Ramon’s Cactus Patch closes

Say it ain’t so! But it is. Ramon’s Cactus Patch, a Mexican restaurant in existence in Ontario since 1938, had its last day of business March 30.

Owner and founder Ramon Sanchez, who will turn 99 on May 21, has colon cancer and his illness has put too much of a strain on the family-run restaurant, the family told me Friday. The restaurant is typically closed Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, during a family meeting, they decided not to reopen Tuesday.

I’ll have the story in Sunday’s column. The banner pictured above hangs outside the restaurant and represents Sanchez’ farewell message to customers.

Sanchez began serving Mexican food in Ontario in 1937 at a cantina and opened his own restaurant the following year in the Orange Hotel downtown before moving in 1962 to 647 W. California St. in the barrio. Ramon’s Cactus Patch, which has a cactus garden out front, is Ontario’s longest-operating restaurant.

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At 20, Panda Inn gets a facelift

Ontario’s Panda Inn has been here since 1992 and recently underwent a million-dollar renovation. Friday’s column talks about the restaurant chain’s ahead-of-the-curve decision to open here and the remodel. Above, Manee Coe and Gigi Cheung flank Andrew Cherng, CEO and co-founder of Panda Restaurant Group, at the Ontario Panda Inn last week.

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Chicago pizza, LA style

Ever had Chicago-style pizza? It’s deep dish, almost like a pie, with “toppings” usually found under the cheese and a crust along the edge that’s an inch or more high. And this kind of pizza isn’t that easy to find in Southern California.

After reading that two friends in Pomona had recently relocated from Chicago, the New Diner blogger sent me a list of Chicago-style pizza parlors in the region. They’re in Riverside (Romano’s), Yucaipa (AJ Barile’s), Echo Park (Masa), Yorba Linda (PHAT) and Placentia (Tony’s). To mix my food metaphors, it’s as if the Inland Valley were the hole in the doughnut.

It hasn’t always been thus. Rancho Cucamonga has had two outlets in the Numero Uno chain, and Upland used to have a mom and pop named Joe Chicago’s. You may know of others. The closest thing now is the BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse chain, with a location in Rancho Cucamonga near Ontario Mills, which serves deep-dish pizza.

Other than that, nada. If you like New York pizza, which I happen to prefer, we have the excellent San Biagio’s in Upland, and there may be more; certainly it seems New York pizza is easier to get and better known around Southern California than Chicago pizza, its total opposite. Don’t a lot of Chicago-ites flee its frigid winters for balmy SoCal, yet crave a taste of home?

Well, we tried the place the New Diner recommended the most highly, Tony’s Little Italy in Placentia, which as luck had it was also the closest, 16 miles from Pomona and a straight shot down the 57. We got a Tony’s special (sausage, mushrooms, onions, peppers), the 14-inch large ($22, I think). They have Chicago sports pennants, photos and other items on the walls for that Chicago touch, and of course you can watch Chicago teams play, and probably lose, on the TVs.

You have to wait 30 minutes for a crust that thick to bake. But the pizza was very good, with the crust especially coming in for praise. It’s so rich and crunchy and buttery. Getting a large was a mistake, in a sense. Chicago pizza is so dense, we could eat only two slices apiece, or 1 1/2 each in my friends’ case. We split up the remaining half (!) to take to our respective homes. I jokingly suggested we simply cut around the rim, share the outer crust and leave the pizza. But of course we wanted the guts of it too. In the end the oversized pizza wasn’t really a mistake because the leftovers were great as well.

Have you had Chicago-style pizza, here or in Chicago, and if so, what did you think?

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Jane’s Addiction in La Verne, 1987

Strange but true: The alt-rock band Jane’s Addiction performed on Sept. 3, 1987 at Topper’s, a nightclub that took over the Cattleman’s Wharf location in La Verne. (A previous blog post about Cattleman’s, with a photo, can be seen here.) It’s not as momentous as Van Halen playing at Walter Mitty’s in Pomona in 1976, but it’s still peculiar.

Reader Eric alerted me to the gig after seeing an eBay listing for a bootleg from the show.

He says the set list was: “Ted, Just Admit It…,” “Whores,” “Pigs In Zen,” “Idiots Rule, “1%,” “Mountain Song,” “Trip Away,” “Had A Dad,” “Ocean Song,” “Up The Beach,” “Stop!,” “I Would For You,” “Standing In The Shower… Thinking,” “No One’s Leaving.” He found fliers for the two gigs on the band’s website.

Why were they in La Verne? It’s slightly mysterious. Eric notes: “At that time, they were on a tour and playing larger venues like Irvine Meadows (now Verizon Amphitheater) just a few weeks before. Maybe they were playing as a favor to the owner?”

* Update: Two readers tell me the crucial factor was probably Pat Bacich, who “presented” the concert. He was also involved with Montclair’s Green Door bar, where a lot of bands played, and his brother, Mike, was a keyboardist for Oingo Boingo. One thought Jane’s Addiction might also have performed at the Green Door.

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Pitha, pleath

A young woman who often works the counter at a pizza parlor I like has the most pronounced lisp I believe I’ve ever heard. I don’t want to identify the restaurant because I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings (it’s not San Biagio’s, though). Her speech is sort of fetching, actually, especially when she calls me “thir.” A part of me wants to order anchovies, sausage and mushrooms just to hear her repeat my order back to me.

SHE: Anchovieth, thauthage and muthroomth, thir?

ME: Yes, and a Pepthi. Er, Pepsi.

Any other suggestions what we might order?

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Restaurant of the Week: Ban Chow

CLOSED

Ban Chow, 9755 Arrow Route (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga

To kick off 2013′s Restaurants of the Week, here’s a hole-in-the-wall takeout place in Rancho Cucamonga that might be the only place in the Inland Valley to get Cambodian food. Ban Chow is a simple storefront in the same center as Jack in the Box, Nancy’s and Guido’s. It’s easy to find: It’s the only business without a sign.

Thanks to reader Andy for directing me here. The specialty is the ban chow, an egg crepe filled with onion, bean sprouts and a choice of meat. I got the sampler plate ($8.10) which has a ban chow, a meat skewer, rice, pickled papaya salad, an egg roll and a soda. I liked my ban chow (pork) and skewer (beef). Tasty, filling and a good deal for the money.

It’s takeout only because they have no customer restroom, although there is a small counter you can sit at. The staff said the only other Cambodian restaurants are in San Gabriel and Long Beach. The menu is short; if you get the combo plate, you’ve had pretty much everything they have. Based on photos on their Facebook page, they sometimes have baked goods, including macarons. (I didn’t see any on my visit.) Does any other place in the valley have fresh-baked macarons? If they do, it’s a safe bet they don’t have ban chow.

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The meals of 2012

Looking back at my Restaurant of the Week posts from 2012, I see I wrote about 43 eateries, starting with Farrell’s in Rancho Cucamonga and ending with Cafe X20 in La Verne. (Vacations, holidays and occasional breaks took up the other nine weeks.)

Among the notable places: Le Bistro in Upland, Lucky Elephant in Ontario, Ra Pour in Rancho Cucamonga, Tijuana’s Tacos in Pomona, Escabeche Grill in Chino, One Plus One Dumpling House in Chino Hills and Union on Yale in Claremont. Perhaps the two most unusual: Jollibee in Chino and Dragon Loco in Ontario. Use this blog’s search function to find the writeups or the handy category listings of restaurants by city.

Generally I write about places I like, or that at least strike me as okay. As I’m not a restaurant critic and don’t consider these pieces reviews, I’m fairly lenient, not wanting to bad-mouth a place based on a single visit. The Internet is cruel enough. That said, I do try to be gently honest and will tell you if I don’t like something or if the restaurant isn’t worth the drive. I also mention the very rare occasions when I’m not buying my own meal.

I’ll be back at it next week. In the meantime, what local restaurants did you try in 2012 and like (or loathe)? Any general comments about my Restaurants of the Week are welcome, as are recommendations of places to try.

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Best fried chicken?

LA Weekly’s food writers love compiling top 5, top 10 and unnumbered best-of lists, which is smart because they’re as addictive to read as they must be to write. A friend sent me a link this morning to one list and I ended up reading a half-dozen. (Like Lay’s, you never can read just one.)

Among them is a 10 Best Fried Chicken in Los Angeles list and at No. 10 is (ta-da!) Donahoo’s in Pomona. Its box lunch consists, says the scribe, of “fries, which you can skip, and chicken, which you absolutely cannot.” No argument here. No. 1 is a place named Jim Dandy in South-Central.

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Shuffling off through lore of Buffalo Inn

Sunday’s column (read it here) answers the question: Has Upland’s Buffalo Inn really been there since 1929, as the signs say? Answer: sort of.

In a surprise to me, the establishment really was known as the Buffalo Inn from ’29 to ’39, went under various other names for the next four decades, then in 1977 became the place we know today, reviving the original name.

As a side note, this column was written in late August, with the “blisteringly hot lunch hour” that I mention occurring on a 100-degree-plus Friday. The column has been finished since early September, but one thing or another kept coming up (the Fair, Upland council meetings, etc.) and I let the column sit until a good opportunity presented itself to schedule it. Seemed like a perennial, and from my standpoint, it’s so rare to be a column ahead (usually I’m writing on deadline)┬áthat I enjoyed having one ready to go anytime I needed it. In fact, I enjoyed that so much, I stalled on running it just to savor the sensation.

I’m a little sheepish that I let it sit so long, but I hope you like it.

Feel free to comment about the Buffalo Inn, procrastinating columnists or other related topics.

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