Restaurant of the Week: Project Pie

Project Pie, 4711 Chino Hills Parkway (at Ramona), Chino Hills; open daily

I noticed Project Pie a year ago while heading to another restaurant within the Commons shopping center. Initially disappointed it was a pizzeria rather than a pie shop, I was open to trying it sometime. A year later, meeting a friend for lunch and a movie, Project Pie came to mind.

It’s another fast-fired pizza place, where your food is cooked in about two minutes. Project Pie has only a few locations; oddly, its website lists three (Chula Vista, Eastlake and Carlsbad) and doesn’t cite Chino Hills. Thankfully I took photos or I might wonder if I imagined the whole meal.

One eye-catching part of the interior is a long wall of quotes, great and small. They seem random, but they can be fun to read. (Pieology is the inspiration here, although its are typeset rather than seemingly hand-written.)

The menu is pizza (most are $9) and salads ($4.50 to $8.50). You can build your own pizza, or choose from the pre-selected options, most of which are white pies, without tomato sauce.

I got the No. 4: sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, parmesan and garlic. Its crust was crisp and charred, more so than at other such places. While I still prefer Blaze to its competitors, including Pieology, Project Pie was among the better ones I’ve tried.

My friend got a spinach salad (spinach, feta, bacon, mushrooms, red onions and honey mustard dressing) and added sunflower seeds. “This salad is unbelievably delicious,” she said. “It’s got so many goodies in it.”

That completed our lunch project at Project Pie.

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Restaurant of the Week: Thai Original BBQ

Thai Original BBQ, 2911 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ah, the food of Thailand. With Chinese food on the rise thanks to a wave of immigrants, Thai cuisine is kind of waning, it seems to me, aside from Pok Pok and Jitlada in L.A.

Thai Original BBQ has been in the Rolling Ridge Plaza for some years, so it’s nothing new either. But a Thai-shy friend had tried it out, liked it and suggested meeting there for dinner.

There’s a fish tank as you walk in and the walls have a lot of tourist posters, not to mention portraits of the Thai royal family (RIP). You get the sense that the owners haven’t redecorated in a while, but the look is comfortable and lived-in. So was our sagging banquette.

We examined the menu closely. It has the standards in pork, chicken, beef, noodles and rice dishes, but with more emphasis on seafood than is often seen.

I got the mixed pad Thai with chicken, pork, shrimp and tofu ($10 for the basic, probably a couple of bucks more for this version), which was solid and unspectacular.

My friend had the crab cakes, which appear on the menu as “Dearest Crab” (!), two fried crab cakes the size of baseballs with crab, pork, mushrooms and onion, served atop shrimp fried rice ($13). We liked it. If you’re married and eating there, call your spouse “dearest crab” at your own risk.

Service was attentive. Overall, this was a pleasant, old-school Thai experience but an unexceptional one. The restaurant is part of a small chain founded in 1978 that has locations in LA, Fullerton and Cerritos.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tasty Noodle House

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Tasty Noodle House, 2947 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Chino Hills, as has been noted here before, has the best Chinese food in the Inland Valley. I was planning to eat at Noodle House, but it looked full, and right across the shopping center driveway was a larger restaurant. So I went there instead.

Not that it occurred to me until later, but the second place had the same name plus an adjective, and given the choice between Noodle House and Tasty Noodle House, who wouldn’t upgrade to the tasty one? The sign says simply Tasty House, either due to space considerations or politeness to its neighbor, but the menu and receipt say Tasty Noodle House, which is a Southern California chain of at least seven restaurants, including Walnut, San Gabriel and Irvine.

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Tasty’s interior is immediately appealing: blond wood, benches, slim hanging fixtures and large windows. Scandinavia meets Shanghai.

It was bustling, but there were empty seats, and I was given one, as well as the typically extensive menu and time to look it over. I ordered xiao long bao ($7.50) and sauteed spirals (mushrooms) with leeks ($12), plus a taro milk tea ($3).

The pan of eight XLBs, or soup dumplings, weren’t to the Din Tai Fung standard and were more dumpling than soup, but that didn’t bother me, and they were a good choice. The leeks (one must have one’s greens) were sauteed with mushrooms and carrots and were very good too; half were taken home, making the price, which seemed a bit high, more palatable. And I liked the taro tea.

By Chinese restaurant standards, the service was friendly, I liked all my items and would go back. It’s only a block from the multiplex, which was my next stop after lunch. Nothing wrong with regular old Noodle House, though. It’s tasty too.

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Restaurant of the Week: Shoboo Kitchen

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Shoboo Kitchen, 3626 Grand Ave. (at the 71), Chino Hills; open daily until 11 p.m. except for Sunday, 9 p.m.

Chino Hills without a doubt is the best city for Japanese food from there to Rancho Cucamonga. I’ve tried three or four Japanese restaurants in Chino Hills over the years and all were good to excellent. (Ojiya was the best.) I’m quick to say I’m no expert on the cuisine.

Recently I met a friend at one of the others, Shoboo Kitchen, which is located off the 71 Freeway in a center with a Sprouts market, See’s Candies and a Chick-fil-A. Shoboo is relatively small, seating maybe 30, and while people talk about a line at lunch, there wasn’t one on the Monday we visited.

The menu is extensive, and even the number is lunch specials is large. There’s a Lunch Special A list of a dozen items (each $9.45) and a Lunch Special B list of another dozen or more (each $11.45). I was examining those when my friend pointed out the bento boxes on another page.

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We each got bento boxes ($10), a segmented tray with rice and salad. He ordered hot items: pork ribs and chicken; I ordered cool items: sushi and sashimi. (Between us, did we have the McDLT of Japanese food?) Anyway, I would rate the lunch good, not great, but certainly worth the money. The atmosphere was on the low-key side, a plus from my perspective. Just a nice, homey place.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sam’s Unique Diner

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Sam’s Unique Diner, 4721 Chino Hills Parkway (at Monte Vista), Chino Hills

Don’t let the name fool you: Sam’s Unique Diner is not a hash house with a waitress named Flo but rather a Chinese restaurant, and a stylish one. It opened in the Commons shopping center a few weeks ago.

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The entry looks like a hotel and the dining room has a chandelier.

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I was there for a group lunch recently and ordered off the lunch menu, not dissimilar from that of many Chinese restaurants. I got the most exotic sounding item, twice cooked pork ($8, below), and liked it. But the restaurant, I could tell, was better than the orange chicken, kung pao chicken and other standbys on the lunch menu.

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So I returned for a weekend lunch with a friend. We had westlake beef soup ($11, not pictured); yam with blueberries ($10, below); beef with cumin ($14, second photo below); and fish filet with vegetables ($11, third photo below).

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The yam item was the only one we thought was just okay. The white yams had a taste like jicama. Pleasant, but dull.

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I love cumin dishes and beef with cumin did not disappoint. The soup was good as well and we liked the light, moist tilapia in the fish filet.

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The expansive restaurant has private dining rooms and a covered patio for groups. It’s said to have Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghai-style cuisine. Chino Hills has a number of authentic Chinese restaurants and Sam’s is among the best, and in what may be the most spectacular restaurant setting in the city.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oke Poke, Chino Hills

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Oke Poke, 3277 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Poke, as the menu helpfully explains “is a classic Hawaiian dish comprised of sliced, raw fish and various mix-ins.” It’s becoming popular out our way, with several poke spots having opened in Rancho Cucamonga, for instance, and two in the works for Claremont, which currently has none.

Oke Poke, pronounced like okey-dokey, is a chain with a location in Chino Hills in Payne Ranch Center across Peyton from the Shoppes. It opened in 2015. I met a CHills friend there for lunch recently for my second poke experience this summer (the other was in LA).

As with Chipotle or Pieology, you get in line and proceed to make a series of choices for your bowl: a size (regular $9, large $11), a base (white or brown rice, salad, noodles or cucumber), add-ons, fish (up to five selections for a large), sauce and toppings. Or you can save some brain cells and order a pre-selected bowl. Bowls are all they have, except for miso soup and dessert. Note that all seafood options are the same price, a rarity, and that avocado is free, likewise.

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I got salmon, ahi tuna and scallops atop brown rice with moku seasoning, above; my friend had ahi atop a salad with sesame dressing, below. Both were regular sized.

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They were tasty, light but filling. “I think that was a carb-free lunch,” my friend said with satisfaction. Then she pulled out her phone and played Pokemon Go for a minute (her daughter is hooked too) when a virtual creature appeared at the table next to ours.

Yes, fittingly, the poke restaurant is a poke stop.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lettuce Toss It

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Lettuce Toss It, 15934 Los Serranos Country Club Drive (at Torrey Pines), Chino Hills; closed Sundays

The above is, by the way, the most high-falutin’ street location of any of the hundreds of Restaurant of the Week posts here, but pay that no heed. This is simply a restaurant, one where you order at the counter, in a fairly ordinary neighborhood, even though there must be golf nearby. It’s not in the shopping center on the corner of Soquel Canyon Parkway but in a small complex north of there.

With that out of the way: Lettuce Toss It, a pun business name of which I approve, is one of the few places in these parts that specializes in salads. I had lunch there recently with two friends.

There are 16 pre-designed salads, some of which sounded good to me; I almost opted for the Strawberry Sweetness before deciding to go for the Toss It Your Way, in which you pick the lettuce, six toppings and a dressing ($8.50).

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My choices, for the record, were spinach, with walnuts, raspberries, oranges, pineapple, strawberries and sun-dried tomatoes, topped with raspberry vinaigrette. (This was my attempt to recreate the Panera summer salad I like.) Very good, and very colorful, although the sun-dried tomatoes, as I suspected at the time, didn’t really go with the salad as composed.

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A friend also built her own salad: spinach, green and black olives, tomatoes and green peppers, adding grilled tofu ($1.50) and avocado ($1.25). “I really outdid myself,” she bragged. The vegetarian had been here twice previously and liked her salad.

The third got a salad-sandwich combo: half a JJ’s Ham and Swiss (plus sourdough, mustard and romaine) and the half Cobbler Gobbler Salad (turkey, bacon bits, cheese, tomato, romaine, egg and avocado). I don’t know why there’s not a scoop of peach cobbler in the Cobbler Gobbler. Price was not noted.

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“Soooo good,” he reported. “I walked in full and thought I would eat only half, but I ate the whole thing.” He’d been here once before and, unaccountably, had a cheese quesadilla, which he said he liked.

The menu has sandwiches (which include my baseline sandwich, the tuna melt, and yes, I almost ordered one), which come with a side of chili, fruit or a salad, as well as wraps and baked potatoes. And quesadillas. And cookies (3 for $1.50): We had the chocolate chip, three of them, and enjoyed them.

We all liked the place, which opened a couple of years ago and is popular enough to have expanded into the vacant storefront next door, vastly increasing the seating capacity. The menu is well thought out and the name catchy, which made me think Lettuce Toss It is a chain, but it’s not. Maybe it will become one. Until then, check them out in Chino Hills, and bring a copy of a Lettuce Now Praise Famous Men.

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Restaurant of the Week: JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen

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JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen, 2923 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily

JoJo’s has been in Chino Hills since the 1990s, practically the dawn of time by that city’s standards, operating from the Crossroads Marketplace shopping center in the north part of town. I’d had takeout pizza from there once with friends who lived nearby but visited for the first time recently for lunch with a fan of the place.

The menu has pizza, pasta, salads, calzones, sandwiches and entrees, some of which are unusual or unique: Italian mac and cheese, risotto bowls, shrimp diavolo.

I had a mini, 8-inch pizza with anchovies and mushrooms ($9.65) and my friend got angel hair pasta with marinara sauce ($9) plus a side salad ($3). Hearty pizza, generous with the anchovies; the pasta was proclaimed worthy, and some was taken home. Asked what else is good here, she recommended the stuffed artichoke, focaccia salad, caprese salad and cannoli.

JoJo’s is said to not be as quality conscious as when the original owners had it. People on Yelp are of two minds, with some saying it’s overpriced or the service is poor and others praising the food and service. Our service was acceptable, although a cup of coffee took 10 minutes to procure, and was delivered not on a saucer but on a plate. That was a little weird.

There are also locations in Brea and Mira Loma. But those are farther away.

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Restaurant of the Week: Happy Kitchen

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Happy Kitchen, 3233 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Chino Hills is the prime spot in the Inland Valley for authentic Chinese good, with numerous worthwhile spots, and new ones popping up or replacing existing eateries all the time. I was led to Happy Kitchen as a Yelp recommendation for another restaurant I was eyeing.

I met two friends at Happy Kitchen for lunch on a recent Saturday. It’s in the Albertsons center (nice to know there are still Albertsons around), and several of the other restaurants are Asian too, including the wonderfully named Korean tofu joint Youngdong.

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Happy Kitchen is small and at noon was bustling. We got about the only empty table and examined the multipage menu, which has about 200 items: appetizers, noodle dishes, rice dishes, chicken, pork, lamb, seafood, vegetarian, hot pot and more.

We got three entrees, pictured in order below: Happy Kitchen tofu ($10), tangerine chicken ($10) and cumin pork ($12). Also, two appetizers: fried bread roll and vegetable egg rolls ($5 each). This proved to be too much food, but that’s part of the fun of a shared meal.

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“Very tasty, I liked it,” one friend said. She said the fried bread reminded her favorably of something you’d get at the Fair and that the tofu entree was larger than in the menu photo.

“It didn’t exceed my expectations but it met them,” the other friend said. “It was very good for strip mall Chinese.”

That seemed a little unfair to me, as 1) almost every restaurant in Chino Hills is in a strip mall and 2) most San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants are in strip malls too. Din Tae Fung, anyone?

My view was that there were a lot more items on the menu that I’d like to try, especially the beef roll (it’s a dish I’ve had at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra). I liked Happy Kitchen as much as Noodle House, my previous Chino Hills favorite.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lobster Grill

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Lobster Grill, 3210 Chino Ave. (at the 71), Chino Hills; closed Mondays

I’ve passed by Lobster Grill when seeing movies at the Harkins 18 but only visited recently after a positive comment on FB from reader David Saw about the lobster rolls. As a lobster roll fan, I figured I should give the place a try.

On my first visit, though, I went with something different. The menu is much like Pacific Fish Grill elsewhere in town, with seafood plates and sides, and the style is fast-casual, bringing the cost down. So I ordered grilled swordfish ($12) with garlic butter sauce, rice pilaf and steamed vegetables; it comes with a thin piece of garlic toast.

Pretty good, and on a third visit my order was very similar, only with mahi mahi ($12) instead. I didn’t like it as much and the vegetables are kind of boring.

Now, how about that lobster roll? That came on my second visit: the sandwich, New England style, with fries ($11). This is a cold roll with a kind of lobster salad, on a warm piece of folded bread that will remind you of Sizzler’s “Texas toast.” I prefer the Connecticut style of lobster roll, which is served warm, but this was a good New England roll, with a generous helping of lobster. The fries were tasty too.

The menu is slightly more seafood-intense than the local competitors, with clams, mussels and oysters on the half-shell, and with Cajun buckets ($28 to $35). That said, I’m a little wary of ordering oysters from a place that doesn’t really specialize in them, and for the same reason I’ve shied away from crab legs and such.

Overall, I prefer Pacific Fish Grill. But Lobster Grill is all right for the basics, and the parking is easier than at the Shoppes, where Pac Fish is. Candidly, I don’t remember much about Fish-O-Licious, so I’m not sure where it rates in the Chino Hills spectrum (as opposed to the Chino Spectrum Marketplace) of cheap-ish seafood joints.

The Lobster Grill interior is pleasant enough, orange plastic seats and paper-covered tables, although lately I’ve just been happy for the air conditioning.

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