Exploring Claremont, I quickly realized how old, white and boring it is. I think we all feel a little disappointed, telling ourselves that, one day, we'll make the commute to one of the trendy neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Even so, we’re blessed to live next door to the city of Pomona, which offers some of the best authentic taquerias outside of L.A. For those of you who did not grow up in a Mexican neighborhood or make visits to Mexico, real taquerias are usually minimalist in appearance and cuisine, and they don’t carry the 'creations' you’re probably used to associating with Mexican food.
In authentic taquerias, you can expect to get two soft tortillas adorned with meat, cilantro and diced onion, topped off with a streak of spicy salsa—that’s it. No sour cream or tomato. Fortunately for you all, I made the trek through Pomona to find some of its best and most polarizing taco shops.
Taqueria De Anda: For the first leg of my taco crawl, I visited a small taqueria chain that’s often lauded as an Orange and L.A. County favorite. I had high hopes, but sensed something was off as my hoopty scraped up the driveway and brought the restaurant into view. Oh no. Is that a drive-through? Did that guy really just walk out with a giant carton of carne asada nachos? Did my GPS take me to a Chipotle 'Mexican' Grill?
I hadn’t even been inside, but the exterior was already telling me to suspect the food’s authenticity. My apprehension dissipated as I exited my car, immediately hit with the aroma of savory meats, a smell that only permeates the air outside an authentic taqueria.
Despite its non-traditional appearance and inclusion of more Americanized menu items, this place was definitely legit. Their meats were soft and tender, the salsa packed some serious heat and flavor, and the tortillas were on point. Their tacos de asada (beef tacos) were some of the best I’ve ever had and they had a nice selection of meats that many Americans aren’t used to seeing.
Tacos Jalisco: I feel obligated to preface my review of Tacos Jalisco with an acknowledgment of my bias. I grew up eating at their location in my hometown of Fontana, so it has a special place in my heart. I couldn’t hate on them, even if they made the salsa way too hot once or twice. This is by far the most well-rounded taqueria in Pomona. All of their meat cuts are beautifully prepared, and their agua frescas are the best in town. The horchata is smooth with just the right level of sweetness—not the saccharine and grainy-textured drink you may have had elsewhere.
Tijuana Tacos: Tijuana’s Tacos, called a local best by the Los Angeles Times, was a disappointment, and that was a real shame because its gritty, authentic feel reminded me of some of the most amazing street food I’ve had in Mexico. The taqueria sits across the street from a strip mall on a corner of Pomona that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to Tijuana, Mexico, and I don’t mean that disparagingly.
Admittedly, it's a little rough around the edges, but that made me expect some real badass tacos. A line of eager customers poured out of the tiny restaurant while local men stood around watching a fútbol match. How much more authentic can you get? Don’t let these fiercely loyal locals fool you. This shop has a real polarizing reputation among Pomona and Fontana residents. You either swear by them or flat-out hate the joint.
My biggest issue was that the al pastor (BBQ pork) was over-marinated into an intense red color, lacking an equally intense flavor. It was just bland. Even worse, the tortillas were stiff and lacked the buttery, soft feel that good tortillas should have. Despite my trash review, this taqueria might still be worth checking out while you’re in town. The magical thing about the taco crawl is that the tacos cost at most $1.30, and the benefit of having an amazing culinary experience outweighs the cost of a few bad tacos.
Joaquin Banuelos is a sophomore at Pomona College.