Restaurant of the Week: El Fortin No. 3


El Fortin No. 3, 5368 Riverside Drive (at Ninth), Chino

A specialist in food from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, El Fortin occupies an unassuming aqua-and-white building a little east of busy Central Avenue below the 60 Freeway. I’d been meaning to go for some time. When an interview took me to that part of Chino, I went in afterward for a late lunch. (The first El Fortin (“The Fort”) is in Fullerton, the second in Stanton, according to its website. Yelp commenters appear to prefer Chino’s.)

It’s not fancy inside, with worn booths, tables, Oaxaca posters on the walls and TVs at either end of the dining room showing soccer. But it was comfortable and clean. The server brought me some very good chips with salsa and cheese.

I pored over the menu and ordered the plato especial: marinated pork and beef, plantains, guacamole, refried beans, fried cheese and, substituting for a chile relleno, a cactus salad ($8.50). I upgraded to handmade tortillas for $1 more and ordered a Jarritos soda.

The food took a little while but was well worth the wait. Delicioso! I cleaned my plate. Also, the handmade tortillas, crisped in a pan, were excellent, and they were served in a basket wrapped in a kind of doily.

The table service was friendly and the place had a nice vibe to it. And with my bill came four tiny pieces of gum, in various flavors. Back at the office, I showed them to a Latina colleague who lit up, saying she hadn’t seen Canel’s gum since she was a girl. I shared them.

Thank you, El Fortin No. 3.





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Restaurant of the Week: Tahoe Joe’s


Tahoe Joe’s, 3968 Grand Ave. (at Spectrum East), Chino; open daily

Tahoe Joe’s, a Fresno-based steakhouse chain, opened its first Southern California location on Chino’s restaurant row in July, where it replaced La Creperie, perhaps the steakhouse’s spiritual opposite. Based on the lunchtime crowd Sunday when I visited, it’s a success, compared to my quiet lunch at La Creperie with friends a couple of years ago.

The look reminds me of Lazy Dog Cafe, which is meant to resemble a Wyoming ski lodge; Tahoe Joe’s, modeled on a Tahoe ski lodge, has an expansive covered patio, and the interior has a lot of pine, a stone fireplace near the entry, a bar and, overall, a kind of upscale-rustic feel. Both restaurants are stylish. It might also remind you of Wood Ranch BBQ.

Incidentally, the Yelp page currently says Joe’s is open for lunch only on weekends, hence my Sunday visit, but a sign out front says it’s open from 11 a.m. daily.

The menu has steaks, seafood, salads and sandwiches with entrees ranging from $14 to $31. As you can imagine, Joe’s isn’t vegetarian-friendly, with only one item, a pasta, without meat. I went with the signature Joe’s Steak, a tri-tip slow-roasted for 19 hours and rolled in black pepper; this came with green beans and a choice of potato or rice (lunch price $14 for the 6-ounce portion).

It took a while to arrive — maybe it had only roasted for 18 1/2 hours when I placed my order — and the server volunteered a couple of apologies. Not that I minded, as I brought plenty to read. The steak was pretty good, thick-cut and with a smoky taste, and 6 ounces was a good portion (there was a 10-ounce option for a few dollars more). I got rice pilaf as my choice, and I even ate most of my green beans, which I never do. But I passed on their signature cheesecake.

For those interested, the bar has 18 beers, a selection of martinis and 20 wines by the glass, and there’s a happy hour.

It was a comfortable experience even for a solo diner, and there’s nothing pretentious about the place. Worth checking out, at least if you like meat.



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Restaurant of the Week: Cannataro’s


Cannataro’s, 12345 Mountain Ave. (at 60), Chino

Cannataro’s is a family owned Italian restaurant and one of the better-known eateries in Chino. That’s why, when friends and I were brainstorming a Chino place to meet at, Cannataro’s came up immediately as one we were curious about.

Located in a small shopping center on Mountain Avenue just below the 60 Freeway, Cannataro’s isn’t exactly in a Tuscan glade, but on the other hand it’s easy enough to find. The interior is casual and unpretentious. Apparently it was updated not long ago. The menu has pasta, seafood, chicken, veal and steak, sandwiches, calzones and pizzas. Entrees range from $7 to $17 and pizzas from $7 to $22.

We got our own entrees: pasta primavera ($12), pasta Cannataro’s ($12), a small Hawaiian pizza ($12, below) and an antipasto salad ($9, bottom). Two got Italian sodas ($3), vanilla and coconut, which they liked.

Reactions from those who ordered the dishes: The pasta primavera “needed salt.” (Luckily, this unusual seasoning could be found inches away.) The ham and pineapple pizza, whose right to exist was vigorously debated at our table, was nevertheless said to be “delicious.” The salad was “fantastic.” My pasta Cannataro’s (chicken breast in olive oil with basil and sundried tomatoes in penna pasta) was okay, but bland. I wouldn’t order it again.

Overall, we were satisfied, but unexcited. It’s worth mentioning too that the service was a little friendlier and more personal than the norm. Reviews on Yelp are all over the place: Cannataro’s gets 4 stars out of 5, but a lot of people are at one end or the other.




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Restaurant of the Week: Tamarind


Tamarind, 4047 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily

In honor of Boxing Day, let’s visit a restaurant serving the cuisine of a former British colony. Tamarind is in the Chino Spectrum shopping mecca, a little hidden beyond a Starbucks and Jollibee and next to a Philly’s Best, facing Pipeline on the south side of Grand. It serves Indian and Pakistani food.

Two of my friends are crazy about it. I joined them one lunchtime for the buffet, which it seems every Indian restaurant is required by law to serve. It was $9 and we liked it, even yours truly, an Indian buffet-avoider. But they said dinner is better, and as I prefer ordering what I want instead of taking what I get, I joined them one evening.

We had the saag shrimp ($14.75), lamb shahi korma ($13.25), paneer tikka masala ($10.75), vegetable samosas ($3.75) and two orders of garlic naan ($3 each). Well, this was more like it, some of the best Indian food I’ve had in these parts. I would order any of those items again, and maybe one or two of the tandoori items.

“You’re missing out if you only go to the buffet,” one friend advised, because the kitchen doesn’t put out pricier lamb or shrimp dishes at lunch. The two of them always order three items to end up with leftovers, which they said are just as good the next day.

The restaurant is small, seating maybe 30 or 40. There’s a banquette running the length of one wall and a few tables. Hanging globe fixtures and mirrors add some panache. Service was attentive, although when I asked what items were specifically Pakistani, the answer was vague.

At lunchtime, Tamarind is busy, but there’s no wait for a table at night. “I don’t understand why there’s not more people here,” one of my friends said, mystified. We were the only diners. Everyone else was missing out.



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Restaurant of the Week: Great Grinders and Burgers



Great Grinders and Burgers, 12423 Central Ave. (at the 60), Chino

Grinders, for the uninitiated, are submarine sandwiches rather than suggestive dances at the Video Music Awards. This Chino shop gets decent ratings on Yelp, so I sought it out for lunch. It’s in the Superior Market center just below the 60 Freeway, east side, across from the Post Office.

They have hot grinders (the comment above still applies), cold sandwiches, burgers, salads and teriyaki. I asked the best items and was told the pastrami sandwiches, char-broiled burgers and grilled chicken salad are the most popular. I went for the pastrami, as a combo with chips (or fries) and soda ($8.63 with tax).

The sandwich, with mustard, pickles and provolone, came on an 8-inch roll, the pastrami flavorful, the roll crusty. Tasty. Great Grinders’ decor is standard sandwich shop, although the Seattle Mariners poster was an unexpected touch. The TV played “People’s Court,” where a plaintiff won a judgment of $1,250 against his lying ex-roommate. Justice prevailed.

A divider between two rows of tables is topped with a long row of ceramic figures of chefs, more than 50 in all. It’s a personal and unusual touch. Not a bad lunch spot.


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Restaurant of the Week: Tummy Stuffer

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Tummy Stuffer, 5530 Schaefer Ave. (at 12th St.), Chino

Feeling the need to boost my Chino restaurant totals, I went searching on Yelp for sandwich places in that city. When I found one with the colorful name Tummy Stuffer, my next lunch choice was obvious. I left my desk so fast my chair was probably gently spinning for a full minute afterward.

Its slogan is “101 Sandwiches!,” and it’s apparently connected to another location of the same name and slogan in Anaheim. The Chino location is in a strip center with automotive businesses, next door to a Korean church. The interior is short on charm, with acoustical tile ceiling, tile floor and fluorescent lighting, but I was there for a sandwich, and with 101, I had plenty of choices.

I went for a Korean BBQ, the 8-inch ($6.59) version (the 12-inch is $8). It’s marinated sliced beef on a french roll with lettuce, onion and pickles. I prefer the KBBQ at Corner Deli in Ontario, the crucial difference being Corner Deli’s slaw, but the Tummy Stuffer one was credible, not to mention edible, and the 8-inch, along with a basket of crinkle fries, was sufficient to stuff my tummy.

The sandwich isn’t even technically on the menu, which has various, numbered turkey, ham, roast beef, salami, tuna salad, bacon, club, vegetarian, egg salad, steak, meatball, sausage and pastrami sandwiches, as well as hamburgers, teriyaki bowls and a few salads. The menu lists 114 sandwiches. The KBBQ isn’t among them and neither was another on the specials board, a shrimp sub.

I guess the menu is stuffed too.

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Restaurant of the Week: New York Pizzeria

New York Pizzeria, 12431 Central Ave. (at the 60), Chino

You can’t find Chicago pizza in the Inland Valley, so far as I know, but people who like New York pizza have a handful of places to choose from. No spot is more established than New York Pizzeria, which opened in Chino in 1984.

After a recommendation from reader Ron Scott, I met a couple of friends there for lunch. Not much to look at from the outside, as it’s housed in a stucco cube on the outskirts of the Superior Market center just below the 60 Freeway, but New York Pizzeria becomes interesting the moment you step inside. There’s NYC photos, posters and memorabilia in the entryway, as well as a few seats from the original (1923-2006) Yankee Stadium, in which you can wait for takeout and think about Phil Rizzuto.

Closer to home, the arch-shaped windows into the kitchen for ordering remind me of Pizza Royale in Rancho Cucamonga. NYP has grinders, a few pastas and a couple of salads, but clearly the main event is the pizza. They make the dough fresh daily, make their own sauces, grate their own cheese and bake their pizzas in a stone oven.

We got two medium pizzas, one with sausage and mushroom, the other cheeseless with vegetables (accommodating the table’s wannabe vegan). This would have cost us $30, but they have a deal, two medium pizzas, two toppings each, for $19, so we went for it. (I had suggested we get a straight cheese pizza, but if the toppings are free…)

We liked the results. I appreciated the chunks of sausage and fresh mushrooms but thought the crust, which kept collapsing, was too thin to support two toppings. Still, it was a good pizza and my meat-eating friend thought so too. As for the cheeseless pizza, “the veggies were plentiful and fresh,” said the wannabe vegan. The meat-eating friend said agreeably, “It turned out not to be a mockery of what a pizza is supposed to be.” I’ll second that. The crust was thicker on the veggie pizza.

Although we gave the edge to San Biagio’s NY Pizza in Upland for its sauce, we all said we’d be willing to return here. In fact, a couple of weeks later, I did, going there for a solo weekday lunch. You can get an 8-inch pizza with two toppings, a salad and a soda for $6.49. I did that but skipped the toppings because I wanted to try a straight cheese pizza. Pretty good, and the salad beats San Biagio’s.

The dining room at New York Pizzeria is wallpapered in youth sports plaques, and the day of our Saturday lunch several of the picnic-style tables were reserved for young players, who showed up in force, and hungry. Not a place for an intimate evening, but fun. Service was exceedingly friendly at this family-owned restaurant. Probably friendlier than you’d get in New York.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bento Box

Bento Box Japanese Grill, 12202 Central Ave. (at Philadelphia), Chino; also, 2910 S. Archibald Ave. (at Riverside), Ontario

Casting about for a local place to have ramen, friends and I found Bento Box, about whose ramen a Yelp diner raved (“Try the Ramen. Dear God, try the Ramen”). We met for dinner at the Chino location, on Central just above the 60, part of a shopping center with Goodwill and 99 Cents stores.

Not promising, perhaps, but Bento Box (its website is here) has an impressive modernist interior with parquet flooring, a gleaming bar, the requisite industrial ceiling and indie rock on the playlist: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Chip and Vampire Weekend among them. Definitely hip. It was a quiet night, the music was unobtrusive and the conversation flowed. There’s no sushi bar, which may also keep the noise level down; sushi comes out of the kitchen.

Despite the Yelp rave, the menu had only one ramen soup ($9), which one of our group ordered. Sticking with the theme behind the restaurant’s name, I got a bento box with sushi and sashimi ($12, pictured), and the third got a baked lobster roll ($12). We found the food average, the atmosphere notable. Thursdays, the day we visited, drinks are half-price with an entree. One of us got a raspberry mojito for $4 and liked it.

In short, this shouldn’t be your first choice for Japanese food, but if you’re in the area, it’s a comfortable, pleasant spot to hang out.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jollibee, Chino

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Jollibee, 4021 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino

The dominant fast-food chain in the Philippines, Jollibee has locations elsewhere in Southeast Asia and in the United States that are often beloved by Filipino immigrants who remember the food from childhood. Its only Inland Valley outlet is in Chino, a city that must be more exotic than we’d dreamed.

I drove down for lunch one recent Saturday and found Jollibee in the outdoor food court of Chino Spectrum Towne Center, by a Starbucks. The interior resembles a slightly louder Pinkberry, with orange molded-plastic chairs and white tables. One wall is filled by a photo mural of children’s faces.

The menu has Filipino takes on hamburgers, fried chicken and spaghetti. I ordered a combo with spaghetti and one piece of chicken with a soda ($6). The dark-meat chicken (the chain calls it ChickenJoy) came with a cup of gravy. The spaghetti had a sweet marinara sauce, a sliced-up hot dog and melted cheese on top.

I can’t say this was delicious, but the food and ambience were pleasantly odd. Interesting to see another culture’s slightly surreal version of American staples. I might go back sometime to try the YumBurger just to see what that’s all about. Service was cheerful but emphatic. Outdoors, there’s seating around a burbling fountain, relaxing on a warm afternoon.

This Jollibee also has a bakery, named Red Ribbon, that makes cakes and small snacks. The restaurant hosts children’s parties that feature an appearance by the Jollibee mascot, a smiling bee who wears — why not? — a blazer and a chef’s hat.

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Restaurant of the Week: Avocado House

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Avocado House, 11618 Central Ave. (at Francis), Chino; open Tuesday to Saturday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

An old house with a country feel on the northern tip of Chino was converted into a restaurant in February 2009. A couple of readers have recommended it, and I pass by it frequently, so on a recent Saturday a couple of friends and I met there for breakfast.

The property still has a couple of outbuildings, one of them a small house, plus an enormous avocado tree, a tree swing and a parking lot that’s not large enough for the restaurant’s popularity. They have seating on the wraparound porch and several tables in the homey interior, which has wood floors, a fireplace (with Christmas decorations on the mantle in our early December visit) and cupboards.

Very charming. I was a little surprised that ordering is done at a counter that fronts the kitchen rather than at your table, but the system must work for them. They bring the food out to you. Overall, service is competent but not quite as welcoming as you might think from the grandma’s-house setting.

The food, however, was quite good. My friends had the garden omelet and the meat lovers omelet (each $8.50), canceling each other out I guess, but each ending up impressed. One bought a gift certificate on the way out. I had the country breakfast ($8) with two eggs, diced potatoes, sausage and toast. Mine was what you’d expect, although the potatoes were notable. I don’t have any complaints, I just should’ve tested the kitchen with something more exotic.

My friends also got the avocado toast ($2.75), which is two slices of bread spread with a thick layer of avocado. They pronounced it delicious. I’ve never been an avocado fan, so I took their word for it. Pictured is the avocado toast and garden omelet.

Avocado House also does lunch. Some of the sandwiches and salads sound awfully tempting. Check the full menu here.

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