Monday, May 23, 2016

Taqueria Santa Cruz -- 1285 S Garey Ave # E, Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $9.10. Health Rating A. Yelp 4.5 stars

This week's restaurant is a taqueria located in the corner of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Garey and Grand. It is literally "in the corner" of the center. It is very unassuming and hidden, but I was able to find it fairly quickly.

When I got there I wasn't sure if this was a take-out place or a sit down restaurant. There was no real order counter, so I approached the cash register area and asked the young man there how it worked. He indicated that it could be either order out or if I wanted to take a seat it would be sit-down. So I took a seat at one of the tables and was quickly provided with a menu. All menu items also appear on a board behind the cash register. The dining room had a television showing a telenovela, with the volume up so it could be heard (if not understood by me--I pretty much could follow the action though).

After studying the menu, and there were a number of good sounding dishes including burritos, sopas, tostadas, and others such as huevos al gusto, birria de chivo, and fajitas, as well as seafood options. I chose one of my standbys (sorry, not feeling particularly adventuresome today) and ordered the chili relleno platillo. It came with a chili relleno drenched in a red tomato sauce, refried beans, and rice, as well as corn tortillas. I also orderd a diet Coke, although there were aguas frescas available as well as a number of bottled soft drinks including Mexican Coke.

My meal was delivered to my table in a fairly short period of time. This was an interesting version of a chili relleno. First the cheese in the filling was a little bit tough, not melty and smooth, but it had a "bite" to it, not awful, but not what I expected. The sauce actually tasted like someone poured a jar of marinara sauce on top and added some lightly grilled onions and bell peppers. It had that sweet tomato style taste more than the flavor that I would associate with a tomatillo sauce on a chili relleno. The rice was cooked perfectly and tasted good, although nothing special. The beans on the other hand had a "fishy" taste to them. I'm not sure if they were warmed up in a pan that had been used to cook fish or ???? but it was definitely a different flavor profile for refried beans.

I wanted a little salsa for my rice, and looked around and the waitress noticed and asked what I needed. She then brought me two squeeze bottles one with a red sauce and the other with a green sauce. This worked out fine.

While I was there, there were only two others who came in. One single person ordered take-out and one other single diner at in.

At the end of my meal, no one came to the table with the check so I approached the cash register. I started to pay with my debit card (who carries cash these days) but the waitress informed me that if I used a card it would cost an additional dollar. I checked my wallet and, wonder of wonders, I actually had a $20 in there. I paid and added the dollar that I would have used to pay a card fee, along with some other change, and dropped it in the tip jar. To be honest, if they had taken the card the tip would have been larger.

Although I cleared my plate, mom would have been proud, it was not a place that I was impressed with and I doubt I'll be back unless someone tells me that I just have to try their ??????. They have 4.5 stars on Yelp so I really must have missed something. I always accept that I might not have chosen the right food at an unknown restaurant. Your mileage may vary.

Next week I'll be moving from the south Pomona portion of Garey to the downtown portion. Let's see if things change.

UP NEXT: Mexico Lindo

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ponce's Pupuseria & Tacqueria -- 1308 South Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $10. Health Rating A. Yelp 2.5 stars

Last week I was supposed to go to Ponce's Pupuseria as the next stop on my trip north. However, when I stopped by on Monday, they were closed so instead I got Domino's Pizza.

I went back to Ponce's on Wednesday and that's what I'm writing about for this installment.

Ponce's is a bakery and pupuseria, which take up two storefronts in this small strip mall (with difficult parking as the single spots in the center are accessible from both "rows"). I went up to the window to order. The window was open, but there was a CLOSED sign also. When the young woman inside saw me at the window, she reached up and changed the CLOSED to OPEN, whew, was afraid I'd missed it again. While there appears to be a door to the right of the order window, it seems to be only for staff and deliveries, there is no indoor seating.

For those who don't know, a pupusa is Salvadorean, and similar to an Argentinia arepa. Unlike an arepa, a pupusa has the filling put in before cooking. Both are made from a masa made of cornmeal, although there are differences in how the masa is made in each country.

There is a single small table just outside with three chairs if eating in a parking lot is your idea of "ambience."

I ordered two pupusas, one a chicarone and queso (seasoned pork ground to a paste consistency--thanks wikipedia--with cheese, not Mexican chicarone which is fried pork rinds), and an "especial" which was loaded. In addition, since the pupusas seemed like a lite item, I ordered a carne asada burrito. I was then told that it would take 15-20 minutes to prepare my order. Gee, I thought this was traditional street food which is usually fast food. And this was at 12:30 pm, prime lunch time. During my wait, only one other person came up and he appeared to be panhandling, more than wanting to order. While I waited I wandered into the bakery. It had shelves and open racks of many of the standard Mexican sweet bread that I've seen in other local bakeries. However, the place was dark and just didn't "feel" clean or appetizing. My meal was ready in 20 minutes. 

The pupusas came with the two traditional sides, curtido, and salsa roja. The curtido is a lightly fermented slaw similar to kimchi or sauerkraut. It came in a sandwich bag (yes the kind mom used to put my PB&J in when I was in elementary school), as did the salsa roja (which was weird to have a little baggie with liquid). The salsa roja was a little vinegary and somewhat sweet. Not really a "hot" sauce. The burrito came with a hot sauce (in a "normal" sauce container).

Both pupusas seemed a little dense to me. I've had pupusas at Guasalmex and some other places, as well as arepas when I was in New York, and they seemed a bit lighter. However, these were flavorful enough. The burrito had rice, black beans, and cheese and was a decent burrito but nothing to write home about, I can get the equal at several places within a few blocks. Since I decided to take my food "to go," (sorry parking lot dining is not something I'm enamored of), I didn't get a drink but opted to have a diet cherry Coke from my stash at home.

While I can't say there was anything especially bad about Ponce's, the wait time, the lack of seating, and only adequate food will probably keep me from considering it in the future.

UP NEXT: Taqueria Santa Cruz

Monday, May 9, 2016

Domino's -- 1285 S Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $8.85. Health Rating A. Yelp 3 stars

This week was supposed to be Ponce's Pupuseria and Bakery. I got there about noon and the pupuseria was locked up and only the bakery was open. I went in there and asked if the pupuseria was open and the woman who was baking fabulous smelling sweets I believe only understood the word pupuseria and indicated manana. So, despite no signage, I assume that they're closed on Mondays. Since I teach tomorrow I'll have to wait until at least Wednesday to get there. Hopefully they're open for lunch (again, no signage).

Since I was down in that area and now was hungry, I decided to skip to the next one which is Domino's Pizza. I'm really sorry that I decided to include the take-out pizza places as I really wanted to be able to sit down and have a meal. But since I do this for you, not for me, I'll suck it up.

This Domino's has a single table outside (which I didn't use) and is strictly a delivery or take-out type of operation. I've had pizza from this place before as I'm on the Pomona Christmas Parade committee and we usually have pizza at our monthly meetings and most of the time it has come from this Dominos (on exception was right after someone decided to drive a car through their front window, that month we ended up with Little Caesars). I've always found the pizzas from here to be acceptable. I'm afraid that I haven't liked a pizza from a Pomona place since Marie's Red Hill Pizza closed on Holt and White (even the one on second street, while similar) didn't match up to what they had in that little tiny place on Holt.

Trying to be fair to the pizza places that came before (and will come after), I ordered a sausage and mushroom with extra cheese. Their "personal" pizza is a 10" pie. I also ordered 8 wings, choosing HOT as the option for the wings. The only beverages they appear to offer is 2-liter bottles. Since I was going to end up taking it home, I have my preferred Cherry Coke Zero, so . . .

The pizza was actually pretty good. The crust was bready but not doughy and had a bit of a crunch to it like a good French baguette. They didn't include the pepper flakes nor Parmesan cheese that I'm used to as a "given" when ordering pizza, but I guess I should have asked. The pie was cut into 10 slices although they weren't even with some of them being twice the size of others.

The wings came with ranch dressing. It didn't appear that they were coated in the sauce, more like the sauce was dumped on top so some were drenched in sauce and some only had the sauce that pooled at the bottom of the tin foil they were served in. I would describe the sauce as a milder version of buffalo sauce with a bit of vinegar, but not overly hot nor vinegary, more on the sweet side. There were four drumettes and four wingettes, so it was nice and even.

Not a bad meal and not as expensive as Papa Johns so I guess if I was looking for a quick pizza delivery Domino's on south Garey might be a future choice--that is if they deliver to Lincoln Park. Seems to deserve its 3 Yelp stars.

UP NEXT: Ponce's Restaurant & Bakery

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hong Kong Express -- 1533 S Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $8.04. Health Rating A. Yelp 2 stars

Hong Kong Express sits in the middle of a strip mall whose main tenant is East Valley Community Health Center. HKE is a standard Chinese Fast Food joint where you can choose a 1 entree, 2 entree, or 3 entree combination which also includes chow mein and fried rice. In addition, they also have 1 and 2 topping bowls where you can choose steam table items as toppings over rice or chow mein. They also a variety of beverages (many with boba) and soups as well.

The space itself is clean, with several tables where you can dine or you can take-out. The woman behind the counter was friendly, but obviously not a native English speaker. I had to repeat myself several times in order to be understood and an African-American woman who came in looking for an ATM machine wasn't understood at all. Another customer explained to the woman what was wanted so we all learned that there was no ATM machine at this location.

I ordered a 2 entree combo so got chow mien and fried rice. As my entrees I chose the steamed vegetables and the ubiquitous, at places like this, Orange Chicken. I also ordered a medium Diet Coke. As with most places like this, the food was piled high, overflowing the partitioned Styrofoam container. A very large amount of food. At this stage in my life it's really too much for me as well (I should have ordered a bowl) but I wanted to do comparable dishes with the other two Chinese fast food places I've written about here.

The chow mien was a bit on the starchy and chewy side and lacked any flavor. A bit of soy sauce helped, but not much, especially given the amount that was on the plate. The fried rice was adequate but nothing special. I really couldn't discern any of the flavors although id did seem to have some chicken, egg, and scallions, but who could tell? I added a liberal amount of sriracha sauce which helped, but not a lot.

I love my veggies. The steamed veggies had that mild sauce that so many of these places have. The variety of the veggies was good and they weren't overly mushy. The orange chicken was . . . orange chicken. Nothing special here. This American Chinese dish which has become almost a joke is on every Chinese fast food steam table, but most Chinese will tell you they've never eaten it. A favorite story is one of my wife's Chinese students told her that she had gone to Costco with her father and was a little surprised when he bought a large amount of powdered Tang. The next day Orange Chicken was on the menu at her family's restaurant. Some places have the Chinese peppers to help flavor their Orange Chicken, this one doesn't and the resulting flavor was sweet, but not particularly flavorful. And the chicken underneath the copious amounts of glaze was somewhat dried out.

EXTRA: Sunshine Donuts -- 1545 S Garey Ave, Pomona, CA 91766

Two doors to the south of Hong Kong Express is Sunshine Donuts. While not a restaurant, it is a nice little donut shop that also serves ice cream, coffee, and beverages. For dessert I had a chocolate glazed old fashioned donut that set me back $.70. An "A" from the health department and 4 stars on yelp.

UP NEXT: Ponce's Restaurant & Bakery