The Cuisine Scene
Forest Falls, CA
I found heaven yesterday. Well, not literally, thank goodness, but as
close as I could get without having to pass through those Pearly Gates.
Claire, my editor, asked if I’d ever been to the Mexican restaurant in
Forest Falls. I didn’t even know where Forest Falls was, but I
immediately perked up. A forest? Falls? Even though I'd been raised in
Louisiana, I’d spent fourteen years in the cool climate of northern
Minnesota and now I wilted in the heat. Any place with a name like
Forest Falls was worth investigating, especially when she told me that
it was only about fifteen minutes away. On the way to Big Bear, she
I scoured the Internet and discovered that the little town of Forest
Falls even has a website. voilà! Loaded with directions, my camera, and
my friend Kathryn accompanying me, I headed for Forest Falls. At 6pm,
Yucaipa’s temperature was 93 degrees.
If you’ve traveled Highway 38 to Big Bear, you know how quickly the
scenery changes. One minute I was driving in an open valley with scrub
brush on each side of the highway and the next, I was in a canyon.
Scrub brush gave way to trees. Kathryn pointed to a sign informing us
that we’d entered The San Bernardino national Forest. A dry riverbed
paralleled the highway and it might’ve had a trickle or two but I
couldn’t see. We were constantly climbing and, glory be, the outside
temperature dropped. Oh happy day.
About two miles later we came to a turnoff featuring picnic tables
nestled under large trees. Day use only, the sign said, 6am to 10pm.
The temperature dropped to 85 degrees and I turned off my air
conditioner. If Forest Falls was like this, I was going to love it. How
much farther was the turnoff, I wondered, and could there possibly be a
waterfall? Eagerly, Kathryn and I continued on, enjoying the mountain
vista and cooler air. Then we saw the sign.
Exactly nine miles from turning onto Highway 38 from Bryant
Street, we came to El Mexicano, the only restaurant in town. The
building, painted blue wood resting on a stone foundation, harmonized
with the towering trees. A bright neon sign announced they were open
and other signs advertised various beers.
Inside the main seating area, a wood stove standing next to a wooden
bear holding menus suggests a casual atmosphere. Tables and booths sat
under windows draped with serapes, and the colorful reds, oranges, and
blues added a touch of cheer.
With his thick accent, David, the server, was welcoming and friendly
while he seated us. We passed a covered amplifier in the corner and
David said someone comes in around 7pm on Friday nights to play. We
chose the narrow windowed porch overlooking the road so we could watch
the occasional car pass by, but mainly we wanted to gaze at the treed
forest beyond the town. The walls were painted a muted yellow and a
sombrero hung next to a velvet painting. A wooden Mexican figure stood
in the corner. It took a while for David to get back to us as he was
the only server on duty, but his cheerfulness and eagerness to please
made up for any delay. He brought chips and salsa and I dug in. The
chips were crunchy and the salsa with tomatoes and onions was
delicious, but after I swallowed, the fire crept in. I gasped. David
looked concerned. Trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, I
managed to let him know I was okay, that he didn't have to call the
rescue squad, but broke down and asked if he had something with a
little less bite.
"I'm a gringo with a capital G," I told him. Not quite hiding his
smile, David brought a serving of green sauce which I managed just
The menu had more to offer than I would have guessed, and it said their
food is made daily. They have a la carte, such as tamales for $3.60,
chile rellenos dipped in egg batter and deep fried for $4.35, and of
course tacos and burritos, all under $5.00. They offer a dinner salad
topped with grated cheese for $3.35 and a Mexican salad with lettuce,
tomato, topped with grated cheese and guacamole for $6.25.
The standard breakfasts such as ham or sausage and eggs with toast are
served until noon and priced around $7, with pancakes and hash browns
for $8.25 and steak and eggs for $9.25. A variety of omelets are
between six and eight dollars, and pancakes for around five dollars.
They stop serving breakfast at noon except for their Mexican breakfasts
of huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo, and machaca, which are
available all day, each served with rice and beans and prices range
from $7.75 to $9.25 for the shredded beef
Both their dinner especiales and combinations are served with rice and
beans. For combinations, they offer a variety such as cheese enchilada
with a taco and bean tostada for $9.75, bean tostado for $7.25, and an
assortment of burritos and enchiladas for around eight dollars.
Under their especiale, I wasn’t even sure what some of the items were
but they sounded good. Gallina ranchera or mole style . . . Mole? One
of those creature that live in dirt? I should’ve asked and one day when
I go back and David isn’t so busy, I will. But whatever it is, the
price is $9.25. Another unfamiliar dish is carnitas. It says pork with
guacamole, pico de gallo, served with warm flour or corn tortillas.
It’s $9.75. I chose number 25, chile relleno with a bean and shredded
beef burrito served enchilada style for $10.25.
Kathryn also chose the chile relleno but had the cheese enchilada as
the side. Both choices arrived hot and accompanied by a nice helping of
rice and cheese-topped beans.
The dinner was good, everything tasting fresh, but their chile relleno
had more batter than I would have liked, so I just forked the chile
from the batter. There was enough on the platter that I didn’t leave
hungry. They even had fried ice cream if I wanted, but I felt so full
that I declined. This time.
We enjoyed our leisurely dinner overlooking the quiet road, and next
time we’ll try the patio. I can imagine how it feels to dine in the
evening under the stars.
When we finished, we decided to explore past the few houses and small
wooden buildings housing a real estate office and a general store. I
still wanted to see a waterfall. The road climbed higher and just
around another curve, we came to a park area, a place so beautiful that
I’ll certainly visit again. Picnic benches, tall trees and rocks.
Everything a nature lover could ask for. The riverbed was below the
park and I could just imagine how it all looked in spring.
Only one thing was missing. I still hadn’t seen a waterfall. On our way
back down the road, I saw a resident in her front yard and I stopped
and asked. “Is there truly a waterfall in the area?”
Veronica, a Yucaipa native and Forest Falls resident of about seven
years, suggested that I get out of the car and cross to the other side
of the road. She joined me and pointed to the dip between the distant
mountains. “See it?” she asked. Finally, looking between two twigs of
the branch on an oak tree, I saw the splash of white. The falls. I
stood silently gazing at nature’s beauty, amazed that something so
awesome could be so close to home.
On our way home, Kathryn and I talked about our experience and our
wonderful evening. Turning onto Bryant, I noticed that the temperature
had climbed back up to 87 degrees and wished I could go back. I’ll
visit again soon, though. Since it’s only about ten miles away, I’ll go
back and have another burrito or walk around the park, watching the
squirrels chase each other through the trees and listening to the
leaves rustle. Truly a slice of heaven in Southern California.
El Mexicano, open Monday through Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday 11am-10pm, Saturday 9am-10pm and Sunday 9am-8pm.
El Mexicano is also located in Oak Glen
Forest Falls, CA