Taylor’s Cafe, 7049 Chino Ave. (at Euclid), Chino
Perhaps the Inland Valley’s only weigh station/steakhouse combo (unless Fleming’s in Victoria Gardens has added truck scales), Taylor’s is a delightful contradiction. The intersection itself shows Chino in transition: tidy tract homes on one corner, cows or fields on a couple of others, Taylor’s and a few semi-trucks on another.
Above: The sign on the entry door.
The window-free restaurant and bar is nothing fancy: a paneled bar with a bug zapper and an adjoining room with equally austere furnishings that include a vintage, but empty, cigarette machine. The cafe has been there for decades and caters to an oldtime Chino dairy crowd. It’s relaxed and informal.
I’ve been to Taylor’s a couple of times for breakfast, but I’d never had a steak. A friend who swears Taylor’s has the best ribeye around invited me out recently at lunchtime. We sat in the paneled bar, the TV news showing hopeful news about the oil spill, and had the ribeye lunch ($14) with salad, fries, French bread and slices of bleu cheese.
The steaks, medium rare, had a peppery tang and minimal fat, and were enormous, probably close to a pound each. Excellent for the price, and awfully good for any price.
They also have top sirloin for $10 and porterhouse for $16, plus burgers for $6. Cheeseburgers are also $6. Breakfast, served until 3 p.m., includes pancakes, eggs, huevos rancheros and Basque sausage. Some swear by the carne asada burritos.
I wrote a column on Taylor’s a couple of years ago; you can read that below. A long review on Yelp can be read here and a neat writeup with photos can be found here.
This column appeared July 11, 2008.
NEAR CHRISTMAS, reader Maurice Ayala called to mourn the passing of the Chino Airport Lounge, then, while we were on the phone, asked me if I’d heard of another remnant of old Chino, Taylor’s Cafe. I hadn’t.
Taylor’s, he explained, is a restaurant and bar that doubles as a state-certified weigh station for trucks. The cafe’s small sign is broken, there’s no exterior light at night and they don’t advertise.
“It’s the best-kept secret in Chino,” Ayala asserted.
I like it when people spill secrets. Ayala offered to show me the place over breakfast some morning. After waiting until his Assembly campaign went down in flames, so that he wouldn’t get any free publicity, I took him up on his invitation last week.
Taylor’s is at Euclid and Chino avenues, a spot where old and new Chino collide. On the northwest corner, recently built two-story homes crowd together. On the southwest corner is a squat, faded building surrounded by a gravel lot filled with pickups and tractor-trailer cabs.
Taylor’s windowless wooden door is blank except for a decal: “Animals Taste Good.” Inside, the single room is dominated by a 20-foot bar with shelves of booze and a mirror behind them. Small tables line the wall.
This was where we were meeting for breakfast? But Ayala greeted me, assured me this was indeed Taylor’s Cafe and pointed me to a table.
“Sometimes the yuppies from across the street poke their head in and turn around and leave,” Ayala cracked.
At the bar, customers played a Basque dice game with round dice numbered 1 to 16 on the flat side. “If you go over 31, you bust. In the morning they play for a round of coffee,” Ayala said.
Many dairymen eat and drink there. Some became millionaires by selling their land to developers. The deals often allow the farmers to stay and keep making money for several years until the market is right to build homes. Needless to say, the market won’t be right for a while yet, giving the farmers a sweet deal.
“They’re having the time of their life,” Ayala confided.
At the next table, a farmer who owns several racehorses bemoaned one with an injury. Oh, the tribulations of the nouveau riche.
Taylor’s may date to the 1940s. Since 1990 it’s been operated by Dominic Reca.
Ayala asked for menus and Reca, startled, dug up a couple. Apparently the one-page menu is a formality, widely ignored. Ayala got a burrito, I had an omelet with Basque sausage, lightly spicy, and we split the tab.
A friendly man with a thick torso, close-cropped gray hair and a flat nose, Reca is a French native who speaks in heavily accented English. He can also converse in Spanish, Basque, Portuguese and French.
Now 60, Reca emigrated in 1969. Sheep herding, milking, gardening and bartending are among the jobs he had before the cafe.
I took a better look around. Framed beer signs decorate the walls. An industrial fly zapper hums with a blue light behind the bar. Nothing says class like a restaurant with a bug zapper.
Only one wall isn’t paneled. That’s because a young driver from the homes across the street plowed into the cafe a few months before and the wall had to be rebuilt.
Reca opens Taylor’s at 6 a.m. His wife, Claudia, arrives at 8 a.m. after taking their children to school, his cue to go home for a long break. When she needs to leave to pick up the kids, he returns and stays until closing time — usually 7 p.m., except when there’s “Monday Night Football,” in which case they’re open until 10 and they have a buffet.
Taylor’s is officially closed on Sundays but regulars go in for coffee anyway. I’m not sure how that works.
Some supply their own food. Sportsmen carry in a catch, or an elk they bagged, Reca goes to work in the kitchen and everyone shares. Animals taste good, remember?
Ben Hottinger, whose meat market I wrote about in May, some evenings brings in a thick steak for Reca to cook him.
It sounds like a private club. Obviously it’s an informal place. When it’s busy I watch customers go behind the counter to fetch themselves a refill of coffee. No trucks pulled in to be weighed but when they do, Reca can be gone for a quarter-hour.
There’s little chance of getting special treatment at Taylor’s.
As Reca likes to say, “The service is always good, when you get it.”
Claudia came over to refill Ayala’s coffee. She’s asked how she met Dominic. Turns out they were next-door neighbors who finally bumped into each other one day, and that was that.
“I knew him only two weeks and then we got married!” she said breathlessly. They’ve been together 14 years.
Not everything was perfect that morning. Reca, asked the whereabouts of a certain cook, sighed and said he’d quit again. A moody sort, he quits every couple of years.
Taylor’s, though, soldiers on, a remnant of rural Chino that, if you’ll permit me to wax poetic about a lovable dump, resides at the crossroads of change.
Someday Taylor’s will no doubt be bulldozed, perhaps for more tract homes, which have crept in from the west, stopping at the edge of the parking lot. Or maybe it will become a Starbucks, or an organic bakery or, God help us, a Denny’s.
Places where, if you tried to serve yourself coffee, they’d call the cops.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday but makes you turn the page yourself. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (909) 483-9339 or write 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario 91764. Read his blog at dailybulletin.com/davidallenblog