I’m happy to revise last year’s column, which wasn’t as accurate as it should’ve been, because I spent most of my time giving myself a crash course on L.A.’s “99 places to eat before you die.” (That’s literally how the Los Angeles Times refers to them.) I only had funding to review a few Claremont restaurants, so last year’s list really had no chance of being comprehensive, and now that I think about it, this list is also still very much in flux. That will hopefully be sorted out by the time a fourth rankings column rolls around, assuming TSL decides to keep buying me food. I’m also not ruling out a fifth column—who knows if I’ll find the motivation to write a thesis? (Just kidding, Hazlett). Here are the sort-of followed rules: Food quality matters most, price is important, and service is generally ignored. I make a service exception for Roger, the chef at Royal Panda, because he gives me free rice. Phenomenal service, Roger.
1) Ashirwad The Blessings
Before I discovered Ashirwad, I thought I had to make a 45-minute trek through three L.A. highways to get good Gujarati food. Not that I regret any of those treks; L.A.’s Little India still has the best Indian chaat (vegetarian snack food) in America, but Ashirwad, located 10 minutes down Foothill, makes the difference minimal.
Best items: bhel puri, pani or dahi puri, paratha with chole, roti with palak paneer, samosa chole.
583 E. Foothill Blvd. Suite 10-11. Upland, CA 91786.
2) Pho Ha
Pho Ha was number one on my list last year, and it hurts to bump them down. I can’t think of anything wrong with this place: It has $5 pho, excellent coffee, good smoothies, and maybe the best Vietnamese bo kho (beef stew) I’ve ever had.
Best items: bo kho, bun bo hue (noodle soup), pho, Vietnamese coffee, durian smoothie, jicama tofu rolls.
695 Indian Hill Blvd. Pomona, CA 91767.
3) Eureka! Burger
Claremont’s Great Burger Debate comes down to Eureka! and The Back Abbey. Both serve very good burgers. Both are expensive. But Eureka’s burgers (around $13 with fries) are still cheaper than The Back Abbey’s ($21 for a burger, salad, and fries). Eureka’s burgers might be better regardless of price, and when you factor in the $8 fries, it’s not close: Eureka is better.
Best items: burgers, sweet potato fries.
580 W. First St. Claremont, CA 91711.
4) Royal Panda
Roger’s service is great. Plus, they have a secret Chinese menu—which you have to order from because their regular menu is horrible—that makes you feel like an insider. Roger, who grew up in Taiwan, will pretty much make you anything you want, but he might need to go buy the ingredients first.
Best items: Sichuan eggplant, ma po tofu, garlic chicken, noodle soup, Sichuan pork.
352 S. Indian Hill Blvd. Claremont, CA 91711.
5) Tropical Mexico
Patty’s took this spot last year. That’s still acceptable—Patty’s makes good, cheap burritos. But Tropical Mexico has a bigger menu and makes higher quality food in general. It also has $4 ceviche.
Best items: ceviche, burritos, tacos, seafood.
1371 SE End Ave. Pomona, CA 91766.
6) Walter’s Restaurant
Walter’s is a nice Afghan-American restaurant. It’s expensive, but it still manages to have a college town feel, and it satisfies cravings for brunch foods when Frank just doesn’t cut it.
Best items: Afghan fries, brunch specials.
310 N. Yale Ave. Claremont, CA 91711.
7) Sanamluang Café
The Pomona branch isn’t as good as the more famous Hollywood restaurant, but it’s still the most authentic Thai food in the Inland Empire. It has the potential to be much higher on the list, but it often seems like the chef takes days off. If you get to Sanamluang on a good day, though, it has the best Asian food around.
Best items: radish cake appetizer, pad see ew, pad kee mow.
1648 Indian Hill Blvd. Ste. C. Pomona, CA 91767.
8) Saca’s Mediterranean Cuisine
No complaints about Saca’s. It serves up perfectly good falafels for a reasonable price.
Best items: falafel, shawerma, baklava.
248 W. Second St. Claremont, CA 91711.
9) La Piccoletta
La Piccoletta serves a different type of fresh pasta every week with the option to have any of four excellent sauces (or all four, if you can’t decide). It’s expensive, but it has a college special on Thursday nights that gives Claremont students two bowls of pasta for $22, which is a great deal. On Tuesday, the special is two bowls for $25.
Best items: pasta, bread.
114 N. Indian Hill Blvd. Claremont, CA 91711.
10) Some Crust
Some Crust could probably be higher, but I think I’m unconsciously protesting egg sliders only being served in the morning.
Best items: egg sliders, cookies, cupcakes, pastries.
119 Yale Ave. Claremont, CA 91711.