Restaurant of the Week: Zeke’s

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Zeke’s Eatin’ Place, 1855 E. 4th St. (at Vineyard), Ontario

Zeke’s has been a block or so from our newsroom during my entire Bulletin tenure, but it took me a while to get there, the name Zeke’s Eatin’ Place being kind of an eye-roller. I had a decent breakfast there a few years ago, which raised my opinion of the restaurant, and promptly forgot the whole thing.

For a recent breakfast meeting with three Ontario cops, they picked Zeke’s, a longtime favorite of the department, at least its older members. I was happy to give the place a try in the company of some admirers.

It’s breakfast and lunch only, closing at 3 p.m., and the motif is Wild West, with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood portraits, lots of wood and the deepest booths I’ve ever seen, able to fit six, or maybe eight. The menu has a hokey story about a fictional miner named Zeke, which is sort of charming, actually. Imagine, a diner with a concept that’s more 1850s than 1950s.

Biscuits and gravy are a specialty, but that’s not my thing. I had two eggs, sausage links and home fries ($6.15); others had the breakfast sandwich ($5.79), chicken fried steak and home fries ($7.35) and, for the cop with a cast-iron stomach, the chili cheese onion omelet ($8.09).

Everybody pronounced themselves pleased, although I would warn you away from the sausages, dinky things that looked fresh from the supermarket freezer. Zeke’s is known for its wagon wheel-size pancakes. As stated here about Guasti Homestyle Cafe, I’m not a “big breakfast” guy, but if you are, Zeke’s portions should satisfy you. Besides, it’s a homey place.

The cops told me Zeke’s has been around since the early 1980s, beginning in the shopping plaza at 4th and Grove before moving a few blocks east to 4th and Vineyard in the 1990s.

Lunchtime sandwich offerings on the menu made me think I should hit them up, so I’ve since returned for a meatloaf sandwich. It was only okay, but the fries were above average, and the service was friendly. The waitress even called me sweetheart a few times. You gotta love that. Zeke’s isn’t spectacular, but it’s a nice regular-folks place.

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Restaurant of the Week: Philly’s Grill

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Philly’s Grill, 1701 S. Grove Ave. (at Francis), Ontario

Sometimes you fall out of the habit of a visiting a restaurant. The reasons might be obvious, like a bad experience, or they might be obscure. You might just be tired of a place. For probably a year in circa 2001 this South Grove sandwich shop, then known as Philadelphia Grill, was a weekly stop. Then I gave up on it and moved on.

Recently I thought I’d try it again. In business since 1986, Philly’s and its green awning are still there, open Monday to Friday as befits its business park location. The UPS drivers who used to fill a couple of booths at lunchtime were absent, but I was there a bit late. The interior has been spruced up and the staff now brings your order to you.

They don’t have the daily specials they used to (curry chicken on Mondays and spaghetti on Wednesdays were favorites), but the menu remains wide-ranging: cheesesteaks, burgers, deli and sub sandwiches, wraps, teriyaki, salads, spaghetti, fajitas, grilled fish and traditional breakfasts. Whew! Some of it isn’t even on the menu board, only in the paper menu.

I had the cheesesteak combo ($7.39), which comes with fries (average) and soda. The sandwich was on a crusty roll with chopped meat, provolone and grilled onions. I’m no expert, but it was a good version of the Philly steak, even though it was made in a California industrial zone by Koreans.

I’ve since returned for teriyaki chicken ($6.39). Philly’s Grill isn’t going to be a weekly stop again, but I may be back. Revisiting it has been a pleasure.

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Restaurant of the Week: Liberty Bell Burgers

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Liberty Bell Burgers, 142 N. Mountain Ave. (at Holt), Ontario

Perhaps the Inland Valley’s most patriotically named restaurant, Liberty Bell Burgers’ logo thoughtfully includes the crack in the bell.

Inside, of course, it’s just another off-brand burger joint. The menu has sandwiches, burritos, breakfasts and, on weekends, menudo. There’s a menu on the counter and photos of various menu items up above, most of which are not photographed well. One is the “manager’s special,” which is two burgers.

I got the burger combo ($5.55 with tax). As with most mom-and-pop places, the burger is nothing special — skinny pre-formed patty, lettuce, onion, tomato, mayo — but somewhat better than a chain. The fries were okay. The whole thing came on a plate, a nice touch.

A sign in the window warned that all activities are monitored by video camera. Oh, Liberty Bell Burgers, you’re infringing on my freedoms — but that’s 21st century America for you.

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Restaurant of the Week: Ramon’s Cactus Patch

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Ramon’s Cactus Patch, 647 W. California St. (at Mission and San Antonio), Ontario

A model home turned into a restaurant with a cactus garden out front, at the confluence of three streets, the location of Ramon’s Cactus Patch is as unusual as its name. (The simplest way to get there is to take Mission Boulevard.)

Ramon’s is also the oldest restaurant in Ontario, opening in 1937 and still owned all this time by the same man, Ramon Sanchez.

Inside this quirky gem are high-backed wooden booths salvaged from the old Orange Hotel in downtown Ontario, where Ramon’s plied its trade before moving here in 1962, and framed photos of various old Ontario buildings. A vintage painting of a mysterious Mexican beauty is the focal point of one wall. The pre-electronic cash register is decades old. The overall effect is like stepping into another world.

The two-page menu is faded, like an artifact from an earlier era. Other than the prices, the menu probably hasn’t been updated since the 1960s. The cooking is plain and comforting, a reflection of mainstream Mexican American food from midcentury, stubbornly untrendy.

Some don’t like the tacos, which use essentially a hamburger patty as the filling; I haven’t developed the habit either. I always go for the chicken burrito ($5), which comes with a tiny salad with a salsa-like dressing. The complimentary chips and salsa are always good, the lightly spicy salsa arriving in a curious tapered glass bottle that resembles the one Barbara Eden slept in.

Like Vince’s Spaghetti and Yangtze, Ramon’s is a time capsule, one that offers a taste of old Ontario. Ramon still visits his restaurant most days. Today (Friday, May 21), he turns 96. Go wish him a happy birthday.

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Restaurant of the Week: Alina’s

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Alina’s Lebanese Cuisine, 2250 S. Archibald Ave. (at Philadelphia), Ontario.

After a tip from the hungry folks at the Ontario Police Department, whose headquarters is nearby, I stopped by Alina’s for lunch this week. It’s just above the 60 Freeway in a small building fronting an office park.

The interior is a bit bare, pleasant but nothing fancy. You order at your table and pay at the register as you leave. Alina’s has eight sandwiches, none more expensive than $5.69, and plate entrees from $7.99 to $13.99. It’s all Lebanese food, including a few items I’d never heard of: makanek? soujouk?

I had a kafta kebab ($8.99), which is made of ground beef; it came with rice pilaf, fattoush salad, hummus, garlic spread and pita bread. It was all very good, and filling. I also tried a jallab ($2.49) drink, which was a taste I may not acquire, but drinkable.

All the food here is made fresh to order, down to chopping the lettuce and tomatoes. Don’t expect your meal in five minutes, but expect it to be good. The dining room was almost full at 12:15 p.m., a healthy sign that Alina’s, in business for a year, may be with us for a while.

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Restaurant of the Week: WaBa Grill

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WaBa Grill, 9670 Haven Ave. No. 104 (at 6th), Rancho Cucamonga; also 4110 Edison Ave., Chino; 9870 Sierra Ave., Fontana; 1055 W. Philadelphia St. and 800 S. Milliken Ave., Ontario.

WaBa Grill is a new name to me, although as you can see above, it has four other Inland Valley locations, as well as others around SoCal. The Rancho location just opened in a new center next to Dickey’s BBQ just north of 4th Street.

It’s a teriyaki bowl place, but one emphasizing the reputed healthfulness of the items: all-natural ingredients, no additives, no skin-on chicken, no oil and no frying.

I had been wary after a sign in the window during construction promised, among other things, “vegitables.” Misspellings of core products aside, I gave WaBa a try earlier this week.

I got the No. 2, the chicken plate ($6.99), with brown rather than white rice (80 cents more) and a soda ($1.60). The portion was filling, often an issue with chicken bowl places, and the food tasty. A small salad and orange slices come with.

WaBa also has steak, salmon and veggie bowls and plates from $4.19 to $8.99.

The interior is kind of cool, done in white, orange and red and with mod-ish wall treatments resembling giant brackets. It’s like Pinkberry with chicken. WaBa is a decent option if you’re in the area. And I am.

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Restaurant of the Week: Yangtze

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This week’s restaurant: Yangtze Chinese Restaurant, 126 N. Euclid Ave. (at B), Ontario.

Yangtze has been a fixture of downtown Ontario since 1961 and, with the demise of Jong’s and Chung King, it’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in the Inland Valley. Back then, Chinese food was considered exotic; it was one of the few foreign cuisines available in the area, along with Mexican and (oooh) Italian. Now you can get kung pao chicken and a dozen glazed at any number of local donut shops.

Not much has changed at Yangtze except the prices, from what I can gather. Step inside and you feel you’ve stepped back in time. The interior retains the slatted wood walls, the slender hanging lamps, the avocado booths and the 3-D dioramas that radiate a 1960s ambiance. Author Charles Phoenix likes to say that ’60s icons James Bond and Sophia Loren could dine there and not look out of place.

Mr. Gin, the founder, is gone, but Mrs. Gin, one of my favorite people in Ontario, still greets customers and works the cash register. The waitresses have been there for decades. So have some of the customers.

Now, as for the food. I had dinner there once, perhaps six years ago, before an Ontario council meeting. It was, shall we say, not to my taste. I returned a couple of weeks ago for lunch only because Phoenix was in town and suggested we meet there. He told me he hadn’t eaten at Yangtze in decades.

He cleaned his plate, I ate half of my shrimp chow mein. It would not surprise me to learn that the cook had opened a can of Chung King vegetables into a pan, tossed in a few canned shrimp, cornstarch and some MSG, heated it and put it on a plate. To my mind, retro charm can go only so far.

Yet there are those who dote on Yangtze. Generations of locals had their first taste of Chinese food there and its old-school American take on the cuisine still meets their needs. It’s the food they grew up with, cooked the way it’s supposed to taste. Some of the regulars drive from miles away.

Others barely leave. An older gentleman a couple of booths away from us at lunch was eating a steak, and when he left, the waitress cheerfully told him, “See you tonight.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Page One Cafe

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This week’s restaurant: Page One Cafe, 215 E. C St. (at Lemon), Ontario.

Page One is the cafe at rear of the Ontario City Library and was added in 2006, after the library renovation. There are two entrances from the outside and one from the library itself. It’s operated by SMG, which runs the Ontario Convention Center and has a large food and beverage department to support its events.

There was grand talk in the beginning of a seasonal menu, fresh soups and sandwiches, plus live music out on the enclosed patio. I dropped in a few times before council meetings for a quick bite and the cafe seemed underfunded. I had a chicken pesto pocket that was rubbery and inedible. From that point, I stuck to a fruit cup or yogurt — items impossible to mess up — before gradually forgetting the cafe was there.

Well, it turns out the cafe and its menu are now close to what was originally envisioned. The place was busy Monday at the noon hour and the menu is considerably larger and more ambitious than before. There are a few basic breakfasts, but sandwiches, salads and soups are the main items. They don’t have a grill, but they can do almost anything else.

There’s a Healthy Ontario menu to go along with the local health campaign and even sugar-free cookies, as well as sugary treats, from Sweet Nick’s bakery in Corona. Not to mention Starbucks coffee, the only Starbucks outlet downtown.

You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table, on real plates and with real silverware.

I had a Cuban panini with fries ($6.95) and an iced tea and it wasn’t bad. The crinkle-cut fries are made fresh to order and arrived hot and crispy. The sandwich came on a roll rather than pressed bread, which was unusual, but with ham, cheese and a pickle sliced lengthwise, it was tasty.

A couple of days later, I went back for another meal so I could take photos. (My camera batteries were dead the first time, darn the luck.) This time I got the daily special, a curry chicken wrap with a tomato salad ($6.50). Tucked inside the sundried-tomato wrap were curried chicken, romaine lettuce and, adding a nice crunch, sliced apples. I also got a sugar-free sugar cookie just for the novelty ($1). (Since most of the name cancels itself out, wouldn’t it be simpler to call it simply a “cookie”? But I digress.)

My only quibble would be that the oil and vinegar from the tomato salad spread over the entire plate, including the wrap. But it was close to a restaurant-quality meal. I wouldn’t drive here from Upland or anything, but if you’re near downtown, or visiting the library, Page One is a clean, comfortable spot for lunch or a snack.

The ambience is Starbucks-like, with a two-story ceiling, high tables, free Wi-Fi, a bookcase of cheap books for sale and an enclosed patio with more seating. And, of course, you’ve got a library just steps away. How many restaurants can make that claim?

Page One hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fong Noodle

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This week’s restaurant: Fong Noodle, 1515 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario.

I’m sure I would never have tried Fong Noodle, a small Chinese restaurant outside the Edwards 14 theater off the 10 Freeway, if not for a tip from reader Stephanie Ulmer. Ulmer said prior to Fong’s arrival, it was typical buffet-style Chinese. Now they cook your food fresh when you order it. She and her friends love it.

Curious, I gave Fong Noodle a try Wednesday evening. The menu has Americanized Chinese stuff like broccoli beef and the ubiquitous orange chicken, but also boasts chow fun (broad flat noodles) and Singapore-style noodles (thin, spicy), both of which are relatively rare in these parts.

I ordered shrimp chow fun ($6.95). The order was passed from the middle-aged woman to the middle-aged cook, who sprung into action. A simple salad was brought out, followed several minutes later by a large plate of noodles, plus an egg roll. The noodles were fresh, the shrimp plentiful and the portion enormous; I took home half.

They make their own noodles, the counter-woman confirmed. How about that!

The storefront location is sparkling clean, the decor understated: paper lanterns, a decorated fan and two pieces of traditional art. There are two outdoor tables and plenty of inside seating. And, that evening, plenty of empty seats.

“I was initially afraid to write to you,” Ulmer confided, “because once you taste it, you will rave too, and I don’t want King Taco-sized lines to form for the tasty chow. But in this economy I thought it was better to send more folks than to keep it to myself.”

Thanks for divulging your secret.

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Restaurant of the Week: King Taco

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Photo by Neil Nisperos

This week’s restaurant: King Taco, 406 N. Mountain Ave. (at D), Ontario.

Admittedly, most of my dinner experience was covered in my Wednesday column, but that was more about being there than the actual food.

In short, it’s a very busy place, with long lines. You order at the counter, sit down and pick up your food when your number is called.

Quality-wise, King Taco could be the In-N-Out of Mexican fast food, or the Tommy’s, another cult-like place with long lines for simple fare. The five of us at our table were all impressed by the quality of the meats especially. You can view the menu here.

On the authenticity scale, King Taco doesn’t seem to have watered things down despite being a chain: Fillings include lengua (tongue), cabeza (head), buche (pig stomach), molleja (chicken stomach) and suadero (beef brisket), besides the more common asada (steak), pollo (chicken), carnitas (pork) and al pastor (marinated pork).

We stuck with the basics — al pastor and carnitas sopes, al pastor and carne asada burritos, carne asada and chicken tacos — being willing to carry adventurousness only so far.

We also liked the chile and verde salsas, which come in small plastic cups and pack a punch. But there were some downsides.

One of us ordered chips and salsa. The chips were bagged and only average, and she didn’t like paying 69 cents for salsa when, as she learned when she took her seat, the exact same containers were given out for free on request to others at the table. Also, $1.25 for a tiny cup of guacamole seemed rather high.

There’s also the matter of whether the food was worth the half-hour wait from walking inside to picking up the order. You can get essentially the same food all over the valley with no waiting. The lines will die down, but perhaps not that much; King Tacos are high-volume outfits and the layout, with four cashier stations, is set up in anticipation of crowds.

A poll of our table revealed that everyone was willing to come back despite the lines and the hectic, noisy atmosphere. Actually, I may have been the only lukewarm voice on that count. Another said he was more likely to take his food to go, or even eat at the curb (there’s no outdoor seating), because of the hubbub.

The restaurant, btw, is closed today for Good Friday.

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