Restaurant of the Week: Doner & Gyros

At Montclair Place mall last month for a morning event, I decided to eat lunch before leaving. A trip up the escalator to the Moreno St. Market food court revealed a new-ish spot, Doner & Gyros.

Gyros are a longtime favorite; it’s typically a mix of lamb and beef, cut from a spit and placed in pita bread. It’s the Greek version of the Turkish doner kebab, which is likewise sliced from a vertical rotisserie. Doner really has been popularized by Berlin, which has a lot of Turkish immigrants and which turned doner into go-to fast-food meal.

Upland had SpireWorks, which didn’t last. Montclair may be the only other Inland Valley city with doner. Intriguingly, Doner & Gyros is based in Dubai, where it has multiple locations, and just two so far in the U.S., with Montclair being the first and Houston the second. (Reader DebB left a comment nine months ago on my SpireWorks writeup saying she’d just been to Doner & Gyros. She is far ahead of me.)

Styles are Chicago gyro, Berlin doner or classic wrap, with beef, chicken or falafel as choices. They also sell salads and bowls.

I got the Doner Grand ($9), which was the Berlin style, as a combo ($3.25) with fries and a soda. The food was ready after a moderate wait.

The pocket-like bread was similar to SpireWorks but otherwise unlike any pita bread I’ve ever had, thicker and chewier with rough edges. The gyro meat came alongside lettuce, tomatoes and onions. It was perfectly acceptable, although to be honest I ate it without really thinking about it. The flavors just didn’t stand out to me. It’s possible the halal meat didn’t have a lot of flavor or simply that I was too hungry to care. But give the sandwich this, it disappeared soon enough. The double-fried fries were crispy and pretty good.

Unusually, an employee (the manager?) came out to the communal seating area and checked her customers. She asked me what I thought and if I had any recommendations. I didn’t have any ideas, but as a customer I was a little surprised to be asked.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Pola’s Mariscos

Pola’s Mariscos, 8801 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I’d noticed Pola’s while driving along Central Avenue, in the aging center with Dolce Bistro, Tokyo Kitchen and more. Pola’s took over a long-vacant Quizno’s whose sign’s ghost image could be easily read even years after its departure.

While no expert on Mexican seafood, mariscos sounded appealing, and a new restaurant in Montclair is almost news in itself. So I arranged to meet a friend for lunch there. I could accurately say this took place on a cold, blustery day, even though this was in the middle of January rather than any time in the four weeks since then, which have largely been just as dismal.

It’s a simple operation with a short menu. I got the campechana ($12.50), with shrimp, octopus, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado.

The seafood, simply prepared, tasted fresh and of the sea. Does the serving look large in the stemmed glassware? It was. It was all I could do to finish it.

My friend got Reyna’s mix ($13.50), with shrimp, octopus, crab (hence the extra $1), cucumbers and tomatoes. He pronounced himself equally satisfied and stuffed.

The menu has aguachile, shrimp cocktail, molcajete and tostadas, plus menudo on weekends, but no tacos or burritos.

We were given crisp tostadas as accompaniment, plus ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce. The staff was friendlier than the norm. Pola’s is a nice place.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Chuy’s Cocina

Chuy’s Cocina, 10285 Central Ave. (at Kingsley), Montclair; open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A friend who drives up Central on a frequent basis noticed Chuy’s and suggested a group of us meet there for lunch. I had overlooked the restaurant, which opened last September in a small, multi-tenant building, but agreed instantly. Always nice to find a new restaurant to try in modest Montclair. (The current Yelp rating, by the way, is five stars, based on 63 reviews.)

You generally order at the counter, it seems, although a staffer came to our table to take our order based on the menu behind the counter. Hey, it’s a family-run place, they can make their own rules. Menu board is below; click on the photo for a more readable view.

I got a sope (with pastor) and a mulita (with asada), each $4. I think I’d had a sope once, which is pictured at top below, but not a mulita, foreground. A mulita is somewhere between a taco and a quesadilla. I liked it. It turns out I’m not a fan of sopes, which are hard to pick up and eat, and have crumbled cheese and other toppings that fall off, but there was nothing wrong with this version.

One friend got the chile relleno and enchilada combo ($9) with beans, rice and a wee salad. “Esta muy rica,” he said, practicing his Spanish. “Very delicious. I liked it very much.”

The other two friends each got three-taco combos ($7), one with bean tacos — “Tasty. I really liked the salsa,” she said — and one with chicken. After much thought as to a pithy comment, he settled for: “The tacos were excellent.” Posterity thanks him.

Chuy’s seats about 30. The staff was helpful, even if their English is lacking. When the vegan in our group had a question about the preparation, the chef came out to answer. When our complimentary chips were finished, they brought out more, and also refilled our drinks.

The friend whose idea it was to meet there mused aloud, “My thought was, how could a place so small be a restaurant? In the inside, it’s a lot larger than it looks from the outside.”

“Like the Tardis,” said another.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Popular Cafe

Popular Cafe, 9637 Central Ave. (at San Bernardino), Montclair; open daily 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For years I drove past the sign for Popular Cafe and chuckled at the immodest but charming name without ever really considering going in. Last spring a source who’s a regular suggested meeting there for a lunch interview. Well, why not?

After the bland exterior, the inside has some homey touches: a hutch behind the greeter station, kitchen-style cabinets visible in the kitchen. It’s family owned by a Chinese American couple, with the wife waiting tables and the husband cooking the food, at least on my visit.

Serving breakfast and lunch only, Popular Cafe has been around for some 25 years — see, it must be popular — starting off down the street and later relocating a few blocks north. The couple’s children, I’m told, used to help set tables when they were shorter than the tables. Awww.

I had the meatloaf sandwich ($7.29), which came with lettuce, tomato and mayo, and got slaw as my side. Not a lot of places have meatloaf sandwiches (sigh), and even fewer serve it as an actual sandwich rather than open-faced with gravy and mashed potatoes. But not only does Popular Cafe get points for trying, they get points for succeeding, as this was a solid version.

Three months later, I went back for another lunch. They’re known for omelets and pancakes and I believe serve breakfast all day. (Why not, when it’s essentially a two-person operation? There’s not a lot of red tape to cut through.) For lunch they have hot and cold sandwiches and some $7 lunch specials, including a few Chinese American dishes like kung pao chicken and egg foo young.

I got the mushroom swiss burger ($8), lured by the menu’s promise of a hand-formed patty. Indeed, it was a better than average burger. The bun, however, wasn’t quite up to the job of holding everything together. A sturdier bun is recommended.

So, this is a decent option for all-American food. My second lunch came on a slow day in which I was the only customer the whole hour. C’mon, people, it’s the Popular Cafe. Don’t make liars out of them.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Oli’s Tacos

Oli’s Tacos, Montclair Place mall (Moreno and Fremont Streets), Montclair; open 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily except 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Oli’s won a pop-up contest to join the Montclair mall’s new Moreno St. Market food court and opened Aug. 17. Owned by the mother-daughter team of Olivia Medina and Evelin Sanchez, Oli’s had operated from a small location at 1442 S. Euclid Ave. in Ontario, but now that’s closed for a shot at the big time: gleaming and relatively spacious quarters inside a popular mall.

Because Oli’s may be there for only a limited time, I checked it out for lunch last Sunday. The food court has been relocated within the mall, still accessible from the parking deck off Moreno, but with an inviting entrance and sign, the first, I believe, to use the mall’s new name of more than one year. Baby steps.

Although the old Arboreatum got points for its punning name, Moreno St. Market is a step up in design, and the varied seating is appealing: tables, small booths and counters, with some plush furniture nearby. Rather than the usual horseshoe or L-shaped layout, eateries are on opposite sides of the walkway, with seating (and escalators) in the middle.

The offerings are trendier: Pokeway, Noodle World Jr., Boba World, Stickhouse and Oli’s, plus holdover Panda Express. In other words, it’s virtually all Asian except for Oli’s and Stickhouse, which is ice cream. Two or maybe three more spaces, cleverly concealed, are set aside for future eateries.

Oli’s had a line, and signs advised patience as they’ll be making your food from scratch. At least at that moment, it was the most popular business in the food court. You can get regular tacos, quesadillas and burritos with typical taqueria meats, but they also have some specialty items like vampiros and mulitas, vegetarian and vegan options, aguas frescas and handmade tortillas.

I got an asada taco and a birria taco ($2.25 each), a shrimp taco ($3) and a strawberry guava agua fresca ($3). About 10 minutes later, they were ready, an employee ladled my drink out of the jug and I repaired to a table.

These were good tacos, the kind you’d get at a taqueria, either on the mean or a little above. To get them in a shopping mall was almost revelatory. The drink was great too.

There’s a hand-crafted vibe to the Oli’s space, with stylish signs and menu board, hip art by Miriam Bricio and friendly, non-robotic service. Chipsters will love it, but so should everyone else.

A small caveat: At your typical taqueria, three tacos and a drink would not cost $11. But the food is good, and maybe Oli’s has mall-type expenses, so grant them the extra buck or two. Oli’s is almost certainly the best food court restaurant in the Inland Valley, and that it’s locally owned is heartening.

Update: Oli’s tells me via Twitter that they’re at the mall through September but “we hope to stay here long term.”

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Burgerim

burgerim1

Burgerim, 9359 Central Ave. (at Costco), Montclair

“Always more than one” is the motto of this burger chain, a sort of modified Lay’s slogan, and that’s because they specialize in “mini-burgers,” sold in twos or threes rather than individually. They’re a little bigger than sliders but smaller than a regular burger.

Burgerim opened last month in Montclair in that new center by the 10 Freeway with another burger joint, Original Tommy’s, plus a Dickey’s, Creamistry and more. The name, Burgerim, is Hebrew for “many burgers” and is traditionally pronounced “burger-eem,” although they’re saying it “rim.”

It’s a worldwide chain with 200 locations in 16 countries, based in Israel, but there’s only one other one in Southern California. (It’s in Hollywood, with Montclair being the obvious next step *cough*.) More are said to be coming. I wonder what their supply chain is like; maybe everything is airlifted in and dropped by parachute.

burgerim2

I was invited to a media preview event before the grand opening and thus got my meal free, for the record. (Regulars will recall that I pay for my meals out of my own pocket and never identify myself.)

There are 10 types of burgers including beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, chorizo and salmon. A duo is $10, a trio $13, and come with fries (regular, sweet potato or home) or salad plus soft drink; a la carte is $1 less, onion rings are $1.50 more. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, onion and house sauce, and for 50 cents each you can customize it with nine toppings: egg, cheese, bacon, etc. The menu also has three non-burger sandwiches, four salads and three desserts, plus beer and wine and a Coke Freestyle machine.

The interior is different than a typical fast-casual place: Edison lights, a three-sided counter/bar and then tables and booths along the walls.

burgerim3

I got a Wagyu with mushrooms and a merguez (a spicy beef) with cheddar, plus onion rings. (So, typically $13.50: $1 extra for Wagyu, $1 extra for two toppings and $1.50 extra for rings.) The sandwiches arrive in a cute box and on seeded buns. The sandwiches are tidy, the patties tightly packed, and at 2.8 ounces, two made for a satisfying meal. The kitchen forgot the cheddar, by the way, but as I hadn’t paid 50 cents for it, I didn’t send it back.

I suspect that few, including me, would be able to discern the difference between beef, Wagyu beef and dry-aged beef, to name three of the choices, but you’re welcome to try. The veggie patty is said to be better than usual with green onions, carrots, tofu and lentils.

There’s not much that’s Israeli about the menu, although the panzanella salad ($9), with arugula, tomatoes, radishes, red and green onions, kalamata olives, basil and croutons was described to me as their take on an Israeli chopped salad, and merguez was described as a Mediterranean chorizo.

It’s an interesting concept and a little different than other local burger spots.

burgerim4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Szechuwan Garden

szech1

Szechuwan Garden, 8851 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; open daily

This ’80s strip mall has had a Chinese restaurant of one name or another for 30 years: first Royal China, then Golden Buddha and then, since 1998, Golden China. When it closed in 2014, after a long run, its replacement was yet another Chinese restaurant, Szechuwan Garden.

Thankfully, they made the place over, ditching some of the dated touches that left you wondering if A Flock of Seagulls might drop in for a pu-pu platter. The dining room is more industrial now, the lighting is focused and the atmosphere less tacky.

The menu is slightly more interesting than your typical Chinese American restaurant — shredded pork with dry bean curd, chow fun — but largely has familiar dishes, even moo goo gai pan, and cream cheese wontons, but no orange chicken at least.

szech3

I had lunch there last month with a friend. He got tangerine chicken off the lunch menu ($7), while I got one of the chef’s specialties, Mao braised pork belly ($13). His came with soup, salad and egg roll. They gave me a soup to be nice.

szech4

He liked his lunch, and mine was pretty good too, soft chunks of pork belly atop sauteed spinach, with brown rice on the side. Inland Empire had named it to its 10 Dishes to Die For list, a display at the entrance had boasted.

This isn’t San Gabriel-style authentic Chinese food, and thus I wouldn’t recommend driving across the valley to eat here. That said, it’s clean and comfortable, a small step up from Golden China, and in a time when decent sitdown places for traditional Chinese food are becoming scarce, I wish them luck.

szech2

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Cafe Moderno

cafemoderno4

Cafe Moderno, 9197 Central Ave. (at Moreno), Montclair

The former Theo’s Cafe in the Montclair East center east of Montclair Plaza was, if memory serves, a Greek-owned coffee shop in fairly traditional mold but with a few specialties. It closed after a long run in 2014 and was overhauled to become Cafe Moderno.

It’s gone pretty much all Greek, with gyros, spanakopita, dolmades, souvlaki and baklava, plus a few Lebanese items such as hummus, falafel and baba ghanoush. (They also have a few spaghettis and a hamburger.)

A friend and I met there for lunch. The menu has wraps, salads, sandwiches and entrees, plus beer and espresso. You order at the counter. Our food arrived within minutes.

I got chicken souvlaki ($10), skewered cuts of seasoned chicken with bell peppers and onions. This came with two sides; I chose rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. The result was tasty and filling, not to mention relatively healthy.

My friend got a Caesar salad ($5), which he liked as is; you can add items like chicken or salmon for another $3 to $4.

The interior is, dare I say it, modern, and possibly moderno. It’s nothing fancy, but the booths are comfortable and the hanging lights chic. A steady crowd came and went at lunchtime. “I like the environment,” my friend said. “It’s nice and clean. The food came out quick. I’d come back.”

Me too. In fact, two days later I was back for lunch. (I needed a photo of the exterior because on my first visit it was pouring rain. And since I was going to be there anyway…) I got the gyro wrap ($6.65) with chicken orzo soup ($2). As a gyro fan, I liked this version; the tzatziki sauce was especially minty. The restaurant was nearly full this time.

There aren’t enough Greek restaurants in the area. It’s good to have one — and freeway-close, too.

cafemoderno2

cafemoderno3cafemoderno1

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Taco Man

tacoman1

Taco Man, 9617 Central Ave. (at San Bernardino), Montclair

It’s a new restaurant — well, it opened in 2013 — but it’s in a vintage building, a Tastee Freez that dates to 1961, which in Montclair is practically the Paleolithic period. After a string of taquerias and other businesses in that spot, Taco Man spiffed it up and moved in. It was, and remains, a catering business that now has a brick and mortar location. (They produced a cute video prior to their opening.)

There’s no interior seating, but there is dining in the covered breezeway, where there are four picnic-style benches and a counter with seating for 10. And of course they have takeout.

I had lunch there on a hot day back in February and returned this week for a second meal and more photos.

The first time, I had three tacos ($1.49 each, bottom): carnitas, al pastor and cube, a mixture of chicken and chorizo. Really good street taco-style tacos, with the pineapple atop the al pastor a welcome touch. It didn’t surprise me to learn that owner Israel Miranda is a native of Mexico City as those are the type of tacos I had on my visit there in 2011.

This week I tried an al pastor burrito ($6.50, middle), which also has the pineapple, as well as finely shredded cabbage (the effect was like slaw) as well as onions, beans, cilantro, sour cream and salsa. A little different, but tasty, and also large and filling. They also have a double burrito named The Big Donk, plus quesadillas and a couple of healthier options, a protein bowl and low-carb tacos. They have vegetarian and vegan options too not reflected on the menu.

Its website has the restaurant’s menu, story and more. Alas, the former Tastee Freez doesn’t have ice cream cones.

tacoman2

tacoman3

tacoman4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Dolce Cafe and Bakery

dolce3

Dolce Cafe and Bakery, 8821 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; closed Mondays

This is a new one for this blog, a completely new Restaurant of the Week post about a restaurant I’ve posted about before. In this case, Dolce remodeled, added a bar and sharpened its focus, going from French-American bistro food to American gastropub. Hence, even though the owner is the same, the old review scarcely applies anymore.

I liked the old Dolce, but I like the new Dolce better. It’s still too vast, seating 150, but a wedge-shaped area that was only lightly used is now a bar, a smart move. Under the glass bartop lie rows of pennies, said to be $70 worth. The restaurant lighting is still too dim for me — it’s difficult to read anywhere but outdoors or in the cafe seating by the windows — but at least as a gastropub the atmospheric lighting is logical.

The menu is shorter and punchier. They do breakfast on weekends. A Florentine scrambler ($8) with bacon, English muffin and crisp potatoes was one of the finer Inland Valley breakfasts I’ve had. On another visit a yogurt parfait with fresh fruit ($5-ish) was okay, but I had expected more fruit and more than a thimbleful of granola.

At lunchtime, I’ve enjoyed a short rib Mac and Cheese grilled cheese ($12), with Korean short ribs and macaroni and cheese between sourdough, better than the Grilled Cheese Truck version.

On a visit with friends, we had two burgers, the not so classic ($10, bottom) and the classic ($7), the not-so having roasted tomato, red onion marmalade, fontina cheese and “bacon jam.” Both came on fresh-baked peppercorn buns. The burgers were a cut above, if a shade below Eureka’s level. The third got a decent ahi salad ($12). We did notice that vegetarian items are virtually nonexistent. Oh, and we shared an appetizer, cheesy tots ($6, below), a clear winner, as excellent as they look.

I’d say Dolce’s makeover was a good step. As before, items are prepared with an eye toward freshness, quality ingredients and creativity, but the menu and the setting seem to gel better this go-round. One of my new favorite restaurants. And they still have their bakery.

dolce5

dolce2

dolce4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email