by Pomona Resident John Clifford
President, Pomona Public Library Foundation | Member Save Our Pomona Public Library | Director, Historical Society of the Pomona Valley | Member, Pomona Christmas Parade Committee | Historic Consultant--Mayfair Hotel | Instructor--Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM)
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 brightened 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.