remembered El Patron II and went there for dinner.

It’s a storefront in the Vons center. Like RC, it’s sitdown, although they were doing a lot of takeout, and the menu looked about the same. I’d describe the food as homestyle Mexican cooking: nothing fancy, but good versions of the staples, with an emphasis more on plates than on simply a la carte items, although they have those too. And they fresh-fry their hard tacos, which are worth trying.

I got the chile verde plate ($10), which I hadn’t had before. What came were impressive hunk of tender pork in a slightly spicy green sauce, with rice, refried beans  and corn (or flour) tortillas. Delicious, and I took some home. And yes, there were complimentary fresh chips and salsa.

Another thing similar to RC: the exceedingly attentive and helpful service. It must be a thing they emphasize, and it’s appreciated. They don’t rush you, they check on you a few times and when I asked for a to-go box, the server also refilled my iced tea.

It’s nice to have an El Patron not far from where I live and another one not far from where I work. You may not be so lucky.

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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?

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