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: Curry Up

Curry Up, 3560 W. Temple Ave. (at Pomona Blvd), Pomona; open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Sunday, closed

A Cal Poly Pomona friend wanted to meet for dinner and was willing to meet me closer to home. But I had thought of that little strip center near campus with three or four restaurants, none of which I had tried. The only one whose name I knew was Curry Up, a cleverly named Indian restaurant that’s been there some years. So we met there.

You order at the counter, with seemingly all the items already waiting on the steam table and best ordered as a two-item combo, like a modest, subcontinent version of Panda Express.

I got saag paneer and chicken tikka masala, with basmati rice, seen above. With drink and garlic naan, this came to $11.15. My friend got chicken tikka masala and allo mutter, with no drink, and paid around $8.

If I remember right, the regular naan is free — does this mean the cost is naan? — but there’s a small charge for garlic naan, which is pretty much everybody’s favorite style of naan and which therefore is worth the extra buck or whatever it was.

My friend liked his meal. Mine was all right, and the saag was spicier than expected. I have to be honest, Curry Up was nothing special. But I hadn’t had Indian food in a while and it was nice to have some again. And, while I’m prepared to be wrong, it might be the only Indian restaurant in Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: Angelo’s Burgers

Angelo’s Burgers, 902 W. Mission (at White), Pomona; open daily, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; cash only

I was surprised recently to learn that I had never written a Restaurant of the Week about Angelo’s. Not that it’s such a culinary landmark, but I’ve eaten there once or twice over the years, and it’s been in business since 1983. In the neighborhood recently for an interview at the police station, I stopped first at Angelo’s for lunch.

The sign would seem to predate Angelo’s, but what was it? Darin Kuna tells me the restaurant was a Taco Lita in the 1960s.

There’s a drive-thru, and the pickup window is, a bit comically, on the passenger side. But that’s due to the configuration of the lot; otherwise, people would be placing their orders out on Mission Boulevard.

Anyway, Angelo’s has burgers, some Mexican fare and dinner plates under $10.

I got the burger special ($6.49): a quarter-pound hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onion and Thousand Island dressing on a sesame bun, plus fries and soda. While the burger was nothing special, it was grilled and not bad at all. The fries were fat and soft, that interim size between regular and steak fries. There were probably a hundred of them, far more than I was interested in.

People on Yelp recommend the pastrami burger, chili cheese fries and chicken tenders.

The walls and support pillars held the de rigeur old timey tin signs with vintage advertisements, propaganda posters, Marilyn images and nickel Pepsi ads, plus license plates from various states lined up and wrapping around the walls near the ceiling. The restrooms are rare local examples of pay toilets, with tokens from the counter, no doubt to deter the homeless.

A notable feature of Angelo’s is that the site was the original 1888 home of Pomona College, as marked by a plaque on a stone at the corner. Imagine, Pomona College was once actually in Pomona. I ate at Angelo’s with the then-president of Pomona College in 2013 to mark the college’s 125th anniversary. The plaque, from 1937, is historic in its own right. Note: The college did not have a drive-thru.

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Rainbow Gardens, Pomona

Eastside entrance to Rainbow Gardens off Locust Street, Pomona, courtesy Darin Kuna

Rainbow Gardens was a popular dance hall in Pomona from the 1940s to the 1960s. The location was 150 E. Monterey St. (at Garey Avenue), immediately south of the YMCA.

Rainbow Gardens opened in 1948, although the building had housed the Palmetto Ballroom from 1945. (Previously the site had held a garage that was turned in 1936 into an athletic club, which hosted wrestling, and then in 1938 into a roller rink, before burning down in 1943 and being rebuilt as the Palmetto.)

An impressive number of well-known musicians performed at Rainbow Gardens. Names include western swing star Spade Cooley, crooners Frankie Laine, Perry Como and Nat “King” Cole and band leaders Harry James, Les Brown, Freddy Martin, Lawrence Welk and Count Basie. Capacity was 2,500.

The Gardens is best remembered, though, for the R&B and rock bands who performed there — the club was on what was known as the Chicano circuit, which included the El Monte American Legion Stadium — and attracted large, mixed audiences, especially Latinos. KRLA hosted weekend dance parties.

Acts who performed at the Gardens include Ritchie Valens, Roy Orbison, Chris Montez, Lou Rawls, Little Richard, Frankie Avalon, Tito Puente, Perez Prado, Herb Alpert, the Romancers and, before their first record came out, the Beach Boys.

The Mixtures, a group from Oxnard that served as the Gardens’ house band, released an album titled “Stompin’ at the Gardens,” and Ronnie and the Pomona Casuals put out a single, “Swimming at the Rainbow.” Candelario Mendoza, a radio disc jockey and later a Pomona educator, was an emcee, booker and consultant from 1950 to about 1962.

Interest in the Gardens began to wane in the early 1960s, and it burned to the ground March 25, 1965. Apparently no cause was ever determined and it was not rebuilt. To my knowledge, the lot remained empty until the Monterey Station apartments were built there almost 50 years later.

Most of the above came from “Land of Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock ‘n’ Roll in Southern California,” “A World of Its Own” and the Progress-Bulletin files. I’ve been reading up on Rainbow Gardens for an eventual column or two. If you ever went there or know anything about it, please comment for posterity!

For the record, the original photo with this post, now placed below, is of a Rainbow Gardens nightclub from Los Angeles and was taken from the Inland Empire 50’s, 60’s, 70’s Facebook page. I apologize for the mistake and thank Darin Kuna, Kenny Soper and others from the Growing Up in Pomona in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s page for the correction.

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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: 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: McKinley’s Grille

McKinley’s Grille, 601 W. McKinley Drive (at White), Pomona; open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

McKinley’s is the restaurant in the Sheraton Fairplex hotel at the Pomona fairgrounds. I’d been there a couple of times for fair-related lunches, and a few times more for service club lunches. Once I met Jon Provost and his wife for an interview over iced teas. But it had not occurred to me to go there for a Restaurant of the Week.

That is, until reader Ken Haerr contacted me to rave about the place. “If you haven’t already reviewed McKinley’s Grille at the Fairplex Sheraton, you must. There is a 5-acre farm to table plot at the LA County Fairgrounds that is dedicated to this restaurant,” Haerr wrote. “There is no reason that this restaurant should not be packed during off-event hotel times. My wife and I ate here tonight in an empty restaurant and the food was utterly spectacular.”

After Haerr’s email I was looking for an excuse to try out McKinley’s when a colleague’s farewell dinner was scheduled there. Bingo.

McKinley’s has a long main dining room with a bar, plus a private room, which is where our dinner was. The decor is all earth tones, comfortable but a little dull. But it’s swankier than a hotel coffee shop, that’s for sure.

The dinner menu has starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees, the latter ranging from $12 to $32. I opted against circling the table to photograph everyone’s food, especially since most people got sandwiches.

But the friend to my right had the Szechuan stir-fry ($12) with chicken ($6). She said the vegetables were fresh and likely from Fairplex’s farm and that the sauce had a pleasant kick to it. She took home half.

Meanwhile, yours truly splurged on the seared rare yellowfin tuna ($28), crusted with yuzu miso and served atop wild rice pilaf with wasabi cream and farm vegetables. This was a winner, light and delicious.

Our dearly departed was given a free dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with berries. I don’t know if it’s on the menu as such, but it was enjoyed by the table. I didn’t poll the table, as I would at a lunch or dinner that was primarily about the food rather than a farewell, but everyone seemed to like what they ordered.

The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch (the $16 burgers are made with ground brisket and short rib), with a mid-afternoon break in service, and has a wine list.

McKinley’s exists primarily for hotel guests and to provide catering for community group events on the premises, and thus perhaps doesn’t live or die by attracting regular folks in for meals. But I can see why the reader was excited about it, because the food is superior, the atmosphere serene and, at least on that Thursday, there was plenty of elbow room.

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