5 hole-in-the-wall lunch spots worth tracking down

For our annual Living Here magazine, I was asked to write a piece about restaurants and a shorter piece recommending five non-chain eateries.

Alas, the magazine (due out any day now as a DB insert) proved smaller than expected because of lagging ad sales and both my pieces were bumped. Oh, the humanity. So the main piece became today’s print column and the sidebar is published below. Waste not, want not.

Note that I spread the five choices around geographically. So while these are not (as Nick Hornby would say) my all-time Top 5 restaurants, they’re five that I’ve patronized multiple times over the years and enjoyed, for one reason or another.

Donahoo’s Golden Chicken
1074 N. Garey Ave., Pomona (also 1117 N. Grove Ave., Ontario)
The Donahoo’s box lunch is to fried chicken fanciers what the bento box is to Japanese food fans, an all-in-one conglomeration of tastes. The box consists of either two pieces of chicken or six chicken strips, perhaps the Inland Valley’s best fried chicken, plus a pile of bland thick-cut fries (crinkle-cut at the Ontario location), a fist-sized roll and a small container of cole slaw. A plastic fork is tucked into a side flap. It’s to-go only. If you’re at the Pomona location, take your box a few blocks east to Lincoln Park and have yourself a picnic.

Fredy’s Tacos
1821 E. Fourth St., Ontario
Located in the Ralphs center at Vineyard and Fourth next to a panaderia, Fredy’s serves up small, Mexican-style tacos with plenty of onions and cilantro on corn tortillas. A humble place with mighty food, Fredy’s draws laborers, journalists and Ontario police. Dine in and listen to ranchera music from the jukebox or watch a telenovela on the TV.

Angelina’s Cafe
9135 Archibald Ave., Rancho Cucamonga
Hidden in a business park, Angelina’s proves to be a cozy place with high tables, mustard-colored walls and a welcoming atmosphere. The food, mostly sandwiches and salads, is modest and reliable. There’s a daily special to spice things up a bit. I like the old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, served in a portion large enough to take home half. The burgers are pretty good, you can get a salmon caesar salad for $8 and they make their own potato chips.

Flo’s Cafe
7000 Merrill Ave., Chino, and 5650 Riverside Drive, Chino
Flo’s is a down-home place, so popular there are two locations. They have the same menu, meaning that your choice of Flo’s can be based on where you are at the moment, either physically or psychologically. Downtown Flo’s is slightly downscale Coco’s; airport Flo’s is old-school coffee shop with airplanes, and sometimes flies, outside. I prefer airport Flo’s but I visit the other in a pinch. Whatever you order, even if it’s biscuits and gravy at breakfast, only the uninitiated make the mistake of not saving room for the homemade pie, cobbler or pudding.

San Biagio’s N.Y. Style Pizza
1263 W. Seventh St., Upland
They have pastas here, baked and served in an aluminum tin, and sandwiches too, but the main event is the pizza. It’s made in the New York style, a thin crust topped with tomato sauce and a sprinkling of mozzarella, plus whatever toppings you like (a purist would say none). You can order by the slice or get a whole pie. Slices are thin enough you can fold one in half and pretend you’re in Brooklyn, even though you’re really in a shopping center in Upland. Owner Biagio Pavia doesn’t speak a lot of English but his enthusiasm is contagious. He speaks the universal language: a thumb’s up or a high-five, accompanied by a big smile.

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  • “Hal Linker”

    Flo’s #2 on Riverside Drive in Chino began life as a small drive-thru donut place called JB’s Donuts in the late 1970’s. JB later added a dining area and became a restaurant called JB’s by the early 1980’s.

    The orginal Flo’s at the airport was sold to Paul and Donna Hughes circa the mid 1970s. Hadla and I are having a disagreement as to when they took over the Riverside Drive JB’s location. It was either the 1980’s or 1990’s. Anybody know? Hadla says 1986. I say later.

  • http://mrontemp.blogspot.com/ Ontario Emperor

    The only one of these that I’ve visited is San Biagio’s, which I love. They don’t take credit cards, but in these days of overspending on credit, maybe that’s a good thing.

  • Jerry Title

    My wife and I like both Flo’s, but also prefer the Chino airport site. Don’t really know why. Maybe it ‘s the flies???

    Also, to my chagrin, what has been missing from our fine Inland Empire now for many years is a Jewish deli. I can’t imagine why. There is a large Jewish community here, but ever since Joe Greene died, and Greene’s Deli at Holt and Park closed (many years ago now, but can’t remember exactly how many), no enterprising member of the community has seen fit to give it a try. Too bad. I think it would be a winner.

    [We have a few Italian-style delis but you’re right, there’s no Jewish deli out here. Thanks for the background on Greene’s; I hadn’t heard of it. — DA]

  • Scott in R.C.

    I’m guessing we shouldn’t question “Hal’s” recall on dates and places from the past. As far as Flo’s #2, I had breakfast there on November 2, 1991 with my groomsmen on the day of my wedding.

    [You’re not going to tell us what each of you ordered? — DA]

  • Scott in R.C.

    Groom — Corned beef hash, eggs over easy, biscuits and gravy, coffee and water. Best man — Hot links, poached eggs, biscuits and gravy, coffee. Usher #1 — Ham, eggs over easy, biscuits and gravy, coffee. Usher #2 — Corned beef hash, eggs sunny side up, biscuits and gravy, coffee.

    [OK, OK! But I’m disappointed none of you four had pie. — DA]

  • Jim L

    Greene’s Deli had a second location on Foothill in Claremont that stayed in business for a while after the Pomona location closed. Unfortunately that location slowly died too. Greene’s is sorely missed.

    My “next best” deli isn’t a Jewish deli at all but still satisfies my deli cravings quite nicely… Here’s a vote for Claro’s Italian Market!

  • Desdave

    Am I the only one who thinks the service at Flo’s (both spots) is possibly the worst known to man? Everytime I go in there it is like I am from another friggen planet or something. It got so bad I don’t go in there anymore.

    Maybe it’s the ‘Steal your Face’ sticker on my car?

  • CH_91709

    Donahoo’s (Garey location) is hands down the best fried chicken in the I.E — their rolls are to die for too!

    First heard of it on a food blog site, then saw Allan Borgen (an I.E. food critic) review it, and had to go. That was two years ago and I go about once every two to three months.

    I’ve been hunting for a cheap, hole in the wall taco/burrito place. Looks like I have to give Fredy’s a try.

    [Try it, you’ll like it (I hope). If not, well, there’s no shortage of taqueria alternatives. — DA]

  • Annie Muss

    I only wish Donahoo’s would switch from using trans-fatty shortening… so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty — so often.

  • rick freese

    As far as taco joints go, I like El Merendero’s in La Verne, can’t go wrong here. Donahoo’s chicken is to die for.

    Cafes for me are hard to choose. The staff makes a place what it is. I have eaten at several, but always go back to the Mission Family Restaurant on Mission & White in Pomona.

    It needs just a little more upholstery work on the booths, but the food is consistantly good. The staff is polite and on the ball. Not too much more you can ask for, as far as I’m concerned.

    [Mission Family will eventually get its own column. It’s kind of a dump but I like it, and architecturally, all the “bones” are there for a classic diner. Someday some rich investor will throw a million bucks into the place and it will look amazing. — DA]

  • Don J

    Dave, here’s my “Hal Linker” impersonation:

    Wedding day breakfast @ Flo’s Cafe? I’ll bet the groom had pie — heh, heh, heh. I’ll be here all week.

    I can’t tell you the dissatisfaction on the faces of the Hollywood folks when they test screened “My Stepmother Is An Alien” out here (perhaps this is when Seth Green developed his Pomona Valley fetish). We sent them to Greene’s Deli, I thought they were over towards the Bagelry @ that point? Richard Benjamin liked his sandwich, but it was inconceivable an area this size had only one Jewish deli … I guess with all the ranchers & farmers starting here we focus too much on breakfast ’round here.

  • Fave in RC

    I’ve been to two of the five: San Biagio’s N.Y. Style Pizza and Donahoo’s Golden Chicken. Both are to die for! San Biagio’s is YUMMY for a Friday night dinner in front of the TV! And Donahoo’s, I have to make a special trip to Pomona but I order biscuits for holidays!

    A hole in the wall taco place in Rancho Cucamonga is TACO HUT! It is actually a step up from a hole in the wall! It’s clean, the service is great and the food is just as good as homemade! It’s on Foothill in the Auto Zone center between Hellman and Archibald.

    [Been there and liked it. — DA]

  • Ms. Lois

    I ate at the Mission Family only once. I went back to work, got sick, went home & never went back.

    [I can see how that would be a turnoff. — DA]

  • Bob Terry

    I have the trifecta for your five spots. Being born and raised in Pomona, Donahoo’s was a treat for us in the sixties when Pop had a few extra bucks, even us in South Pomona would venture to the north side once in a while.

    Then, living in Chino for 24 years, Flo’s at the Airport was where we (numerous wives) would always take out of towners…even saw friends from Escondido who flew in just for breakfast.

    Now Angelina’s has great food but her catering is out of this world! She is catering my son’s wedding next month, full menu, no cheesy buffet, for less than $15 a person. All you wedding planners out there, if there is really such a thing, give her a call.

    [Always trust a man who once shook RFK’s hand. I mean, twice shook RFK’s hand. — DA]

  • Renee

    Donahoo’s is the place with the big chicken/rooster on the sign, isn’t it? That place ROCKS.

    [It is, Renee, and it does. — DA]

  • ray

    Hey Dave, try Sergio’s in Upland, Foothill/San Antonio, N/E corner. Awesome Mexican food. As good as crummy El Gato Gordo !!

    [Given that I was unimpressed (to be polite) with El Gato Gordo, that’s not much of a recommendation, Ray. But I’ll try it anyway. — DA]

  • Bob Terry

    Mission Family Restaurant was originally Hull House. It was clean, great food and only 5 minutes from our house. But my all time breakfast favorite “joints” was Seapy’s at Holt & San Antonio and The Big-E-Nuff Cafe on Mission. Wilbur was the owner/chef and had maybe 10-12 seats at the counter. Can anybody confirm my thoughts?

    [Big-E-Nuff Cafe? What a great name! — DA]

  • Jim L

    As a small child, I loved when my parents took us to Seapy’s because they had a treasure chest by the register filled with small toys and other trinkets. Children were allowed to choose and keep one toy.

    The Big E Nuff Cafe sounds really familiar. There was a tiny cafe on the north side of Mission, just east of Palomares. It was a true greasy spoon to be sure and with counter service only. It was only half as large as another greasy spoon back when – the Apex Cafe on Garey at Third.

    Whoops sorry David – didn’t mean to slip back to the things that aren’t here anymore theme.

    A present-day Mexican restaurant that offers excellent Mexican food at a reasonable price is Los Jarritos II on Garey just south of Foothill.

    [Los Jarritos II is indeed a treasure. Highly recommended. — DA]

  • ray

    OK Mr. Allen, so El Gato Gordo doesn’t get your approval but c’mon, COSTCO Polish Dog is not to your liking ???

    [I prefer hot dogs with a casing. Sorry. — DA]

  • Bonnie MacKay

    Does anyone know what happened to Bravo Burgers in San Dimas? A sign on the vacant building said they were moving but I can’t find them. Thanks.

    [Anyone know? — DA]

  • Charles Bentley

    Yes, the previous Bravo Burgers location in San Dimas is no more. When I inquired about it, I was told that a new location is to come in a brand new building. But that’s still a year away! And don’t try going to the company Web site for help — it’s under construction (“New Site Coming Soon!” it says).

    The good news is there is a Bravo Burgers located not far away on White Avenue in Pomona (the NW corner of White & Orange Grove). There’s also one in Chino Hills.

    We can only hope the new San Dimas location will appear sooner than answers about the old site.

    One side comment for David — Your Midwestern roots are a dead giveaway with your penchant for casings on your hot dog. Something to do with the “snap” when you eat them, right? As a good friend of mine once said, “If I want casing, I’ll buy luggage. If I want snap, I’ll eat a jalapeo.” He also said, “Eating a sausage with a thick casing is like eating a tamale still wrapped in a corn husk.”

    Me? Whether it’s a Dodger dog, Coney dog, Louisiana hot link or Maxwell Street Polish (please hold the onions!), I love ’em all.

    [Speaking of Midwestern roots, I shoulda said I like washing my hot dog down with a soda pop. — DA]

  • Burger Meister

    The reason Bravo Burgers in San Dimas was the great family that ran it. The one in Pomona is one of many a different owner runs and the quality of the food and what’s on the menu shows. I would drive past several burger joints to go to Bravo in San Dimas. The word is they are gonna be opening one on Bonita & Eucla, near Chaparral Lanes, We’ll see. Cross your fingers, I’ve been going to Kosmo’s on Foothill. They are OK.

    [I’ll have to try the Bravo in San Dimas sometime. And what is this Kosmo’s of which you speak? I’ll hunt it down too. — DA]