Dining on a budget: Loli’s in Glendora

By Maritza Velazquez

Finally a dining experience that’s both quick AND fresh.

It’s pretty hard to combine those two words when describing a restaurant, but Loli’s Fresh Mexican Grill has got it all.

The family-owned and family-run eatery opened in 2006, when brother-and-sister duo Caleb and Zoar Cabrera decided to offer their mother’s original recipes to the public.

Mom Dolores Curiel (Loli) oversees quality control, making visits to the restaurant to make sure her son and daughter are serving up the same great dishes she used to cook for her own family.

Loli’s, located in Glendora, offers a menu full of some of the typical Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, but also adds in some lesser-known creations, with inspiration from the Yucatan Peninsula.

I wanted a little variety during my visit, so I went for combo No. 2, which lets you choose two items like chicken or asada tacos, chicken or beef enchiladas, or a chicken panucho.

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I went for an asada taco and the chicken panucho. It’s a great deal for $7.85, and includes a drink, chips and Mexican rice and choice of black or pinto beans. If your appetite is a little larger, there’s also a three-item combo for just a dollar more.

When the food arrived about five minutes after I ordered at the front counter, I was pleasantly surprised. The peppered asada was flavorful and the panucho was different from the many Mexican dishes I’ve tried in the past.

Actually, I had to ask Zoar Cabrera, who was working the register at the time, what a panucho actually was.

I found it’s made with shredded chicken, lettuce, pickled red onion, avocado and tomato. The cook puts together three small corn tortillas and fills it with pureed black beans. Then, the tortillas and beans are pan sauteed.

But what I loved most about Loli’s was how fresh it was. Even the salsa is homemade. And according to Caleb Cabrera, everything is made fresh in the morning and nothing is made with lard, preservatives or MSG.

There’s even some authentic Mexican breakfasts at Loli’s. They serve huevos rancheros, beef chorizo and eggs and breakfast burritos.

The service here also matches the quality fresh eats. The staff brought over some tortilla chips to munch on before my meal was ready. I saw that many other customers received the same service.

I wouldn’t hesitate to visit Loli’s again. 

Loli’s Fresh Mexican Grill is located in the Lone Hill Center at 1832 E. Route 66 in Glendora. For more information, call (626) 963-9200.

Jack in the Box and their bowls

Why Jack has obsession with bowls is beyond me.

Though I haven’t tried the breakfast bowl meals offering basically a breakfast burrito without the tortilla and with a spoon, I was willing to try the new Teriyaki bowls.

Actually, they’re not new. Apparently the teriyaki bowl was first introduced by the restaurant chain in 1993 and were a hit to many guests but was removed from the menu in 2003.

As much as I love Jack in the Box, I wasn’t expecting too much from these new versions of the meal, which may or may not end up being a fad again.

The teriyaki bowls come with steamed white rice topped with broccoli and thinly sliced carrots, and your choice of strips of chicken or sirloin steak, and all covered with a teriyaki sauce.

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One weekday lunch I decided to try the sirloin steak bowl and I was happily surprised.

Yes, I know, it’s just Jack in the Box, but the tasty and tangy teriyaki sauce did not overwhelm the fresh taste of the vegetables and the nicely grilled generous portions of steak, and the rice was soft and not bland.

I’ve never been a fan of Yoshinoya, but if I were them, I would think twice about my business if Jack in the Box is able to perfect a teriyaki bowl in their very diverse menu and they can’t even perfect it as their main staple in their menu.

Even though I still wanted more, I had to convince my stomach that it was plenty. Especially with the egg roll that came with the meal.

I think its a great deal for the suggested prices, excluding tax, of $4.29 for chicken and $4.79 for sirloin steak. My combo, which included a warm, crunchy egg roll, and small drink added up to $6.92 total with taxes.

I still don’t know if I’m ready to take the plunge into the breakfast bowl yet, though.

Dining on a budget: Krua Thai in West Covina

By Maritza Velazquez

The Hong Kong Plaza in West Covina is home to a plethora of Asian cuisine.

Whether your preference is Korean, Chinese, Indonesian or Thai, there’s a little something for everyone.

In the corner of this huge Asian mega center is Krua Thai, one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

Since my last review pointed to a less than mediocre Thai experience, I thought I’d present readers with a great alternative.

Krua Thai offers more authentic cuisine and a very expansive menu at reasonable prices.

Most times I visit Krua (which is at least once a week), I order my favorite dish, the Pad Kee Mao. But you must be a spicy food lover to handle this plate. I love foods that tickle my taste buds, but this one really sets them on fire. If you’re a little sensitive to spicy food, you can order the dish medium or mild.

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It includes thick flat rice noodles, mint leaves, dried red chili, large slices of onion and tomato and choice of ground beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp. The cost of this hefty helping is $6.25.

Before this dish was served though, I ordered the Tom Kha Kai, a coconut-based soup with delicious mushrooms, chicken, lime juice and fresh chili. This one’s got a little bit of a spicy kick too, and runs $7.25. It comes in a big fire pot and I found can serve up to eight people.

Krua Thai also offers great menu items, featuring appetizers, salads, soups, noodles and rice dishes. Most are reasonably priced, between $6-$8.

You might also want to try the Pad Thai, a very popular Thai dish. It was voted “Best Pad Thai” by L.A. Weekly in 2004.

Although my latest visit was pleasant, I have found that great service at Krua Thai isn’t always the case. In past visits, it’s taken much too long to order, get drink refills or get the bill.

In my experience, I’ve learned that you must grab the servers’ attention. But the staff here is usually very polite and friendly.

And for all you night owls, Krua is open until 3:30 a.m. daily. It is located at 935 S. Glendora Ave. in West Covina. For more information, call (626) 480-0116.

Dining on a budget: Claro’s in Covina

By Emma Gallegos

At the intersection of Italy and Americana (specifically, the intersection of Citrus and College), there’s Claro’s.

The market, deli and bakery in Covina is the latest addition to the Claro’s empire that got its start in San Gabriel and now includes outposts in La Habra, Tustin, Arcadia and Upland.

Browse the aisles and you’re sure to find a healthy mix of devotion to the homeland and imports from the homeland. 

There are T-shirts and keychains and caps and vanity license plates proclaiming love for Italy or Sicily right alongside some of the imports that are trickier to find at, say, Ralph’s. There are chocolate hazelnut “Baci” and “Kinder” candies or the menthol cough drops that Italians suck on in sickness and in health. There’s dark, bitter chinotto soda and light Italian beer.

But, if you are truly dining on a budget, I’d advise you to skip most of the imports. Undoubtedly, the weak dollar and the fuel it takes to bring Italy to Americana contributes to a ridiculous mark-up on some of the items. I found myself unknowingly shelling out $4 for an Abbondio Rossa soda – a bitter, subtly sweet Italian soda that would have tasted less bitter without the aftertaste of sticker shock.

Penny-pinchers should stick to the deli on one side of the store and the bakery on the other.

For only a few dollars more than Quizno’s foot-long special ($6.99), you can order a sandwich and watch the meat being sliced right in front of you. 

Or you can wander over to the other side of the market and salivate at the sight of so many beautiful loaves of bread and cornettos (Italian croissants) and a broad selection of other freshly baked goods to dunk in your morning coffee. 

I opted to try their take on a cannoli ($2.49). I’ve never met a cannoli I didn’t like and this one wasn’t any different. The ricotta filling was rich and fresh but not too sweet. The ground pistachios at either opening of the crispy shell was a nice touch.

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Back at the deli counter, the man who made my prosciutto sandwich warned me that the Canadian kind would be a little saltier, a little less tender than the imported Italian kind. To his credit, he was right. The budget diner in me didn’t want to spring for the imported kind that would cost an extra $2.

The domestic prosciutto was as delicious as any I’ve tried, but the stack of so many slices of salty meat was overwhelming. Savory Italian prosciutto crossed with the all-American love for sky-high stacks of meat isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

Next time, I’ll skip the bitter soda and splurge on the saltier, tender meat or I’ll tell the man slicing my meat “when” midway through. A little goes a long way, as they say.

But I’ll be coming back. All the ingredients in my sandwich were fresh and high-quality. The bread was firm and flavorful and the mustard was sharp and tangy.

And I know that even in such a small grocery store, I hadn’t even scratched the surface. It might take a few tries, but if there’s anywhere that will hit the sweet spot where Italy meets Americana (on a budget and around the corner), Claro’s will be it.

Claro’s Italian Market is at 159 E. College St., Covina,  (626) 339-3333.

Dining on a budget: Canyon City Barbeque in Azusa

By Evelyn Barge

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but in the San Gabriel Valley, the quickest path to some great barbecue is a brief drive to Azusa.

Passing through the main entryway at Canyon City Barbeque is a transformative experience. After pulling open a series of two heavy wooden doors, visitors enter the cozy, down-home dining area, where it’s almost as if the outside world has disappeared entirely.

The decor pulls from a mix of country kitchen and roadhouse diner. It’s a quietly honest space, but one that is perpetually filled with the hum of business being conducted over lunch or families laughing among themselves.

On my recent visit, however, I comfortably dined alone during the lunch hour. Well, almost alone – I had a little company in the form of the upright, grinning pig statue that greets diners by the doorway.

Since my new pink friend was of the ceramic variety, I didn’t let him stop me from ordering the pulled pork sandwich, a house specialty. It was an excellent choice at just $5.99, and the hours of slow smoking and dry rubs made each bite a relished one.

To my delight, a ketchup bottle full of the house barbecue sauce sits on each table, so it was easy to squeeze out some extra flavor to taste.

Most of the full entrees at Canyon City Barbeque run between $8 and $14. The sandwiches are a steal at under $6 each, and there are plenty of affordable side dishes to complement each platter.

I rounded out my meal with a side order of rice and gravy – a personal favorite, as I would consume virtually anything with gravy on top – and a small order of sweet potato fries. My extras cost $1.50 and $1.99, respectively.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pulled-pork sandwich was the showstopper, while the sides played a simple second-fiddle.

With my rice, I would have liked more gravy – but, as a born and bred Southerner, when wouldn’t I like more of it? The sweet potato fries, ordered at the suggestion of my charming and expedient server, were perfect – after I added a couple dashes of salt to them.

Overall, it was more than enough food to fill my desirous belly, and I ended up leaving some of it behind. But, since the first date went well, I suppose that means I have a good excuse to go back.

Canyon City Barbeque is located at 347 N. San Gabriel Ave. in Azusa.

Dining on a budget: Casita Taco in Irwindale

By Claudia Palma

Always looking for something new to try, I decided to give the new Mexican restaurant near our office a chance.

Casita Taco Mexican Grill added to its family with a new location in Irwindale, or Baldwin Park depending on which map you use (It’s on the border of both.) Surrounded by a Vietnamese and a sushi restaurant, it was a welcome sight for those needing fresh-tasting Mexican food.

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The menu consists of typical Mexican fare, such as tacos, burritos, tortas and combination plates, among other items.

I ignored the daily specials of arroz con pollo, or chicken with rice, and three-taco plate tempting me at the entrance window and at the counter. Instead, I went for the taco and enchilada combo plate for $5.99.

The combo consists of one soft taco with your choice of charbroiled steak, chicken, pork or carnitas (braised or roasted pork), one cheese enchilada topped with a mild tomatillo salsa and sour cream (which I forgot to ask to be left out), and rice, beans and a small serving of green salad. 

I added a small serving of guacamole on the side for 79 cents more.

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The carnitas were perfectly tender and so warm and juicy that by the time I got back to the office the tortillas couldn’t hold themselves together anymore. But, like Carl’s Jr. said, “if it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.”

After taking off as much sour cream as I could, I was able to enjoy the generously filled Monterey Jack cheese enchilada that I topped with guacamole and spicy salsa verde.

The Spanish rice and beans, as well as the chunky guacamole, definitely tasted homemade. I washed everything all down with a non-alcoholic Senorial sangria beverage (I think it’s better than the alcoholic version).

The plate was definitely worth the price since I had plenty left over for a small dinner.

Casita offers something for everyone. For vegetarians and salad lovers, there’s the vegetarian lover’s burrito or tostada and a Caesar salad. 

Casita also offers shrimp and fish tacos, as well as quesadillas, nachos and popular Mexican beverages such as horchata, jamaica or tamarindo.

Catering is available.

Casita Taco in Irwindale is located at 15646 Arrow Hwy., (626) 856-5670. Other locations include Burbank, North Hollywood, Los Angeles and Studio City.

Dining on a budget: Gene’s Grinders in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

In different parts of the country, these sandwiches are known as hoagies, submarines, bombers, heros, wedges, cosmos, zeps, and spuckies.

But in Monrovia, they’re just grinders. And Gene has a knack for making them.

I’ve driven past Gene’s Grinders nearly a hundred times over the years and I finally got the chance to step inside.

The menu is incredibly simple and straightforward. With the exception of french fries, potato chips and beverages, grinders are all that they do.

It was a hot grinder that I opted for – one of a half-dozen offerings that include a roast beef dip, meatball and kielbasa varieties – pastrami, and an order of $1.50 french fries.

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It’s a good thing I chose the $5.50 small sandwich, because when it arrived it was much larger than I expected, at nearly 12 inches.

I can’t imagine how big the large grinders are, but I was impressed at how lightning-fast my grinder was prepared.

Now, in Los Angeles, there is a sandwich stand, not too far from the corner of Pico and Olympic boulevards, that serves pastrami that is so greasy, that if you were to place the wrapped sandwich on a copy of this newspaper, both would be soaked in about 45 seconds.

I’m so glad Gene’s isn’t that type of place.

The pastrami sandwich – which is different than the pastrami dip that is also offered – is prepared with lettuce, tomato, cheese and the meat was very lean. 

All of their small sandwiches fall into the $4 to $5.75 range, while the large sandwiches are between $5 and $7.50.

Now, the one thing that I got from Gene’s. that I didn’t expect, was a lesson in horse racing.

The placemats list the Santa Anita Park schedule, there are about 900 photos of different horses and races on the walls. A pair of horseshoes hang not too far from the door, and one of the many tidbits of information I picked up is that Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were the horses battling for the triple crown in 1989.

For a moment, after I first walked in, I though the restaurant was owned by the folks at the racetrack, as a kind of off-campus Frontrunner Restaurant.

But, I now know that Gene, who works in the kitchen regularly, is just a horse racing aficionado.

On my next visit I plan to try one of the cold sandwiches, like salami or tuna. Or maybe on a Friday, I’ll try the sandwich of the day: Italian sausage.

Gene’s Grinders is located at 800 S. Myrtle Ave. in Monrovia. For information, call (626) 358-8016.