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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Restaurant of the Week: Alina’s


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: The Yangtze

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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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