Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lily's Tacos -- 919 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $9.35. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

My trek on Garey Avenue has brought me to my home neighborhood. For this review I actually WALKED to the restaurant, less than half a mile (adding to my steps for the day), from my Lincoln Park neighborhood home. When I started writing this blog, this location had been promised for about a year but had not yet opened. The Lovely Mrs. C and I have now been there numerous times. We had been going to the original Lily's location (on Garey just north of La Verne St.) for the 20+ years that we've been living here, so we're very familiar with the food provided by this lovely family. At that location, on a Saturday morning, you would often see what looked like Hispanic laborers lined up or seated at the picnic benches with their bowls of menudo. We had a favorite burrito that we couldn't get replicated elsewhere in the city. 

They have also opened a second location on Foothill Boulevard in the new development on the north side just past La Paloma in La Verne. As the founder's son told me, "They forced us out of our original location and we came back by opening two." Below is a photo of the family taken outside their original, what I call, Taco Shak.

The location of the new Pomona shop is on the corner of Garey and Kingsley, a block south of Stater Brothers in a row of commercial storefronts that includes a gym and florist shop. The location has seating for about 50 and is a walk up and order type of place.

They have a nice assortment of burritos, enchilladas, tacos, tortas, quesadillas, sopes, and other Mexican standards as well as combination plates. I was being waited on by the founder's son and, noting that I was familiar with the menu, asked what I hadn't had that he would recommend. He fairly quickly recommended the Chile Verde, a plate of braised pork chunks in a "verde (green)" chile sauce. Adventuresome as always, I said sure and added a diet Coke to make it a full meal.

The meal came with rice and beans, chips, and four corn (or flour) tortillas. I also picked up some mild salsa and onions from the salsa bar where they have three salsas, onion, cilantro, lime wedges, and sliced radishes.

The rice and beans were very good. The beans were creamy and the rice was not overly dry (a little of the salsa added made them perfect). Now the Chile Verde . . . it was certainly spicy. The spiciness was the kind that made my eyes water and my nose run, realllllly good. But the heat did not so much "burn" as add a flavor. Once the sauce was out of your mouth, the heat did not linger as with some hot foods. The pork was extremely tender and easy to "pull" or cut with the fork and melted in your mouth. Other dishes which I've had here include the Chile Relleno, all meat burritos (usually carne asada), and their street style tacos. All of which I've enjoyed and will gladly come back for more in future visits.

UP NEXT: Donohoo's Chicken

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Jack in the Box --100 E Holt Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $10.43. Health Rating A. Yelp 2 stars

My apologies for being a day late with this entry. I usually try to do these on Monday but yesterday, instead of making my way down Garey to Jack in the Box, I was in downtown LA representing our Pomona Library by reading a selection from Something Wicked This Way Comes at the Ray Bradbury Read event along with Criminal Minds star Joe Mantegna, and Seamus Dever from Castle among others. I ended up having a late lunch of small plates with the famous macrons at Bottega Louie. But that's nowhere near Garey Ave. so outside the scope of this blog.

So here I am, on Tuesday, writing once again about Jack in the Box (see previous post on the chain's location further south on Garey), full well knowing that I'll be at another one at the end of this blog as it finishes up at Foothill. Sigh.

This location is right on the corner of Holt and Garey (thus the Holt address), next to an old motel. It usually has a lot of street people hanging around on the corner so is not the most attractive one in the chain. AND it only has a 2 star rating (out of 21 reviews) on Yelp. So how bad does a place need to be to get only 2 stars? I decided to look at the reviews and the only 5 star review was from someone from San Bernardino who either had the wrong restaurant or it was very sarcastic as it spoke about having their quincenera there. So the actual rating might be skewed.

For my experience, it wasn't THAT bad. The place was clean and the staff seemed to be decent, although not overly friendly. I did have a "street person" come up to me while I was in line panhandling and during my lunch a 2-man crew from a charity (the name mission was on their T-shirts) come through with a large black plastic bucket asking for donations. If this kind of activity makes you uncomfortable (I'm only mildly put off by it), then there are other Jack options in the city.

I decided to order the buttery Jack sandwich combo and (one of my weaknesses) a 3-piece Jalapeno Poppers. I also had a medium drink. They have a CocaCola Freestyle machine which means that I had a large number of options for my beverage (as a nominal diabetic, I do appreciate a larger option of sugar free drinks). I had a Cherry Coke Zero with a splash of Dasani sparking cherry (to get a little extra cherry boost).

The meal came in a fair amount of time, delivered to my table. It did not come with any ranch dipping sauce for my poppers, but the young woman who delivered my meal was gracious in bringing some to me.

The burger was on a buttery role with a nice brown crust and was quite tasty. The burger itself was a gray color, and not terribly appealing. Fortunately they put a large lettuce leaf on the sandwich, which hid the rest of it. Not great, but not horrible. The fries were . . . fries. They do have some specialty things on the menu which I probably should have tried such as garlic fries, salads, and a nice selection of chicken sandwiches.

Unfortunately, this location had nothing that would compel me to want to return. I think I'll stick to the other local (to me) Jack on Towne and the 10 Freeway.

UP NEXT: Lily's Tacos

Monday, August 15, 2016

El Merendero -- 242 S Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $20.14 For 2 +tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars

I conclude the downtown portion of my travels with El Merendero restaurant and bakery. This stalwart Pomona institution moved to its current location on Garey near Second after many years in the Fox theater building. The restaurant was originally where Krazy J's and Papa Tacos are with the bakery where the Green Room is now located on the west side of the theater's forecourt.

The move allowed for a complete remodel of the building. As I learned from the monthly historic downtown Pomona tours put on by the Historical Society (shameless plug--next one is Sept. 10), the building design was done by local artist and longtime teacher Manuel Castillejos, who brightend up the building both inside and out. As you view it from Garey, facing east, the bakery is to the left and the restaurant is to the right.

Inside there are murals, decorative tile adorning the convex kitchen area and above the door, little alcoves with art pottery.

 The Lovely Mrs. C and I  arrived at about 11:15 and about a third of the tables were already filled with diners. At that time we noted that we appeared to be the only gringos there but later more arrived as the lunch hour moved into high gear, but mostly gringos with Latino/a groups. This says to me that this is a place that our Latino/a community feels comfortable sharing with their non-Latin neighbors.

And well they should. The large menu, over 6 pages, includes breakfast and dinner items along with the usual assortment of combo plates, seafood (the Shrimp Cocktail looked really good on a day that was promising to be triple digit temperatures), soups, etc.. Beer is also available by the bottle.

Almost immediately on sitting down the waitress appeared at our table with a basket of fresh tortilla chips and salsa. The salsa was a runny, mild salsa (I think I've mentioned before that I prefer more of a chunky salsa, but this was good). Even Mrs. C thought that the salsa was mild enough for her gringa palate.

Lovely Mrs. C, who was celebrating the first day of school since her retirement and the fact that she could take an early lunch on a school day, was wanting to eat light as we have a family dinner planned for this evening so she ordered a chicken quesadilla and a coke. I couldn't make up my mind. Do I go with my go-to of a chile relleno combo plate or one of the things that really differentiates a good Mexican restaurant, their tamales. I decided to confuse the waitress by asking her what the best dish on the menu was. Unfortunately, her command of English did not translate so after a few minutes of my trying to explain that I was asking for a recommendation (I really should try to learn some Spanish), she finally got what I was talking about and we settled on the Super Combination Burrito as a customer favorite and very good. I also ordered a diet coke. The burrito came with a small salad on the side (just some lettuce and tomato). The burrito comes with a choice of meat and sauce (red or green). I decided on a carne asada (you can't go wrong with steak) with red sauce. The burrito is served "wet," drenched in sauce and melted cheese. Inside was beans, rice and guacamole, to compliment the small pieces of steak. Very juicy, very flavorful. The sauce was not overpowering but added just a bit of smoky flavor to the experience.

Mrs. C reports that the chicken on her quesadilla was juicy, tender, and tasty and just the right size for what she needed.

I've been there before and I'll definitely be going back again. By the end of our lunch, the place was bustling with activity. We then walked next door (adjoining doorway) to the panaderia (bakery) and looked at all the Mexican pastries, breads and cakes. A really good experience, with the smells out of this world.

UP NEXT: Jack in the Box

Monday, August 8, 2016

O’Donovan’s Restaurant & Pub -- 101 E 3rd St Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $20.07 +tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

O'Donovan's is an Irish restaurant and pub located on the first floor and basement of the landmark historic Mayfair Hotel. First a disclaimer. I am associated with the building as the historic consultant and have been involved with the restaurant since its inception and know Mark Drury the owner/operator. I just completed a National Register nomination for the building which is currently with the state Office of Historic Preservation and the National Parks Service.

Originally I was reluctant to visit this as one of the sites for this blog and figured that since it has a Third Street address that I could get away with it. But with my deciding that if it's on Garey, it's on Garey despite the address, I was kind of stuck (but in a good way). So having said that I've eaten at this location on many occasions.

The upstairs restaurant is not open on Monday or Wednesday during lunch, so I ended up in the basement pub area. This area is usually very lively and had a few people there at lunch on a Monday at about noon, mostly people sitting at the bar. The atmosphere of the pub is Irish themed with a pool table, TVs behind the bar and in most areas with sports (in this case the Olympics, swimming and water sports), darts, a small semi-private seating area, and a large bar with over 20+ beers on tap.

I arrived and sat at a high bar table with stools and Vanessa the bartender/waitress came to make sure I had a menu and to take a drink order. I'm not really a beer drinker (on a majority of my visits to O'Donovan's I've had wine) but since I had beer last week at Krazy J's I decided it would only be right for me to have one to compare. I asked Vanessa for a recommendation, saying that I liked a somewhat darker beer, but not real dark, something like an amber. She had two suggestions and poured me tastings of the two so that I could choose (thank you). I chose the Red Trolley, red ale, which I found to be refreshing on a warm day.

As some of you may be aware, these blog postings are reposted on the Pomona Proud news site, where, so they tell me, they are very popular. I had a request that since this week's post would be about O'Donovan's, which they had just featured, if they could come by and film me for a feature story on this blog for their site (http://www.pomonaproud.com). I must say that the interview part was OK, but then they wanted to actually film me eating. There is nothing more disconcerting than to be filmed while trying to eat. Above you can see what I was looking at while enjoying my lunch.

The menu at O'Donovan's has evolved since it opened. While they started out with more full dinners such as bangers (Irish sausage) and champ, corned beef and cabbage, and other Irish specialties, it seems that the local market was much more interested in burgers and apps, and it's reflected in the current menu. The bulk of the menu is appetizers/small plates, which are usually a good choice while having a beer (or wine) and includes wings, quesadillas, fries, tacos, and a whole raft of other delectable dishes. The main dinner menu is a little more spartan with four different burgers, other sandwiches, 3 salads, some breakfast dishes (served all day). However, the bar menu is also available in the restaurant as well.

Of a more substantial nature is their fish & chips (which I've had on several occasions and is very good), a couple of pasta dishes, and their shepherd's pie. The pie actually comes in traditional lamb or, if preferred, with Angus beef. I opted for the traditional shepherd's pie which I was assured would go really well with my beer selection.

What can I say? As I said a couple of weeks ago, I'm a sucker for mashed potatoes (referred to on the menu with the Irish name, champ) and this "pie" was all about the potatoes. For those who haven't had it before, it's very similar to a pot pie, but instead of a pie crust, the "pie" filling is topped with a thick layer of buttery mashed potatoes. The filling had nice chunks of lamb along with good fresh peas and carrots in a gravy that was adequate for the potatoes (I've had some which were too dry and the potatoes overwhelmed the gravy and sucked it all up).

It was more than I could eat in the one sitting (especially with a camera staring me down), so I ended up taking half of it home in a to-go box. Should make for some good Tuesday lunch!!

UP NEXT: El Merendero Mexican Restaurant and Bakery

Monday, August 1, 2016

Krazy J’s Cantina & Grill -- 333 S Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91766

My Meal Cost: $8.94. Health Rating B. Yelp 3.5 stars

The journey north on Garey Avenue has been interesting. In talking with people in the community, they often ask me about this blog, where I'm at, and when will I get to their favorite spot. And this past week I was interviewed by a long-time print journalist (and college instructor in Journalism) who is working on an advanced degree and needed to do a video interview for his class. He asked some interesting questions concerning why I'm doing this, have I had any surprises, and how do I rate the restaurants that I dine at.

I explained to him that I don't consider myself a very good judge of the food because I know that as I've grown a bit older, my tastes and taste buds have changed. I now really LIKE spicy foods where I used to shy away from them. I've had the luck to have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world in places like Shanghai, London, and (only the best) Paris, as well as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. In looking over Jonathan Gold's best 101 places in Los Angeles, I've been to about 20% of them and really enjoy fine dining. I think I've also at one time or another been to most every fine dining restaurant from Covina to Rancho Cucamonga.

So what do I think of the Garey Avenue eateries? Most have been acceptable. While I post the yelp ratings on these places, I have a skepticism about how people rank on yelp. I'm pretty sure that the people who give a Garey Avenue place a 4.5 or a 5 are not comparing it to a dinner at Commander's Palace in N'walins.

This week brings me to Krazy J's. This is the spot that was previously the Fox Bar & Grill but has been rebranded (I believe it's the same management). The focus is now on Mexican bar food. The menu is identical to the menu at their Express place (nee Papa Tacos) with the exception that they don't have the Papa taco on the menu ?????

The ambiance is full-on sports bar with 10 televisions and a projection screen. The space is dominated by the bar which runs most of the length of the space with tables and booths along the eastern side and outdoor tables and a dining bar (or railing?) with stools. Above the indoor tables/booths is a bank of speakers which blare out rock music (when I arrived at 5:30pm the music was so loud I couldn't hear the bartender/waitress at all . . . she finally turned it down a bit).

I was given a menu and ordered one of the ten draft beers, Sam Adams, that they have on tap. The selection was fairly pedestrian with Stella Artois and Sam Adams about the most exotic next to Budweiser. As I mentioned, the menu was fairly familiar since I had just perused it last week at Papa Tacos. I decided on the Beer Can Burger, described as a 4 oz. quality burger stuffed with portabello mushrooms and a porter beer sauce. Then, looking down the menu, I saw one of my favorites, jalapeno poppers, stuffed with cheddar and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon. Yummy. The bartender/waitress informed me that they no longer served the poppers and that she'd working there for 5 or 6 weeks and they hadn't had them since she started, sigh.

A few minutes later the bartender/waitress returned to let me know that they also no longer have the Beer Can burger on the menu. Out of 4 burger options (an 8 oz burger, a bacon cheese burger, and sliders) they now only have 3 options. On her suggestion, I ordered the Chipotle Chicken Wrap which came with seasoned French fries.

The fries were doused in what appears to be Lawry's season salt. Reminded me of how I would add season salt at Bob's Big Boy from the shaker at the table. This salt was not quite as good, but acceptable. The chicken wrap: For some reason it came wrapped in aluminum foil. Were they afraid that it would not hold together or something? Not sure what that was about. The vegetables used in the wrap were fresh and tasty, however the chicken was breaded chicken nuggets. I looked at them and they were cut in small pieces but I wouldn't have been surprised to find that they were originally in the shapes of Mickey Mouse or dinosaurs. These were the kinds of nuggets you get frozen in the grocery store. Flat, flaked chicken of unknown origin and entirely tasteless. Would it have been so hard to have used some REAL chicken?

Perhaps the problem is reflected in the B health rating.

I guess this would be a good option for a beer after a concert or to watch a game but I think I'd stick to the Papa taco from their "express" location at the south end of the space.

UP NEXT: O'Donovan's Restaurant & Pub