Restaurant of the Week: El Buen Gusto

El Buen Gusto, 360 N. Park Ave. (at Center), Pomona; open daily, 10:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.; cash only; second location at 990 E. Holt (at Reservoir)

Reader Helen Uceda recommended El Buen Gusto to me possibly three years ago (ulp), seconded by a friend of mine, and the restaurant was dutifully added to my list of places to try around the region. Time passed, as it does, until recently I scanned the list and I made a point of finding the restaurant, which I didn’t believe I had ever noticed despite it being on the fringes of downtown Pomona.

But there it was when I looked for it, in a nondescript building alongside a barber and a botanica with its own tarot reader. I parked around the corner and stepped inside for a late lunch.

Even after 3 p.m., there were a few customers inside the modest restaurant. You order in the lobby at the window, where they also dispense takeout orders. I asked the employee, who might have been an owner, what people ordered, and she listed a few items — pupusas, fajitas and beef soup are the ones I recall — while saying the pork, cheese and bean pupusas were the most popular.

I got two of those — they’re known as revueltas — and a guanabana agua fresca. She said I could pay upon leaving.

There are two small adjoining dining rooms, probably evidence the restaurant has expanded into the next door space. An El Salvador flag is displayed in one window. A Spanish-language program played silently on a TV. After a while my food was delivered: a plate of two thick, pancake-like pupusas, plus a bowl of a vinegary slaw to use as topping.

I’ve had pupusas a handful of times. These might be my favorite, stuffed, delicious and filling. The guanabana drink was sweet but light, a good combination.

The bill: $8. That’s hard to beat.

El Buen Gusto may not be much to look at, but the food is good and the staff polite. I should have tried them three years ago.

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Dial ‘NAtional’ in Pomona

Reader Robin Young was in Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in August when she found a sure sign she was in the old wing: a sticker on the restroom’s towel dispenser with a NAtional prefix (62). As phone exchanges were dropped in 1965, that’s one old and well-preserved sticker! “It’s a time capsule,” Young says with fondness.

Carr Paper Co., by the way, was established in 1944 and lasted at least into the 1980s, and possibly beyond. Founder Dick Carr was also a longtime board member at the hospital and the boardroom was named for him. So it’s kind of heartwarming that one of his company’s stickers is still in place in a humbler spot in the hospital.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pomona Valley Mining Company

Pomona Valley Mining Co., 1777 Gillette Road (at Dudley), Pomona; 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

Perched atop a hillside above the 10 Freeway, Pomona Valley Mining Co. is a destination restaurant with a theme. At the bottom of the hill, a sign on a weathered-looking shack points you in the right direction.

That requires a heart-stopping drive up the hill, one that it might be possible to get used to, but which freaks me out the handful of times I’ve done it. (Too bad I don’t still have that F-150.) Once up there, though, you’re rewarded with views of Pomona, the freeway and Elephant Hill. A seat near the bank of windows is a must.

The exterior is meant to resemble a Gold Rush-era wooden building, and wagons, lanterns and other such items decorate the drive up, the parking lot and the interior. The dining room is down a flight of stairs.

I was there for dinner recently with bloggers Dining in Pomona (and wife Mrs. C) and New Diner 2. It was a blogging summit meeting. As with most summit meetings, progress was incremental and deals were elusive. The only photo ops were of food.

I had had dinner at the Mining Co. precisely once and remember only that my cheapskate friends were irate that they were charged for soda refills, which I believe were taken off the bill. At noontime it’s a rental facility and I’ve been to a couple of service club lunches there.

The menu is largely steaks, prime rib and seafood. Two of our party got the shrimp and scallops ($26), one got the ribeye ($32) and I got the Miner’s Filly filet mignon ($34). Salad and soup bar is free with a meal or $18 on its own; you get a chilled plate that resembles a mining pan, except you’re panning for veggies, not gold. I had a little of the albondigas soup, which had (ugh) peas.

Cheese bread was delivered gratis (and au gratin). What’s not to like?

The seafood crowd was perplexed that their shrimp and scallops came in a cream sauce rather than a garlic sauce. (The menu says they’re “sauteed with garlic butter,” after all.)

The ribeye eater was put out by its preparation; it should be cooked “hot and fast,” leaving a char on the outside, she said. Also, her lemonade ($3.50) was never refilled. But then, maybe they don’t do free refills? Still, they should ask if she wanted another. She said that’s typically the way women are treated when outnumbered by men at a table, but noted ominously, “I have just as much influence on the tip.”

I may have been the only satisfied customer, enjoying my splurge steak with herb butter and mushrooms. Overall, though, the salad and soup were unexciting, the service average to indifferent and the mining theme a little dated. Here are the takes of Dining in Pomona and New Diner 2.

So, as a holdover from the era of theme restaurants — it appears to have opened circa 1977 — Pomona Valley Mining Co. is an interesting curio. The food’s okay. But if you go, it will probably be more for the views.

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Restaurant of the Week: Big D’s Burgers

Big D’s Burgers, 135 E. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For a brief spell the three main restaurants in a two-block stretch of 2nd Street were hamburger parlors, which was kind of a drag. Big D’s, which has a location in Whittier, was the latest, joining Burger House and the Rookery. But Burger House has closed, leaving a more manageable two burger specialists.

I hadn’t been to Big D’s due to the overkill factor, and because I like the Rookery, but with the path clearer, two friends and I gave it a shot recently at lunchtime.

It’s the first business on the east side of Garey and in recent years has cycled through a crab restaurant, a sushi restaurant and two pizza restaurants. As before, it’s got exposed brick walls, a high ceiling and a deep layout, with patio seating at the sidewalk.

In recent years it’s been a party spot rather than a serious restaurant, catering to the club and concert crowd, and nothing wrong with that. I’m always up for a good burger.

I got the shroom burger ($11) with Swiss and fries ($2), someone else got the patty melt ($11), which comes on parmesan sourdough, and the third got a chicken caesar salad ($9). None of us were blown away, but our food was fine, and the server was nice. My expectations were low, and they were exceeded.

Besides 10 burgers, the menu has four salads, fish and chips, a couple of sandwiches and a hot dog. Oh, and unless my eyes deceived me, you can get a $12 milkshake. Has anyone had one? At that price, I hope it’s sharing size.

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Top Hat Liquor, Pomona

This liquor store in Pomona (565 Dudley Ave.) could really use a paint job, but the angled roofline, high-society name and neon sign still have flair. As Charles Phoenix describes it in “Cruising the Pomona Valley: 1930 Thru 1970”: “This stylish modern liquor store is dressed in formal attire with its original neon sign.” The store was built in 1959.

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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: 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: Mi Cafecito

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Mi Cafecito, 101 S. Main St. (at First), Pomona; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

A coffeehouse with a Latin twist, Mi Cafecito is the first independent coffee shop in downtown Pomona in some years. It’s in the former VFW building, renovated and carved into storefronts and offices, by the railroad tracks.

I met a Pomona friend there on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. It’s a small place on the corner, with floor to ceiling windows on both sides, letting in lots of light, and the interior is cheery.

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The menu has espresso and coffee drinks, most available hot, iced or frozen, all 16 ounces, with such flavors as cajeta, caramelo and hazelnut, plus brewed coffee and pour-overs. They also sell some bakery items, including flan, cookies, dessert empanadas and cakes, made by a bakery owned by the owner’s father.

My friend had a frozen coconut latte with almond milk ($6) and I got an iced horchata latte ($5.45). We took one of the small tables and on this warm afternoon caught up over our cold drinks.

She called hers “yummy,” said she’d be back (she has) and hoped Mi Cafecito would succeed despite its corner location a block above Second Street.

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Since then it’s become a near-weekly stop for me. I’ve ordered something different each time. I’ve had two iced lattes — tres leches (made with three milks: regular, condensed and evaporated) and coconut — and four frozen lattes: mocha Mexicano, churro (!), masapan and vanilla. The latter three are my favorites. Tres leches, pictured above, was a little sweet for my taste, but that’s personal. I tried an apple empanada ($1.50), which I liked, on the same visit. The churro latte is below.

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The staff I’ve dealt with are exceptionally nice and remember my name, and on my fourth visit even recalled the three previous drinks I’d ordered. On one visit they had cafe de olla, which they don’t always make, and gave me a small cup. (They have no idea I have a blog or anything; they just recognized me as a regular and gave some away near closing time.) That was actually among my favorite drinks too, and I’m not a hot coffee person.

Mi Cafecito seems to have caught on. It’s got a five-star rating on Yelp, and on my visits, a heartening range of customers walk in, from chipsters to middle-aged couples to families with small children or grandchildren. Hours have increased, another good sign: They recently added an extra hour in the evenings and two hours more on weekend mornings, although they’re still closed Mondays. * Update: it’s now open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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A bookish friend doesn’t like the stark, modernist seating, all stools with high-top tables, and it’s true too that the tables are so small it’s hard to get more than two drinks (if you’re with someone) or a drink and a laptop on them; on one visit I put my dessert plate on a nearby chair.

But they’re trying to make good use of a small-ish space, and they are. Warm regards to them. Also, you can watch trains go by, which is kind of cool.

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