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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“Iron Man” vs. journalists

So, I saw “Iron Man” on Saturday afternoon. The B-level Marvel character made for a fun little movie, mostly due to Robert Downey Jr.’s droll acting.

Three little problems for me:

1) The allegedly tough-as-nails woman journalist from Vanity Fair asks Downey’s character a few skeptical questions, then becomes so charmed she beds him. Then — apparently regaining her skepticism after her one-night stand — she’s back covering his press conference at the end.

Yeeeeeah, that’s how it works. What’s a journalistic bimbo, a jimbo? She’s a jimbo. One without any ethics or common sense or, apparently, a boss. C’mon, that sort of thing only happens when you work in TV and you cover the mayor of L.A.

The next two slay me:

2) In a series of realistic-looking magazine covers about Downey’s character, one for Forbes (I think) has the cover line “Tony Stark Takes Reigns at 21.” Uh, no, he took the reins, as in riding a horse. Sheesh.

3) Later a news crawl on a TV has the redundant phrase “$84 million dollar.” That’s like saying “84 million dollar-dollar.”

Pretty amazing that an army of hundreds, or maybe thousands, labored over this movie, whose budget was a reported $180 million, but when it comes to spelling, they guess.

This is more egregious than in “A Scanner Darkly” when the lead character’s ID spells his city of residence “Anahiem.”

Other than those baffling errors, “Iron Man” isn’t bad. Not great, but not bad. Most importantly on that scorching Saturday, the air conditioning at the AMC 30 gets a rave review.

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Outdoor movies in RC

Rancho Cucamonga’s Victoria Gardens is bringing back “movies under the stars,” an obviously successful program from last spring in which family friendly movies were shown on a temporary screen in the grassy area known as Chaffey Town Square. Admission is free and the whole thing is like a drive-in without the cars.

A movie will be shown each Tuesday from May 20 to June 17. All are PG. The lineup:

May 20: “Surf’s Up”

May 27: “Bee Movie”

June 3: “Daddy Day Camp”

June 10: “Little Rascals”

June 17: “Shrek the Third”

“Surf’s Up” may be the sleeper of the bunch; it wasn’t that popular at the box office, perhaps due to penguin fatigue, but the people who saw it loved it, and the surfing scenes are said to be pretty impressive.

I saw “Cars” at the VG last year with friends and we had a good time. You’re encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets. Each movie is preceded by games, activities and prizes. Movies begin at dusk, approximately 8 p.m.

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‘Pomona A to Z’: R is for Roman Goddess

[The letter R proved a good excuse to recount how Pomona got its name. As for the runnerups, Robbie's, Red Hill Pizza and Randy's Records have all closed. Sob! Oh, and the "Jane Eyre" quote referred to below is actually "Readers, I married him." I had recently read the book and couldn't resist mentioning it.

This column was originally published Jan. 9, 2005, as "A to Z," which began back in July 2004, entered its second calendar year with a roar.]

R is for Roman goddess, who brings classic touch to Pomona

To paraphrase “Jane Eyre”: Readers, I’m at the letter R. OK, it’s a loose paraphrase.

“Pomona A to Z,” my recondite review of that city’s raptures, today rests between Q and S. Which R should we recommend?

Let’s reconnoiter in your ready room for a referendum:

* Rainbird Rainforest, a learning center at Cal Poly Pomona mimicking a rain forest and funded by the sprinkler company.

* Randy’s Records, a vinyl album store on East Second Street, visited by many an out-of-town band at the Glass House.

* Red Hill Pizza, the eatery that spent 30 years in an old red barn on Holt before moving downtown. Try the lasagna.

* Robbie’s, the downtown nightspot that in 1968 hosted a luncheon for Robert F. Kennedy, just days before his assassination.

* Reference department at the Library, always ready to respond to your research requests.

Well, I could go on and on — what about Repo Man Recovery? Rockwell Collins? the Donahoo’s rooster? — but that might get repetitive.

Instead, let’s stop roamin’ and start Roman. Because our R is for Roman goddess, the deity for whom Pomona is named.

Until Los Angeles County redesigned its official seal in fall 2004, few realized its dominant image was the goddess Pomona in her flowing robes — a design created in 1957 by a Pomona native, artist Millard Sheets.

Tragically, Pomona got the heave-ho along with the seal’s cross. County supervisors decided scrapping the cross but leaving the pagan goddess might send a weird message.

But who was Pomona, and how did a Los Angeles suburb come to be named for a figure from Roman mythology?

“Not much is known about her,” says Richard McKirahan, a professor of classics at — where else? — Pomona College.

She was a goddess, “but a minor one, not in the league of Jupiter or Venus,” says McKirahan, noting that mentions of Pomona in myths are scant and sometimes contradictory.

Her sphere of influence was fruits, especially those that grow on trees. I forgot to ask whether that includes tomatoes.

“Her priest was the lowest ranking priest in the Roman hierarchy, which may mean that she was considered the humblest of the gods and goddesses,” McKirahan says.

So Pomona’s namesake is a goddess, but one with a public relations problem. Somehow that seems fitting.

The name came about like this. In 1875, real-estate investors from L.A. bought 2,500 acres out here for $10,000, then subdivided the land into lots for public auction.

They sponsored a contest to name the town.

Citrus nurseryman Solomon Gates, a Pennsylvania native who loved Greek and Roman mythology, decided his entry would play off hopes that the town would become a horticultural paradise.

He feared the name would be too fancy, his son, Superior Court Judge Walter S. Gates, told the Historical Society in 1963.

But at a community meeting, contest judges declared: “Henceforth, our new settlement will be known as Pomona.”

That’s certainly better than the derisive nickname by which the settlement had been known: Monkey Town.

When the city incorporated on Jan. 6, 1888, Pomona was official. And catchy: At least eight other U.S. cities adopted the name.

Local images of the goddess abound. She was depicted on fruit crate labels. She’s on the city seal, affixed to city vehicles, buildings and letterhead.

There are even modern twists. A wall-sized mural downtown features a Latino-tinged goddess.

More traditional is the version on display in the Pomona Library: a 5-foot-3 statue of Pomona carved from marble and shipped here from Italy more than a century ago.

As the Pomona Progress described the figure upon its arrival:

“It represents the goddess in the act of returning from the fruit harvest, the folds of her gown being filled with fruits, while in the hair about the brow are tastefully arranged small clusters of grapes.”

An exact replica of a statue from antiquity, it was commissioned by the Rev. Charles F. Loop, a wealthy Episcopalian from Pomona. He saw the original while in Florence and thought a copy would make a dandy icon for his hometown.

It was presented on July 4, 1889, and has always been housed in the Library. Today, from inside her glass case, she keeps a watchful eye on the main floor.

“Most people just come by and look,” library staffer Camilla Berger says. “But (a former staffer) told me that years ago, some people came in who worship Pomona.”

Well, California is the land of fruits — and nuts.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, religiously.)

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Blowin’ in the Skirball

A week ago I made a long-delayed visit to L.A.’s Skirball Center to see its exhibit “Bob Dylan’s American Journey 1956-1966.”

I’m a Dylan fan of almost 30 years standing but it took a while for my interest in seeing the show to overcome my inertia. Viewing a cache of memorabilia didn’t strike me as a must-see as far as deepening my appreciation of Dylan’s music, and as it turned out, I’m not sure the visit did help all that much.

And yet for me the visit was diverting enough to have been worth the trip and the $10.

One of the first things you see is a wall of 45s featuring 100 versions from all over the world of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Among the grab-bag of performers: Trini Lopez, Spike Jones, Marlene Dietrich, Les 3 Menestrels, Odetta, the Harmonicats, Sven-Ingvars, Vince Guaraldi, Stevie Wonder, Gun Sjoberg and Srecko Zubak. Some of them sound like characters in one of Dylan’s more surreal songs. Odetta’s version, by the way, is the more grammatically precise “Blowing in the Wind.”

Inside the exhibit are typed and handwritten lyrics to classic Dylan songs, concert tickets, handbills, photos, video clips, correspondence and recordings of songs by Dylan and by folk and blues artists who inspired him. It made for an enjoyable hour.

Some of the material wasn’t new to me and yet it was neat to see the actual object. I’m thinking here of the famous Robert Shelton review that led to Dylan’s recording contract. This version is the original, clipped from the New York Times. I’ve seen young Robert Zimmerman’s 1959 Hibbing High yearbook photo in many books, but here was the actual yearbook. I knew his stated ambition was “to join Little Richard,” but did you know his club affiliations were “Latin Club 2, Social Studies Club 4″?

We also see his inscription in a female classmate’s yearbook that includes the charming comment: “You have the most beautifullest hair in school, too.” There’s also a 1964-ish letter to Joan Baez’s mother written by Dylan openly pretending to be Joan, talking about how in love they were and how wonderful he was.

Silly, inessential stuff, but kind of fun.

I overheard a tour guide say that Echo Helstrom, Dylan’s first girlfriend, phoned and was given a private tour of the exhibit. There were plenty of regular folks there when I visited, from all ages. Including polite but bored children enduring their parents’ mini-lectures on the 1960s civil rights movement.

One of the coolest objects was Bruce Langhorne’s tambourine, the one that inspired “Mr. Tambourine Man,” in a glass case. I recall reading where Dylan described the tambourine as being as large as a wagon wheel. Well, it’s not that big, but it’s probably 15 inches across.

If you’re curious about Dylan, whether you’re a neophyte or a hardcore fan, I’d say the exhibit is worth a visit.

The exhibit, which opened in February, continues through June 8. Many of the neatest lectures, films and other ancillary events are past, but there are more. On Sunday, Ann Powers, the L.A. Times pop music critic, will lead a tour at 2:30. Wish I’d waited a week to go. And the rare documentary “Eat the Document” will screen May 29 at 8 p.m.

If you’re not curious about Dylan, thanks for reading this far.

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Restaurant of the Week: Costco

costcorc

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, pictured above, which is across Fourth 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, pictured below, 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. (This text was written in 2008 and the photos taken in 2014, when the rope lines appear to be history.)

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.

costcomont

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Honeyville?

Marilyn Varney writes:

“I noticed this picture on eBay for ” ’20s snapshot photo Honeyville in Pomona, CA.” Could Honeyville really have existed in Pomona? Have you heard of this in your past research? I know you have learned many interesting things about this nice city and I wanted to pass along this information to you.”

Honeyville is a new one on me but judging from the photo it was a roadside farm stand, maybe on a road like Holt or Mission or Foothill used by pre-freeway travelers.

There used to be orange juice stands too, an idea that used to strike me (born in the soda era) as ridiculous until it dawned on me that back then, fresh-squeezed OJ was probably a novelty, and a refreshing one at that.

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Another old Ontario theater

I got an e-mail from ex-Ontarian Bill Gunn the last time the Ritz Theater was mentioned here. Now that the Ritz is on the blog again, here’s Bill’s note, as timely as ever:

“I was wondering what the Ritz Theatre was all about until I realized you were talking about the California. What about the Park? It was toward Holt from the Ritz about four doors. It was Ontario’s third theater.”

Ontario’s leading theater was the Granada, still standing on the west side of Euclid Avenue at 305 but used now as a church. The Park and the California, later named the Ritz, were on the east side of Euclid. The California/Ritz, at 136 N. Euclid, burned down.

The Park is the most obscure of the three, not least of which because it went through multiple names. It seems to have had the Park name from 1948 to about 1962. Here’s what I found out Tuesday from the Ontario Library’s Joanne Boyajian:

The theater was built in 1913 at 122 N. Euclid. First it was the Isis, owned by Jacob Lerch. In 1915 it changed hands and became the Euclid when the competing theater across the street, the Euclid Photoplay, took it over and relocated.

The new Euclid theater had more than 500 seats and up-to-date stage and dressing rooms to accommodate “any road show that comes to the city,” according to the Daily Report. Owner H.E. Milling’s stated specialty was “high-class moving picture dramas and only the better class of vaudeville.” Inferior acts were “strictly barred.” But of course.

The Euclid remained through at least 1928. It was known to be vacant in the mid-1930s, in the depths of the Depression. (The California and Granada theaters apparently closed in the Depression as well before being reopened in 1933 by Jack Anderson.)

From 1937-1938 the Euclid was resurrected as the Forum Theater and it remained under that name until 1948 when it was named — finally! — the Park Theater, owned by the Anderson brothers.

But by 1962, it was a pawn shop, Euclid Loan and Jewelry Co. Today Euclid Loan is still operating, but the pawn shop is slated to relocate across Euclid so the building can be demolished for the great downtown project that at this point isn’t looking so great.

Whew!

Anyone have any memories of the Park?

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Remembering Orlando’s

Charles Bentley writes to inquire about a fondly recalled Pomona restaurant:

“My father has been trying to come up with the name of a Pomona restaurant that was extremely popular for many years. After many weeks of pondering, he believes the name of the place was Orlando’s.

“A quick check of the ‘Things that aren’t here anymore’ responses comes up with a few references but not too many details.

“As I recall, Orlando’s was not far from the Pomona DMV, but I never ate there. Dad remembers it as being ‘the best place for steaks in Pomona,’ and puts it on a par with RoVals in Cucamonga and The Golden Bull (in Fontana?). Dad also remembers Orlando’s featured a large and lively bar and that the restaurant was usually packed.

“Can anyone out there help with this one?”

My files indicate that Orlando’s was at Holt and Dudley, by the DMV, and was known for its steaks and its dumplings. But it was before my time. Anyone able to tell us more?

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