Restaurant of the Week: Lee’s Sandwiches

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Lee’s Sandwiches, 3938 Grand Ave. (at Spectrum East), Chino

Lee’s is a San Jose-based chain specializing in banh mi, which are Vietnamese sandwiches. A Lee’s opened a few months ago in Chino, of all places, its first Inland Valley incursion. The shop is in the food court of the sprawling Chino Spectrum Marketplace shopping center on the north side of Grand.

I only knew Lee’s by its excellent reputation. I checked it out for a recent lunch. They have Asian and American sandwiches on 10-inch baguettes and European sandwiches on croissants. (Remember the French influence in Vietnam.) A neon sign in the window announces “Hot Baguettes Now,” akin to Krispy Kreme’s donuts sign.

I had the grilled pork banh mi, which comes on fresh-baked bread with pickled daikon and carrot, onion, jalapenos, cilantro and mayo. The price was an absurd $2.79. The mango smoothie I got to wash it down was $2.95, also a good deal.

There’s only a four-seat counter inside for dining in, but a large patio sufficed on a comfortable day. The sandwich was excellent, especially notable for the bread, and was filling, and the drink was good too.

Banh mi can be found at some Vietnamese restaurants locally, and I know of one banh mi shop, Super Sandwiches in Montclair. If there were a Lee’s closer to our Ontario office, I would eat there all the time.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taylor’s Cafe

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Taylor’s Cafe, 7049 Chino Ave. (at Euclid), Chino

Perhaps the Inland Valley’s only weigh station/steakhouse combo (unless Fleming’s in Victoria Gardens has added truck scales), Taylor’s is a delightful contradiction. The intersection itself shows Chino in transition: tidy tract homes on one corner, cows or fields on a couple of others, Taylor’s and a few semi-trucks on another.

The window-free restaurant and bar is nothing fancy: a paneled bar with a bug zapper and an adjoining room with equally austere furnishings that include a vintage, but empty, cigarette machine. The cafe has been there for decades and caters to an oldtime Chino dairy crowd. It’s relaxed and informal.

I’ve been to Taylor’s a couple of times for breakfast, but I’d never had a steak. A friend who swears Taylor’s has the best ribeye around invited me out recently at lunchtime. We sat in the paneled bar, the TV news showing hopeful news about the oil spill, and had the ribeye lunch ($14) with salad, fries, French bread and slices of bleu cheese.

The steaks, medium rare, had a peppery tang and minimal fat, and were enormous, probably close to a pound each. Excellent for the price, and awfully good for any price.

They also have top sirloin for $10 and porterhouse for $16, plus burgers for $6. Cheeseburgers are also $6. Breakfast, served until 3 p.m., includes pancakes, eggs, huevos rancheros and Basque sausage. Some swear by the carne asada burritos.

I wrote a column on Taylor’s a couple of years ago; you can read that by clicking below. A long review on Yelp can be read here and a neat writeup with photos can be found here.
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Restaurant of the Week: Papachino’s

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Papachino’s Grill and Greens, 14501 Ramona Ave. (at Eucalyptus), Chino

Papachino’s is a locally owned restaurant in the Home Depot center in an industrial area a few blocks east of the 71 Freeway. The casual eatery opened in 2009 and offers salads and seafood items, all priced below $10. Orders are placed at the counter and food is brought to your table. You can eat in the vaguely tropical interior or outside on the expansive patio, which is shaded by large umbrellas.

I visited with three friends last weekend. Our table got two wraps, a salad and a fish plate. The veggie wrap ($5.49) had zucchini, bell peppers, sweet onions and asparagus (!); the shrimp wrap ($6.99) had the same plus shrimp. Each came with fries. The grilled chicken taco salad (price forgotten; it was the daily special, not on the menu) came in a tortilla bowl. I had the grilled mahi-mahi ($8.99), which came with rice pilaf and pineapple cole slaw.

All four of us left satisfied, to a person describing the food as tasty and the portions as filling but not enough to leave us stuffed. But we didn’t leave for a long time, opting to enjoy the warm afternoon on the patio.

I like the concept of a reasonably priced place to get seafood, most of it unfried. If I lived or worked closer to Papachino’s, I’d probably be there often. As it is, Papachino’s is a long haul for me, but I do hope to make it back. Yelpers say the fish and chips are especially good, and many other menu items looked enticing.

You can view the menu here.

* The New Diner visited a few days after we did and reports: “I would go back to Papachino’s any time.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizzaioli

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Pizzaioli Ristorante Italiano, 3920 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino.

I’m not sure how you pronounce the name exactly — “pete’s-ay-ee-oh-lee,” perhaps — but I sometimes think of adding an “ee-oh-ee-oh,” as if we were yodeling. Anyhow, I met up there for lunch last weekend with readers Doug Evans, Hugh McBride and Elizabeth Casian, allowing for a four-way review.

Pizzaioli, in the Chino Spectrum center, has been in business since 1995. Despite the shopping center setting, the interior greets you with a well-stocked bar and an elegant feel. The dining room is adjacent and there’s also patio seating. The ambience is upscale-casual, reminiscent of Macaroni Grill. The menu boasts fancy pizzas, paninis, salads, pastas, seafood, steaks and chops, with entrees ranging from $10 to $30.

Our table had eggplant parmesan ($15), described as “fantastic”; chicken al vino ($15), “very good”; manicotti ($13), called “okay” (blah cheese, decent sauce, but a large enough portion to take home half); and chicken with spinach ravioli ($15, pictured), mine, which I’d say was “not bad,” although the presentation looks more slipshod than it seemed at the time. Some of these items were daily specials not on the regular menu. We also had dinner salads ($7 each). Service was attentive but they knew to leave us alone to enjoy a long, chatty lunch.

Overall, good, although perhaps a few bucks pricier than strictly necessary. You could do a lot worse. Apparently it’s especially popular for weekend dinners. Pizzaioli-oh-lee-ay!

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Restaurant of the Week: Super Chili Burger

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Super Chili Burger, 6090 Riverside Drive (at Magnolia), Chino.

I’d heard about this place from a reader’s tip and decided to head down to Chino for a long lunch hour to check ‘em out. It’s a few blocks east of Central Avenue in a standard fast food building.

The menu has burgers, chili, tacos, burritos, fried chicken and gyros, plus eggs, omelettes and pancakes for breakfast. It’s one of those burger places where you can get almost anything and is popular with students from the nearby junior high and high school. Oh, and I noticed that besides the three standard milkshake flavors, they also have pineapple.

Of course I ordered the namesake chili burger, the quarter-pound size, with onions, lettuce and tomato, in a combo with fries and a Coke ($5.97 with tax). A customer hanging out at the counter, a public defender named Bill, recognized me, as did the counterman, Jimmy. Believe it or not, this generally happens everywhere but restaurants.

Well, courtesy of employees Jimmy Alexandris and his brother, Nick, two cheerful, gregarious guys, I soon had the history of the family-run restaurant, founded circa 1987 by their parents, both Greek emigres. The whole family pitches in to operate the place and has watched the city change.

As for the food, I’m not a chili burger aficionado so I can’t compare the Super Chili Burger version to the competition. I’ve been to Tommy’s twice and got heartburn both times, which never happens to me. I did not get heartburn from Super Chili Burger. To me, that’s a plus, but your personal belief system when it comes to chili may differ. In any event, my lunch wasn’t a knockout, but it was messy, gooey and satisfying.

If nothing else, you might go just to meet the family.

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Restaurant of the Week: Riverside Grill

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Riverside Grill, 5258 Riverside Drive (at Central), Chino.

In Chino last week for an evening meeting of the school board, I definitely wanted to eat afterward, business not taking me often to Chino. Riverside Grill, along Riverside Drive, is just a block from the school district office and was an inviting choice.

It’s a bistro and half the seating is outside, on a patio enclosed by glass walls and surrounded by palm trees and landscaping that makes busy Riverside and Central seem a world away. The interior is upscale casual, with an open kitchen (well, it’s glassed in) and photos of old Chino on the walls.

The breakfast-lunch-dinner place has sandwiches, burgers, nine salads and some ambitious entrees from $16 to $24 that include sirloin, N.Y. steak, scampi and baby back ribs.

I got the champagne chicken salad ($10.50) with baby greens, grapes, gorgonzola, walnuts, grilled chicken breast and “our own champagne dressing.” No idea what’s in the dressing, but the salad was delicious and made for a light, healthy dinner. Like all the salads, it came with a slice of the restaurant’s signature beer bread, which they also use for their morning french toast ($5.25).

You can see Riverside Grill’s website and menu here. The restaurant is a nice place and a haven from the cares of the world — which include the school board.

Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday to Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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