Restaurant of the Week: Pappas Artisanal Sandwiches

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Pappas Artisanal Sandwiches, 2232 D St. (at Second), La Verne; brunch only on Sundays.

Taking over the former Dillons BBQ and Phoenix Garden spot, Pappas opened in early 2013 in downtown La Verne. I heard good things and checked it out recently with two avowed fans. I was not disappointed.

The interior is brick, open and loft-like, with seating that includes high wooden communal tables. Nice ambience. You order at the counter. The menu, which changes frequently, has sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups and pastas, plus eight beers on tap, more in bottles, and wines, as well as housemade iced teas, cookies and other neat items.

I had the al pastor as a “potato nest,” meaning on crisp potatoes rather than on their housebaked bread ($9.25) and a mint cucumber tea ($2.50). My friends got a tuna melt ($8.45), a burger with egg and bacon ($12) and an ice cream sandwich ($4.75).

The al pastor itself was good, but the nest didn’t work: too many potatoes, not enough vegetables. Could be I should have mixed it. Lesson learned. I wish I’d noticed the tuna melt on that day’s menu, which my friend loved; careful readers may recall tuna melts as my baseline sandwich. The burger and ice cream sandwich were said to be very good. Oh, and I enjoyed an oatmeal cookie with white chocolate and cranberries ($1.50).

I returned another day for lunch, ordering the half-sandwich/soup combo ($8.50): an albacore sandwich, fresh and delicious, and creamy jalapeno chicken soup, like cream of chicken soup with a mild kick. Really good.

Might be a touch pricey for University of La Verne students, but the faculty are among those who’ve adopted Pappas. “It’s very urban. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m in the suburbs,” one friend said approvingly. I’d put it in a rare class of local restaurants where they care about quality, seasonal ingredients.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bowl of Heaven

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Bowl of Heaven, 2087 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne; closed Sundays.

Starting with the name, Bowl of Heaven may present a couple of problems: namely, what do they serve, and if you dare step inside, will employees be wearing robes and attempt to ply you with “literature”?

Actually, I knew from having seen coupons that Bowl of Heaven makes acai bowls (a so-called superfruit berry) and smoothies, but it wasn’t until commenter DebB recently gave it a rave here, and I realized the bowls might make a good breakfast (they open at 9 a.m. and stay open until 9 p.m.), that I decided to give it a try.

It’s next to Sal’s Pizza and the interior is Hawaiian-themed. I got a regular Dan’s Peanut Butter ($7), a blend of acai, banana, strawberries and something called “Maq 7 fruit blend,” plus peanut butter and almond milk. It’s topped with granola, banana and honey. I’d seen this on the menu online and knew that’s what I wanted.

Essentially, it’s a smoothie in a bowl, evidently made with vegan yogurt. It was really tasty, and filling. As I sat at a table reading my newspapers, other customers entered, and almost all of them got the Peanut Butter. Must be a popular choice. Everything is gluten-, soy- and dairy-free.

So, I’m a little skeptical of the possibly exaggerated benefits of acai, and seeing “nutrition, weight loss, energy” on the front of the menu is kind of a turnoff. I feel like I’m signing up for a movement or program of some sort. And $7 is more than I want to pay for a breakfast that doesn’t involve bacon.

That said, I may pay it again, because I liked what I had and, even though there’s no nutritional information on the menu, the offerings would seem to be low-fat and full of fruit and protein, all good things. Also, for the record, none of the employees wore robes.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cafe X20

Cafe X20, 2445 Foothill Blvd. (at Town Center Drive), La Verne

Even a makeover by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay couldn’t save Charlie’s Italian Bistro, which closed earlier this year. Cafe X20, its replacement, opened in November and looked inviting from the street, not just the Mediterranean cuisine and hip name but the active patio and open flames visible from the street at night. Curious, I met a couple of friends there for dinner last week.

X20 has hot and cold appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees, $9 to $24. It’s a casual dining take on Lebanese food. We shared the hummus special with diced lamb ($7) and the soujok boreg ($6), a fried shell with sausage and cheese inside, both of which we really liked. Individually we ordered a lule kabob sandwich, which is spiced ground beef¬†($8),¬†marinated cod and wild salmon ($15 each), which were pan cooked with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic and served with rice and vegetables. We liked all those too, with my salmon being the winner. (A picture is below; sorry the lighting is so poor.)

Service was exceptionally friendly. The name, rather than being something off the periodic table, is shorthand for “hugs and kisses,” the owners said in an interview. They have a bar and, out on the patio, hookah smoking after 9 p.m. X20 is open until midnight six days per week and is closed Mondays.

“I would come here again,” the sandwich eater said. “I should have gotten the lamb,” the cod eater mused. I may have to return for the lamb myself. All in all, this is the best local meal I’ve had in weeks. They didn’t even need Gordon Ramsay’s help.

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Restaurant of the Week: House of Wings

 

House of Wings, 2317 D. St. (at 3rd), La Verne

When the Ellsworth’s Stationers store closed in the heart of downtown La Verne, it was replaced by a restaurant and sports bar featuring chicken wings, a change dramatic enough to be worth writing a letter about (better go to Staples for the paper, pen and envelope, though).

I’m not a wing guy, nor have I ever acted as a wingman, but I’ve been to House of Wings, which opened in April 2012, a couple of times with friends. We were struck on our first visit by the arresting photo-mural of a woman’s eyes, as well as the club-like atmosphere and electronic dance music soundtrack. It was as if we’d wandered into a hip spot in L.A., not L.V. This makes sense, as the owners also have a wings place in Hollywood.

The wings are pretty good. Priced 5 for $5, 12 for $10 or 16 for $12, they have various marinades to choose from. I’ve had the lemon pepper recently (below) and liked it. (I hadn’t intended to eat any and ended up eating four, or was it five?)

I returned on my own for lunch. The menu has salads, sandwiches and wraps and heartier entrees such as a steak, beef stroganoff and shrimp dishes. I had a wild mushroom burger ($11, pictured), a half-pound burger with fries (or salad). In these days of premade patties, it often seems like the only decent handmade burgers are at bars and cost 10 bucks or above. The House of Wings version is worth it.

They have more than 20 flatscreens, sound off, in a clean, minimalist, dimly lighted space. There’s a full bar with 16 beers on tap and 16 in bottles. House of Wings is popular with the ULV crowd — the campus is only a block away — and it’s a good addition to downtown. You might even want to write home about it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pasta Cucina Rustica

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Pasta Cucina Rustica, 2086 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne

Opened in 2010, Pasta Cucina Rustica is owned by the same family that has Aruffo’s in Claremont, an Italian restaurant I like. The La Verne location, which has a different menu and a similarly upscale casual vibe, is in a storefront in the Stater Bros. center, one of the city’s string of shopping centers along Foothill. It replaced Gambino’s.

The interior has wooden tables and booths, tile floors and vintage Italian advertising posters. It’s a little fancy but not off-putting. I was there for lunch with two friends and their baby and they immediately liked it (the baby’s reaction could not be determined).

The menu has pasta, seafood, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas, desserts, wine, beer and coffees. They also have items in smaller portions for seniors. Entrees top out at $17.

We had the parma rustica panini ($10), a ham and mozzarella sandwich on cheese-encrusted bread; a salsiccia pizza ($11) with sausage, peppers and sweet onions; cheese ravioli ($9); and a child’s portion of cheese ravioli ($7).

We all liked our entrees to greater or lesser degrees, with the sandwich being the highlight. The small loaf of rosemary bread they brought out was also delicious. The pizza had a barely-there crust with a cracker-like rim; it was unusual, but the one who ordered it liked it. My cheese ravioli was about what you’d expect.

My ravioli lunch portion, incidentally, was exactly the same size as the child’s portion, but $2 more, leading one person to joke that a budget diner might want to order child’s portions to go. Who would know? Also on the child’s menu: Nutella and red raspberry jam sandwich, provolone and mozzarella grilled cheese and chicken parmigiana strips. You know, that’s not a crazy idea…

Service was friendly and understanding of an infant’s needs, not to mention adults’ needs. We enjoyed ourselves.

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Restaurant of the Week: Roberta’s Village Inn

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Roberta’s Village Inn, 2326 D St. (at Bonita), La Verne

The Village Inn is a diner, not a hotel, in downtown La Verne, open since 1969. I wrote a column about the restaurant, but that was about the ownership change and the people aspect. (I’ll put the column at the end of this writeup.)

Roberta’s is a charming place with Coca-Cola kitsch, gingham curtains, a counter with swivel seats, two dining rooms, a lot of regulars, a friendly staff and a homey atmosphere.

They do breakfast and lunch at Roberta’s, with all the staple items. I had breakfast there with a friend Monday. He had the special, chorizo and eggs ($6, pictured), which he liked. I had pancakes and sausage ($5.75) and had no complaints.

They also do dinner at Roberta’s now, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The menu only has a half-dozen items, but there’s always a special or two. Back in December I had chicken parmigiana over fettucine ($10), which was not only pretty good but enough food to take half home.

I returned two weeks ago for dinner and had lobster ravioli (ooh la la), price forgotten but probably $10 (pictured). The Italian wedding soup is excellent, the ravioli was good (perhaps oversauced) and it’s a good thing for my waistline there were only two garlic knots. Desserts included a couple of cobblers.

So, Roberta’s is a neat little place, where the food is solid if unspectacular. Dinner, though, is better than you’d expect.
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Restaurant of the Week: Warehouse Pizza

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Warehouse Pizza, 2340 D St. (at Bonita), La Verne

Anchoring a prime corner in downtown La Verne, Warehouse practically anchors the entire downtown. Its website says it’s been there 23 years, but that seems to refer only to the current owners. A University of La Verne alumnus friend says he was eating at Warehouse as early as 1971.

Either way, it’s an expansive place — could it have been a former citrus warehouse? — with a large, open interior and exposed industrial ceiling. Equally large is the patio, only a portion of which could fit into the above photo. Warehouse is a favorite of ULV students and professors, as well as Bonita High students, sports teams and families.

The menu has a dozen sandwiches and three salads, plus beer and wine, but the pizza is the main reason anyone goes (the beer may be second). A 14-inch mushroom ($13.95), pictured, comes loaded, the sauce tomatoey, the crust chewy, but crispy at the edge.

For its size, La Verne has a lot of homegrown pizza parlors (Red Devil, Sal’s, Pizza Barn, Pizza N Stuff and maybe one or two I’ve forgotten), with Warehouse perhaps the best, and certainly the most fondly regarded.

Two ULV alums are said to have opened Warehouse knockoffs in Hawaii and Colorado, duplicating the interior to the last neon beer sign, hanging ladder and miniature gas pump. The original is a classic college-town pizza parlor. Long may it bake.

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Restaurant of the Week: Aoki

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Aoki, 2307 D St. (at 3rd), La Verne

Aoki has been a fixture in downtown La Verne since the ’90s, anchoring a busy corner near the university. Outside there’s a protected patio; the interior is homey, with photos of customers along one wall and a mom and pop atmosphere.

I’ve been there a few times over the years and dropped in for lunch on Wednesday.

I got a two-combination lunch ($7.95), choosing sushi and sashimi. This comes with a bowl of miso soup and, as can be seen above, rice and a small salad. The sushi and sashimi both included salmon, tuna and yellowtail. It was a satisfying lunch and a good deal for the price.

It may be another year or two before I make it back, but I suspect Aoki will be there waiting.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taste of Asia

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Taste of Asia, 2007 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne

Taste of Asia opened last year in the former Caribbean Gardens space in the small, ’70s vintage Oak Tree Center on the north side of Foothill and near the movie theaters. (It’s easy to overlook the center, but in a plus, the small parking lot is shaded by actual oak trees.)

Inside, Taste of Asia is modern and slightly upscale, although the paper rather than cloth napkins stuffed in the glasses will throw you off. The menu is mostly Thai but with some Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.

I’ve been there three times so far and expect to keep going. Everything I’ve had so far has been good: Steamed fish with lime ($9.95), with minced garlic and carrot, and lime sliced thin as communion wafers; yellow curry chicken ($8.95), yum seafood salad ($10.95), Vietnamese hand rolls ($5.95) and, most notably, off the “chef’s recommendations” list, tropical salmon ($14.95), which comes grilled on a bed of spinach and topped with mango, tomatoes and onions.

Yes, I love Mix Bowl in Pomona, but Taste of Asia is on a different order of magnitude, slow food rather than fast food.

It’s a family operation, and Chef Virada comes into the dining room every time to go table to table to chat with customers and make sure everyone is satisfied. Framed diplomas in the hallway to the restrooms show that she trained at a culinary school in Bangkok. But she was working at Bausch and Lomb before opening Taste of Asia.

“This is my dream, to have a restaurant,” she told me. We can all pinch ourselves and be happy her dream is our reality.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Habit

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The Habit Burger Grill, 1608 Foothill Blvd. (at Chelsea), La Verne

The Habit opened recently in a standalone building in front of the remodeled Vons center near Wheeler and was busy pretty much from day one. There are two dozen Habits, which began in Goleta in 1969, but the nearest one is in Glendale.

The operation seems perched between Fuddruckers and In-N-Out with its emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients and its somewhat stylish interior. On Saturday, when I visited, the lunchtime line stretched to the door. The menu has charbroiled burgers, some tasty-sounding sandwiches including chicken, tri-tip and albacore tuna, and salads.

I got the No. 1 Char combo ($5.95), a single burger, fries and soda, and took a seat on the patio. My number was called on the loudspeaker in a few minutes. The fries were pretty good and the burger even better, charred to perfection and served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle and, a nice touch, caramelized onions.

The staff was friendly, just like at In N Out. They’ll come take your tray or offer to fetch a soda refill.

The patio is the stroke of genius. Rather than an afterthought with one or two tables, theirs has 12, and the tables and chairs are wood, not molded plastic. Saturday was uncommonly warm, as it’s been all week. I sat outside in short sleeves for the first time in weeks, reading the centennial issue of Westways with its pieces on two SoCal icons, ’30s artist Maynard Dixon and writer Carey McWilliams, soaking up the weather and feeling mighty fine about living in Southern California.

This could become a habit.

* Update, February 2014: And indeed it has. I still eat at the Habit now and then. I should probably try more items on the menu, but the burgers and fries are really good.

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