Restaurant of the Week: Green Banana Leaf

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Green Banana Leaf, 13089 Peyton Drive (at Beverly Glen), Chino Hills

One of the valley’s few Filipino restaurants, Green Banana Leaf is located in a sprawling shopping center with a Costco, Sport Chalet and vacant Best Buy. Several Asian eateries are in an L-shaped wing by Peyton Drive, including Guppy House and The Boiling Point, with The Crabby Crab coming soon.

I met a friend at GBL for lunch. It’s an inviting spot, with a row of private-seeming booths, a red and black color scheme and hanging fixtures. Snazzy.

We ordered off the lunch menu: pork BBQ skewer and chicken BBQ ($6.50 each, below and bottom). First came cups of mushroom soup in a clear broth. The plates had lumpa, which is akin to a small egg roll, and rice with dried garlic; I had noodles and my friend had a salad. The entrees themselves were mouth-watering. We liked the rice and lumpia. The noodles were nothing special, but neither was the salad, although it had romaine rather than iceberg.

These lunch plates were very filling as well as delicious, and for the price, even better. “It was like comfort food: wholesome, good food,” my friend remarked. We also tried traditional beverages ($2.50 each): sago at gulaman, a slushy cola with boba, and guyabano, which my friend said would be “perfect with rum and an umbrella.”

I don’t know how this stacks up with other Filipino restaurants, having only had that cuisine a time or two before, but this was one of the better meals I’ve had recently.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fish-O-Licious

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Fish-O-Licious, 4200 Chino Hills Parkway (at Pipeline), Chino Hills; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Chino Hills has Pacific Fish Grill at the Shoppes, an informal seafood spot about which I posted in 2009. One wishes there were more such places in the Inland Valley. Well, since December there’s been a second, and it’s also in Chino Hills: Fish-O-Licious. It’s a wannabe chain with one other location, in Commerce.

Some of the menu offerings are fried, others are grilled. And before you wonder if this is a gussied-up H. Salt, the motto is “Fresh Seafood Daily.” I had lunch there with a friend recently.

I had the special No. 3 ($10, bottom), a plate of sole with a slightly sweet sauce with pineapple and peppers, as well as an above-average slaw, a roll and, in a pleasant surprise, a soda. Not a bad price, and the food was very good. My friend had the three fish taco plate ($8, below), which came with fries. She liked the tacos but thought tortilla chips would be a better side than fries.

They have sole, salmon, catfish, halibut, shrimp and scallops, as well as chicken (for those who hate fish, I guess) and chowder.

My friend’s comment was that it’s good to have another healthy option but that it’s pretty similar to Pacific Fish Grill. My comment is, I like it, but why can’t it be in a different city? Chino Hills has all the fun.

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Restaurant of the Week: Roscoe’s Famous Deli

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Roscoe’s Famous Deli, 14700 Pipeline Ave. (at Chino Hills Parkway), Chino Hills

You can’t get chicken and waffles at this Roscoe’s, a sandwich shop and bar in suburban Chino Hills that seems to share DNA with Claremont’s Heroes, at least its original incarnation, and Beer Belly Deli: sports on TV, peanuts on the table, peanut shells on the floor and giant portions of food. It’s one of those places of which people say, “You won’t leave hungry.”

I met three friends there for lunch on a recent Saturday. Mugs of water 8 inches tall were placed before us. “You won’t leave thirsty,” one friend quipped.

I got the meatloaf sandwich ($12, below) with curly fries. It was turkey meatloaf and provolone on a French roll, really good. The others liked their sandwiches too: the Martini ($12), which was chicken and mozzarella on parmesan bread; Your Godfather ($11, bottom), capicolla, prosciutto, salami and pepperoni (“the spiciness was a delicious surprise,” he said) on a French roll; and the veggie ($9), avocado, provolone and more on squaw bread. The latter two diners took home half their meal for later. I could have, and maybe should have. But I didn’t eat dinner, so it all worked out.

“My wife says the portions and prices are too much, but I like it,” declared the Martini orderer. He did not follow up with a belch.

The menu has many more sandwiches, plus burgers, hot dogs, salads and a few dinner entrees.

The walls have funky signs and there’s an attic-like feel to the decor reminiscent of Beer Belly Deli. The restaurant was busy, but our modest needs for service were met. Like Heroes (now Heroes and Legends), the atmosphere is a little amped-up for my taste, but the food’s good and it’s a fun spot to meet friends.

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Restaurant of the Week: 85 Degrees

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85 Degrees C Bakery, 12959 Peyton Drive (at Beverly Glen), Chino Hills

Sometimes called the Starbucks of Taiwan, 85 Degrees Celsius has been sprouting in Southern California’s Asian enclaves, with locations to date in Irvine, Hacienda Heights and West Covina. A Chino Hills outpost opened in July. It’s the largest at 5,000 square feet and took over the defunct City Broiler.

It’s been radically transformed, with lots of windows and lots of seating, as well as a shady, pleasant rear patio. I met a friend for lunch who had previously shown me the one in West Covina, so I knew what to expect.

Breads and pastries, both savory and sweet, are displayed in clear plastic cases, from which you pluck whatever you want with tongs and place them on a cafeteria tray. If you’ve been to a panaderia, you’ll recognize the concept. When you pay, each item is put into a clear bag. They also sell coffees, smoothies and other beverages.

So it’s basically a bread buffet, a carbohydrate cafeteria. Three pieces will generally fill you up. We had a pork sung bun, wheat germ mushroom, garlic cheese, and ham and onion roll, with red bean bread and mocha bread for dessert. Each was from $1.10 to $2. I also had a taro slush drink ($3.75). So, two of us had a satisfying lunch for $13, and I saved the mocha bread for breakfast the next morning. It was too bready for me, and the pork sung bun, essentially a bun dusted with powdery pork, was too dry for my taste. The rest were delicious, and I liked my drink too.

Definitely worth a visit: The items are different and really good (people rave about the sea salt coffee too), and as there will be more 85 Degrees locations, you may as well try one now so you can brag to your friends when one pops up in, say, Rancho Cucamonga that you already know all about it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oh Queso

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Oh Queso, 14270 Chino Hills Parkway (at Grand), Chino Hills; open daily.

Chino Hills isn’t really a burger town, so I was doubly surprised when a foodie friend advised me that an excellent burger could be had in town at a Mexican restaurant. I ventured into the far western reaches of Chino Hills to find Oh Queso, located in the Stater Bros. center, around the point where the town peters out into scrubby hills.

Oh Queso looks like a chain but isn’t. It calls itself California Mexican Cuisine and has the usual array of tacos and burritos. They also have “gourmet burgers,” described on the menu as being made with “6 ounces of fresh ground chuck and brisket beef.”

I got the cheeseburger ($5.25) but with a fried egg ($1 extra) and as a combo with fries and soda, a total of $9.14 with tax. I’d never had an egg on my burger but my friend said it helps, and another friend swears by eggs too.

The fries were of the crunchy, double-fried variety, very good. A basket of house-made tortilla chips, also good. The burger? It was served on an egg bun, sturdy enough to hold up under the burger, cheese, egg, tomato, onion and sauce. The patty was thick, fresh and loosely packed. In sum, this burger was a magnificent thing, beefy and drippy.

They also sell pastrami burgers, bacon cheeseburgers and a green chili cheeseburger, or you can add sauteed mushrooms, an extra patty or extra cheese. The egg didn’t do much for me, but maybe I’ll acquire the taste. The guy at the next table got a pastrami burger, seemed impressed and took a menu home.

The restaurant interior is nothing to get excited about, although it’s pleasant enough, with tables and actual chairs, as well as a communal table with padded benches. You order at the counter and your food is brought to you. The service was friendly.

Oh Queso’s cheeseburger is certainly a contender for best Inland Valley fast-food burger, possibly beating out the Habit, Five Guys, Fatburger and Rounds, and for the money it’s a better deal than sit-down burger champions Back Abbey and Eureka. I haven’t made a comprehensive survey, and note I said “contender,” but if there’s a better burger locally, somebody tell me where it is.

I don’t know when I’ll be driving that far out into western Chino Hills again, but if I do I now know a good place to eat there.

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Restaurant of the Week: Las Cascadas

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Las Cascadas Mexican Cuisine and Cantina, 4200 Chino Hills Parkway (at Pipeline), Chino Hills

In the busy Chino Hills Marketplace, the sitdown Mexican restaurant Las Cascadas opened in December 2010 in the space previously occupied by the mediocre Salsitas, followed by Sandra’s and El Tepeyac. I had dinner there with a couple of friends the other night.

Once you’ve fought your way through the ill-designed parking lot, the restaurant is kind of snazzy: a broad bank of windows, solid tables, high-backed wooden chairs and a continuous, sofa-like bench along the window frontage. The decor is simple and tasteful.

It was Taco Tuesday and, as long as you get a bar drink (basically, anything but a soda), you can order off that menu. I got three $1.50 tacos (pictured above) and a horchata ($2.50); one friend had a chimichanga, hardshell beef taco and bean and cheese sope ($1.50 each, pictured below), the other the fish ceviche ($9, dinner portion, pictured at bottom).

Now, let’s be clear. You could get better Mexican food at many taquerias in the region. There is a reason you don’t automatically think of Chino Hills and Mexican food together. (Asian food is the thing to get.) That said, the atmosphere was really comfortable, the interior well designed, one of the more impressive Mexican restaurant interiors in these parts, and the food pretty good for a white person’s Mexican food experience. It’s like a hip El Torito.

And if it’s good enough for Gov. Jerry Brown, who dropped in unexpectedly for dinner in April, then you might like it too.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bruxie

Bruxie Gourmet Waffle Sandwiches, 13865 City Center Drive (in the Shoppes), Chino Hills

Waffles are tasty for breakfast, and as any Roscoe’s admirer can tell you they pair perfectly with fried chicken, but do they make a good bread substitute for sandwiches? Bruxie, which is based in Orange County, thinks so. Expanding northward from its locations in Rancho Santa Margarita, Orange and Brea, they opened last December in Chino Hills, taking over a Johnny Rockets that had just closed in the Shoppes outdoor mall.

The joint was jumping on a recent weekday lunch. Occupying a corner spot, Bruxie has a wraparound patio and, because it was a warm day, had opened the rollup doors that separate the patio from the dining room, turning the whole restaurant into an open-air environment. (There were heat lamps operating on the patio.)

A friend who’d already eaten there twice met me. The menu has savory waffle sandwiches, sweet waffle desserts, salads, coffee and frozen custard, a Midwestern treat that is rare out here. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially ice cream that’s made with egg yolks. (The Bruxie website has an amusing and informative FAQ section, by the way.)

A greeter explains the concept for first-timers, a nice touch for a restaurant where you order at the counter. She described the waffles as light and crisp, much like toast, which proved true. Overhearing us discuss frozen custard while in line, small samples were profferred. That spared us from having to order that on top of the dessert waffle we wanted to try.

We shared a tuna melt with waffle fries ($10.45 as a combo), a chicken-and-waffle sandwich ($7) and a creme brulee waffle ($6.50). I preferred the chicken and waffle, a boneless, breaded piece of chicken inside a wraparound waffle. (You can get syrup for $1 but we didn’t.) My friend liked the tuna melt better, commenting on the tuna’s seasoning. To me, a connoisseur of the tuna melt, it was tasty but more like tuna salad and a waffle rather than melding into a unit. We liked the dessert waffle best, filled with strawberries and bananas and dusted with powdered sugar.

The meal was light and fun, as was the experience. I also had a root beer made with cane sugar ($2.50), like the rest of the sodas. I will definitely go back, especially for the frozen custard. No waffling on that.

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Restaurant of the Week: One Plus One Dumpling House

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One Plus One Dumpling House, 14720 Pipeline Ave. (at Chino Hills Parkway), Chino Hills

Chinese dumplings are rare in Inland Valley restaurants, making One Plus One Dumpling House almost unique. The restaurant opened in Chino a couple of years back, relocating in April 2012 to Chino Hills next to the Lebanese restaurant Mes Amis, taking the place of the Thai restaurant Swasdee. Chino Hills is more of a culinary melting pot than you’d guess.

Three friends and I met there for lunch recently. The space looks almost unchanged from Swasdee’s occupancy, being modern, L-shaped and small (nine tables or booths).

The menu has some 20 varieties of dumplings, most of which can be ordered steamed, boiled or pan fried. Boiled are soup dumplings (xiao long bao), steamed are dry, fried are pot stickers. Noodle dishes and beef, lamb, chicken, pork and vegetarian dishes fill out the menu.

It’s the kind of place where, while they do have sweet and sour pork and orange chicken, they also have the non-Panda Express-approved spicy frog in firepot, spicy intestine and lamb with sour vegetable.

We ordered a lot of food: vegetable boiled dumplings ($7, pictured above), house special noodle ($7), shrimp and pineapple ($13), deep fried chicken with chili and garlic ($9) and a beef wrap ($5, pictured below). The staff threw in pork XLBs ($7), which they seem to do if you order $20 or more in food.

We like Chinese food, but we’re not experts. One at our table said approvingly, “This pork dumpling is really good,” while sampling the beef wrap. Which gave us something to kid him about. I can attest that the beef wrap is a respectable knockoff of 101 Noodle Express’ celebrated beef roll.

We all said we would be willing to come back. One friend said: “I thought the noodles were fantastic” — he really was talking about noodles — “and the deep-fried chicken was especially good.” Service was efficient and they kept our water glasses filled. The number of San Gabriel Valley-style Chinese restaurants in the Inland Valley remains small, but it’s growing, one by one.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pho N Mor

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Pho N Mor, 3233 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

The Albertsons center in Chino Hills reflects the city’s growing Asian population: There are Japanese, Chinese and Korean restaurants and a foot massage business, and now there’s Pho N Mor, which has Vietnamese food and opened in late 2011. I haven’t done a comprehensive survey, but there may be only one other Vietnamese restaurant in Chino Hills.

I had lunch at Pho N Mor recently with a friend. It’s decorated in modern style, making the most of a small space, and surrounded by windows on two sides, letting in plenty of natural light. Service was friendly and many tables were occupied.

It was a hot day and I wasn’t in the mood for a bowl of pho, the popular Vietnamese soup, so I opted for broken rice with barbecued pork ($6.75, pictured), plus a mango smoothie ($3.25). My friend opted for pad Thai with chicken ($8).

I liked my dish, but they used regular rice, not the variety known as broken rice. The mango smoothie was a mango freeze, made with crushed ice, not milk. The pad Thai looked good, but of course, that’s Thai, not Vietnamese.

So, a mixed verdict: As a sort of entry-level Vietnamese experience, this was fine, but aficionados would probably want to head to Diamond Bar, Chino or Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Boiling Point

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The Boiling Point, 13089 Peyton Drive (at Beverly Glen), Chino Hills

Chino Hills has a variety of superior Chinese and Japanese restaurants that are more authentic than the norm for this area. One of the latest is The Boiling Point, open since July 2011 in the Crossroads Marketplace complex, which has locations in seven other Asian neighborhoods in the U.S. and Canada.

It specializes in soup and boba tea. On a recent Saturday at luncthime, there was a signup sheet and a line out the door. Once seated, my friends and I were the only non-Asians in the place, usually a good sign.

The servers were rushed, but their English was very good. I ordered the seafood and tofu soup (pictured below) and my friends had the beef soup and the Taiwanese spicy soup. Each was $10 and included a bowl of rice or noodles and a tea. The soup arrived in a serving bowl atop a butane flame.

Candidly, we weren’t wowed, but I think it was more a case of cultural differences than the food itself. It wasn’t soup as we would expect it but rather various ingredients in boiling water, which the staff would cheerfully offer to refill from a pot much as a waitress might refill a cup of coffee.

One friend said the flavors were simply hot rather than complex while the other felt silly blowing on hot soup that was sitting atop a flame. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat out of the bowl or transfer the soup, or maybe just the ingredients, to the rice bowl. White people out of their depth is always a charming sight.

So, let me recommend Boiling Point for the adventurous and for those to whom this sort of thing is second nature. I’m honestly curious to hear others’ reactions.

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