Restaurant of the Week: North Woods Inn, Covina



North Woods Inn, 540 N. Azusa Ave. (at San Bernardino), Covina

A visual fantasia, this hunting lodge-themed eatery and watering hole in Covina is replete with oil paintings, dark wood, period lamps and stained glass windows, not to mention faux logs and perpetual “snow” and “icicles” on the roof.

John Clearman opened the place in 1967 and it still appears to be going strong. He opened a few other theme restaurants in the area as well, with other North Woods Inns in La Mirada and San Gabriel and a Steak ‘n Stein in Pico Rivera still under the same ownership. He was also responsible for Rancho Cucamonga’s Magic Lamp. LA Weekly wrote a nice history of them all.

Friends and I used to eat at Covina’s North Woods Inn near Christmas every year, but we stopped, after one friend, incensed that his steak and shrimp dinner didn’t have the number or size of shrimp he was envisioning, put the kibosh on returning. I’d forgotten the whole thing until inviting them all there for my birthday. (He didn’t attend.) I had the idea after revisiting Covina Bowl and realizing it was a block west of North Woods. A two-in-one birthday opportunity had presented itself.


We were there for a mid-afternoon Sunday lunch. While you wait for a table, you can sit around the center fireplace or take in the surroundings, which include a stuffed bear under glass. Soon we were seated, at a table that appeared hewn from a log, with a gas lamp on it. The staff all wear red vests. It’s charming to a high degree.


The meat-focused menu is mostly steak and seafood dinners, with a few sandwiches thrown in too, and isn’t for vegetarians or light eaters. We had a 9-ounce lumberjack steak ($32), filet mignon ($37), chicken ($23) and the North Woods Special Platter ($31), which came with fish, steak and fried chicken. All dinners are accompanied by red cabbage and caesar salads (I had some of each, below) and cheese bread, plus rice pilaf and baked potato.


We all liked our food. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was good enough. Two small criticisms: Dinners come with potato AND rice? That’s a little starchy. And the mushroom gravy, which I opted for with my potato, was disappointing rather than a treat.


If you haven’t been to North Woods, you should probably go at least once. It’s one of the most unique restaurants in the region and well worth a drive from the Inland Valley.

After our three-hour lunch, my friends felt pressed to get back home, so I went bowling on my own. I bowled one game, for a score of 174, my third-highest ever! Thanks, Covina.


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Restaurant of the Week: Arturo’s Puffy Tacos


Arturo’s Puffy Tacos, 15693 Leffingwell Road (at Lambert), Whittier; closed Sundays

Only a couple of times before (Covina’s Capri Deli, San Bernardino’s Mitla Cafe) have I written a Restaurant of the Week about a spot outside the Inland Valley. Both were worthy spots, in business for decades, that seemed of potential interest to you.

Arturo’s in Whittier is a similar case. I wanted to go there as I’d had puffy tacos while on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, in November, at Ray’s. Puffy tacos are kind of a San Antonio thing. Except they’re not, exactly, because they may have originated in Southern California in the 1960s at Arturo’s, and Art is said to have exported them to Ray’s. (The official story is here.)

I met up with the New Diner blogger at Arturo’s one night earlier this month to try the SoCal version. Arturo’s was brightly lighted and occupies a vintage if divey building with this quaintly awkward motto emblazoned along the roofline: “For a new taste in Mexican food try California’s only…the original Puffy Taco.”


It’s a walk-up, where you order through a window, pick up your food inside and dine there. I got two puffy tacos: carne guizado ($2.50) and carnitas ($2.65), plus a horchata ($2.05); the New Diner, who’s gone vegetarian on us, got a bean and cheese burrito and taco.


There were customers when we arrived and nobody when we left near closing time on a weeknight. The walls have a lot of San Antonio memorabilia.

A puffy taco comes in a flash-fried shell that turns flaky and delicate. Have you had cinnamon crisps, those pseudo-Mexican puffy chips dusted with cinnamon as a dessert? I’m not even sure where I’ve had them, Taco John’s maybe. Well, puffy tacos are kind of like that.


Jonathan Gold once rhapsodized about Arturo’s in LA Weekly: “I’m not sure how I managed to live in Los Angeles this long without even knowing that these puffy tacos existed.” So has OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, who advised readers: “It’s as if a taco dorado decided to evolve into a sope but quit halfway, and it combines the pleasures of the two: thick yet airy, earthy, crispy, golden, one of America’s great regional treats.”

I don’t think I’ll develop a taste for them, but they’re interesting in the best sense of the term, and the carne guizado filling, a beef stew, was especially good. The tacos seemed identical to the ones in Texas — and, obviously, are far more easily obtained.


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Restaurant of the Week: Capri Deli


Capri Deli, 713 E. San Bernardino Road (at Grand), Covina

I saw a newspaper ad for Capri Deli on a recent Saturday morning, which reminded me that I’d once clipped a newspaper ad for Capri Deli and never went there. Having nothing to do, I decided to try it for lunch. “Serving great sandwiches since 1954” is an enticing motto, after all, promising not only a good meal but history.

Capri was easy enough to find, not far west of Kellogg Hill off the 10 Freeway (and equidistant from the 210). Inside there was a line at the counter, which had multiple staffers taking orders and making sandwiches. This gave me time to look around and think over my options. I also grabbed a bottled soda from the alcove of grocery items, where sodas are sold individually.

I got a meatball sandwich, the 12-inch version ($9), which was soon delivered to my table on a garlic roll, marinara on the side. A very good sandwich. The dining room has kitschy, humorous decor.

This is a busy place, clearly still popular in the Subway era, and that made me think of Grinder Haven in Ontario, which hasn’t been able to cut it in recent years. Capri Deli proves that people are still willing to line up for a better sandwich. The menu even uses the term “grinders” for its subs.

I came back the next Saturday, this time getting the cold cut combo grinder, the 6-inch version ($7). The counterwoman listed all the toppings for me but I couldn’t remember them all: salami, ham, mortadella and a few more, with oil, lettuce and tomatoes. Another good sandwich, and this time I knew to grab my soda from the refrigerated case, where they seem to have everything. The dining room was almost full this visit.

There’s a case of desserts too (see below), which looked tempting. The menu also has pizza and lasagna, salads and specialty sandwiches.

Capri opened in 1954 nearby and moved to this location in 1979. It’s rare that I write about a restaurant that’s not within the Inland Valley, but this is close enough, and it might be of interest to sandwich fans, including those who miss Grinder Haven’s glory days.







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