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


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


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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Restaurant of the Week: Red Devil Pizza


Red Devil Pizza, 1465 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne

Red Devil is in the CVS Center near the old Vons, placing it across the street from the new Vons. Opened in 1973, Red Devil is a longtime La Verne favorite.

The interior is nicer than expected, with vintage-style Italian posters and such decorating the walls. Also, a “GoodFellas” poster autographed by Henry Hill. Although there’s a counter for takeout orders and paying, they have waitress service. A couple of gents near me were chowing down silently on large bowls of pasta.

Pasta dinners range from spaghetti ($9) to seafood linguine ($17); they also have sandwiches, beer and bottled wine up to $25. And, of course, pizza. I got one of the $8.50 lunch specials, a mini pizza with one topping (mushrooms) and a salad and soda or beer (iced tea, in my case).

The salad was iceberg but it was large, almost entree-sized, with cheese, olives and tomatoes. Not bad. The pizza was also large at 10 inches (2 inches larger than most mini pizzas), chewy and tasty. I took home three of the eight slices. It was a good deal for the price.

La Verne’s a good pizza town. Still gotta go back to Sal’s for a Sal’s Special, as some of you recommended.

*Update, August 2014: I returned to Red Devil so I could update this 2008 post with photos. Actually, I returned twice; the first time, a Monday night, the place was packed, so I left. I came back for lunch on a Sunday and the place was much quieter. I got a small Joey’s Special ($10.50), which has sausage, bacon, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions and bell peppers. Pretty good pizza, light on the sauce, generous with the toppings, a medium-weight crust. Service was attentive. They also have 16 pastas on the menu, from $9 to $17.


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Restaurant of the Week: Sal’s Pizza and Bagelry


Sal’s Pizza and The Bagelry, 2095 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne

I’ve passed this combo restaurant on Foothill at D Street probably hundreds of times, but for whatever reason it never occurred to me until a couple of weeks ago that I ought to actually eat there sometime.

I had been inside once. Circa 1998, for a feature story, a photographer and I spent a day driving around the Inland Valley to check out banks that had been converted into other commercial uses. I don’t have access to that story, but the La Verne building had been some sort of a bank — anyone remember which one? — and the main entrance was then The Bagelry. Sometime in the past few years, Sal’s Pizza was added.

(The sign out front advertises the building’s two less-visible businesses, Taco Factory and Juice Stop. Because of the strange spacing, I always read the sign in jest as Taco Juice/Factory Stop.)

Anyway. The restaurant seats 87, plus another 20 or so on the patio, so it’s quite large. It’s pleasant enough, tiled everywhere. A lot of restaurants would envy the generous patio. Speaking of generous, the sprawling menu has bagels, bagel sandwiches, salads, sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, pizza and pasta, and there’s an espresso bar.

I had the Route 66, a sandwich of turkey, swiss, tomato, onion and pickle, and got it on a plain bagel, toasted ($5.95-ish), and an iced tea ($2-ish). I didn’t expect great things, and didn’t receive them, but the sandwich was acceptable. There were several customers, including a young guy on a laptop at the espresso bar and an older couple in a booth, each reading a paperback as they ate silently.

Anyone tried the pizza?

* Update, March 2014: I came back for the pizza: the Sal’s Special (small $14.45), which has sausage, bacon, green and red peppers, pepperoni, onions and mushrooms. The thing was a beast: the toppings generous, the crust bready but crisp on the bottom. The large chunks of sausage were especially notable. I ate half and got two light meals out of the other half. Sal’s would not be my go-to pizzeria, but I would go back. (By the way, Taco Factory and Juice Stop are both gone.)


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Restaurant of the Week: The Tenderloin


The Tenderloin, 2080 Foothill Blvd. (at B), La Verne

In an L-shaped shopping center, the Tenderloin, at the northern end, is easily visible to motorists on Foothill. I’ve seen it for years and wondered if it was a bar, a restaurant or what. The unfortunate connotation with San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin District made me wonder about the place.

As it happens, it’s a steakhouse. I dropped in for lunch Saturday.

The interior is decorated in Old West style, with several large paintings of Western scenes, and Tiffany-style light fixtures. The lighting is on the dim side. The menu prices are on the moderate side.

I had a steak sandwich with fries ($10.79) plus a side salad. The sandwich came with grilled onions, lettuce and tomatoes, on sourdough bread. It was messy but pretty good. The fries and salad were OK.

Service was indifferent. My waitress wore a quilted winter coat over her uniform. Management ought to turn up the thermostat. She also left me without utensils or napkins, which I had to fetch from another table.

The Tenderloin attracts an older crowd. A father had three young boys at the booth next to mine, but everyone else was in their 50s or older. On the other side of me, a couple in their 70s may have run out of things to say to each other. They read paperbacks silently during their lunch.

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