The best place north of Baja

Published: February 1st, 2009

By: richard lugo.

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La Paloma has been offering the best in Mexican cuisine since 1966.

Located on Foothill Boulevard, La Paloma Mexican Restaurant attracts diners traveling on Route 66. Primarily a dine-in restaurant with a cocktail lounge, La Paloma also provides a catering service and food-to-go. La Paloma first opened its doors in 1966 and faithful visitors of this establishment say little has changed since then; the food is still just as tasty. / photo by Erin Brockman

Located on Foothill Boulevard, La Paloma Mexican Restaurant attracts diners traveling on Route 66. Primarily a dine-in restaurant with a cocktail lounge, La Paloma also provides a catering service and food-to-go. La Paloma first opened its doors in 1966 and faithful visitors of this establishment say little has changed since then; the food is still just as tasty. / photo by Erin Brockman

by Richard Lugo
photography by Erin Brockman

It’s evening, but the sun has hardly set on this 80-year-old building as traffic whizzes by on Foothill Blvd. A well-lit marquee displaying the smiling face of an old-time Hispanic male wearing a yellow sombrero is suspended 20 feet above the red double-door entrance. Through those doors is a restaurant that has been like a home away from home for many local residents for more than 40 years.

“This place is like Cheers for me,” Claremont resident Doug Shepherd says. “My parents used to bring me here when I was still in diapers, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had.”

La Paloma has been a family-owned restaurant since its inception. The owner and president, Joe William Parker, whose parents bought the building in 1964, is one of four partners who help run it.

The building has known only three owners since it was constructed in 1928. It first was Wilson’s Sandwich Shop. Then, until 1962, it was known as Wilson’s Steakhouse. After two years of renovation and reconstruction by Parker’s parents, La Paloma opened for business in 1966.

The name La Paloma, which is Spanish for “the dove,” is a carry-over from the first restaurant his family started which was located in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“My mother and grandmother turned their home into a restaurant,” Parker says. “It was a construction town at the time, and the workers there would get to-go lunches there, and then they came back for dinner.”

The first restaurant started by Parker’s parents opened in San Bernardino in 1947. The La Verne location was their fifth restaurant. When Parker’s parents opened for business 42 years ago, it was the only place that served Mexican food in the area, according to Parker. Not only that, but there was not much else around except orange groves and wide open spaces.

“You could smell the orange blossoms,” loyal La Paloma patron Marsella Stunrod says. “Back when it first opened, everything south of Foothill was orange groves and everything north was lemon groves.” Stunrod and her husband, Roy, both of whom graduated from Bonita High School in the late ‘50s, frequent the restaurant at least once a week.

“It was an amazing time to grow up,” Roy recalls. “There was really nothing here at the time. I was a paper boy in the eighth grade and use to deliver to the homes on Wilson Street (La Paloma’s cross street), and there were only eight houses.”

La Paloma attracts a loyal following, as the Stunrods. Some customers have been dining here from the very beginning.

“If you’re picking a Mexican restaurant, this is it,” Tom Kelly says. Kelly and his wife Darlene, who have lived in La Verne for 35 years, have been coming to La Paloma since it first opened its doors. “This is the best restaurant in La Verne. The service, the prices, and the quality of food are second to none.” The Kellys acknowledged that the servers, whom they listed by name, knew what they wanted without having to take their order. “Chips, passion fruit iced tea and a salad,” Darlene says. “The absolute best plate is the chicken burrito, rice and beans,” Tom adds.

Indeed, La Paloma offers a vast selection of food at reasonable prices. However, it is the atmosphere and service that keep people coming back. Dining at La Paloma is a communal experience between the patrons, the staff and management. Friendly banter can be heard between connected booths, jokes are shared between old friends, and conversations are sparked between new acquaintances. The atmosphere is akin to that found at the bar made famous by the television show “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name—and if they don’t, they’ll find out.

Janie Farias, longtime Pomona resident, made it a point to introduce La Paloma to her children and her grandchildren, and it has been a family favorite for three generations.

“Eating here with my family is something special because of all of the memories,” Farias says. “The atmosphere makes me feel at home and the staff is always welcoming.” And if you are looking for an inviting social experience instead of the intimacy found in the restaurant, take a seat in their bar, where you’ll be entertained by Jerry, the bartender, whom patron Tom Kelly considers “second to none.”

Red booths and Mexican décor contribute to the authentic experience. As you sit in the cozy booths in the bar, it is comforting to see people walking in and greeting each other. It’s as though this restaurant is the meeting place of a club that makes you want to join. This experience is something that Parker takes pride in. Service and authentic food is the secret to their success, he says.

This success, which spans more than 40 years, has been aided in part due to the long-standing tenure of their staff.

“Our three main cogs (cooks) probably have a combined 90 years with us,” Parker says. “Each has been here over 30 years.” With that kind of loyalty it is no wonder that La Paloma has been able to maintain its consistency in good food and service.

This family-owned Mexican restaurant blends a remarkable mix of culture, ambiance and service that are unparalleled in the area. La Paloma is located at 2975 Foothill Blvd. in La Verne.

Fidencio Barcenas, La Paloma chef, busily works the grill, stopping only briefly when he burned his hands while checking the readiness of the tortillas. / photo by Erin Brockman

Fidencio Barcenas, La Paloma chef, busily works the grill, stopping only briefly when he burned his hands while checking the readiness of the tortillas. / photo by Erin Brockman

photo by Erin Brockman

photo by Erin Brockman

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