Restaurant of the Week: Mel’s Drive-In

CLOSED 2010

This week’s restaurant: Mel’s Drive-In, 11550 4th St. (at Richmond Place), Rancho Cucamonga.

After an incredibly long gestation of more than a year, Mel’s finally opened recently in the Signature Center across from Ontario Mills. (The north side of 4th is in Rancho.) There’s nothing “drive-in” about it. Forget car hops; Mel’s is in a pleasant but corporate-looking shopping center.

It’s part of a chain. The original Mel’s was used in “American Graffiti” and was later razed. The restaurant name and style were revived in the 1980s on San Francisco’s Lombard Street; I’ve been to that one a couple of times. You can read the history at the chain’s website.

Inside the Rancho Cucamonga location, Mel’s has rather successfully updated the diner motif for 2008. High ceilings and a somewhat industrial look, yes, but a chrome-edged counter, mini-jukeboxes at some tables and employees in white paper hats and bow ties.

I’ve now been to this Mel’s twice. Last week I had the half-sandwich, half-salad combo ($6.95) with a meatloaf sandwich and spring salad. The salad was better than average and I wasn’t disappointed with the meatloaf. On Friday I returned for a 1/3-pound Mel Burger and fries (also $6.95). They came on a real plate and passed the taste test. There seems to be an attention to quality ingredients here.

They have a long, varied menu of American comfort food staples, some in healthier style than the originals. I suspect Mel’s will become part of my lunchtime circuit.

The only obvious flaw: The awning over the entrance reads “Where the Local’s Meet to Eat.” Ditch the apostrophe and you’re golden, Mel’s.

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