This week’s restaurant stretches the definition: Costco, with locations at 11800 Fourth St. (at I-15), Rancho Cucamonga, and 9404 Central Ave. (at I-10), Montclair.
When a few budget-conscious friends invited me to lunch at Costco, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’m not a Costco member and I didn’t even know you could eat there. But they said anyone can eat at the cafe, which is on the patio, and that the $1.50 hot dog and soda special couldn’t be beat.
So a group of us met at the Rancho location across from Ontario Mills. You line up, place your order at a window from the very basic menu depicted in giant blow-up photos on the block wall above, get your food and sit at the one of the plastic benches on the utilitarian, hose-it-off-before-closing-time patio.
I got only the 1/4-lb. hot dog and 20-oz. soda, $1.62 with tax, to relish the novelty of the cheapest lunch I’ve had since Del Taco halted its three tacos for 99 cents deal.
The hot dogs and Polish sausage are Hebrew National, all-beef. I had the Polish and asked for the off-menu sauerkraut, one friend’s tip.
The dog didn’t live up to the hype and didn’t taste like anything other than a hot dog, but for the price, it was outstanding.
Curious about the $1.99 pizza slices, I visited the Montclair Costco a few days later. This time I got the frozen yogurt chocolate and vanilla swirl ($1.35) as well as a combo slice, and no drink. Total: $3.61. While these prices, and the 59-cent soda with free refill, are eye-poppingly low, my guess is that with its high volume and low overhead, Costco still makes a profit.
The pizza slice was only average, which still made it better than some pizza I’ve paid more for. The swirl was tasty but as it came in a 5-inch-tall plastic cup, there was enough for a whole family.
It would take only three more visits for me to try every type of food on the menu: the chicken caesar salad, the turkey wrap, the berry sundae, the berry smoothie, the ice cream bar and the most mysterious item, which is called the chicken bake. It seems to contain chicken, cheese and bacon, all deep-fried into a hot dog-like form. It’s oddly compelling.
Social critics will grind their teeth at hearing that at $3.99, the salad and turkey wrap, the healthiest items, are the most expensive other than a full pizza, thus encouraging us all to stuff our faces with hot dogs and chicken bakes.
The two Costco cafes are identical except in Rancho there were ropes to funnel us through in one line, whereas in Montclair we lined up at individual windows, like we were at a ballpark. Also, in Rancho the patio has overhead heaters. Perhaps corporate HQ thinks Montclair has a naturally hotter climate.
Both locations are good for people-watching if you take an academic interest in the type of people who shop at Costco. In fact that thought was just crossing my mind in Montclair when a mother with two children in tow passed by pushing a shopping cart containing one item: a crate-like box of diapers with the number 264 on the side.