Restaurant of the Week: Phillips BBQ


Photo above by Thomas Cordova

Jay Phillips tends to chicken, ribs and links cooking in the restaurant’s brick oven Wednesday. Below, the rib tip dinner.



Phillips BBQ, 11798 Central Ave. (at Francis), Chino.

Phillips is a big name for barbecue in L.A. and my column today is devoted to the chain’s surprising arrival in Chino, in a strip mall in north Chino perhaps a mile or two south of Mission Boulevard and formerly home to Clark’s BBQ.

If you’ve had Phillips’ food in L.A., this seems to me to be a comparable experience, although I’ve only been to an L.A. location once, about six years ago. I’ve had two meals in Chino so far. (I paid for both, as per my policy.)

The rib tip dinner ($10.55) comes with two sides and two slices of white bread for mopping up the sauce. I got two meals out of it; also, two small stains on my shirt. The pulled pork sandwich ($3.52) has meat chopped so fine it’s like a sloppy Joe; the sandwich had to be scarfed down quickly before the bun fell apart, although this was no chore. Both meals were delicious.

(My only problem with the sandwich was when I later realized I’d been charged 89 cents for my sandwich’s side of cole slaw, which is supposed to come with. Even at that, my lunch, including a soda, was a mere $5.48 with tax. The same combo at the Dickey’s chain costs $7.07 and, while acceptable, isn’t nearly as good.)

This is the first Phillips location with a dining room. It’s a little bare, but clean and bright, with new tables and chairs. All food comes in a takeout container. This isn’t the full restaurant experience, like at Joey’s or Lucille’s, but the prices are cheaper and you can box up your own leftovers to take home just by closing the lid.

The menu has sandwiches, dinners, the standard sides, small and large trays for parties or events and individual desserts such as 7-Up cake, red velvet cake, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie.

One note about the prices: They’re all odd. A rib dinner, for instance, is priced at $13.18, baby backs will run you $14.66 and a beef link sandwich is $9.37. Manager Jay Phillips says tax is included in all purchases, accounting for the creative pricing.

Candidly, I’m not a big barbecue guy, eating the stuff a couple of times per year. Some people, or at least some men, like arguing the finer points of various barbecue styles. I don’t know one from another. So I’m no expert. Disregard my opinion if you like. But for whatever it’s worth, Phillips’ barbecue is very good, certainly the best I’ve had, and I will be eating a lot more of it with them in the neighborhood.

If you’d like a more knowledgeable recommendation, read Jonathan Gold’s take here (but scroll down a bit to find it on the page).

For the record, The New Diner blog broke the news about Phillips’ arrival in Chino. My bib is off to them.

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Fundraiser to benefit movies at the Fox


A Halloween night party in Pomona is set for Saturday, with the goal of raising money for the Friends of the Fox organization to bring movies back to the Fox Theater.

I couldn’t get more details late Wednesday, but my understanding is that the theater, now used mostly for concerts, isn’t currently equipped to project films. (*Correction: It can project DVDs but doesn’t have working film projectors.) I know the Friends group would like to offer occasional screenings.

I’ll try to update this post on Thursday with more information. (*That update is essentially John Clifford’s response in the comments section.)

Anyhow, the fundraiser, cleverly dubbed “Silver Scream,” is a movie-themed Halloween costume party. It starts at 8 p.m. at the Acerogami, otherwise known as the Glass House Bar, at 228 W. 2nd St., Pomona, just west of Thomas Street.

Dress up as your favorite actor or movie character. Costumes are required for entry — although I suspect they won’t be too particular — and the suggested donation is $10. Since it’s a bar, entry is for those 21 and over.

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City Center Senior Apartments, Ontario


Here’s an architect’s rendering of a portion of the under-construction senior apartments at Lemon Avenue and B Street in downtown Ontario.

The complex of 76 units will stand adjacent to the library, senior center and city hall, an especially prime location, not to mention only a block from the shops on Euclid Avenue. (If the seniors love Yangtze, the restaurant’s entrance is less than a block away.)

Architect Dan Withee, of Torrance-based Withee Malcolm Architects, told me at the Oct. 9 ground-breaking that the design was “Wrightian,” referring to Frank Lloyd Wright, clarifying that the arches and other elements are from Wright’s Prairie style phase. In other words, no domes or falling water.

Well, the proof will be in the viewing, but the apartments have gotta have more visual interest than the parking lot they’re replacing.

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A meal in L.A.

As noted in Sunday’s column, and here on this blog Thursday, I attended Thursday’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting in downtown L.A. Of course I traveled by Metrolink, the MTA HQ being right there at Union Station.

The Gold Line-related portion of the meeting ended right after 2 p.m. Finally, lunch. I could’ve, and perhaps should’ve, eaten at the MTA cafeteria, but I decided to do something else that’s hard to do on a Saturday, and that’s try Pitfire Pizza.

It’s at 2nd and Main, immediately south of the new LAPD HQ, southwest of the Caltrans HQ and near the LA Times and City Hall. Jonathan Gold likes it. There are locations in North Hollywood and Westwood too. I keep meaning to try it. But the downtown Pitfire doesn’t open until 3 p.m. on weekends, thwarting any lunch plans on my usual outings.

So, Pitfire it was. My meal lived up to expectations. The day’s special pizza, New Haven clam ($10.25), was a white pizza (no tomato sauce) with roasted garlic, breadcrumbs, parsley, a cheese I’ve forgotten (sorry), plus clams, obviously. At four slices, it was just the right size for one person, and very tasty.

Instead of returning directly to Union Station, I stopped at Philippe’s for an iced tea and a cup of tapioca pudding. (I believe commenter Shirley Wofford has praised the tapioca.) Well, it was nothing to get excited about, but it was a change from pie, and a nice way to kill some time before the train home.

We won’t be getting the Gold Line for untold years, but at least we have Metrolink.

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Poet speaks tonight in Claremont

CULTURE ALERT: W.S. Merwin, one of the world’s greatest living poets and a Pulitzer winner, will give a free reading at 6:45 p.m. tonight at the Claremont McKenna Athenaeum, 385 E. 8th St., Claremont.

I attended a reading by Merwin as a college student in Illinois in 1984. A classmate urged me to go but I resisted at first, still married to the idea of watching “St. Elsewhere,” as I’d never missed an episode.

My friend sensibly said, c’mon, the show is on every week but Merwin will never be here again.

I went, I enjoyed it and, my streak broken, I only watched “St. Elsewhere” one or two more times before giving up on it. I hope Denzel Washington can forgive me.

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Restaurant of the Week: King Wrap

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King Wrap, 373 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont

With King Wrap as the latest Mediterranean place to hit the Village, following Pita Pit, Saca’s, Yanni’s and Casablanca, the pita must now be the official bread of downtown Claremont.

King Wrap, which occupies a narrow storefront between Quizno’s and Taco Factory, opened a couple of months ago but isn’t a total startup: It was formerly located in Rancho Cucamonga under the name Mama’s Grill. Several readers here lamented its closing, leading the grill’s mama (actually, the grill’s daughter-in-law) to pen a message in response a few days ago.

I’d already been to King Wrap three times before her note, not realizing the connection to Mama’s Grill. The new place is a smaller operation, a literal mom and pop, with four tables and a limited menu of wraps, sandwiches and salads. Nothing is more expensive than $6.99. (Mama’s Grill seated 100.)

I’ve had a gyro and a chicken shawarma ($5.49 each) and a Caesar wrap ($6.49) and found them all tasty, unexceptional perhaps but solid examples of their type. And the price is right.

My only suggestion would be to offer combos that include a small salad and a drink. Nobody wants to order a $5.50 sandwich and a $6.50 salad, but when the tray is delivered with nothing but a cylindrical sandwich resting there in a wrapper, it looks lonely.

After writing the above, I had a fattoush salad (cucumbers, peppers, onions, parsley, toasted pita; $6.45) on Wednesday evening and noticed there’s now a lunch special: kabab, hummus, rice and salad for $7.49. So there’s a partial answer to my suggestion above.

Quibbles aside, in the often-pricey Village, King Wrap is a nice addition. I hope Mama settles in for a long stay.

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Gold Line extension approved, in part

I spent Thursday at the MTA HQ in L.A. to learn the fate of the Gold Line light-rail extension out our way.

The San Gabriel Valley got half of what it wanted: The segment from Pasadena east to Azusa can start construction in 2010 and begin operation in 2013 after the MTA board agreed to operate it in 2013 instead of 2017.

However, the MTA declined to request federal dough to extend the line from Azusa to Claremont, under the assumption that the project might edge aside its higher priorities on Wilshire Boulevard and downtown L.A.

I’ll write more about this in Sunday’s column. FYI, my presence at the meeting was why none of your comments were posted here until nearly 6 p.m., when I got to a computer.

And yes, I took public transit — Metrolink — to the meeting.

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The car of our future?

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Lois Sicking of Upland showed me a BMW Mini E, a vehicle she was test-driving as an engineer with the state Air Resources Board. It’s a zero-emission, all-electric car, much like the Mini Cooper in style but with no engine. We’re on Second Street in Claremont near Starbucks.

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The “gas” tank, with its “No Fuel” symbol, is where the car is plugged into standard household current for a recharge. Starting the car, which Sicking is doing below, involves pressing a button.

The car makes no noise. In fact, automakers are wondering if they should add a noise feature because pedestrians never hear the car coming. (I imagine one day we’ll be buying ringtones for our cars.)

You can read more about the car in Friday’s column.

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Hamburgers in Ontario, a history

In conversation with me recently, author and Ontario native Charles Phoenix was recalling the burger joints of his 1960s-1970s youth. I’ll list them below; the descriptions are mine.

Burger Bandit: At 4th and Grove, this stand’s mascot was a man in a burglar mask. Demolished (I think?).

Hamburger Ding-a-Ling: At D and Euclid, this restaurant’s oddball concept was to have telephones at each booth, which customers would use to phone in their order. The food would be delivered to the table. Now demolished.

Burger Lane: At San Antonio and Holt. It’s now Sammy Burger.

Burger Q*: On Mountain at G Street. The Q, Phoenix says, referred to a “queue,” as in a line, as in, you line up for burgers. (*I inadvertently left this place off the list even though it did come up in our conversation. Because a couple of commenters asked about it, I’ll retroactively add it here for completeness’ sake.)

Andy’s Burgers: At Holt and Sultana (I think?), this drive-in moved to Holt and Lemon circa 2004. There’s a second one in Chino.

Before our conversation, Phoenix had dropped in at Andy’s to chat with the staff and learned that it opened in 1969. That’s 40 years ago.

If Andy’s has survived four decades, Phoenix mused, that puts them ahead of all the competition.

“They would be the official hamburger of Ontario,” Phoenix declared.

What do you think?

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Susan Feniger’s Jitlada

On Saturday I had two great meals in L.A.: lunch at Susan Feniger’s Street and dinner at Jitlada.

Street, on Highland just north of Melrose, is a new restaurant by Feniger, the co-chef behind Border Grill and Ciudad. She’s also a Claremont Colleges alumnus. Street is devoted to foodie versions of the world’s street foods. Our table shared spinach varenyky (a Ukrainian dumpling), a half-size New Jerusalem bread salad, Hawaiian poke plate (ono fillet, Japanese style) and Egyptian basbousa cake, plus mango lassi to drink. We liked it all, and at lunchtime on a Saturday or Sunday, street parking is free. The meal came to $53 plus tip.

The only disappointment was that Street has an A from the Health Department. This is street food; the grade should be a C.

Jitlada, on Sunset in the Thai Town neighborhood, is another acclaimed restaurant. Besides the usual Thai options, there’s a couple of pages of southern Thai dishes unknown to most of us, which is why there’s such a buzz. Jitlada is in a minimall and there was a half-hour wait, but for a Saturday night, that’s not bad.

We had fish cakes, a very good rice salad and, the clear winner, the crispy catfish and mango salad. Very good stuff indeed, and I’ll have to go back to try some of the other dishes everyone raves about. The bill was about $38. The interior seems to have been furnished from someone’s basement — a Michelob lamp near framed portraits of Thailand’s king and queen? — but Jitlada is well worth a visit.

I can also endorse the movie “An Education,” now playing at the ArcLight in Hollywood, and eventually to a theater near(ish) you.

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