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┬áhas 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. 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

Restaurant of the Week: Best Taco

60727-besttaco 002.jpg
60728-besttaco 003.jpg

Best Taco, 5110 Holt Blvd. (at Central), Montclair

On Sunday evening, feeling like getting Mexican food, I realized I hadn’t written about a restaurant in Montclair for a while, so I went for a drive on Holt to look for a taqueria. That’s when I saw a sign for a business named Best Taco. What the heck, I pulled in.

The interior was not what I expected at all: deep and wide as a tennis court, with floor-to-ceiling murals of storefronts or market stalls. Hotel Hidalgo, one reads, complete with phony door and mirrored windows. La Tiendita, reads another, with a Coke bottle painted on the “exterior.” (Tiendita, I believe, would be a convenience store.) There are painted stalls representing a tortilleria and a pinata business, as well as a theater exterior mural for Cine El Rey, complete with marquee and two movie posters.

This might be the most art in one place in all of Montclair. Unique.

There was only one other customer in the cavernous interior. The natural light was fading and the further recesses were a bit dim, so after ordering at the counter I sat closer to the door to give me enough light to read my Heinlein paperback.

The menu has tacos, burritos, huaraches, tortas, sopes, gorditas and the like. I got a carne asada burrito ($4.90). It wasn’t as meat-intensive as many places but rather balanced out with rice, refried beans and chopped onions, plus plenty of cilantro. I liked it.

According to Yelp there’s another Best Taco at 10410 Ramona just above Holt, also in Montclair. This Best Taco appears to have opened late in 2011, replacing another taqueria, Mi Mexico. The murals look new.

They have a Taco Tuesday special, 70 cents each. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the tacos aren’t the absolute best, but the interior is certainly interesting.

60730-besttaco 001.jpg
60729-besttaco 006.jpg
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Korean BBQ

55739-koreanbbq 001.jpg

Korean BBQ, 4232 Holt Blvd. (at Amherst), Montclair

In the Inland Valley, where Korean restaurants are rare, Korean BBQ is the venerable granddaddy of them all. It’s located in a strip mall next to a laundromat along Holt Boulevard. Yes, it’s an unpromising location, but Korean BBQ has been there since sometime around 1990, so it must work for them. It used to have a giant yellow pole sign out front until a makeover to the center required a more modest sign.

My friends Meg and K. (of the M-M-M-My Pomona blog) highly recommend the place, and since they used to live in L.A.’s Koreatown neighborhood, their advice was heeded. The three of us met for dinner there on a recent Sunday.

The interior is dated, especially the paneling, but it’s clean and pleasant enough, and Korean restaurants generally are utilitarian. The staff brought out the usual array appetizers in small dishes: kimchi, fish cake, bean sprouts, etc.

We ordered short ribs ($25) and beef ($18) off the barbecue menu, plus a bowl of bibimbap (forgot the price, sorry) to share. The barbecue items are cooked on a grill in the middle of your table. The staff fires up the grill, puts the meat on and returns to turn it or serve pieces that are done.

Korean barbecue is even rarer than Korean restaurants out here; I’ve tried two Korean places in Rancho Cucamonga and one in Chino Hills, and none of them had tabletop barbecue. The food in Montclair didn’t impress me as much as my one previous experience with Korean barbecue, at the highly regarded Park’s in L.A. — the meat wasn’t of as high a quality — but I liked the meal, the staff was nice and Montclair is a lot closer than Wilshire Boulevard.

The restaurant gets 4 stars on Yelp, where they have the name as Arirang. The menu and sign say Korean BBQ (as did the old sign), but the strip mall’s name is Arirang Plaza, and for all I know that’s the restaurant’s secret name.

55740-koreanbbq 004.jpg
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Fu-Lin

51204-fulin 003.jpg
51205-fulin 002.jpg

Fu-Lin, 9645 Central Ave. (at San Bernardino Road), Montclair

The sign near the sidewalk for Fu-Lin always makes me chuckle, but I’d never gone in until this week. In honor of April Fool’s Day, it was time. (The sign reads “Fulin,” but all the references online are to “Fu-Lin,” the spelling I’ll go with here.)

From the outside Fu-Lin looks like a big box. In back there’s a large parking lot and an entrance. The interior, while dated, is nicer than I’d expected with Chinese prints, a relief mural and windows letting in a lot of natural light.

Fu-Lin, which opened in 1990, has the usual Mandarin and Szechuan dishes, as well as Chinese American standbys like chop suey and egg foo young. But according to a Korean American friend whose family loves the place, there’s a subtle Korean tinge to the menu. You can get a cold combination, ja jiang myun or ya kki mandoo. It was only after leaving that I noticed at least some of the lettering on the exterior is in Korean.

The lunch specials, available every day but Sunday, are all priced between $4.25 and $5.50. I had garlic chicken ($4.65), which turned out to be steaming hot and fairly spicy. This came with a dollop of rice, two wontons, an eggroll and a cup of hot and sour soup. For $6 with tax and tip, this was a filling lunch, and better than expected.

Yelp reviewers seem of two minds about the place, unable to agree on whether it’s great or terrible. Quality-wise I’d compare Fu-Lin to Rancho Cucamonga’s China Point or Upland’s China Gate, two other old-school Chinese American restaurants.

Fu-Lin was busy; even at 1:30 on a weekday, 12 tables or booths were occupied with some 30 diners, many Latino and some Asian. Fu-Lin must be doing something right. No foolin’.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Shakey’s Pizza, Montclair

38871-shakeysmont.jpg

Photo: Marc Campos

Shakey’s Pizza, 5639 Holt Ave. (at Benson), Montclair

A few weeks back I wrote about the new Shakey’s in Rancho Cucamonga and promised I’d revisit the one in Montclair. Pretty much the same food, obviously, but the Montclair Shakey’s holds a small place in my heart.

After all, it’s the oldest chain restaurant location in the Inland Valley still in operation. The Montclair location has been serving up pizza since 1961, nearly 50 years, without a break. Any other chains that arrived earlier have closed.

The enormous paddle-like sign out front is clearly original, as sign codes today would never allow a sign as large as a tennis court, and the exterior is basically unchanged too. The interior is revamped, however, other than a few lamps.

But I like this Shakey’s anyway. The food’s fine and they do the Bunch of Lunch all-you-can-eat special from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays ($7.50, drink extra). There may only be two pizzas out, not 10 as in Rancho Cucamonga, but this is a smaller operation.

Assistant manager Gina Amir is one of the friendliest restaurant employees you’ll meet and it’s her personal touch that keeps customers coming back. Frankly, this Shakey’s could use your business, so if you’re in the area and you like Shakey’s, check ‘em out.

I wrote a column about the place in 2006 that you can find by clicking below. In it I listed runnerups in the chain-restaurant longevity derby and at least two of them — Wienerschnitzel on Mountain in Ontario and Sizzler across Holt from Shakey’s, have folded since then.
Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Three Anas

32377-3anas 004.jpg
32378-3anas 003.jpg

Three Anas, 8980 Benson Ave. (at Arrow Highway), Montclair

Located in a small, nondescript industrial park, Three Anas doesn’t promise much. But then you step inside, notice the two colorful murals and learn you order at your table, not the counter. There are other homey touches: a Wall of Fame by the door in which regular customers’ photos are posted and a stack of magazines for solo customers’ reading pleasure.

Our server cheerfully explained the origin of the Three Anas name: That’s what their father called Ana, Julianna and Joanna, the three sisters who own the restaurant. It will mark five years in business on Oct. 1.

Our table ordered steak picado ($7.50), which was pleasingly dry, not soupy; the special burrito ($4.50) with potatoes, carne asada, onions and peppers; and the chile relleno and chicken enchilada plate ($7), served wet with green sauce, plus rice and beans. They were all solid, satisfying versions. Three Anas “rivals Mi Pueblita,” one of our group said admiringly, referring to the popular Upland restaurant.

You have to like a restaurant run by three sisters, especially when the experience delivers so much more than the location promised. A hidden gem.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Los Portales

29581-losportales2.jpg

Los Portales, 10244 Central Ave. (at Kingsley), Montclair

I’d seen Los Portales for ages in the strip center behind the estimable Cafe Montclair, but hadn’t yet gone in. That is, until looking for a new place to eat before Monday’s Montclair council meeting and finding most restaurants on Central closed, Mondays being what they are. Los Portales it is!

I was pleasantly surprised how large the interior is and how nice it looked. There were at least four dining rooms and the one where I was seated had banquette seating, those wooden booths with high backs. Chips, salsa and a menu were quickly delivered. The place was moderately busy.

The menu has plenty of seafood and steak dishes in the $10 to $15 range. Not having time to linger, I opted for the fish taco plate, grilled ($9.95). The two tacos had at least an entire filet between them, more fish than Rubio’s would put in a half-dozen tacos, plus some cabbage, diced tomatoes and cilantro on corn tortillas. Double tortillas would have made the tacos easier to eat, but I felt like I got my money’s worth. The plate also came with beans and rice. A horchata ($2.25) washed it down well.

My first impression of Los Portales is positive and it may be one of the valley’s better Mexican restaurants. Anyone else been there? Do any of you know the location’s history?

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email