Saturday, June 30, 2018

Corazon Urban Kitchen -- 1637 N Garey Ave, Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $34.02 for 2. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

So, I've been away from this for a while. After taking a year to finish Garey Avenue, I took a little time off and then started a new Dining in Pomona blog. After only 9 entries I got busy with other things, including, as president of Pomona Public Library Foundation, planning a major fundraiser, The Mayor's Gala, which was very successful in raising money for library support and programs.

During that period I visited a brand new restaurant downtown, Corazon Urban Kitchen with the Foundation treasurer, and fell in love with their upscale Mexican dishes, great service, and pretty plating. I revisited it again with the president of the Library Board of Trustees, and finally with the Lovely Mrs. C, and to a person they all loved it and we all returned multiple times. On that first visit I met Sergio Nogueron, the owner and arranged to have his restaurant as part of a package for our Gala Silent Auction. Sergio is a local guy, a graduate of Ganesha High School who attended Mt. Sac. He started working in restaurants while going to school at the age of 16 and opened his first restaurant in Carson. He then returned to Pomona to open Corazon Urban Kitchen.

Only four weeks after my first visit, I went back to finalize the Gala participation and the place was closed. What a disappointment! It turned out that he had a disagreement with his landlord and closed. But this was not to be the last of Sergio, who I met last week at the Cheers wine and food festival at the Fairplex. His was the most popular spot in restaurant row that evening with the longest lines.

He has bounced back and found a new location and tonight, yes tonight, June 30, he opened the new Corazon Urban Kitchen on Garey Avenue across from Pomona Valley Hospital, two doors south of Mama Mia Pizzeria.

The lovely Mrs. C and I decided to walk, according to my smart watch, approximately 900 steps to this new location which is adjacent to all three of the historic districts. Though the location is much smaller than his location on Second Street downtown, with seating for up to 40 in the small dining room, the food is exactly as I remembered it.

Upon being seated by the very friendly staff, we were brought chips and salsa. The chips were freshly fried and still warm. The salsa was mild and chunky with a smoky flavor from roasted tomatoes with scallion, cilantro, and just a hint of pepper. Mrs. C, the self described "gringa" not only ate the chips with the salsa, but asked for a second bowl of the salsa, something she's never done before. So the meal was off to a great start.

Because this was the first day they were open, a really soft opening, they don't currently have a liquor license and because of the size of this place they have applied for a beer and wine license only, as opposed to the full bar license they had downtown (on one of my trips to Second Street I ordered their bloody mary which had a terrific Mexican twist). Mrs. C decided to order a Mexican Coke in a bottle while I stuck with water. Sergio suggested that next time we bring our own bottle of wine and until he gets his license he will waive any corkage.

Mrs. C decided to order the short rib taquitos, which come beautifully arranged on a mound of guacamole with queso fresco, crema, and radish and onion garnishes. This was ordered off the appetizer menu but it was enough that she ended up taking some home. On a visit to Second Street with the Trustee president I had the papas (potato) version of this and it was very good.

Since I've visited this place and sampled their food four times now, each time trying a different menu item, I decided to try the short rib quesadilla. Mrs. C and the Trustee president had this on other occasions and were very enthusiastic about it. The quesadilla came in four wedges filled with short rib meat and melted cheese and topped with queso fresco, sliced red onion, cilantro and crema, along with a mound of guacamole. I must say that I can see why the others were enthusiastic. The braised short ribs were juicy and tender and the combination of flavors, with the guacamole, complimented each other. This was also an appetizer and also ended up with a good portion coming home.

One of the reasons that we had for bringing food home was that we also ordered a third appetizer to share. This was one of the hits of Cheers, the El Esquite. This is roasted corn topped with mayonnaise, cilantro, and powdered chili. The sweetness of the corn with the tang of the chili and the creaminess of the mayonnaise makes this a dish that as delicious as it is memorable.

On another of my visits on Second Street I had a short rib burrito which, according to the menu comes with red or green sauce (all their burritos are served wet), however, the waitress suggested that I try it with their mole sauce. It was unbelievable (IMHO). All of their enchiladas, and burritos can be ordered with your choice of the sauces and tonight's waitress even informed me that one of their most popular dishes, which I don't see on their menu, is mole fries, which sounds like a Mexican variation of poutine.

Other items on the menu that look interesting are a wide variety of tacos, including a veggie taco, gorditas, sopas, chile verde, chile colorado, chile relleno, mole poblano, el molcajete (with grilled angus beef, white shrimp, chorizo, chicken, roasted tomatoes, chile de arbol, salsa, queso fresco, onions, and nopales, this is their highest priced item at $25 but looks like it would feed 3-4), fish tacos, churrasco al a Mexicanan (grilled angus steak with jalapeno chimichurri over roasted veggies), camarones a la diabla, and a chorizo burger that looks like you would need to unhinge your jaw to eat.

One of the menu items that I will absolutely have to try next time is the chipotle Brusselas, roasted Brussels sprouts with lime, fresh cheese, pepitas, served with chipotle aioli sauce.

One of the challenges Sergio's going to have with this space is the lack of parking. Most of the street parking out front is limited to 24 minutes (due to the liquor store?) and while there is some parking on the south side of the building, it's not often available. He said that he's working with the USA Gas station a few doors to the north to secure an unused portion of their property for parking. He also hopes to add sidewalk seating as well as developing a back patio for additional dining and/or as a private party space.

If you watch cooking competitions on TV you know that they judge on three criteria, taste, creativity, and plating, and restaurants need to add to that atmosphere and, friendly efficient service. Corazon Urban Kitchen scores high on all counts and I look forward to my next meal there.

And don't be surprised if Sergio reappears downtown. He revealed to me that he's in negotiations for some property in the downtown core on the Arts Colony side of the Garey. 

How could we get so lucky?

Sunday, April 15, 2018


It's been a while since I wrote anything about dining on Garey Avenue. In reality I thought I was done with it after I had eaten, over the coarse of a year, at all 57 of the restaurants from the 60 freeway to Foothill Blvd. I did have an update when there were some changes at De Anda Tacos in December of 2016, and now I have a couple of additional updates (I guess this will never end--sigh).

Alberto's now Angeles--2068 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

As I stated in my original review, Albertos is one of those places where the Lovely Mrs. C. and I periodically use the drive thru to get some super nachos on those occasions when we just want something quick and easy for dinner. However, recently I was driving by and noticed that the sign no longer read Albertos but now read Angeles.

While the name is different, nothing else appears to have changed. The sign maintains the same color scheme, the large drive-thru menu board appears to be exactly the same, and the interior is the same as I reported in 2016. 

Since the name change I've visited twice. The first time was shortly after I saw the name change and decided to stop in for lunch. After looking at the familiar menu, I decided on the ultimate hybrid Mexican/American meal, Super Fries. These are similar to the Super Nachos except instead of the fried tortilla chips, the base of the meal is french fries. The meal had the same carne asada, avocado, cheese, crema (or sour cream), beans, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed it along with a diet coke.

The second time was a drive-thru run for our traditional Super Nachos. This time I was taking it home to split with the Lovely Mrs. C. She, being concerned and not a fan of change, declared this version to be in some way superior to Alberto's. In trying to define why it was superior, we kind of hit on the idea that the carne asada was more plentiful and seemed to be better seasoned.

A quick check on yelp showed me that the former Alberto's on west Holt is also an Angeles, but as far as I can tell, the Alberto's on Reservoir still retains the Alberto's moniker.

O'Donovan's under new Ownership--2068 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

While I was a fairly frequent diner at O'Donovan's under the original ownership, it appeared that in the past couple of years they were struggling which also seemed to be a struggle for identity. They had taken to only opening the upstairs dining room on weekend evenings and gearing more toward the downstairs pub, including making the menu more "pub friendly."

The new owners have remodeled the upstairs dining room adding a small bar so you don't have to wonder where your waiter was as they ran downstairs and brought your drinks up. They've also tightened up and made some changes to their menu. They have kept the sense of an Irish pub with sausage and mash as well as shepherd's pie (although it's made with chucky beef rather than lamb so it's more of a cowherd's pie, but that's picking nit, it's still very good). The fish and chips that have been on the menu since the beginning has been improved with a better fish and crispier fries. To this they've added, among other items, a pulled-pork quesadilla which those who've ordered it have been enthusiastic about, as well as loaded fires or Tater Tots.

If you have eaten there and were disappointed, it may be time to give them another chance. They have indicated that they are in the process of refining the menu and may be adding some additional items in the near future.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Castanada's Mexican Food -- 101 E Foothill Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $23.71 for 2. Health Rating A. Yelp 2.5 stars

It's done, stick a fork in it. Yay, I've successfully eaten at all 56 currently open eateries on Garey Avenue starting at the extreme south at the 60 Freeway where I ate at In-N-Out, all the way north to Foothill and Garey where I just finished at CastaƱeda's Mexican Food. A long journey that took 58 weeks (one a week with a skip recently, but I did eat on Garey the weeks of July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).

This was a bit OCD in many people's minds, but it was a good test of setting out with a goal that very few thought I would see through, and then seeing it through. I remember when Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen saw my blog in the early days that he wondered if I would make it all the way where others had given up. I made a deal with him that if I got close to the end, I'd sit down with him and let him write a column on it. Many of you saw it and have responded. Well, now I've actually finished.

This final entry is a small chain restaurant, CastaƱeda's. They have 23 locations, mostly in the Coachella valley, through Riverside, San Bernardino and Corona, with outliers in La Habra, Azusa, and Pomona. I should at this point mention that they are open 24 hours (for those craving a taco at 4:00 am, although I believe that it's only the drive-thru) and that they're "Home of the Carne Asada Fries."

The place is a nice clean operation that looks like any nice clean fast food place (think Mickey D's, Carl's Jr., or Taco Bell). A counter for ordering, with a menu board and a self-serve fountain for beverages. Tables with chairs give you a place to eat in and they have the ubiquitous, and busy while we were there, drive-thru.

The person behind the counter was pleasant, although it's somewhat disconcerting when they're ringing up your order and talking into a headset to someone in the drive-thru, but that happens all over the place today.

The Lovely Mrs. C, accompanied me on this trip so we ordered different things and then "sampled" some of each other's items. The menu is quite extensive with burritos plates, tacos, tortas, rolled taquitos, tostadas, enchiladas, breakfast plates, breakfast burritos, burritos, menudo, and 25 different combination plates. The lovely Mrs. C decided to try a shrimp burrito and augmented it with three chicken flautas. I, after looking at the extensive menu, decided to see how this compared with my last Mexican dinner at Los Jarritos and so I had the #17 Chile Relleno and Enchilada. The combination came with salad, rice, and beans. We each had a medium fountain beverage (Coke for the Lovely Mrs. C, diet Coke for me).

The meals were delivered to our table (no number to place on the table, no name given to be yelled out, just a counter person who remembered who ordered what--impressive). The time from order to delivery was just enough time to retrieve a beverage and get settled.

The presentation of the dishes was quite good. The food looked lovely and enticing. The actual taste experience?

First, the beans and rice. The beans were creamy but lacked any discernible spice making them somewhat bland. They did melt a little shredded cheddar over the top and stuck in a couple of tortilla chips which ended up crispy except where they were stuck into the beans where they were limp and soggy. Similarly the rice was nothing to write home about. It was somewhat dry and had no real flavor at all. I did make a stop at the salsa bar and picked up some salsa, radish slices, and cucumber slices. The addition of the salsa to the rice and the beans helped to give them a bit of flavor.

The cheese enchilada was a corn tortilla wrapped around shredded cheddar cheese (or processed American?) with a slight amount of a red sauce over the top of both the enchilada and the relleno. The cheese was melted but a bit grainy instead of creamy. It just didn't seem to be the right cheese for this kind of dish. The sauce, what there was of it, as bland and most of is was on top of the relleno which I ate first so by the time I got to the enchilada, there wasn't enough to counteract the cheese. The relleno had a nice coating, not too eggy, and it was filled with a creamy, melted white cheese. The chile they used was a rather small chile, unlike the nice large one at Los Jarritos, so didn't seem like a great value, it was good, but there wasn't a lot of it. That makes the inclusion on their menu of a 2 chile rellenos combination plate a lot more understandable.

The salad! What can I say . . . it was a very nicely presented on the plate. A bed of lettuce with chopped tomato, onion, and red pepper sprinkled on one side and a stripe of sour cream (crema) in the center. It really was quite lovely. However, the plate they serve their combinations on have three compartments, one for the rice, one for the beans, and one for the main item. That means that this salad was layered over the end of the rice, enchilada and relleno. So when you ate the salad, the crema and juices mixed with the enchilada sauce and made the items below mushy and took away from any flavor the enchilada sauce might have had.

The lovely Mrs. C reports that the shrimp burrito was good. the large flour tortilla was crispy on top, but  the sauce, rice, and beans inside the burrito made the bottom very soft, so it was very difficult to pick up and eat. She ended up eating it with a knife and fork. Before we got our order, she was curious as to whether the burrito would be dressed with a white (tartar style) or red sauce. The answer was a red sauce that appeared to be the same as the enchilada sauce on my meal. The shrimp were grilled and she said quite tasty. She felt that the burrito was mild in the spice area (since she doesn't really like any spiciness, this means that it's probably VERY mild indeed).

While she thought a burrito on its own might not be enough, she found that she couldn't finish the three flautas so I did get to sample one of them. The flautas in this case were flour tortillas wrapped around rice and chicken, topped with crema and a guacamole sauce (I say sauce rather than just guacamole, because it was quite thin and seemed to have more sour cream than avocado. More like a green goddess dressing than a guacamole. I found them to be rather bland. By this time I had used all of the salsa that I had gotten, but I think that it would have benefitted from a bit of that salsa.

Thus ends the GREAT ADVENTURE. I hope that you've enjoyed following as I visited some good, some mediocre, some questionable, and some exciting spots along Pomona's main north-south corridor.

There are still four traditional restaurant spaces which may one day see new life and if they do I'll try and revisit here to add them. The one's I'm referring to are the former Playa Azul at Philadelphia Street, the former El Tapatio near Grand, the former Firehouse Inn at Alvarado, and the former Casa Jimenez just south of Foothill in the big shopping center where I reviewed Happy Wok.

I've also just noticed that the signage for DeAnda Tacos has been returned. Did Gil's Tacos not work out? Is it once again part of the Orange County DeAnda chain? You may see an update on that page in the near future.

But for now, I'm going to take a rest, get myself out of the "oh my God, I've got to get out to the Pizza place that's next on the list and write a review. What the heck can I say about my 5th take-out pizza place" routine.

While I don't think I'll try anything as structured as this, you might see me writing about other restaurants in Pomona, or perhaps experiences beyond food. But I will be looking at doing something to highlight the Queen of the Valley, Pomona.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Jack in the Box--North -- 101 W Foothill Blvd Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $11.82. Health Rating A. Yelp 3 stars

I'm in the process of finishing up my 13 month adventure in Eating Garey. This week finds me at Jack-in-the-Box at Foothill and Garey, the furthest north of any restaurants on Garey. Yippee?

As this is the third Jack-in-the-Box I've visited on this quest, I'm pretty familiar with the chain and its offerings. This one is a little smaller than some of them but clean and bright. No street people hanging out like at the 2 Yelp star location at Holt and Garey, nor any of the school kids who seem to frequent the one on Towne and the 10 Freeway. Just a nice quiet, friendly place for a quick lunch.

After ordering, I found myself a nice table in the small but well decorated (with Jack stuff) dining room and noticed another table with 5 gentlemen standing at the table with clip boards and speaking Spanish. While I'm, unfortunately, monolingual and didn't understand anything they were saying, I was intrigued as I watch one of the gentlemen eating an order of fries. He would take a fry out of the container, stick the probe of what looked like a digital thermometer into one end, take a reading and then eat the fry. Another of the gentlemen was doing the same with some other food item that I couldn't quite make out (at least without staring too much). As I ate my meal I saw them doing inspections of the garbage cans, the restrooms, then go into the kitchen area and end up walking around the parking lot and drive-thru. I'm guessing that this was a group from corporate checking out the location. Hopefully it passed muster (or at least mustard).

I decided to order the new buttery bacon swiss cheeseburger combo with curly fries and a medium drink. I also added to my order 3 stuffed jalapeno poppers (I love those &%@# things) which came with "house buttermilk dressing" also known as Ranch (I'm guessing there is a copyright or trademark issue there somewhere).

After ordering at the window and receiving a number, I was left to get my own fountain drink. This location has a Coke Freestyle machine which means that you have hundreds of beverage options. I chose a Cherry Coke Zero, with a few splashes of Dasani Cherry to add a little extra cherry kick. I love the Freestyle machines and the many options it affords for someone like me who, as a diabetic, needs to drink a non-sugar beverage. I then found a table and shortly thereafter a very pleasant young lady brought me my order. Good, friendly service, with a smile.

The burger, while having a buttery flavor and adequate bacon, was a bit dry. It had a schmear of mayonnaise, but that wasn't enough. I tried adding some of the ranch dressing from my poppers, but that changed the flavor in an unfavorable way so I wouldn't recommend it. I don't usually do curly fries, but decided to go for it this time and they were quite crispy with just the right amount of crunch. They were actually though a little bland. They might have benefited from a little salt or some other seasoning.

Next week I end this adventure. Hopefully on a high note. Thanks for following.

 FINAL POST:  Castaneda's Mexican Food

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Los Jarritos -- 3191 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $35.22 for 3 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

Shortly after I started this adventure, I was contacted by David Allen at the Daily Bulletin who suggested that he might want to do a column on my adventure, if or when, I was about at the end. I sometimes forward him little items about Pomona that I collect so we've had a friendly relationship for a number of years. As a matter of fact, I'm mentioned in this morning's column as well. And he indicated that he plans to feature Los Jarritos as his restaurant of the week on his blog tomorrow. Since this week's post is the third from the last (unless something new opens in the interim), I invited David to join me at Los Jarritos for a leisurely lunch.

Since this place is also a favorite of the Lovely Mrs. C, I also asked her as well (she could also keep me honest). We met David at 1:00 pm and I have to say that, probably because the conversation was all about me, that I had quite an enjoyable 2 hours.

This restaurant is a full-service, sit-down restaurant. We seated ourselves, but once seated the waiter showed up almost immediately with a bowl of chips and salsa. If you've read this blog in the past you know that I like a chunky salsa with my chips and this one was a fully liquid version with nothing to scoop up on my chip. However, it was not overly spicy, so it was OK for the Lovely Mrs. C.

Their are actually two rooms for dining. We chose the main dining room with the view of the open kitchen. It is bright and airy with sunlight (even on a very overcast and threatening day) streaming in floor to ceiling windows on two sides. The smaller room isn't quite as light. The place was fairly busy for a Tuesday lunchtime but not so busy that the wait staff was crushed.

Photo of all of the dishes ordered by the three of us.

The menu includes burritos, nachos, breakfast items, sides, salads, and a dinner menu of combination plates, including Chili Rellenos, Enchiladas, tacos, carnitas, and most of the regular items you would expect. They also serve menudo on the weekend and if you bring your own pot they will fill it for you.

The Lovely Mrs. C decided on her favorite all meat, carne asada burrito with cheese and guacamole only on it. She also decided on a side order of the beans which she really enjoys. Our guest, Mr. Allen decided on a combination burrito which came with rice and beans inside. Both of their items came with a small salad on the plate.

For myself, I decided that I needed to order a full meal so as to properly compare with the other Mexican restaurants on this blog. I ordered a combination with Chile Relleno and chicken enchilada, and a diet coke.
This was my combo plate.

The combination plate also came with rice and beans. 

First, the rice. I've had it before and was always pleased with the moistness and garlicky flavor of this version. It did not call out for the addition of the salsa, which, being more of a sauce would have worked here, but I didn't even think to add it. The beans were creamy and smooth and had good flavor, just what I look for in my Mexican sides. 

The enchilada could have used a bit more sauce as it was a little dry, but it was loaded with tender chunks of flavorful chicken. The chile was covered with sauce and cheese (which seemed to have kept more of the sauce on the chili) and was an excellent example. Sometimes the batter on the chile is overpowering, but this batter was light and didn't detract from the flavors of the mild pepper, the cheese stuffing, nor the sauce.

Both David and Mrs. C seemed to like their offerings as well. As mentioned, David is going to list Los Jarritos as his restaurant of the week on his blog tomorrow, so I imagine we'll get a better idea of what he thought by checking there.

A place that I'm sure I'll come back to time and time again.

UP NEXT:  Jack-in-the-Box

Only 2 left! Jack-in-the-Box next week (yay?) and then Castenedas Mexican Restaurant. A little over a year. Whew!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Jasmine’s Restaurant & Hookah Lounge -- 3171 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $15.26 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 4 stars

A little bit of background on me. I'm a non-smoker. I grew up in a household of all smokers and have always hated it. I avoid smoke as much as possible. When I was younger and in the workforce, everyone smoked and it couldn't be avoided. Every desk had ashtrays. I worked in food service at Disneyland while in college and there were ash trays at every table, which I had to clean. I really HATE cigarette smoke and am not a fan of any smoking. I was thrilled when restaurants started having "no smoking" sections, although they did little to keep the smoke from wafting into that area. Flying was also a lot of fun during that time.

Having said all of that, this week's restaurant is actually a Hookah Lounge that serves food. Make no mistake, their first activity is smoking, indoors. One side of the menu for this place is food, and drinks, the other side is all hookah options and pricing.

With all of that, my commitment to this blog meant that I had to eat ALL of Garey Avenue's restaurants so I found myself at this place last evening after attending a Pomona Reads! meeting. When I arrived I was met by a "host" who showed me the menu and suggested that I sit anywhere. There were two other occupied tables, one with a gentleman puffing away at a hookah, and the other with two young women. I chose a table as far away from the smoke as I could get.

The room itself if nicely decorated with tables, where I sat, and couches and lounge chairs. There is softish rap music playing in the background and, at this time, there was the channel 5 news playing on a large screen TV. Soon, the two young women also got a hookah. I must say that watching the very large apparatus being carried out, and then the coals being blown on and placed on the top was at least interesting.

The VERY limited menu had 6 sandwiches and pizza for the food options as well as 8 appetizers which included wings, fries, falafel, hummus, grape leaves, and chicken tenders. The sandwich menu was two different philly sandwiches (chicken and beef), gyros, falafel, and two different shawarma sandwiches (chicken or beef). The pizzas were three different sizes of cheese pizza with additional toppings to order. No alcohol on the menu.

The waiter was friendly and I ended up ordering the beef shawarma sandwich combo (with fries and beverage -- refills extra). The sandwich came wrapped burrito style in a pita bread with thin sliced beef, onion, and bell pepper. The fries were moderately sprinkled with season salt. I got a Coke Zero to go with it. At $10 for the sandwich and an additional $4 to make it a combo, it was not a lot of food for your dollar.

The sandwich was juicy and the meat tender. However, for me at least, the level of cloves in the spice mix was overpowering. I couldn't really taste the onion and pepper over the cloying sweetness of clove.

This place is probably OK if you're a hookah smoker. That's what this place really is. The idea that it's a restaurant AND hookah lounge is a bit misleading as the focus of the business is on the hookah experience and the food and drink is only there to supplement. As someone who does everything I can to avoid smoke, I don't think I'll be back.

UP NEXT:  Los Jarritos II

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Aladdin Jr. -- 3161 N Garey Ave Pomona, CA 91767

My Meal Cost: $14.30 plus tip. Health Rating A. Yelp 3.5 stars

I didn't post a restaurant last week. Did you miss me?

This weeks post is actually from last week. Last week I visited Aladdin Jr. in the Grove shopping center during a rainy Tuesday. When I got home I told my wife about my experience and she suggested that I return at a better time (see below for explanation) as the place was empty and she felt I should give it a better chance. I returned there last evening figuring that dinner might be a better time, despite the heavy rain. I walked in the door and once again it was empty. I stood there for a bit and no one came out to greet me, and, while the main dining room was empty, there were some folks in the "private room" smoking hookah. The place smelled of scented tobacco smoke and it made the place unappetizing. So I decided to go with my original visit for this post. 

While it was raining, I have been to a couple of restaurants in the intervening week and, despite the rain, have found them to have at least moderate business.

When I go to a restaurant, I'm looking for not only good food, but a clean, friendly place to enjoy my meal. I've been to some places where the experience has been so good, that the food was secondary. I've also been to some places that were not the cleanest, not the friendliest, but the food was so extraordinary that you overlook the rest (Seinfeld's soup nazi would be an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about).

I love going to Cicada in downtown's temple to art deco, the Oviatt building, not only because the food is very good, but the service is bar none. This is a place where if you get up and go to the restroom, the wait staff comes, refolds your napkin, and puts a cloche over your plate to keep your food warm.

I really don't expect that kind of service from everywhere, but I do have some expectations. At fast food, order-at-the-counter places, I expect a clean place and that the person behind the counter is not rude (a very low expectation). At a sit down restaurant, I expect that the wait staff will be a little attentive, seating you when you arrive, perhaps going over menu items, refilling beverages, and not making you wait too long after your meal to bring you the check.

Which leads me to my experience at Aladdin Jr.

Because of construction, I had forgone them the previous week and skipped ahead. I arrived about noon on a Tuesday in moderately wet weather. I walked through the front door and it was obvious that there was still work going on. A gentleman come up and asked me what I needed to which I responded that I was there for lunch. He apologized that they were undergoing renovation (although it was not in as much turmoil as it had been the previous week), and they didn't have the lunch buffet, but they were open if I wanted to take a seat and order from the regular menu. I did so. Eventually another party did come in and have lunch as well.

I was seated about 12:05. I perused the menu, which is middle eastern with a number of kebab items as well as grape leaves, cheese pie, soups, hummus, salads and lamb shanks.

The waiter asked me for my order and I decided on the Aladdin chicken kebab's (2 skewers), and a diet coke. I was then informed that they were out of syrup and the only option for a cold drink was water. So I ordered water. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. After about 5 minutes a bowl of pita was brought to the table. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. While waiting I looked around the room. I've eaten here in the past and remembered the large mural of Aladdin on his flying carpet on the south wall, which it appears is a victim of the remodeling. There are some murals still left at the pay station, as well as a TV which had Arabic music videos playing. The waiter did ask me if I would like him to turn down the volume on the music, which he did, making it a little less noisy.

Finally after having been there for about half an hour my plate of chicken skewers arrived. It included hummus and a smear of yogurt. While waiting I had eaten a few of the pita wedges dry so it was nice to have the very flavorful hummus to dip them in. I had noticed that the menu said that this dish included basmati rice, but none arrived with the meal. I called over the waiter and asked about it, which seemed to confuse him, but he apologized and brought out a plate of the rice. Unfortunately, in waiting I became hungry and when the food arrived I sort of dug in, forgetting to take a photo before I had finished one of the chicken skewers. I took the photo when the rice arrived.

After all that the chicken was quite good, if a little dry. The spices made the tender chicken sing on the palate. Adding some of the yogurt helped with the dryness, but was a distraction from the flavor of the chicken. I was so impressed with the basmati rice at Zuby's 2 weeks previous that I was looking forward to it here. While it was good, it did not rise to the level of creaminess, and buttery goodness of the previous place.

So it came time for the check. As sometimes happens, it appeared that the waiter had disappeared. When he finally came back and I indicated that I was ready, it took him another few minutes to get the check to me. I was ready and presented my credit card (I always make sure they accept them--looking at the decals on the front door--before I enter) only to be told that their machine had not been "authorized" yet, so he couldn't take it. My having no cash, he suggested that I go next door and use the ATM machine. I left the restaurant, walked several stores down the row and didn't see any ATM machines anywhere. I went back into the restaurant to find that the guy who knew how to work their POS system had "authorized" it and I could now pay that way.

It was now about 1:30, an hour and a half after my arrival. Not a quick lunch at all. Thankfully, as a retiree, I wasn't on a lunch hour. So the overall experience was not very good, the food was OK, but nothing to get excited about.

The above was related to The Lovely Mrs. C, who suggested that I go back at a better time. After a week, I did, and as stated above, was not even able to get seated. I hope that this was an anomaly, but my feeling is if you're open, you should be at your best. I used to go to their location in downtown at 2nd and Main, so was familiar, and enjoyed, with the food. Since it's closure I haven't been back.

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