Restaurant of the Week: El Sinaloense

El Sinaloense, 9673 Sierra Ave. (at San Bernardino), Fontana; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and at 9 a.m. Friday to Sunday

Note: This post, about a meal in February, was prepared in early March, prior to the coronavirus shutdown.

On my way to a Fontana council meeting one recent evening, I saw the glowing sign for El Sinaloense and on an impulse pulled into the parking lot. It’s in a small business center with an insurance office and more, with the restaurant in the elbow of the L-shaped complex.

There’s a large dining room painted a cheery orange with green accents. You have your choice of booths or tables, and they’ll wait on you. El Sinaloense means “The Sinaloan” and is such a popular song in the banda style that it’s practically the Mexican state’s anthem.

The menu has tacos, burritos, mulitas and tostadas, with an emphasis on seafood and birria, which is stewed goat or beef (the menu didn’t specify which). In fact they make an item called the quesabirria, a quesadilla with birria.

Birria fan though I am, I went for a single taco gobernador ($5.50), which is marlin and shrimp, after being assured the tacos are large. (A poster on the wall showed two on a plate, but an order is just one.) A few minutes later, the cook brought it to my table and presented it with a near-flourish. The taco was indeed large, in a handmade corn tortilla, with small shrimp, chunks of marlin and a bit of melted cheese, the whole thing grilled. On the side was shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and onions, and a cup of avocado cream sauce.

The result was delicious, especially spiked with the condiments. This would not have constituted a meal under most circumstances, but being moderately hungry, the taco was moderately filling, so I left satisfied.

El Sinaloense also serves beer and Micheladas (the restaurant’s name ends with “Tacos & Beer”) and $25 towers of meat and vegetables for groups. As I left, the dining room that had been near-empty at 6 p.m. was getting busier. I’m glad I pulled into El Sinaloense.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ

Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ, 7373 East Ave. (at Base Line), Fontana; open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily and 8 p.m. weekends; closed Tuesdays

I read about Bigg Dane’s in late 2015 but only recently sought it out, after 1) remembering and then 2) learning it’s on the near side of Fontana, off the 15 at Base Line Road, a stone’s throw from Rancho, rather than a few further miles out of the way. Actually getting to Bigg’s from the freeway is tricky due to the layout of the intersection, but a couple of counter-intuitive left turns and I was in the shopping center.

There’s a smoker out front, a good sign; inside, you order at the counter and take a seat in the adjacent dining room. The menu has plates with two sides, sandwiches with one side and a few lunch specials. My first visit, I ordered brisket with collard greens and cornbread ($15).

My food was delivered on a metal tray lined with paper: two long strips of brisket, sauce on the side, a plate of cornbread and a dish of greens. It was all good.

Wanting to try the ribs, I returned the next week for the three-rib lunch special ($10) with one side, mac and cheese. The mac was dense and cheesy.

As soon as I picked up the first rib, its heft, density and smell let me know these were serious. The meat was tender but firm and came off the bone cleanly; the taste was excellent. I am no barbecue expert, but I’ve eaten at Franklin’s in Austin, Pappy’s in St. Louis and Bludso’s in L.A., and while Biggs’ weren’t at that level, nor would I expect them to be, they were reminiscent of that level. The ribs have a dry rub and don’t need sauce, and yet the thin, slightly sweet sauce on the side was quite good too.

The dining room is clean and new, a little sterile due to minimal decor. I was surprised how unoccupied it was given the quality of the food. Maybe it’s busier on the weekend. Owned by two longtime friends, it’s a family-run operation, and on one visit a young daughter was stationed at a table, coloring. Gotta like a place like that.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Gallo Giro


El Gallo Giro, 10161 Sierra Ave. (at Valley), Fontana; open 24 hours

The popular Mexican chain El Gallo Giro has eight locations, all in Southern California, including one in Fontana right off the 10 Freeway. When you exit at Sierra, bear to the right, because you’ll be turning right almost immediately, and the notoriously clogged interchange offers no room for error.

I knew the restaurant by reputation, and by sight (the name, by the way, means “Champion Rooster”), but I hadn’t eaten there until recently. An El Gallo Giro billboard along the 10 on my drive heralded its tortas. It was a surprising sight but one that shows the restaurant is kind of a powerhouse.

Open 24/7, the restaurant has its own bakery, with bins of pan dulce on a wall near the cashier. Ordering and seating is fast-food style (in fact, the restaurant is next door to a McDonald’s). But the quality is more In N Out, or better. At the counter, a row of glass containers with a half-dozen aguas frescas are lined up. The menu has tacos, burritos and other items, including breakfast.

I got a carnitas torta ($5.89) and a mamey drink ($3.29), made from a Mexican fruit. A few minute later, my number was called over the public address system. I’m not a torta expert, but this was among the best I’ve had. The sandwich was cut in half, revealing layers of filling like a cutaway of the earth’s crust: a smear of refried beans, a slab of pork, queso blanco, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and avocado, all in a fresh-baked bun. The drink was delicious too.

There’s plenty to see here. Tortillas are made from scratch on a rotating griddle where you can watch. Packages of tortillas are ready to be purchased, with condensation visible inside the bag, attesting to their freshness, and the station is decorated with tile. Pork is cooked in a giant kettle in the open kitchen.

El Gallo Giro is a good spot and well worth a visit — even though getting back to the freeway afterward is a challenge.


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Restaurant of the Week: Tio’s

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Tio’s Mexican Food, 12953 Sierra Lakes Parkway (at Sierra Avenue), Fontana

Hungry and driving back to Ontario from San Bernardino on the 210 recently, I exited at Sierra to look for a lunch spot.

I was delighted to see a sign for Tio’s on a building backing up to the offramp. Pay dirt.

Tio’s has two locations in Rancho Cucamonga and serves pretty decent Mexican basics, quickly, cheaply and in moderately snazzy environs, much as Felipe’s used to do.

The Fontana location is in the same mold. Despite its shopping center locale and order-at-the-counter ethos, the dining room has some tiled tables (and some not), moody lighting, dark wood and non-cheesy decor. It’s almost homey. The “about” page of the chain’s website says they try to impart some of the feel of the founding family’s native state of Zacatecas, Mexico.

I went for the tilapia special, a mere $6.99, which was advertised twice near the cash register, once as a “daily special,” the other as a “yearly special.” What’s that about? The clerk laughed and said they’d been serving the dish for so long, they’d decided to joke about it.

A piece of grilled fish, rice, beans, a little salad, plus tortillas, chips and salsa arrived at my table a few minutes later. No complaints, and a lot of food for the dough. If Fontana’s too far, there are Tio’s at 7305 Day Creek Blvd. (at Base Line) and at 10451 Lemon Ave. (at Haven) in Rancho Cucamonga, not to mention 19009 Van Buren Blvd. in Riverside.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taco d’Oro

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Taco d’Oro, 16157 San Bernardino Ave. (at Citrus), Fontana

I was on my way to a Fontana school board meeting, in unknown territory, when I stopped for dinner at Taco d’Oro, which is cater-corner from the school HQ, and down the street from Fontana High. Other neighbors: a vacant lot, a hair salon and a church.

A banner on the Taco d’Oro roof proclaims “World’s Best Pastrami,” a claim not often made at Mexican restaurants. What the heck, I went in.

Taco d’Oro (“Gold Taco”) is a rarity: a theme fast-food restaurant. It’s decorated in Gold Rush style. A prospector statue is out front, and inside there’s a water feature that resembles a mining sluice, a pick and a pan on the wall, swinging doors to the restrooms, wanted posters and other touches of character. In other words, a working-class Claim Jumper.

They have burgers, sandwiches (BLT, cheese steak, etc.), tacos, burritos and quesadillas. I went for the hot pastrami ($6), which came piled nearly two inches high on a roll with mustard and pickles. I would pronounce it an above-average gut bomb.

World’s best pastrami? Please. Fontana’s best pastrami? Possibly.

I wonder how the tacos are…

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Restaurant of the Week: Tortas Sinaloa

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Tortas Sinaloa, 2252 S. Euclid Ave. (at Philadelphia), Ontario; also at 9765 Sierra Ave., Fontana; 1520 W. 6th St., Corona; 1497 Mt. Vernon Ave., Colton; Baldwin Park; Santa Ana; and Tijuana

At loose ends for lunch Wednesday, I headed south on Euclid from downtown to see what I might find. In a shopping plaza with a Food 4 Less on the southwest corner of Euclid and Philadelphia, I found Tortas Sinaloa, which beckoned with the promise of a cheap, filling meal.

Walking through the doors was a “wow” moment. The space has unusually high ceilings and is cavernous, encompassing what were probably two adjacent storefronts originally. Three giant murals fill one wall, with a fourth mural on another. There’s plenty of seating, the tables placed far apart. The first impression is that it’s quite an operation.

The menu has 60 tortas from $2.50 to $5.99. These are grilled Mexican sandwiches, for the uninitiated. A large variety of juice drinks, licuados and smoothies are offered. The menu is in Spanish, which poses a challenge, but the two servers I talked with were bilingual.

I went for a Fontana sandwich ($5.95): carne asada, avocado, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and refried beans, and a strawberry-pineapple-papaya smoothie ($4.25). The drink came in a mug 7 inches tall, so they didn’t skimp. The sandwich was delicious, rivaling the ones at Los Jalapenos in Rancho Cucamonga, my favorite. But the choices are far more limited there.

Tortas Sinaloa has other locations, including Tijuana, but the main office is Ontario, according to the menu.

Plenty of light comes through the expanse of windows. The tables are decorated with fruit art and the shelves behind the counter are stocked with fresh fruit. It’s a neat atmosphere that offers one of those pleasant am-I-in-Ontario moments. It just goes to show, if you go searching and keep an open mind, there’s no telling what you’ll find.

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Restaurant of the Week: Viola’s Deli


Viola’s Deli, 17715 Arrow Ave. (at Alder), Fontana

It’s rare that I visit Fontana for anything. We don’t officially cover Fontana anymore, that duty being left to our sister paper The Sun, and downtown Fontana is so far from our Ontario office (15 miles) that it’s impossible to get over there on a lunch hour.

After Pomona’s State of the City luncheon, though, Fairplex CEO Jim Henwood, of all people, was telling me about a little deli in Fontana. A native New Yorker, Henwood said Viola’s Deli made cold subs in Big Apple style: shredded lettuce and olive oil tucked inside a tube of cold cuts and cheese, the whole thing inside a roll laid flat for just moments on a grill. (I think I’m remembering this right.)

So I began looking for an excuse to go to Fontana. Conveniently, the new library, which I’ve been hearing about for two years, is opening and as a library fancier, I intended all along to check it out. Arrangements were made for a tour at 1:30 Wednesday, which allowed me to combine the trip with — yes! — lunch.

Naturally, Viola’s was my choice. I was joined by reader Tom Leak, a Fontana resident and real sandwich maven, who treated, which was awfully nice of him. Good ol’ Fontana hospitality.

Viola’s is at Alder and Arrow, across from the Fontana courthouse and a little east of downtown. It’s been there since 1990 and its owners are former N.Y. deli folks, according to their website. Viola’s shares a small building with a law office. The deli is an unprepossessing place with a counter and a dozen two-chair tables.

I got a capocolla sub and Leak had the oli. (He’s not sure what the oli is but he liked it.) Mine was as Henwood had described it, and very tasty.

Cold or hot subs are $4.29 (small) to $5.35 (large). Viola’s also makes brownies, cakes and cookies; one of the lunch specials gives you a sub, soda and piece of cake. I’m thinking of applying for work at the law office.

Another menu item may be coming. A handwritten sign on the counter polls customers: “Would you prefer a steak, chicken or turkey pot pie?” Based on the hash marks, turkey and chicken are in a dead heat, with steak lagging far behind with three votes. It’s too late for California to decide on Hillary or Barack, but the Viola’s pot pie election is on.

* Update February 2014: Returning to Viola’s six years later for photos, I got a 10-inch NY steak sandwich, chips and soda ($9.60 with tax, below). Wow, what a sandwich! Grilled ribeye, lettuce, onion, tomato and American cheese, inside a warm and crisped roll, which may have been buttered. The menu says the steak is “grilled with our special blend of herbs and spices.” Whatever they did, it was delicious. I can’t be making hour round-trips to lunch, but this was a darned good sandwich. I’ll be back in 2020.



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