Dia de los Puercos serves up Chicano-style food and memories, now in Pomona
Owner doing it in part through cuisine described as Mexican food dishes served Chicano style.
By LISET MÁRQUEZ | firstname.lastname@example.org | Inland Valley Daily BulletinPUBLISHED: February 17, 2019 at 7:34 am | UPDATED: February 17, 2019 at 2:08 pm
It’s taken six months, but food truck-turned-restaurant Dia de los Puercos is finally making its downtown Pomona its own. The restaurant has gained city approval after a months long quest to finish an Aztec mural, the lighted sign has been installed along the wall facing Garey Avenue and the menu is getting an upgrade.
Behind all of that is owner and chef Rick Garcia, whose goal is to make Chicano and non-Chicanos alike focus on family time. He’s doing it in part through cuisine described as Mexican food dishes served Chicano-style.
“Our concept is based on our culture, the flavors of the food, drinks, the music, artwork of our culture. We make you feel like when you’re with family,” said Garcia, who was nicknamed “El Chefe” – a combination of chef and jefe (Spanish word for boss) – during his days as an executive chef for Hilton.
It’s why the inside of the Pomona location is filled with communal tables and piñatas hang from the ceiling. Visually, it’s an homage to Boyle Heights. Graffiti-style art and a photo mural of the Sixth Street bridge line the walls, also decorated with replica street signs for Sixth Street and Brooklyn Avenue.
Outside in the patio there are mock light poles with a pair of sneakers hanging up.
Food-wise, Garcia is serving such dishes Artesa Papa, which are fries with gauca salsa and cojita cheese. There’s also the Ese Borracho, Garcia’s take on the L.A. Style hot dog which has a bolilo, grilled onion, mayo, mustard, ketchup and cojita cheese.
The weekend brunch menu offers a Chismosa, a sparkling wine with Tampico orange juice — a staple in many Latino household refrigerators.
The bilingual menu is also a true reflection of how Garcia communicates, who spoke Spanglish during a recent hourlong interview.
Dia de los Puercos, in a prominent corner location on Garey Avenue at Second Street, took over a spot associated for nearly two decades with Joey’s BBQ, succeeded by the Rookery from the same family. The Rookery moved last year a few storefronts west.
Garcia was first recruited to the Los Angeles County Fair in 2017 by Fairplex CEO Miguel Santana and then to downtown by the Tessier family, which owns the building. He gave up his lease in West Covina to head east.
Not long after opening the 150-seat Pomona location, Garcia established a counter-based outfit at Riverside’s Food Lab, a food hall developed by Jerry Tessier. There are 21 employees between the two locations, but Garcia knows his staff could grow.
Although there have been some challenges, the past year has been a departure from his 20-hour days when Dia de los Puercos operated as a food truck.
“We’re still figuring it out,” he says with a chuckle.
Adding more culture to the actual building, though, proved harder than he’d expected. Garcia brought in graffiti artist Mike Rios to create a mural 13 1/2 feet tall by 40 feet wide on a blank brick wall facing busy Garey Avenue.
The mural will be an artist rendition of the legend of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, two volcanoes 45 miles from Mexico City, Garcia explained at Cultural Arts Commission meeting last month, which approved the completion of the work.
The duo were once humans in love but were separated and never reunited before Iztaccíhuatl’s untimely death. The image is of Popocatépetl kneeling by Iztaccíhuatl’s side.
“We thought that art was a very important aspect of our culture, so with the restaurant we wanted to share our culture in a classy way,” he said recently.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Garcia said it was his hope to have the mural done by month’s end. On this day, he was five weeks into his plant-based diet – and by all accounts loving it and might make it permanent.
If you know him, it’s not necessarily the normal path you’d expect from Garcia, who on his birthday would always set out to find the biggest steak. But he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes brought on by his diet as well as the everyday stress of being a business owner.
At first, Garcia said he took the diagnosis lightly. His uncles, who also had diabetes, ate and drank whatever they wanted. But the more he thought about it, the more he noticed how their quality of life ultimately declined, and he didn’t want to follow suit.
“I want to reverse it because I want to see my kids grow up and I want to live,” said the 45-year-old father of four.
Garcia is waiting until 90 days pass on his new regimen to gauge the health benefits, but already he’s noticed improved sleeping patterns, less soreness and an end to moments of dizziness.
Initially, he said had no cravings but backtracked to acknowledge he misses his Double-Double burgers from In-N-Out and laments the lack of late-night options.
His change in eating has also inspired a new concept that may be part of the Dia de los Puercos business family. Garcia didn’t want reveal too much at this point.
The restaurant has always served vegetarian-friendly choices such as calabaza with Soyrizo, huitlacoche, also known as corn mushroom, and tacos de camote or sweet potato.
Some new items he’s working on are the “Baraflora,” a flower-based protein braised in pastor and barbacoa marinade. He also plans on adding “Nasada” and “Al impostor,” which will resemble carne asada and al pastor flavored meats. He’s also working on developing an alternative to fish n’ chips with the goal of adding these new items by Lent, or as he said it, Cuaresma.
His goal is for 80 percent of his menu to offer a plant-based alternative.
Garcia said making changes to the menu might be easier than changing the public’s perception about his restaurant’s name, which means Day of the Pigs. But the name has nothing to do with food. Rather, it’s a play on words.
“A lot of the local plant-based vegans and vegetarians are intimidated by our name. They see ‘puercos,’ and they just think it’s all pork,” he said.
A bit of a workaholic, Garcia said he’s always busy working with staff to make changes. For example, he finally caved in and bought television screens for the front area after numerous requests, despite thinking they’re a distraction.
He’ll launch a karaoke night with oldies, and on Valentine’s Day, he put together a $40 buffet with a Pachuco Baile-tines pechanga, or dance party in English.
Despite some possible opportunities, and the Chinese New Year’s lucky tie-in, Garcia doesn’t expect to do any more expansions in the near future.
“We’ll work it all out this year, the year of the pig. It’s our year,” he said. “I’ve got some stuff for 2020.”