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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Restaurant of the Week: Salpicon

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Salpicon Salvadoran Cuisine, 2252 S. Euclid (at Philadelphia), Ontario; open daily

There aren’t many places around here to get the food of El Salvador, where pupusas (thick, stuffed tortillas) are the most common export. Pomona’s Guasalmex is probably the best known local spot.

But I was advised to try Salpicon, which is just above the 60 Freeway in a shopping center with a Food 4 Less and not one but two restaurants specializing in food from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. (A Chipotle is also muscling its way in.) I went in for dinner on a recent World Cup soccer night.

Salpicon is clean, well-lighted and pleasant, with high-backed booths, a dozen colorful paintings of Salvadoran scenes, two TVs and sitdown service. I went for the salpicon dinner ($12), a sort of salad of finely chopped beef mixed with onion, mint, lemon and radish, served at room temperature. The dinner came with rice, beans, small lettuce salad and plantains, seven of ‘em, plus handmade tortillas.

This was enough food for two, on a plate like a serving platter. I liked it all. The beans were especially interesting, pureed into a texture like a spread. I took half my dinner home and got a second meal out of it.

To drink, I had an ensalada, an agua fresca described as pineapple water with diced pineapple and apple ($3.75); tasty and healthful.

Salpicon — see the menu here — has breakfast, soups and salads, eight entrees, a variety of pupusas and a few desserts, which looked tempting. I guess I could have eaten one-third of my dinner and had dessert…

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Restaurant of the Week: At Home Thai Fusion Bistro

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At Home Thai Fusion Bistro, 4275 Concours Drive (at Milliken), Ontario; closed Sundays.

At Home (the spelling is actually @ Home) opened in fall 2012 in an Ontario Mills-adjacent shopping center with a Kohl’s and Applebee’s. The space was, I believe, previously occupied by Iron Chef Kitchen, which always seemed a lawyer-letter away from having to change its name.

I stopped in for lunch recently. The interior is spare but stylish, especially the wall treatments and mushroom-like ceiling fixtures. The menu is mostly Thai with some pan-Asian touches. For example, tom yum and tom kha soups, which are Thai, have udon noodles, which are Japanese.

Ordering off the lunch menu, I got swimming rama with shrimp ($9.45; $7.45 with chicken, pork or beef), which is steamed shrimp atop sauteed spinach leaves with sesame oil and topped with peanut sauce. Steamed jasmine rice was on the side and a cup of hot and sour soup came with. The entree was tasty, the half-dozen shrimp an acceptable portion, and the spinach making for a good and healthy pairing with the shrimp and peanut sauce.

Untraditional but pretty good Thai food, and more interesting than many of the restaurants around the mall. At Home’s Facebook page has more photos and the menu.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Bowl

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The Bowl Thai Cuisine, 1105 N. Mountain Ave. (at 4th), Ontario

After a decade as Super Bowl Thai, this restaurant was bought by the people who own Mix Bowl, a Thai restaurant in Pomona. They renamed the Ontario location simply The Bowl and gave it a similarly cutesy mascot. (This one’s a woman. The Pomona mascot is vaguely boy-like.) Don’t ask me where “bowl” comes from: Other than a few soups, everything is on a plate.

A friend and I went there for dinner recently. Weird coincidence: Based on the design and roofline, both The Bowl and Mix Bowl appear to be in former Wendy’s locations. Interesting business model.

The interior is clean and bright, like Mix Bowl, with tiled floor and neon accents. Booths have purple cushions. I liked it, and there’s more elbow room than Mix Bowl, which is busy and a little cramped. The menu isn’t quite as expansive as Mix Bowl’s, where there are now upwards of 150 items. The Bowl has about 80. (Confusingly, the menu starts with No. 11.)

The server recommended the curries. We split a yellow curry with chicken ($8, bottom), which incidentally was in a bowl, and one of the specialty items, Bowl Noodles with chicken, spaghetti noodles, onions and tomatoes ($9, below), which arrived on a plate.¬†We liked both items, neither one of which is on the Mix Bowl menu. As with Mix Bowl, this is what you might call the diner version of Thai food: It’s not fancy, and it comes out of the kitchen fast. Service was friendly and attentive and nobody chased us out when we were lingering.

You might prefer Lucky Elephant, which is exactly two blocks north on Mountain, both for its food and elaborate decor. I do. But The Bowl is a pleasant surprise, and I’ll return there too. It’s a little more casual and a little more fun.

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Restaurant of the Week: Burger Zone

Burger Zone, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario

In the Gateway Center off the 10 Freeway, Burger Zone is a locally owned fast food restaurant. I’ve driven past it frequently for two years, generally after stops at the comic shop in the same center, without ever going in. Needing lunch the other day after a comics run, I thought I’d give the place a try.

A banner over the entrance touts a $3.99 combo with a 1/4-pound burger, fries and soda, so I went for that. The result was what I expected, which was a decent meal but nothing special, but for $4.31 with tax, it was a cheap lunch.

Burger Zone has breakfast (eggs, pancakes, burritos, french toast), lunch (other burgers, other sandwiches such as pastrami, club and chicken fried steak on a bun, tacos and burritos) and dinner (shrimp plate, fried chicken and more). No salads.

Burger Zone’s next-door neighbor is a health clinic and two scrubs-clad employees were having lunch when I was there. Conversely, maybe too many burgers will send you over to the health clinic for treatment. Could be a win-win.

Kidding aside, there’s no need for you to drive across town, much less across the valley, to go here, but if you’re in the neighborhood, the restaurant is clean, the food is okay and better to support a local restaurant than a chain.

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Restaurant of the Week: Stone Oven

 

Stone Oven Gourmet Sandwiches and Salads, Ontario Mills Food Court

Unless you were unnaturally attached to Kenny Rogers Roasters or Brueggers Bagels, we can probably stipulate that Ontario Mills’ food court has always been lame, especially for a mall of its size, its offerings being embarrassingly airport-quality. The food court has been renovated in recent months with a brighter look and some different stands. Needing a fast meal before a movie, I saw the mostly completed food court recently and tried one of the new eateries.

Stone Oven (www.enjoystoneoven.com) was giving out samples of its focaccia bread, which is baked in an oven with a wood stone. Watching the guy put the bread in the oven with a paddle, flames rising deep inside, brings rare entertainment to the food court. So a friend and I gave it a chance. The chain also has locations in the Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion, among others, so it would seem to be a step up in class for Ontario.

I had a tuna salad sandwich with a side of potato salad ($8) and the result was okay but unimpressive. My friend got a garlic and pesto chicken sandwich. Portions were large — he took half of his home — and he liked his. I was lukewarm on mine, although even under the best circumstances it’s hard to get excited about cold tuna salad.

I returned a few days later for lunch at a time when I didn’t have to wolf down my meal. This time I ordered a hot sandwich, BBQ chicken, which comes with bacon and cheddar, and got basil pasta salad as my side ($8; pictured below). Better, but nothing special. (My sides on both visits, by the way, weren’t bad.) The salads, such as goat cheese chicken and walnut and green apple, sound good.

My friend and I had agreed the sample of hot bread was more enticing than our sandwiches. The focaccia is thin and insubstantial, not dense enough for my tastes and more like a pita than a loaf. You could do worse in the food court, one reckons, but you might be better off taking a sample from the woman with the tray as you walk on toward another stand.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dragon Loco

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Dragon Loco, 2509 S. Euclid Ave. (at Walnut), Ontario

Dragon Loco bills itself as Chinese-Mexican fusion, its logo featuring a dragon wearing a sombrero. It’s right off the 60 Freeway in a semi-populated strip mall where you might expect Chinese or Mexican fast food (in fact, a Del Taco is at the edge of the parking lot), but it’s not where you would expect a concept as odd as a fusion of both.

The menu does feature standard Chinese fast food in one-, two- and three-item combos, besides the goofy fusion items. Visit the restaurant’s website here.

Owner Mario Luna had phoned me a couple of times and tweeted me once to invite me down, which almost never happens (for the sake of independence, I prefer that it doesn’t, actually); when I finally showed up unannounced for lunch, he recognized me right off, which also almost never happens. And so, anonymity gone, I could do little but let him bring me items, which I sampled.

I tried the chorizo wontons ($1), chicken teriyaki quesadilla ($6, pictured above), kung pao taco ($2), asada fried rice ($6, pictured below) and a horchata frappe ($3, pictured at right). Just typing those names makes me smile.

The asada fried rice was the best of the lot, to my taste buds, and the horchata frappe hit the spot on a steamy day. The rest was more like stunt food. The wontons and taco had two sauces laid over them in squiggles, which made them overdressed, not better.

People on Yelp seem to love the place, with the overall rating 4 stars out of 5. I enjoyed meeting Luna, who likes my work, but Americanized Chinese food inside tortillas didn’t appeal to me. Luna compares his fusion offerings to those of L.A. food trucks. As a concept, yes, but Dragon Loco doesn’t use the higher-end ingredients that the trucks do.

Luna has big dreams for the place, which is open until 3 a.m. on weekends. I applaud his ambition and wish him well.

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Restaurant of the Week: London Burger

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London Burger, 843 N. Mountain Ave. (at I), Ontario

What you notice right away at London Burger is the red double-decker bus parked in front. The owners bought the London bus secondhand, restored it, took out the engine and put it outside their restaurant as a conversation piece.

The fast-food restaurant, which opened in April 2012, occupies a former Spike’s Teriyaki Bowl on an uninspiring portion of Mountain Avenue between a mortuary and a Taco Bell, with a McDonald’s across the street, making the red bus more of a surprise. I suspect a lot of people will think the restaurant is named London Broil.

I bought lunch the other day before introducing myself to the owners and asking what the deal is with the bus. They have burgers, a veggie burger and fish and chips. I got a London Cheeseburger ($4.03), steak fries ($1.39) and medium soda ($1.69).

There’s nothing especially London about the burger — thankfully they don’t pile mushy peas on it — but the result was ambitious for a place with a drive-thru.

You can get a burger as a slider, a 4-oz. (as I did) or a 7-oz., and on a flour or wheat bun. The beef is mixed in the kitchen and handformed into patties rather than being premade frozen discs, a depressingly common practice. The cheese is mozzarella, although you can substitute American. The fries were acceptable but a little soft. I’m told the fish and chips is beer-battered cod.

The interior decor is standard fast-food except for the British touches: a red London phone box as a centerpiece, faux stone accents like a castle, British photos (many with doubledecker buses), two tabletop 3-D dioramas of London and a red and black color scheme to match the bus.

The bus, a 1961 model, is intended to open for dining soon — what a concept — once they finish converting the interior into booths and install air conditioning.

So, it’s a novelty, but the food’s not bad at all. Good show, London Burger.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lucky Elephant

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Lucky Elephant, 1515 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario; also 531 W. Arrow Highway (at Eucla), San Dimas

Having dined at the very good and exquisitely decorated Lucky Elephant in San Dimas, I was excited to see a banner along 6th Street at Mountain Avenue in Ontario, by the Edwards 14 cinemas, that a Lucky Elephant would be coming soon. It opened in late January and affords much the same experience as in San Dimas.

The interior is lined with teak paneling, with gables over the booths. A glass display case is filled with elephant figurines. Thailand tourism videos play on flat screen TVs. (The narration is turned low but can catch you unawares if you’re seated without a view of the TVs, as I was on my first visit.)

At lunchtime, the hostess is clad in a long lavender traditional dress. All the plates, platters, bowls, cups and saucers match and were made in Thailand. In other words, it’s something of an immersive experience.

The only comparable place locally of which I’m aware is Green Mango in Rancho Cucamonga. Like Green Mango, Lucky Elephant also has very good food. On my first visit, I had one of the lunch specials (all $7): ginger pork, sauteed with peppers, onions, carrots and mushrooms. Salad, soup and rice come with. Tasty and filling.

A few days later, I returned to try the crispy ground catfish salad ($9), a dish I’ve had in Thai Town. I have no idea how it’s made, because in appearance and texture it’s akin to deep-fried cotton candy. The Lucky Elephant version is credible but desperately needs another ingredient; one excellent version I’ve tried was served on a bed of sliced apples. I wouldn’t order it again here, at least not solo; for one person, finishing it was monotonous.

But I’m looking forward to my next visit. The menu is lengthy and contains many dishes rare to the Inland Valley. And despite the white tablecloths and lovely surroundings, few entrees are above $9. You might leave feeling as lucky as the elephants.

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Restaurant of the Week: Grinder Haven

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Grinder Haven, 724 W. Holt Blvd. (at San Antonio), Ontario

Opened in 1958, Grinder Haven, which specializes in the sandwiches known variously as grinders, subs and heroes, is among the oldest restaurants in Ontario. You walk up and order at a window and dine at a picnic table under an overhang. A large neon sign with beckoning arrow stands by Holt, which was once akin to the Route 66 of Ontario.

I’ve written about Grinder Haven’s history in my column; it began as D’Elia’s Grinder Haven and was sold in 1973 to John Goble, who shortened the name and owned it until 2005. The Haven used to be famed for baking its own bread and for its attention to quality.

Two subsequent owners no doubt meant well but stopped baking bread and cut corners. I stopped eating there. But I gave it another shot recently with a Grinder newcomer after hearing the place had improved.

They have hot and cold sandwiches, $4.50 for a half and $7 for a whole. A half is plenty for a normal appetite. Hot sandwiches are pastrami, meatball, BBQ beef, sausage and BLT; cold sandwiches are ham, salami, turkey, tuna, capocolla and beef. They also have burgers and fries.

I had the pastrami and my friend had the meatball. The pastrami was okay, better than my last visit but not as good as I recall from better days, and my friend said the meatball sandwich was bland and tasteless. He didn’t finish it. The restaurant continues to buy its rolls instead of baking them.

Grinder Haven is still a classic, and there’s something unique about dining there on a warm day. For those who remember its quality-conscious era, though, Grinder Haven isn’t “back.” But it’s been worse.

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