Restaurant of the Week: H. Salt Fish & Chips, Chino

H. Salt Fish & Chips, 12461 Central Ave. (at Walnut), Chino; open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. except Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.

Last Saturday I had to be in Chino for a 1 p.m. event and thought I’d find a good spot for lunch beforehand. But I was hung up at home washing clothes — ah, the bachelor life — and didn’t get to Chino until almost 12:30. I didn’t know of an interesting place downtown that I hadn’t tried, so I gave up and pulled into a shopping center to the reliable New York Pizzeria, where I could get a quick lunch.

Then across the parking lot I spotted an H. Salt Fish & Chips. For the novelty of it, I went there instead.

There aren’t many H. Salts left. In 2017 when the one in Upland was closing, I wrote about that. The Upland interior still had a bunch of aging, original decor with Tube maps and Big Ben photos. Chino’s is a little newer, maybe from the ’80s, and utilitarian. Like Upland, the owners here are Asian. The menu has fish and chips, clams, shrimp and a few more items.

I got the London Special ($5.65), two pieces of battered cod plus fries, plus a 20-oz. bottle of soda ($2).

The food came out in a few minutes, piping hot. The thick, stiff batter is not what your better fish and chips places would use, of course, but if you like H. Salt, and miss H. Salt, the food here will be to your liking. The crinkle-cut fries were fine. And lunch for $8.24 was easy on the wallet.

On Wednesday, by the way, a reader phoned asking if the couple from the Upland H. Salt ever found a new location. I had to tell him no, not to my knowledge. But maybe Chino will be an acceptable substitute.

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Restaurant of the Week: House of Fortune

House of Fortune, 13788 Roswell Ave. (at Schaefer), Chino; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Chino Hills is where the Chinese food action is, but there’s spillover to neighboring Chino. House of Fortune, on the east side of the 71 Freeway, is near the Asian food hall Cravings. Also of note: House of Fortune is all vegetarian.

It says so right on the menu.

Actually, almost every dish qualifies as vegan.

I was there for lunch with three friends recently, the ones with whom I get together every quarter or so for a lunch for one of these Restaurant of the Week pieces. Our resident vegan chose the restaurant, saying she’d been here multiple times. The rest of us are omnivores.

We ordered a bunch of items to share. Above: lettuce wraps ($8.25). They did a good job of mimicking chicken. Below, clockwise from rear: crispy oyster mushrooms ($12), veggie meat pancakes ($9.25), veggie meat buns, or “Chinese tacos” ($3.50 each).

These were winners. The pancakes, which were sort of like quesadillas, were my favorite. The veggie buns, similar to ones I had at Lotus Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga except vegetarian, were tasty too. I liked the mushrooms, but they were a bit salty.

We also had clay pot eggplant tofu ($11, above), and veggie chicken fried rice ($9.25, not pictured), which I avoided, as I have an aversion to fried rice with peas and diced carrots. The tofu was OK but was my least favorite.

One of us said the mushrooms were “phenomenal” and the eggplant tofu “surprisingly good.”

Another said of the meal: “Jokey response could be: ‘It didn’t make me a vegan.'” (Since the comment is now on the blog, it’s gone from “could be” to “is.”) He added, more seriously: “Nice to cross the final frontier once in a while and taste the other side.” This is almost certainly the first Restaurant of the Week with a “Star Trek” reference.

So, overall, one of us was wowed, the rest of us were impressed. Let me add, the service was notably good for a Chinese restaurant; our bilingual, or perhaps multilingual, server spoke flawless English and was friendly to boot.

The New Diner blog gave House of Fortune a good writeup last year, btw.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cravings Food Hall

Cravings Food Hall, 4024 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Taking over from a defunct Food 4 Less, 99 Ranch Market last October opened a warehouse-style grocery with an adjoining food hall, the first food hall to open in the Inland Valley. How about that? It’s in the Spectrum Marketplace shopping center and has nine food vendors: Cauldron, Dos Chinos, Madbun, Oi, Pinky Promise, Red Envelope, Shomi Noods, Tenori and Wingman, plus Piju, which sells international beer and wine.

They’re all Asian, sometimes fused with another cuisine. The food hall is close to Chino Hills and its growing Chinese population. Cravings’ sheer existence must bring cheer to the area’s Asians, not to mention those of us who like trying different foods.

My photographer colleagues Watchara Phomicinda and Cindy Yamanaka visited during a pre-opening event for a photo gallery and brief story. And LA Eater wrote about most of the vendors’ origins. The food hall was curated by Andy Nguyen, whose Afters Ice Cream you may know; he’s behind Cravings’ Red Envelope and Wingman.

I’ve visited twice so far. The first was in early January with a friend who had eaten there once already. We were there in the evening. You can wander among the food stalls, stroke your chin eyeing the menus, get what you like and then take a seat in a communal seating area. Each place will give you a buzzer that will alert you when your order is up.

She got an asada plate with chorizo fried rice and garlic fries from Dos Chinos ($10.75). I got a Filipino-style adobo bowl ($9) from Oi Asian Fusion, which had a soft-boiled egg, pork belly, rice and adobo sauce. We liked the food fine but each felt it was lacking somehow. I also got a pineapple express Dole whip in a Hong Kong-style puffle cone from Cauldron ($6). I was asked: “Would you like it shaped into a rose at no extra cost?” I would.

Earlier this week I went back for lunch with a second friend to try more vendors. He got black garlic ramen ($10) from Shomi Noods. Despite the garlic in the name, he thought the ramen lacked punch. We shared an order of takoyaki ($5.45), minced balls of octopus. There was no discernible octopus.

I got two bao buns from Madbun, which had a lunch special: buy one, get one half off. I got a crispy pork on a regular bun and a hoisin mushroom on a matcha bun ($7.49) and preferred the pork bun. Still peckish, I went to Dos Chinos for a single taco: Oahu shrimp ($3), with fried shrimp, red cabbage, sour cream and pineapple. Not bad.

About halfway through our lunch, a Piju employee walked over to a music speaker a few yards from us, got up on a ladder and turned the volume up about twice what it had been. That was unfortunate, but maybe the young folk were pleased.

Cravings wasn’t exactly busy either time I was there, a Friday night and a Tuesday lunch, but it was populated, mostly by Asians, and of a wide range of ages, including families.

Other vendors sell chicken wings and sandwiches (Wingman), musubi, sushi and bowls (Tenori), pho (Red Envelope) and desserts (Pinky Promise, a Taiwanese bakery). I’d had the idea of visiting another two or three times until I’d hit them all, but that’s probably carrying things too far. (Note: Which is not to say I might not do so anyway.)

“I want to like this place. I might not be picking the right things,” said my friend from the January visit. I know what she means. The food isn’t wowing me, but it’s all right, the concept is neat and it’s a fun place to meet up. You ought to try visiting once.

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Restaurant of the Week: Schaefer’s Food N Drinks

Schaefer’s Food N Drinks, 6939 Schaefer Ave. (at Euclid), Chino; open 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Schaefer’s opened over the summer, and a source at City Hall soon recommended the tacos. A few weeks later, when I was in Chino for my book talk, a friend brought up Schaefer’s and said it was a burger place. Realizing it was lunchtime, I decided to head over.

It’s in a new Stater Bros. center large enough to have several other eateries and businesses. Across Schaefer to the north are crops, and in fact the whole area is caught in an interesting transition, with a lot of empty land, some new tract homes and some farmland. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Schaefer’s is a new venture by Joe and Angie Guillen, who did catering for 30 years before opening a restaurant, according to a story posted inside. It’s a sit-down restaurant with a full bar and which features “from-scratch recipes,” a sign proclaims.

The menu has burgers and Mexican food, which is how it could be described as specializing in either, plus salads, sandwiches and a full breakfast menu that includes menudo. That first visit, I had the Frisco burger, one-third pound on parmesan cheese bread ($12), very good, plus thick-cut fries. It was very filling.

Figuring I should give the other half of the equation a try, I returned for a carne asada burrito ($7.50) on a lunch break. The lunch pricing means you get a drink, in my case an iced tea, for only $1 more. That’s a good deal. The burrito was rather light on the carne asada and I wasn’t impressed. But that’s okay. I think Schaefer’s is a winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Guadalajara Bakery

Guadalajara Bakery, 4727 Riverside Drive (at Yorba), Chino; open daily, 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

A friend who was making an informal survey of local panaderias scored Guadalajara Bakery fairly high. Two years later, this fact clicked in on a morning in which I had to drive to central Chino. So I headed to the Stater Bros. Plaza to find the bakery.

It’s a small place with three bakery cases. At mid-morning, I was the lone customer at that particular moment. I grabbed tongs and a tray and picked up six items. Cost: a mere $5.05. The nice woman behind the counter rounded the bill down to $5.

Unusually, some of the decor is vintage Coca-Cola items. The woman told me the bakery has been there 16 years. As I left, another customer entered.

Back at the office, I laid out the pan dulce expectantly. It turns out I’d picked a day when literally nobody was in the newsroom but me. So much for my heroic effort. Later an editor came in and had half a pastry. I ate a couple and took the rest home, polishing them off the next two mornings.

Not bad for five bucks.

My friend, it turned out upon a rereading of his recommendation, had said Guadalajara was essentially a solid middle-of-the-road panaderia, one to use as a baseline from which to judge ones worse and better. I don’t have a lot of experience with panaderias, so that’s good to know. I had found Guadalajara Bakery perfectly good but not amazing, which may mean my tastes are in line. But besides being good, it’s friendly. Also, according to Yelp, they have tamales.

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Restaurant of the Week: Painted Dough

Painted Dough Donuts, 5702 Riverside Drive (at Benson), Chino; open 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Tuesday, 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

A friend told me about Painted Dough, an unusually named and creative doughnut shop, but as is often the case it took me months to wind up there, not having a lot of reason to drive to Chino for breakfast.

But recently I had morning business in Chino and made a point of seeking out the business. It’s in a standalone building with a drive-through; one sign still reads Donut Avenue, the previous occupant, but the staff says it will be changed out soon.

They have regular and specialty doughnuts, plus muffins and a few other bakery items. Unusually, but cleverly, they offer other kinds of food to get them through the day and evening: not steam table Chinese but burgers, tacos, burritos, tortas, bowls, plus coffee, smoothies and ice cream. This must be one of the few doughnut shops in America that also sells carne asada fries.

I noticed such specialty doughnuts as red velvet, horchata, ube, apple pie, Pop-Tart and ones decorated to resemble Wonder Woman, Pikachu, Elmo, Hello Kitty and the Mutant Ninja Turtles. The fancier ones are $3.50, the standards (glazed, maple, bars, etc.) $2.

I got a Homer Simpson ($2), with the classic pink frosting and multi-colored sprinkles seen on “The Simpsons.” It was soft, fluffy and sweet with a strawberry taste.

A little girl nearby downed a Wonder Woman doughnut, showed her red-stained hand to her father and said proudly, “My hand is going to be red all day!”

The shop seemed popular and the staff friendlier than the norm. On a weekday this week I made a special trip. The specialty offerings were largely different and included one with Ghiradelli chocolate and another with Butterfingers. That seemed too indulgent for my breakfast.

I picked up a Spider-Man ($3.50) for a friend, who later described it as “soft, ever so slight crunch on the outside,” and a blueberry ($2) for myself. Probably half the powder on top ended up on the table.

I don’t know that I would go back for carne asada fries, but I would definitely go back for the doughnuts. An employee told me that with notice and a sketch he can make any sort of character doughnut, which means Painted Dough could be a low-cost alternative to springing for a cake.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Pueblo Meat Market

El Pueblo Meat Market, 13218 6th St. (at D), Chino; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

I pass carnicerias in many of our cities, like El Tarasco in Rancho Cucamonga near Red Hill Coffee Shop, or Mi Mercadito in Pomona, without ever going in. But after a recommendation from a (*cough*) highly placed law enforcement figure in Chino, I gave El Pueblo a try. It’s across from City Hall and the old police headquarters and courthouse.

Downtown Chino, such as it is, is light on places to eat. A couple of times now while attending council meetings, I’ve needed a quick bite and walked over to El Pueblo. They have some grocery and convenience items, but largely it’s a butcher shop, plus a counter for ordering food to go. They sell tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, menudo and a few more items.

My first visit I had an al pastor torta ($6). This was consumed on a bench outside the council chambers in near-darkness in January. It hit the spot.

And this month, on a summer evening after a meeting ended early, I got an asada burrito ($6), then walked it over to Aguiar Square, the plaza behind the Children’s Museum, to eat. A fountain is circled by amphitheater-type seating, but a transient was there talking to himself, and sitting near him might have resulted in getting hit up for the money I’d saved by eating a cheap dinner. So I took a spot on a bench elsewhere in the plaza.

The burrito was okay, nothing special, but filling. On Yelp, someone gripes that they mix the steak with ground beef, which I can’t say is true, but which might be true. The torta was a better choice. Even better might have been the taco Tuesday special, which I noticed too late: three chicken tacos for $3.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

Update May 2018: After reports that the shrimp burrito was a must-try, I returned and got one ($9). It’s loaded with shrimp, both fried and broiled. It’s recommended.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cock-a-Doodle

Cock-a-Doodle, 12940 Central Ave. (at Riverside), Chino; open daily

This year Cock-a-Doodle, which opened in 1957, turns 60. I think it’s the second-oldest restaurant in Chino after Centro Basco down the street. It’s got a great name, with chicken and roosters a motif in the decor and the exterior window box. Devotees just call it The Doodle. Because you’re not going to shorten the name from the back end.

It’s in what’s left of downtown Chino, a wan business district. I’ve eaten there a couple of times over the years. In the last few months I’ve made a point of going back. Under the motto “family dining since 1957,” they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu of country fried steak, sandwiches, salads, prime rib and more.

For starters, I had lunch there with Al McCombs last fall. Lunch started with cabbage soup. It’s different, and I like it.

That was followed by the filet of sole ($12) with a side of steamed vegetables. Lunch on the lighter side.

I went back before a council meeting a few weeks later, but I wasn’t hungry enough for a meal, getting only a shrimp cocktail ($8). It was fine but not something to base a Restaurant of the Week post around.

Finally, I went back for a full lunch, armed with notes from a 2008 blog post here (concerning the vintage calendars on display; I’ve updated it with photos). In the comments section, an employee gave some insider details about the restaurant, including its (shades of In N Out!) secret menu, a few specialties that fell off the menu but which they’ll still make for you if you ask.

First I ordered an iced tea and they gave me a mini-pitcher. That’s not secret, that’s just unexpected.

Then I got the Tony’s Special: a chicken breast smothered with shrimp scampi, plus rice ($17). Great pairing. Soup or salad (I got the cabbage soup again) come with any entree, free.

For dessert, I ordered strawberry shortcake ($5.25), another secret item. It’s strawberry compote on warm biscuits with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The server told me it was small, but it didn’t strike me that way. Apparently nobody has ordered either item in a while, but the server knew what they were, and the owner came over to ask how I knew about them. I felt like an insider.

Most of the activity whenever I’ve eaten there is in the dimly lit bar. The cheery dining room tends to be little occupied, or even empty, although I suspect it’s busy certain nights or for weekend breakfasts. Anyway, I like it better for reading purposes, and the high-backed booths are cool.

There’s nothing trendy about the Doodle, and nothing spectacular either, but the down-home food is pretty good, the service is friendly, the owners are local and the ambience is old Chino, a quality in shorter supply every year. If that sounds appealing, do the Doodle.

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Restaurant of the Week: Owen’s Bistro

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Owen’s Bistro, 5210 D St. (at 7th), Chino; 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; closed Sundays and Mondays

Considered among the Inland Valley’s finest restaurants since its opening in 2003, Owen’s Bistro is located across from the Chino Civic Center in a brick building that dates to the early 20th Century, and practically the only part of downtown that actually seems like a downtown.

I’d been to Owen’s only once, years ago, for a lunch; it’s a little out of my normal price range and I hadn’t had a reason to return until a friend suggested meeting there, which I was all for.

The restaurant is in a picturesque block in an otherwise-drab area of ’70s and later buildings; from the rear, the exposed brick and original painted advertising signs seem surprisingly urban.

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The dining area has a concrete floor, brick walls, iron gates at each end and no roof, merely a curtained roof that retracts. It’s a unique space, with ceiling fans and space heaters to even out the temperature. An indoor lounge seats 20.

The menu is short, with seasonal items and local produce. Eight entrees range from $22 to $42, and there are appetizers, salads and a soup. We ordered bleu cheese toasts ($8), she got a frisee and walnut salad ($7) and I got the camping trip (!) ($23), salmon on a hot stone with potatoes and greens.

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The toasts were the size of bruschetta but with bleu cheese and pears, delicious. The salad had feta, green apples and dried cherries and was enjoyed. The salmon came out sizzling in a bowl with greens and, thanks to lavender placed under the stone, was meant to have a “forest aroma.” I didn’t notice, but I did notice how good the salmon tasted. An unusual but tasty dish.

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Two singers performed jazz to recorded backing, and it was so pleasant, and unobtrusive, not to mention taking place on the other side of the room, that I didn’t even notice the music was live for quite some time. A nice touch.

The service left a little to be desired, although at least it was well-meaning. The salad was requested to come out at the same time as my entree but came later, after a quizzical look from my friend when my food came out solo, and itself a bit late. Despite being told we could get to our 7 p.m. event with plenty of time, we didn’t have time for dessert.

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Coincidentally, a work colleague ate at Owen’s not long before I did. He said he and his wife were told they would be seated soon by someone who disappeared, twice; a daughter and elderly mother got the same treatment. Once seated, his wife ordered the angus ribeye, which took so long to cook, someone came out to apologize for the delay. What arrived was so large it might have weighed two pounds. Most was taken home and provided three more meals.

It was perfectly prepared, and for $39, quite a deal, and he felt the same about his medallions of filet mignon, at $32, but the service, which included getting someone else’s bill, was more comical than desired for a nice evening out. “It was like nobody there had ever worked in a restaurant before,” he said.

There are those who say scoffingly that Owen’s is the Inland Empire’s idea of fine dining. The food in these twin experiences was very good, and we had nothing to complain about, really, on that score. The staff, though, seems a little disorganized. I recommend Owen’s anyway, but be prepared for things to go wrong.

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