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 (price forgotten, but around $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: 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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Restaurant of the Week: The Flinderstreet Cafe

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The Flinderstreet Cafe, 5483 Philadelphia St. (at Central), Chino; open weekdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Apparently named for a street in Melbourne, Flinderstreet Cafe is located within Chino Town Square shopping center just above the 60 Freeway. It has a Target, Burlington, laser tag and more, but also some empty storefronts.

It’s not where you would expect to find a cute, locally owned cafe, but there it is, open since November 2015. I wouldn’t have known Flinderstreet existed except for a friend. I invited her to meet me for lunch since she’s a regular.

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Inside, there are high-top and standard tables, plus a sofa under a sign reading “Relax.” The menu has sandwiches (grinders, paninis, wraps), pasta, salads and, reflecting the cafe’s Down Under inspiration, an Australian meat pie. They make coffees and teas, and a few bakery items, including macarons ($2). The pricing is simple: all pastas are $7.50, grinders $8.50, paninis $8.90, for instance.

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I got a chicken pesto panini. Side choices were housemade chips, salad or, with a small upgrade, soup; I went with the soup. (With iced tea, the tab was $14.47.) My sandwich was okay, my soup, Toscana, better. My friend got a vegetable panini with salad and liked both, and an iced latte ($3.50).

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You order at the counter, but after we sat down, an employee came by with a basket of cookies, for us to pick one each. I took ginger snap. “They always greet you with cookies,” my friend confided.

Now who wouldn’t like a place like that? It’s tough enough to get greeted in a restaurant, much less with cookies.

At this writing, the cafe has just more than 300 reviews on Yelp and a five-star rating, not an easy feat to pull off. Flinderstreet is worth the effort to find it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Blue Fire Grill

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Blue Fire Grill, 5670 Schaefer Ave. (at Benson), Chino

A colleague had recommended Blue Fire Grill to me a few years ago, but I had never seen it and, my knowledge of Chino still tentative, couldn’t picture where it was. The fact that I hadn’t been there nagged at me, though.

Then one evening last month, I was downtown, and hungry, after the end of an early council meeting and thought, Where is Blue Fire Grill? I mapped it and realized it was only a few blocks away. So off I drove.

It’s in an unusual location, an office park, and my eyes weren’t looking high enough to see the sign, as I figured out the location by the address only. The blank exterior is enlivened by the potted landscaping. (On my way out, I asked the server why there wasn’t a sign, she said there is and finally I saw it.)

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Inside, the main dining room wasn’t being used (it was early on a Wednesday). The half-dozen customers were all enjoying the wine bar. Yes, the wine bar. I sat at a table and requested a menu.

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Blue Fire’s menu is mostly barbecue, with a couple of salads and seafood items, plus pizza. (Yes, pizza. And a wine bar.) They do catering, which might be a big part of their business and made me more confident about ordering. I got the Texas brisket ($18.50), which comes with a salad and two sides; my choices were cornbread and mac and cheese.

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The salad was above average and had a flower as a garnish. It might have been edible but just as I was finishing, the entree arrived and I relinquished my plate.

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As for the main event, this was a lot of food, and pretty good: tender brisket, tasty and piping hot mac, with blueberry cornbread in mini-muffin form and a container of apple butter. The barbecue sauce was sweeter than I’d prefer, though. I ate all the mac, half of everything else and took the rest home where I got a second meal out of it.

Blue Fire wasn’t my favorite barbecue, and being the only diner was disconcerting. But the experience was fair. Plus, maybe you’re interested in a wine bar…?

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Restaurant of the Week: Joey’s BBQ

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Joey’s BBQ, 3689 Riverside Drive (at East End), Chino; closed Mondays

Joey’s, established in 1978 by a couple of transplanted Texans, had a mini-empire at one point in the ’00s, with locations in Rancho Cucamonga, Pomona and Upland, but those have closed, in that order, leaving only the original in Chino.

I enjoyed many a meal at the Pomona Joey’s but had never been to the original, and didn’t even know where it was. When a friend suggested eating there, I was all for it.

It’s off the beaten path on the western end of the city, an area I’d never seen and which feels somewhat country. It was strangely thrilling, as if I’d driven through a wormhole into an alternate Inland Valley. This visit was after dark, increasing the mystery factor. I’m interested in returning during daylight hours for a better look, although I wonder if the sun will reveal a much more prosaic view. [Update: It did, but it still had its charms.] I drove home up East End, itself alternately rural and old industrial.

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Joey’s occupies a corner and it’s a neat old wooden building, a kind of roadhouse, said to date to 1929, with a giant smoker out back. The interior has a Texas mural, below, and several dining rooms.

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They smoke their meat over mesquite charcoal here. The menu has salads, a range of barbecue (beef and pork ribs, brisket, ham, tri-tip steak, turkey and chicken), steaks and sandwiches, with a range of sides and, for dessert, peach cobbler and bread pudding.

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I got a half-order of St. Louis-style pork ribs, a dinner that came with two sides, from which I chose a baked potato and red cabbage slaw ($23.50). This was good, tender barbecue, and the sides were tasty too. I ate it all and could barely breathe.

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My friend had an 8-ounce tri-tip with baked potato and potato chips ($19); she loves the tri-tip but the highly touted chips were a letdown.

The place has a lot of character, and a walk around afterward showed a fenced-in patio with picnic tables, strings of lights and a small stage for performers, with cowboy music taking place on weekends in warmer weather, I’m told. Looks like a fun place and I’ll be back.

(Joey’s might want to update its cash registers: My receipt still lists phone numbers for Upland and Pomona.)

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Restaurant of the Week: John’s Hamburgers

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John’s Hamburgers, 13511 Central Ave. (at Schaefer), Chino; open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

“Since 1976,” the monument sign outside reads, enticing this history lover whenever I drive past this spot near Chino City Hall. The fact that the 3 p.m. close doesn’t work for an evening council meeting made a visit more of a challenge — one I accepted.

There’s a spacious dining room that must seat more than 100. John’s reminds me of a few other burger spots around the valley, like Terry’s in Rancho Cucamonga, where there’s a wide-ranging menu and a seasoned staff of actual grownups. Even though you order at the counter, the place fulfills a Denny’s-like function, with the veteran staff reminding you of diner waitresses.

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At John’s, you can get cinnamon roll french toast, omelets and scrambles, for instance, at breakfast, and eight salads, ribeye and New York steaks “from the broiler,” cheesecake and “homemade bread pudding.”

As it’s John’s Hamburgers, I got a cheeseburger with fries and soda ($7.28 with tax). It was your standard fast food meal, alas, not one to encourage a second visit from the distant land of Rancho Cucamonga.

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A closer look at the menu, though, showed more ambitious burgers, such as a hand-pressed 10-ounce Super Burger ($6), a meatloaf sandwich and more. Feeling a little foolish, but wanting to give John’s a fair shake, I once again ventured deep into the heart of Chino for a second lunch, this time ordering an albacore tuna melt ($6), which careful readers will recall as my baseline sandwich. Served on grilled sourdough, this was a pretty good sandwich and redeemed the place.

On the other hand, I substituted “fresh fruit” for fries and was confronted with (sigh) an entire bowl of nothing but cantaloupe, which was dispiriting. If they’re going to go to that little effort, why not just hand customers a banana?

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I’d like to go back for the meatloaf, but I decided to cut off my research here rather than make a project out of the place. John’s is okay, if unexciting. But maybe soon to become peppier: A sign on my last visit read “Beer and wine coming soon” — how about that? Congratulations to them on 40 years in an ever-changing world.

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Restaurant of the Week: Shi-Foo Chinese Food, Chino

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Shi-Foo Chinese Food, 12198 Central Ave. (at Philadelphia), Chino; also 15942 Los Serranos Country Club Drive, Chino Hills

Hungry before a council meeting in Chino, I figured I could find something along Central Avenue, vaguely recalling the location of a pho restaurant. I pulled into a center just above the 60 Freeway with Goodwill and 99 Cents Only stores as its main tenants and realized I’d been here once before, trying a Japanese restaurant, Bento Box. This wasn’t the center with Pho Express.

But a couple of doors down from Bento Box was something named Shi-Foo, with this motto: “Chinese Food Remastered.”

Remastered? Would there be bonus tracks? It was just unusual-sounding enough to entice this music fan to enter.

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It looks like a typical quick-service Chinese restaurant, and in fact was a Happy Wok previously. They have steam table stuff if you’re in a hurry, chow mein and beef broccoli and orange chicken, all of which I bypassed — which is not to dismiss it. The menu says they use non-GMO cooking oil and that the orange chicken is made with real oranges, with no corn syrup.

I went with the create-your-own-entree option, where you choose a protein, sauce and side. I went with shrimp with garlic sauce and brown rice ($10.50). In a bonus, there was a 5 percent discount for cash customers. As a guy who pays with cash, this was the first time I’d saved money by doing so, which put a spring in my step as I walked to my table.

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My food was made fresh and was ready in a few minutes. My goodness, it smelled good, very garlicky, and there were — I counted — 14 shrimp. They did not skimp on the shrimp. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled.

Shi Foo was a pleasant surprise, one of those places you enter on a whim, knowing nothing, and walk out thinking you’ve made a find, in part because you had no expectations. But I think I would like it on a second visit even with my expectations raised.

My fortune, reproduced below, was slightly mysterious, as a Chinese fortune should be, due primarily to what might (or might not!) be a superfluous comma. Exactly how much time will this decision require, anyway? I’d better get started.

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