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 ( 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 above 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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Restaurant of the Week: Corner Deli

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Corner Deli, 980 N. Ontario Mills Drive (at Rochester), Ontario

I hadn’t heard of the Corner Deli until reader David Paniagua Jr. tipped me off. It’s in the strip center with Tokyo Tokyo and Rubio’s on the outskirts of Ontario Mills. Reviewers on Yelp gave the place high marks too. I had lunch there recently with a colleague.

Corner Deli opened in fall 2010 and was a bustling place on a weekday lunch. It has deli basics (pastrami, salami, ham, turkey) and many hot sandwiches, as well as soup and salads. It’s Korean-owned and offers a few unusual items.

I had the Korean BBQ sandwich ($6.59), featuring sliced, marinated ribeye grilled with cabbage and onions with Asian slaw on a roll. Excellent. My friend had the Seoul Bird ($5.99), with turkey, Asian slaw, tomato, provolone cheese on a wheat roll. He liked it.

Corner Deli may be one of the better sandwich shops in the valley. From now on, I’m eating where David Paniagua Jr. eats.

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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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