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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Restaurant of the Week: Toro Sushi & Grill

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This week’s restaurant: Toro Sushi & Grill, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario.

A couple of years back Toro moved from Chino to Ontario into the new neighborhood center at Mountain Avenue and the 10 Freeeway. It’s a large, high-ceilinged place in modernist style, done mostly in black, with a few Japanese accents. But the prevailing spirit may be best symbolized by the Raiders plaque behind the sushi bar and a nearby sign reading “Macho sushi $4.50.”

Toro seems somewhat bar crowd-oriented, but the food’s not bad. I’ve had the salmon skin salad ($7.50) and liked it. This week I had albacore sushi ($4), yellowtail belly sushi ($5.50) and a salmon skin cut roll ($6). The fish seems fresh and the presentation is nice, if slightly flashy, with sauces drizzled across two of the three orders. Toro also has grilled seafood, chicken and steak entrees from $10 to $30.

I would compare Toro to Kabuki in Victoria Gardens or Sakura Ichi in Pomona as slightly upscale, untraditional takes on sushi — not the best, but above average.

Toro should work on its motto, though. According to the takeout menu, its mission is to “touch and embrace our customers hearts and souls, as well as their pallets.” Please take your hands off my flat wooden transport structure.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sal & Sons Pizza & Pasta

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This week’s restaurant: Sal & Sons Pizza & Pasta, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at Sixth), Ontario.

Sal’s opened in November in the modern-looking shopping center visible from the 10 Freeway across from the Edwards 14. Sal’s has some connection to the Graziano’s chain, although it’s unclear what. The menus are similar.

It’s a peppy, fast-food-looking place, on the small side, with yellow and red being the dominant colors. You order at the counter. They have a variety of pizzas, a dozen pastas, plus calzones and hot and cold sandwiches.

I’ve now been there twice. In January, I got one of the lunch specials, a half-order of lasagna with a salad and soda (price forgotten, but under $7). Kind of thin — it was like the half order was done horizontally, giving you two layers out of four — but good, and the price was right.

On Wednesday I returned for a pizza. I got an 8-inch mini-pizza, luna style ($7.70), a small salad ($2.35) and small drink ($1.25).

The pizza had olive oil, garlic, mozzarella and romano, no tomato sauce. Perhaps too much olive oil, but the crust was nice and thin, with a light, crunchy edge. The salads here are just chopped lettuce and a single tomato slice. It might be worth adding a topping for 95 cents. Or not, since for $5.25 you could get a small antipasto salad.

Sal’s has a variety of lunch specials and dinner specials, all under $7. Not a bad place for a low-cost meal if you’re in the neighborhood, such as before or after a movie.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tokyo Wako

This week’s restaurant: Tokyo Wako, 4480 Ontario Mills Parkway (at Franklin), Ontario.

This teppan grill restaurant is in a minimall on the south side of the Mills. A fire pit near the entrance provides a place to warm up if you’re waiting to be seated. I don’t know if that’s ever the case in this economy: A friend and I were seated immediately on a Tuesday night around 8 p.m. and the restaurant was mostly empty.

The interior, however, is enormous: a large sushi bar and dining area as well as a large teppanyaki room. And it’s lovely too, even if the koi “river” (a la Tokyo Tokyo) was dry.

The special is worth trying: For $29.95, two can have the full teppan experience with both chicken and steak, plus soup, salad and rice. The results were pretty good, too.

But one has to ask: What is the point? Benihana does the exact same thing. And I mean the exact same thing. The grill seating, the soup, the salad, the shrimp appetizer, the vegetables (zucchini, onion, mushrooms and bean sprouts), it’s awfully familiar. Ditto with the chef’s tricks, which mostly involve randomly knocking various implements and containers against the edge of the grill, and making the de rigeur onion volcano.

The food at Tokyo Wako was fine, the decor was a cut above Benihana and you can probably be seated faster. But how about a bit more wako?

View the menu here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lisa’s Gourmet Foods

Lisa’s Gourmet Foods, 600 E. D St. (at Monterey), Ontario.

Lisa’s is a convenience store on the corner of a residential neighborhood and must have been there for decades, although the exterior has a fresh appearance. I had no idea they had sandwiches until Jim Bowman, a city councilman, urged me to try the deli counter sometime. The former fire chief said Lisa’s is a favorite of firefighters, whose main station is just blocks away.

The market itself has staples like potato chips, baby food and toilet paper, plus booze, and I’m unclear where the “gourmet” part comes in. Maybe it’s an old-school name like Upland’s C&M Fancy Mart, which doesn’t look all that fancy. Anyway, the deli counter is in the back. They have a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, most of them $3.75 for a half and $6.25 for a whole.

I got one of the Lisa’s Specials, a half Godfather ($4). It had ham, salami and mortadella, plus lettuce, tomato, mayo and, crucially, olive oil. There are two picnic tables outside, but with a guy lounging foodless at one and a fellow with a shopping cart laden with recyclables stalled near the other, I headed to the Civic Center a few blocks west, the closest thing to a park that came to mind.

The sandwich, on crusty French bread, was outstanding. And filling. And, for the price, a six-inch sandwich was a steal. Highly recommended.

The ambience of the Civic Center, not so much so. East of the library is a broad, utopian-style, empty plaza. It’s almost completely characterless, but it does have a couple of benches, and it’s certainly quiet. I ate there in peace, undisturbed except for the effects of stupefying architectural mediocrity (although the library is nice).

For a richer aesthetic experience, take your Lisa’s sandwich somewhere else. Wonder if they’d let you eat at the fire station?

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos Los Enrique’s

This week’s restaurant: Mariscos Los Enrique’s, 812 Mountain Ave. (at Mission), Ontario.

I had to get down to Mountain below Holt for the “Moutain” photo earlier this week — Councilman Jim Bowman had given me the tip, btw — and I went at lunchtime, figuring I’d find a restaurant in the area. Continuing south to Mission, I found Mission Plaza, a strip center fronted by a Jack in the Box, on the southwest corner. The center also turned out to be home to Mariscos Los Enrique’s, a Mexican seafood restaurant. Bingo!

The interior is rather nice: big broad windows, a large dining area and four colorful murals, two of them quite large, with beach or ocean scenes featuring sharks, crabs, octopi, catfish and other of our undersea friends. Tables have Coronita cartons with various hot sauces in the slots that once held bottles.

The menu is heavy on seafood items. You could go crazy and get a large, $105 party platter of shrimp, scallops, calamari, crab legs, etc. More reasonably, they have various shrimp, fish fillet and octopus dishes from $9 to $13, plus an array of soups, tacos, burritos, tostadas and appetizers, and breakfast items too.

My server brought out thick tortilla chips, a sinus-clearing salsa, lime wedges and a small plate of fried catfish chunks on cucumber slices, speared with toothpicks. I ordered a catfish sauteed in garlic ($9.75).

The result was a whole fish, which was deep-fried — that was the other option and apparently the server misunderstood my choice. But the result was quite good, the skin pleasingly crunchy, the meat tender. It came with beans, rice, a mix of diced tomatoes and onions, and corn tortillas. It was a satisfying meal.

Life doesn’t often take me to Mission and Mountain, but it’s nice to know there’s a good restaurant down there.

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Restaurant of the Week: Joanne’s Cafe

This week’s restaurant: Joanne’s Cafe, 1141 N. Mountain Ave. (at Princeton), Ontario.

Joanne’s is in an A-frame building on Mountain near Fourth Street and was most recently Home Kitchen. Longtime residents will recall it as the Pie Place. *

I ate there months ago, without reviewing it, when it was still Home Kitchen, and on Friday thought I’d give it a try under the new name. The place seems virtually the same.

Inside it’s a moderately-sized open room, somewhat updated from the classic coffee shop — there are chairs at the counter, for instance, not swivel seats, and carpeting rather than tile — and with a lot of pink, green and orange. Cheery and colorful. I didn’t notice the fish tank until on my way out.

The prices seem reasonable to me. You can get a meatloaf dinner (the menu’s come-on: “Mom’s old recipe will find a new friend in you!”) with vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, garlic toast and soup or salad for a mere $6.99. The five “senior breakfast” specials (“value-priced for seniors 55 and up”) are priced under $4.

If you want dinner, you’d better have it for lunch: Hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days.

I had a tuna melt ($5.99), with cole slaw rather than fries or fruit. Big and piled thick, on sourdough with cheddar, the sandwich was pretty good. The slaw, kind of tasteless. The server kept the ice tea coming. Overall, an unexciting but pleasant enough experience.

Disappointing, though, that the onetime Pie Place * is now pie-less. But if you need to indulge, there’s a Baskin Robbins next door.

* By acclimation (see all the comments), this was actually an outpost of the House of Pies chain, not The Pie Place. Thanks for the correction.

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Restaurant of the Week: Maria’s Italian Deli

Maria’s Italian Deli, 202 W. Holt Blvd. (at Laurel), Ontario.

Maria’s opened this spring in a newly remodeled two-story building at Holt and Laurel, a couple of blocks west of Euclid, and it’s become popular in the neighborhood as an alternative to the Mexican restaurants and hamburger stands in the immediate area.

I’ve eaten there a couple of times. The interior is long, narrow and a little bare, with a Van Gogh poster the only decoration, but the place is neat as a pin. My first visit I had a ham and mortadella with provolone ($6.50) and ate outside; the second time I had a Classic Italian Salame (salami, pepperoni and turkey) with provolone (also $6.50) and ate inside.

Outside is fun. There’s a patio with six shaded tables, surrounded by a wrought iron fence, and from there you can enjoy the outdoors in relative comfort and watch the Holt Boulevard scene, such as it is. For instance, a guy walked by in a Brooklyn Dodgers jersey that read, on the back, “Cash 4 God” with a phone number. Inside is cool on a hot day, if sedate; I was the only customer for a late lunch.

The sandwiches weren’t bad. In fact, they were better than expected, given the rather shaky help at the counter. If you’re thinking an Italian deli should be boisterous and full of life, staffed by crusty, colorful experts at the art of sandwich-making, this isn’t that.

The staff is pleasant, though. My second visit, the owner (who doesn’t know me) said as I left: “Have a great day, okay? We really appreciate your business.” And you know, she sounded as though she meant it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lollicup

This week’s restaurant: Lollicup, 4323 E. Mills Circle, No. 104 (at Concours), Ontario.

Lollicup is a chain of tea and coffee shops specializing in boba drinks; there are other local locations in Chino Hills (14320 Chino Hills Parkway) and Pomona (961 E. Mission Blvd.) But the Ontario location, which is operated by a family from Indonesia, also sells food.

The menu has a few fried snacks, which may be common to other Lollicups, but the Ontario store has a small bakery-type case atop the counter, a sign near it about taro pudding and various jellies, a few bagged items for sale to-go (Dendeng Sapi, described as sweet beef jerky, and something crunchy-looking called Rempeyek) and a short lunch menu displayed on the counter. A chalkboard had five or six specials, including Soto Ayam (a soup) and several noodle dishes.

From the specials I ordered Mie Goreng Jawa ($6.50), which was much like pad Thai, with thin noodles, onion, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes and chicken. It was too much for one meal; I took the other half home. For a beverage, I had a jasmine milk tea ($3.25) with boba (35 cents).

The interior seats 20. It basically looks like a Starbucks except with tables. Kind of cute. There’s a Korean-style yogurt shop, Berry Trees, a couple of doors down but when I left I was too full to go in.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sammy’s Burger

This week’s restaurant is Sammy’s Burger (note lack of plural), 765 W. Holt Blvd. (at San Antonio), Ontario.

Sammy’s is a stone’s throw from Grinder Haven, which is an occasional stop for me, but I’d never tried Sammy’s. It’s in a long, narrow building on a long, narrow lot, fronted by an old-school sign reading “Burgers” (the top appears to have been removed) that is almost hidden by neighboring signs. Blink and you miss the place.

According to research by the Ontario Library’s Joanne Boyajian, 765 W. Holt, previously a home, in 1969 was reborn as Burger Lane Drive-In with “drive thru service and inside seating,” to quote the phone book. It was also the Burger Lane main office, with a second location at 1715 W. Holt in Pomona. By 1975, the name was Jerry’s Burgers; in 1980, it was A ‘n N Burgers; in 1990, it became Sammy’s, its name for the past 18 years.

It’s seen better days, but Sammy’s was moderately busy when I went in for lunch Friday. They have the usual array of burgers, a dozen hot sandwiches, plus burritos, teriyaki and basic breakfasts. I got the hamburger, fries and soda special, which was $4.09 with tax. My food was cooked fresh and delivered after five or 10 minutes.

The fries were crisp and better than average; I finished them, which is rare for me. The burger came on a soft bun with Thousand Island, lettuce, tomato, pickles and chopped onions. Tasty and filling.

The takeout menu brags “Best Burger in Town.” It’s a respectable hamburger and certainly a contender for the best in Ontario. A blog reader says Sammy’s has a good pastrami burger. The menu’s most expensive hamburger is the $4.25 Sammy Burger. I don’t know what it is, but it must be big, since it’s pricier than the double cheeseburger.

Sammy’s is Korean-owned and the back of the menu charmingly explains how to introduce yourself in Korean or speak several “useful expressions.” I’ll have to practice before I try “How are you doing?”: “Eo-Tteo-K’e-Ji-Nae-Sae-Yo?”

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