Wednesday, July 18th | Corazón Urban Kitchen | 1637 N. Garey Ave, Pomona, CA 91767
Corazón Urban Kitchen is an enigma; a month or so back, as we were compiling our list of not-logically-aligned-therefore-aligned-by-illogic restaurants to eat at/write up this summer, we turned to the usual research avenues of Yelp and Google Maps. Many restaurants that we came upon in our research were somewhat familiar – Pinnacle Peak, Dino’s, certainly Donahoo’s. (Even, and this is a side-lament, Manila Bistro, a wonderfully named Filipino place most especially since it was inside a gas station; sadly, Manila has since departed. Darn! We were too late to spread the gospel of good Filipino gas station food! For shame!)
Two names we found were total strangers to us, restaurants we’d never seen, never heard of, never yearned for, never gently mocked: one is yet upcoming, if it survives a few more weeks. The other, of course, was Corazón Urban Kitchen. Featuring a Yelp rating of 4.5 stars (!) … and already last month moving from its ‘original’ location (though it came into existence just this past March) … andand having the words ‘urban’ and ‘kitchen’ in the name* … andandand with atmospheric prices ($11 burritos! $10 quesadillas!) … andandandand with a superish-duperish happy hour …**
… well, we were taken aback: hipster Mexican food? In Pomona? That *we* didn’t know about? We considered surrendering our bourgeoisie ID cards right-quick, giving up on our whole anodyne existence. Then we thought better: what if, given its somewhat promising elements, Corazón might be … could be … the second coming of (the even more dearly departed) Colonia Taco Lounge?
It’s not. We’re pretty sure CUK is located in a former take-out only pizza place, and though there are ten booths, huge windows (with views of Pomona Valley Hospital), three large TVs (playing different shows, some with/some without volume), CUK still has a bit of that lingering pizza vibe: it feels small, it’s a bit on the warm side, and the dine-in experience isn’t really a high priority (caveat: we there at 3:30 on a Wednesday). We were seated, brought chips, salsa, water, and menus. We ordered a range of food, we did it for you, we ate too much, we blame you: sopesitos (three very normal-sized sopes in crunchy store-bought shells, filled, respectively, with dryish carnitas, chicken tinga, and a peppery/almost gamey carne asada; $8.50, a good value for the portions, but the flavors were … subtle. And not); tostadas de tinga (charged $7, should have been $4, just seeing this now, drat; three little tostadas with what was a perfectly good chicken tinga, sort of not-quite-refried beans, and iceberg lettuce); taquitos de papa ($4 happy hour; these were gorgeously plated —
— but entirely bland; the guac, though modestly apportioned, did have promise); and two tacos, short rib ($2, so onion-heavy) and “nopales” ($1.50 … apparently, at urban kitchens, ‘nopales’ means mushroom and bell pepper).
Two years ago, we ate at some two dozen area taquerias. One of the biggest things that experience impressed upon was the importance not of ambience (which can be fun, but is secondary to food; some of CUK’s decor is nice – see heading image – but CUK can easily up its game here); not so much of cost (though value can matter, at least to us; CUK runs unreasonably high); not of location (freeway/hospital intersection isn’t great); not of nifty drinks (**those happy hour drinks don’t exist, no liquor license yet); not of having strange offerings on the menu (they do have roasted corn!); not really of any single one thing … except salsa.
Salsa. The salsa at Corazón Urban Kitchen is, sadly, about what you’d expect to find at an urban kitchen: cilantro, chiles, scallions, and canned tomatoes. If you’re going to open a Mexican restaurant in Pomona, or in Los Angeles, or really anywhere … please care a bit more about the salsa. All else follows, and while a lot at Corazón can be better, it’s salsa first. As the lady said, if the salsa ain’t rocking, ain’t nobody knocking.
*Try the ‘urban’ ‘kitchen’ game! Pick, say, any ethnic food or place affiliated with ethnic food of even any ethnic dish or hell even an ethnic name and add urban kitchen – at the end, at the beginning, split it up, whatever – and see if it doesn’t sound like a gr-reat restaurant! Urban Kitchen: Red Square! Maria’s Urban Kitchen! Urban Creole Kitchen! Urban Kitchen & Saucisson! Filipino Urban Kitchen! Kitchen soondubu jjigae – urban!