Restaurant of the Week: Yeast N’ Flour Pizza

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Yeast N’ Flour Pizza, 231 N. Euclid Ave. (at C), Ontario

I’d seen the sign on this downtown Ontario storefront for weeks and puzzled over the name, which was probably not tested with a focus group. Evidently the crust is made with nothing but yeast, flour and water. But I was curious about the place, downtown being light on restaurants. After my movie night at the library one evening, two friends suggested we try it out. One had been there twice and liked it.

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Yeast N’ Flour is a fast-fired pizzeria, but not a chain. They also have wings, subs and a couple of salads. Of course we went for the individual pizzas ($8.19). You can choose your crust (original, gluten-free), sauce (red, spicy red, white) and cheese (mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan, ovalini), and then can choose from an array of toppings.

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Employees all dress in referee-type uniforms. They make the pizza in front of you and then shove it in a gas oven. You pay and they bring it to your table in about five minutes.

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The interior has high ceilings and an industrial chic look. There are a few TVs, but not a lot. The walls are otherwise bare and the atmosphere doesn’t quite match the referee look.

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The pizza was very good. The crust was particularly fine, with a crispness and char that you get at real pizzerias but rarely at fast-fired places. I’m surprised myself to say that I liked this pizza better than Blaze and Pieology. I ate half and took the rest home.

The other newcomer liked his pie. He thought the interior was too stark and said the menu board is placed too high on the wall for comfort. The veteran said she’s glad to see a pizzeria downtown. She’s had the white sauce, which she said was ranch-y, and the spicy red, which is garlicky.

One further burst of nit-picking: the spelling. The menu has “gorgonzalo,” “oergano” and “pepperonie,” A promotional card at the register gave the location as “downtwon” Ontario. It wasn’t until writing this that I noticed my receipt, on which I’d scribbled notes, spells the restaurant as “Yeast N’ Falour.” I don’t know if this is inattention or a language difficulty, but it’s the sort of thing that erodes confidence that a business knows what it’s doing.

Which is too bad, because the pizza was good, and I intend to return. But I also intend to pronounce the name among friends as “fuh-lure.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Iron Skillet

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Iron Skillet, 805 N. Euclid Ave. (at H), Ontario; open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

One of Ontario’s most distinctive restaurants, the Iron Skillet dates to 1959 and was built in the Googie style, with a low-pitched roofline and expansive windows, not to mention an old-fashioned counter with swivel seats. Originally a Spires Squires, it’s been Iron Skillet, under various hands, since about 1980.

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After a period in the doldrums, it’s perked up in recent months under new owner. A reader advised me to give it another try, touting the freshly baked bread, pies and home-cooked food. So, after a long period away, I’ve gone in a couple of times for lunch.

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First visit I got a special, the BBQ brisket sandwich ($9), which was a mistake. I forgot that kind of sandwich is basically chipped beef. The fries were better than average, though.

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Next time I got the half-sandwich special ($11, I think), which came with two sides, from among a choice of soup, salad or pie. I got a tuna melt plus a Caesar salad and apple pie. (There were three flavors available.) It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I got pie, or that I opted for my baseline diner sandwich.

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This was a filling meal, and pretty good too: big salad, hearty sandwich even in a half-portion and, after a few minutes for everything to settle, a slice of pie. While the pie was along the lines of the type you get in a supermarket, i.e., not spectacular, it was pie in a diner, where the ambience improves the experience. I’m not sure why it was served with a spoon rather than a fork.

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Everything is homemade, including the pie and bread, my server told me. Breakfast is served all day, they’re open for dinner and, after 4:30 p.m., dinners come with ice cream on the house. Perhaps no other restaurant in Ontario can make that claim.

The menu has a variety of breakfast items, sandwiches and salads at lunch, and chicken, steak and seafood items for dinner (including, for those who find this appealing, liver and onions). Unexpected beverages include Italian sodas, Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers.

The Skillet is worth a fresh look if you like classic American diners. It’s nice to see them trying again.

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Restaurant of the Week: Hamburger Mary’s

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Hamburger Mary’s, 3550 Porsche Way (at Inland Empire), Ontario; open daily

The existence of a Hamburger Mary’s in Ontario may say something interesting about the Inland Empire market. The gay-friendly chain has locations in West Hollywood, San Francisco, where it started, and Long Beach — and, since August 2015, Ontario. (As well as a few other metro areas around the country.)

Ours is near the 10 Freeway off Inland Empire Boulevard, a little east of Haven and within hailing distance of Benihana. It’s a restaurant with a full bar and, most nights, drag shows or other entertainment. Like I said, it’s something relatively unusual in these parts.

Uninterested in drag shows or bars, I met a friend there for a sedate weekday lunch after a local restaurateur told me the burgers were amazing. The restaurant interior resembles a Marie Callender’s and was quiet for lunch, evidently not the case in the evenings.

It’s worth noting that upon our entrance, two employees by the greeter station continued their conversation without acknowledging us — we must have arrived at an inopportune time for them — but a server hustled over to seat us.

The menu has appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps and, naturally, burgers, which can be ordered as ground chuck, chicken, turkey, ahi tuna, salmon or black bean vegan. I got the Meaty Mushroom Burger ($13), my friend had the chipotle chicken wrap ($10).

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The wrap (grilled chicken, mixed greens, cheddar jack cheese, black beans, avocado and dressing), with a side of cole slaw, was deemed acceptable. “It’s hard to get excited about a chicken wrap,” my friend admitted.

My burger (half-pound ground chuck, grilled mushrooms, cheddar and jack, lettuce and tomato) was very good, and a little messy. The bun didn’t seem firm enough; after cutting the sandwich in half, I had to eat each half fairly quickly to hold it together. The seasoned fries as my side were above average.

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Mary’s has a bar island in the middle, a few sofas besides all the booths and tables, and kitschy decor that includes photos of Marilyn and Audrey Hepburn, posters from “Casablanca” and “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” stuff like that. The bill arrived in a high-heeled shoe. Heh.

Hamburger Mary’s was all right, and it’s got arguably the best burger in Ontario (but not the Inland Valley). It’s not really my kind of place, I don’t think, but it might be yours.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mar y Tierra

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Mar y Tierra, 826 W. Mission Blvd. (at San Antonio), Ontario; also 1754 S. Euclid, Ontario

There’s a Mar y Tierra on Euclid near Chino that I pass now and then, and which a friend recommended years ago. Or was he praising the Mar y Tierra on Mission, only a couple of miles away, which I discovered via Google when searching for the address to the one I knew?

Either way, I made plans with a friend to meet up, and at the one on Mission, as its blue paint scheme and more expansive size made it look more like the one to visit. It’s got an interesting layout: You walk in past a large covered entry to find yourself almost in the kitchen; a few tables are nearby, and then there’s an L-shaped seating area technically outdoors but almost entirely enclosed.

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According to the sign, this is Mar y Tierra No. 1. And for the record, Mar y Tierra translates as “Sea and Land” and is the equivalent of surf ‘n turf. The menu is heavy on seafood — shrimp, oysters, octopus, lobster — while also offering tacos, burritos, soups, breakfasts and combination plates, many with meat. The menu’s cover depicts a mermaid on a desert island.

I ordered the house special, pulpo, or octopus, “Mar y Tierra style” ($13); asked if I’d like shrimp as well, I said sure. My friend, who apparently has an eye for bargains, had the ceviche de tiritas de pescado ($5.50).

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Mine came with shrimp and chopped octopus in a spicy sauce, plated with rice, beans and salad, tortillas on the side. It was a little spicy for my tastes, which is more a reflection on me than the dish, but was otherwise good. The ceviche was very good, lots of lemon, and with tostadas for dipping.

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The Euclid location is smaller and entirely enclosed. “I like the vibe of this one,” my friend said approvingly of the Mission location. Me too.

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Restaurant of the Week: Maple House

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Maple House Chicken and Waffles, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario

Chicken and waffles are hard to come by in the 909; I think there used to be a Roscoe’s in San Bernardino, but other than that, the only place I’m aware of is an obscure Pomona restaurant, Day Day’s, which isn’t open for dinner. But now there’s a spot in Ontario.

Maple House opened in March in what had been Sal and Sons Pizza, right off the 10 in the Gateway Center, near Starbucks and a cupcake shop. One of Sal’s sons is still involved, and the interior looks largely the same. But service is now at your table rather than at the counter and the menu, needless to say, is entirely different. (There’s also a patio with umbrellas.)

Have you had chicken and waffles? I have, a couple of times, at the Roscoe’s in Pasadena. The chicken and the waffle are usually plated separately, if you’re curious, and can be eaten separately, with the waffle more of a side dish, or eaten together. They do pair surprisingly well.

A friend and I tried Maple House for dinner recently. They serve several kinds of waffles (with such toppings as bananas, strawberries, pecans and Nutella) and various pieces of chicken, all cooked to order; they also serve omelets, salads, desserts — peach cobbler and sweet potato pie — and beer and wine. Sides include yams, mac and cheese, turkey greens and more. And my friend got a grape Kool-Aid. So it’s a soul food restaurant, and the background music included James Brown, but they’re not quite all-in.

The chicken and waffle dinners came with two sides, which seemed like too much food, so my friend and I ordered a la carte: a waffle each ($4) with a breast for me ($4.35) and a leg ($2.50) and wing ($2.25) for him. We each found that a filling meal.

The chicken coating was crunchy, with excellent texture, and the chicken itself came off the bone easily and tasted great; my friend declared it “awesome,” and as chicken is his favorite meal, that says a lot. The waffles were Belgian, puffier than Roscoe’s, and had powdered sugar too. Roscoe’s is a tradition, the food’s very good and the energy and vibe part of the experience; Maple House doesn’t have that, but the food is arguably just as good, and depending on where you live, it’s probably closer.

Each table, by the way, has a small sign advising that the food is cooked to order and that the chicken “can take up to a minimum of 30 minutes to prepare.” Isn’t “up to a minimum” contradictory? Mixed messages aside, our food came out in about 20 minutes during a slow period. Be prepared to wait a bit, but it’s worth it.

I’m not a guy who wants to order chicken and/or waffles very often, but it’s cool to have a local place, and one with good hours: from 9 a.m. daily, closing at 8 on Sundays, 9 on Mondays to Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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Update February 2016: Wanting to try more sides, I returned for dinner when hungry, getting a dinner plate with a waffle, chicken breast and two sides: greens and grits ($15). It was hard to get it all into one photo, but I did a better job than above. Excellent meal, and every item was top-notch. Too much food for me to try a dessert.

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Restaurant of the Week: Olive Grill

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Olive Grill, 320 S. Milliken Ave. (at Airport), Ontario; open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; closed Saturdays and Sundays

I hadn’t remembered hearing of Olive Grill until it made a listicle of 10 notable Ontario eateries on The Culture Trip’s website. It made me feel out of it. Isn’t it my job to know these things? The reader who sent me the list made a reconnaissance mission and said the place was fantastic. I’ve since made a couple of visits myself.

Getting there for most people will involve taking the 10, getting off at Milliken and heading south through the truck-choked intersection near the Travel Centers of America truck stops and under the relatively new train overpass. Once past that, Olive Grill is on the west side in an industrial park between Airport and Brickell.

Don’t let all that deter you. Olive Grill is colorful and cheery, if fast-paced on a lunch hour. They have breakfast burritos, hot and cold sandwiches, salads, burgers, teriyaki, yakisoba and smoothies.

On my first visit I got the Korean BBQ sandwich ($8, pictured below), curious how it would compare to the version at the nearby Corner Deli. It’s marinated beef with grilled onions and mushrooms, mozzarella, soy, garlic, pickled red ginger and garlic aioli.

It’s quite a rendition: less drippy than the one at Corner Deli, less meat, more flavors. Call it a draw. And you get a small salad, two orange wedges and a thin apple slice. I added a bag of chips and regretted it as the meal turned out to be filling as it was.

Next visit I tried the Edo charbroiled chicken sandwich ($8, pictured at bottom), with teriyaki chicken, Asian slaw (cabbage, green onions, carrots), mozzarella, pickled red ginger and garlic aioli, and again coming with the sides. (Having wised up, I didn’t get chips.) Another very good sandwich, unusual, tasty and satisfying.

I arrived moments before 1 p.m. and the dining room was mostly full, with a half-dozen people standing up waiting for to-go orders. By 1:05, half the people had left.

Why it’s called Olive Grill, which suggests Greek food, I don’t know — there may not be an olive in any of the dishes — but under any name, this Asian-owned mom and pop shop is well worth repeat visits.

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Restaurant of the Week: Panda Inn

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Panda Inn, 3223 E. Centrelake Drive (at Guasti), Ontario

Panda Inn, an outpost of the small Pasadena-based chain that also owns Panda Express, opened in 1992 in Ontario in what was then the hinterlands. But we had an airport. The location, only yards from the 10 Freeway, was renovated in 2013, the subject of one of my columns. I’ve dined at this Panda several times over the years with groups of friends. I had dinner there last month with a friend and figured I might as well memorialize it here.

Panda is a little more modern inside now. They knocked down a wall to the bar, making it more accessible, and it has more TVs. And the dining rooms are more stylish and colorful with elements like decorative bird cages.

The menus are updated too, although I don’t remember enough about the old menus to gauge how much it’s changed. Panda is still Americanized, as perhaps you must be to fill an enormous restaurant in Ontario, and orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried egg rolls remain on the menu.

But they do a good job. My friend got kon pao chicken ($14), pork fried rice ($10) and braised string beans ($7.75). A creature of habit, she orders those same dishes at any Chinese restaurant she visits. She likes Panda’s versions best, though. I got steamed pork dumplings ($6.25) and wok-fried scallops on a bed of spinach ($19.25). Pretty good.

All the food came out quickly, except my dumplings, which arrived 10 minutes after everything else.

The waiter was exceptionally friendly. Celebrating mutual March birthdays, we got birthday ice cream and a song from three servers. And of course, Panda’s signature foil-wrapped fortune cookies dipped in white chocolate.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal in nice surroundings. Leaving our dining room for the men’s room, my way was momentarily blocked by a party of four taking a selfie. “The arches,” one explained apologetically. Ah, yes, the arches: The long hallway got five arches as part of the renovation, and it does make for a neat, almost science fictional sight.

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Restaurant of the Week: 5 Star Pizza

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5 Star Pizza, 951 N. Haven Ave. (at Concours), Ontario

A friend alerted me to the existence of 5 Star Pizza, which bills itself as the “best pizza in Ontario” and whose name pretty much promises the same thing. Their Yelp rating as of Feb. 9 is five stars.

Well, it’s near our office, and I was hungry, so I dropped in for a late lunch. It’s in the Concours Center on Haven just below Fourth, where it replaced Pizza Factory late in 2014. I’d been there once and hadn’t been impressed by the food, only by the comical dining room that reminds me of a high school gym with picnic tables: It’s got sports posters and pennants, a tile floor, giant TVs and one of those arcade games where you shoot baskets, all of which appear unchanged.

5 Star has an accommodating attitude. I’d missed the buffet, which had ended an hour before, but they still had a few slices out by the salad bar. The manager volunteered the buffet anyway and said they’d put out a fresh pizza. At $8, including soda, that was a good deal. (Officially it runs 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.) They started a pizza with pepperoni on half and asked what I’d like on the other half; I said sausage and mushrooms. Done.

The salad bar was standard, except with dressing in squeeze bottles, which is actually a decent idea. For one thing, unlike open containers, you won’t find croutons floating inside. I sat near the entrance rather than occupy a lonely mid-afternoon spot in the sports room.

The pizza had chewy crust, plenty of sauce and a decent amount of toppings. Not five stars by my book, but a solid three.

The menu has $1.50 slices all day, every day (see, they ARE accommodating), plus wings, fried chicken, submarine sandwiches and three pastas, plus Hangar 24 beer. Among their specialty pizzas, priced $13 for small to $20 for extra large: all meat, mucho pepperoni (double portion), Philly cheese steak, Latino (pepperoni, carne asada, onion, green peppers and mushrooms), burger (hamburger, pickle, onion, tomato, green pepper and mushrooms) and, most unusually, Indian (all veggie with ginger, garlic and cilantro). I think 5 Star is Indian-run; there are brochures on the counter for Koyla, an Indian restaurant up the street.

The owner was in and out making deliveries. Seems like a scrappy place that will bend its own rules to accommodate customers.

Is it the best pizza in Ontario? It’s not a big pizza town — if you know of a popular place, let me know — and the only pizza I can remember having here is a slice at Sbarro before a movie and a slice or two at Joey’s on Archibald a few years ago. 5 Star may very well be the best pizza in town, even though it was average to me. But they get an extra star for trying.

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Restaurant of the Week: Benihana

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Benihana, 3760 E. Inland Empire Blvd. (at Haven), Ontario

Benihana, the Japanese chain with an Ontario location, may be the Inland Valley’s best “experience” restaurant. If you go for the teppanyaki, where you sit around the grill, the chef puts on a show involving fast action with the utensils, some sleight of hand and a few jokes. He’ll flip a few shrimp tails or egg shells into his hat or shirt pocket and maybe do some juggling.

I shot a short video of the chef’s final flourishes.

I’ve eaten there a few times over the years, including once on Christmas Day with my visiting parents, and returned recently with a friend to celebrate publication of my book. (Many more times I’ve been to the sushi bar.) It was as much fun as I remembered.

I went for the Land ‘n Sea ($34), steak and scallops, and my friend had the teriyaki chicken ($19), both of which come with a small salad, soup, rice, grilled vegetables, hot tea and ice cream. The menu can be seen here.

I didn’t go with the intention of writing a blog post, so I didn’t take many pictures. But it’s difficult to photograph your entree anyway because everything arrives in stages. The chef gives you the vegetables and a few pieces of grilled shrimp, and then, if you have a combo entree like I did, one part of them and then the other part, as he’s cooking everything at once.

(As regular readers know, we frown on chains here at the David Allen Blog, but we’re not militant about it. If a chain has only one or two local outlets, that makes it fair game. There’s only one local Benihana and I belatedly decided I might as well post about it.)

It’s not the greatest food or anything, but it’s fine, and the show is pretty good. Who can tire of watching an onion stacked in layers like a volcano shoot steam skyward? This time, though, the wait for the entree seemed long, and the chef encouraged us all (the tables seat eight) to get to work on our vegetables even though the bowls were still arrayed around the grill waiting for him to finish. I practiced a long reach to snag my mushrooms and onions. In a way, then, dinner was not entirely satisfying. Still, it’s an enjoyable special occasion restaurant.

And it’s large! There are more than 20 grills, and most of them were in use on our weeknight visit.

Did you know Benihana is 50 this year? I didn’t. According to the corporate history, the first, in 1964, was in New York City; there are now 70 around the world. I don’t know when Ontario’s opened, but probably the early or mid 1990s; Daily Bulletin types were going there on occasion when I started here in 1997.

Oh, and at the end of your meal, they still give each group a Polaroid of themselves in a little paper frame, as if you were boarding a cruise ship, except here it’s free.

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Restaurant of the Week: Yugen Sushi

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Yugen Sushi, 2250 S. Archibald (at the 60), Ontario; closed Sundays

A reader recommended I try Yugen, which is in south Ontario, just below the 60 Freeway. So I went in for lunch after a long, circuitous drive to get there. (From south Ontario, it’s no big deal; from north Ontario, getting there involves maneuvering around the airport.)

Yugen is in a lackluster shopping center whose main tenants are a 24 Hour Fitness and a church. It’s also immediately south of the Ontario Police Department, which uses a defunct Fedco, behind acres of parking, as its headquarters.

I didn’t see any cops inside Yugen, but surely some of them eat there (the ones not eating at Alina’s). The Yugen interior is simple and unpromising. A small aquarium is about the only item of interest amid the tiled floor and ceiling. I took a seat at the sushi bar and perused the menu. They have cheap sushi at lunchtime, $2 to $4 per order.

I opted for a combination plate with three pieces of sushi (pepper salmon, ono and albacore) and nine pieces of sashimi (yellowtail, tuna and salmon, three each), for $14; lunch included miso soup. Not realizing I was getting soup, I ordered a cucumber salad ($3.75).

The salad was larger than expected and tasty. The soup was okay but had no seaweed. The lunch plate was impressive: the sashimi was cut thick, about one-third inch per piece. I liked it and the sushi too, especially the pepper salmon. The sushi chef was low-key and helpful.

Yugen was a pleasant outing, one of those nice finds in an otherwise dismal area where the main restaurants are Taco Bell and McDonald’s. You can find better sushi — but maybe not in Ontario.

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