Restaurant of the Week: Grinder Haven

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Grinder Haven, 724 W. Holt Blvd. (at San Antonio), Ontario

Opened in 1958, Grinder Haven, which specializes in the sandwiches known variously as grinders, subs and heroes, is among the oldest restaurants in Ontario. You walk up and order at a window and dine at a picnic table under an overhang. A large neon sign with beckoning arrow stands by Holt, which was once akin to the Route 66 of Ontario.

I’ve written about Grinder Haven’s history in my column; it began as D’Elia’s Grinder Haven and was sold in 1973 to John Goble, who shortened the name and owned it until 2005. The Haven used to be famed for baking its own bread and for its attention to quality.

Two subsequent owners no doubt meant well but stopped baking bread and cut corners. I stopped eating there. But I gave it another shot recently with a Grinder newcomer after hearing the place had improved.

They have hot and cold sandwiches, $4.50 for a half and $7 for a whole. A half is plenty for a normal appetite. Hot sandwiches are pastrami, meatball, BBQ beef, sausage and BLT; cold sandwiches are ham, salami, turkey, tuna, capocolla and beef. They also have burgers and fries.

I had the pastrami and my friend had the meatball. The pastrami was okay, better than my last visit but not as good as I recall from better days, and my friend said the meatball sandwich was bland and tasteless. He didn’t finish it. The restaurant continues to buy its rolls instead of baking them.

Grinder Haven is still a classic, and there’s something unique about dining there on a warm day. For those who remember its quality-conscious era, though, Grinder Haven isn’t “back.” But it’s been worse.

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  • Bonnie

    Agree with your comments. Once they stopped baking their bread they became just like other grinder shops, o.k. but nothing special. I go to the March Air Force Base BX & commissary about once a month and returning home I always stop at D’Elia’s Grinders on University in Riverside. They still have those great grinder rolls and fresh ingredients. Yum, they are the BOMB!!!

  • Carolyn Hayes Uber

    Oooh, phooey, David. As soon as I saw your head, I couldn’t wait to read your article in HIGH hopes. Loved Grinder Haven back in the day. As kids, my parents fed us often (and cheaply) at Grinder Haven and Taco Lita next door. Will try to check out Bonnie’s Riverside suggestion.

    Cheers, C.

  • Bob House

    @Carolyn — Bonnie is right. D’Elia’s in Riverside has been turning out excellent grinders since the 60s. Still owned by the same family.

  • The place in Ontario for subs/grinders/hoagies is Phillys Best. People pay attention to the Philly steaks, but their cold sandwiches are the real deal.

  • shirley wofford

    My husband and I lived in that neighborhood, on the south side of the tracks, from 1958-1964. We were Grinder Haven regulars. We always had the hot pastrami sandwiches — they were sixty-five cents each. And, now they are $7–OMG!

    [And they’re not as good! — DA]

  • Jim

    Since all the comments seem to be from the perspective of the present product versus the past, thought I’d add a comment from someone who just started coming to Grinder Haven recently. For someone who enjoys a true grinder and not simply the homogenized Subway/Quiznos, this place is heaven…always get the roast beef, and have never been disappointed……Thanks for the readers tips on D’Elias Riverside, will check that out soon.

    [Jim, thanks for your perspective, and the reality check. You might also look into the Corner Deli, a writeup of which can be found in the Restaurants: Ontario section of this blog. — DA]

  • Charles Quinn

    When they started buying the bread, I stopped spending my bread on their sandwiches.

    D’Elia’s in Riverside is excellent. Locally, Lisa’s in Ontario makes a great sandwich, and lest we forget, the italian subs at Claro’s in Upland are the BEST.

    [I’ve still never been to Claro’s. Or D’Elia’s. Gotta do that. — DA]

  • Bill

    Jersey Mike’s Subs in RC is baking their bread and it shows!! Awesome sandwiches!!! Can’t go wrong with a #13!!

    [I’ve been meaning to look for them. — DA]

  • Dave Linck

    I have been going to Grinder Haven since I was old enough to ride my bike from G Street south on San Antonio Avenue to the fast food haven that used to include The Hot Dog Show and Taco Lita alongside Grinder Haven at Holt and San Antonio.

    As a junior high kid, we always went to Grinder Haven for the 65-cent half hot pastrami (wholes were a staggering $1.15). The fresh baked rolls had a light crunch to them and a very airy texture that soaked up the pastrami juices. It was amazing how long they kept the same tastes and ingredients.

    I also was chagrined when they stopped baking bread. The rolls they substituted were bland and soft. The pastrami still tasted basically the same, but the thrill was gone.

    Of course, Taco Lita is long gone (though you can still visit an original, still standing Taco Lita in Arcadia and it brings back memories) and arson-decimated The Hot Dog Show has been forgotten by most (although you can still go to Papoo’s Hot Dog Show in Burbank, near Warner Bros. studio…it features the same ‘flying dog angel’ neon sign that once flew proudly at Ontario’s Hot Dog Show).

    So many of the businesses near the intersection of San Antonio and Holt are gone (including the late great King Cole Market and the Shady Grove Dairy plant) and with them go many wonderful (and filling) mainstays of 1960s-era Ontario.

    [Dave, thanks for the misty-eyed perspective. You never know, Grinder Haven could rise to greatness again if the right operator took it over. At least it’s still there, and still in business, and that’s something. — DA]