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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Montebello & Commerce

Montebello, wedged between cities far better known for international fare such as Boyle Heights for Mexican and Monterey Park for Chinese, feels like a restaurant no man's land to the uninitiated. The city's greatest claim to culinary fame is Broguiere's dairy, which opened in 1920 and is the oldest dairy in the Southland that sells milk in glass bottles. It's also a glimpse into Montebello's past as an agricultural community that once supplied Los Angeles with flowers, fruits, berries, and vegetables.

When Standard Oil Company discovered oil in 1917, the namesake beautiful hills of Montebello were stripped of agricultural use to make way for oil fields. Today, the sleepy bedroom community is largely a residential layover for people who work in downtown or neighboring Commerce.

The city of Commerce was conceived for industrial use at the turn of the last century. Large tracts of commercial buildings that serve as manufacturing plants or distribution centers line one street after another. A small community of residents started to grow near railroad tracks that would later become part of the Union Pacific Rail, America's largest railroad. Commerce, which sees hundreds of thousands of workers and visitors to Citadel Outlets and the Commerce Casino per day, has less than 13,000 residents. Small-scale service providers are as scarce as independently-owned restaurants.

 

Steven's Steak and Seafood House: Steven's is a one-stop shop for all manner of celebrations with a Latin American flare. Self-proclaimed as "the hottest Latin nightclub in all of Los Angeles," Steven's also hosts weddings, quinceañeras, retirement parties, dance classes, and dance competitions. The vintage surf and turf menu, circa 1952 when the venue first opened, is part old school American, French International, and Mexican-American. Where else can you get tournedos of beef, Rossini, and a grande burrito? 5332 Stevens Place, Commerce; (323) 723-9856.

 

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Frumento's Italian Deli: The original was established in 1928 on the corner of Ord and North Broadway in L.A.'s historic Little Italy by Gerolomo Frumento. As Italian-Americans easily assimilated in Los Angeles, the demise of a geographic center for Italian-Americans spawned smaller communities all over Los Angeles. A second generation Frumento's was established by son Anthony 30 years later in Montebello. For almost 100 years, Angelenos have enjoyed Frumento's Southern-Italian-influenced subs and pasta plates that are often served with more red sauce than pasta. 214 West Beverly Boulevard, Montebello; (323) 721-2071.

 

Salvatore Italian Restaurant: For the past 40 years, the loyal patrons have happily aged with the place. Patrons come here for kitschy fun and overflowing plates of pasta smothered with red or cream sauce. There is little restraint from the live entertainment on weekends, chandeliers, pizzas inch-deep with cheese, fettuccine alfredo with two plump sausages, and salads served with a boat of dressing. The place is a throwback to when Americans unabashedly embraced the philosophy that more is more. 125 N 6th St, Montebello; (323) 727-2803.

 

Photo: Susan Park

Photo: Susan Park

Arry's Super Burger: Los Angeles is the birthplace of drive-thrus, pastrami burgers, and pastrami burritos. While In-N-Out may have been the first restaurant to offer a complete drive-thru experience and the Hat may have served pastrami burgers before Arry's, Arry's trumps both with it's retro ambiance and pastrami offerings. Since 1946, this hybrid fast food joint and diner has been serving the sort of artery-clogging food that defines greasy spoon dining. As Montebello's demographics shifted, Americanized Mexican dishes, such as taquitos and quesadillas, were added. 1015 W Whittier Blvd, Montebello; (323) 726-1550.

 

Ordonez: Employees are sketchy about historical details regarding the restaurant. When asked if an owner was available to field questions I was told it's corporate owned and directed to a malfunctioning website. Regulars describe Ordonez as a Mexican-American Denny's stuck in a 1970s time warp with hues of green from the era decorating the entire restaurant. The menu is part American diner, Americanized Mexican dishes, and regional Mexican. Depending on who is doing the cooking, you're in for a complexly spiced birria or bland birria. Located across the street from the Montebello Country Club, you never know which city official or local business baron you'll see at the tables next to you. 872 N Garfield Ave, Montebello; (323) 724-6386.

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