Restaurant of the Week: Stonefire Grill

Stonefire Grill, 10680 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Spruce), Rancho Cucamonga

Stonefire Grill opened in June in the long-closed On the Border restaurant building at Terra Vista Town Center in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s one of nine current locations around Southern California, with the next-nearest one in Pasadena.

A friend and I went in for lunch recently. It was bustling, that’s for sure. You order at what you might have expected to be a greeter station, at one of two registers. So you get a kind of McDonald’s or Panera vibe, except for the higher price points.

They sell sandwiches, salads, barbecue, pizza, pasta and more. (See menu.) I’m a little suspicious of places with such a broad menu.

Despite the lunchtime line, the staffer who took our orders was friendly. On the counter to tempt us were the largest brownies I’ve ever seen, square slabs about the size of a grilled cheese sandwich, but thicker. We demurred.

After ordering, you fetch your drink, as well as plates and silverware, and find a seat in the sprawling dining room. Why take a plate? It turns out your food is delivered on a metal platter, like a pizza pan.

I got a “meal,” which comes with a salad or side, ordering mesquite BBQ tri-tip and baby back ribs, plus a salad ($16.60). My friend got the All American Burger ($7.50) and a bowl of chicken tortilla soup ($3.50), which he asked to be brought out at the same time as my salad.

My salad arrived, and then when my platter arrived, he got his soup and burger at the same time (sigh).

He said the soup had jack cheese, avocado and plenty of chicken, that his burger was better than fast food if not to a gourmet burger level and that the salt and pepper potato chips reminded him of the ones at the Buffalo Inn, “back when there was a Buffalo Inn” (another reason to sigh).

My ribs had a good bark, matching Lucille’s but not Famous Dave’s (or Bigg Dane and Beale’s), and the tri-tip, which I ordered medium rare, was soft and buttery.

Oh, and at least with the meal, you get a free basket of breadsticks, which made me think I was at a higher-class Olive Garden.

I’m a little mixed on the experience and probably would like the place better if there was table service instead of the DIY, cafeteria feel. But the food was a little above average. So, overall, not bad.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jack’s Urban Eats

Jack’s Urban Eats, 7811 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Victoria Gardens earlier this year gained a Jack’s Urban Eats, a self-described “urban cafeteria” with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables. It currently has 14 locations, all in California and most around Sacramento. The closest to us is Fresno.

At the mall, it’s just south of King’s Fish House along the street that got a hip makeover a year or so ago, with design-conscious pavers, benches and lights, and which has gradually focused its stores and restaurants to match the feel. I checked out the restaurant recently at lunchtime with friends.

There’s a faux brick exterior, a high ceiling with exposed duct work, tables and booths and a few outdoor tables. You take a menu and line up to order, then move down the line to pay and collect your food at the end.

They have salads, which you can build to order, sandwiches such as tri-tip, chicken, reuben, cheese steak and club, plates such as tri-tip (a specialty), chicken or turkey, and beer and wine.

I got the steak salad ($11.75), with tri-tip, mixed greens, cranberries and bleu cheese. I liked it.

Someone else was set on one item but impulsively ordered a summer special item, the Hawaiian chicken sandwich ($9.50). I would describe it, but I forgot to ask what was on it. Odds are good that pineapple and teriyaki were involved. He said: “Delicious. I want to come back and try one of their regular menu items.” His wife has had their banh mi and loved that.

Our second friend, a vegan on a repeat visit, ordered the grilled portabella sandwich ($9.75), with a mushroom, sprouts, tomato and grilled onion on a ciabatta roll, holding the provolone. “Second time I’ve had it. Still good,” she said. So noted.

Our only complaint was that at the height of the lunch rush, the restaurant was noisy with not just conversation but music. As people cleared out, talking became more comfortable. You’re too urban, Jack!

I kept thinking of Tender Greens, a similar but better cafeteria chain that hasn’t ventured east of Pasadena. Probably we’re not yet worthy. Nothing wrong with Jack’s, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: Punch Bowl Social

Punch Bowl Social, 12635 N. Main St. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays

The Denver-based Punch Bowl Social opened at Victoria Gardens in May in the vast former Toby Keith’s space with an entertainment zone and restaurant. There’s casual bowling (pins held in place by overhead strings), karaoke, arcade games and more. The dining, though, is of interest, with a menu by “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, and the dining area evokes a ’50s diner. Is it any surprise I’ve tried it out?

The menu has breakfast, brunch, sandwiches, salads and Southern specialties including fried balogna sandwiches, pimiento cheese and chicken biscuits, but you’ll see “grass fed” and “hormone free” at various points, and these are obviously upscale takes on the food. There’s also a long beverage list, from beer and mixed drinks to “adult” milkshakes.

I was there for a late breakfast in May. First they give you a biscuit and housemade jam, maybe the strawberry ginger. I ordered the mushroom biscuit and gravy ($11), which came with a couple of eggs atop potatoes. I liked it..

In July, I returned with another friend for lunch. She got the A La Bama chicken sandwich ($13) and a grapefruit soda ($5), while I had the meatloaf ($13) and a black cherry soda ($3.50). She liked her sandwich. Checking my notes, I have this direct quote: “It was good.” OK, that’s not that helpful. But her sociopolitical message is a winner.

My meatloaf was a chef’s take on the humble dish, served atop mashed potatoes and with pickled radishes and carrots, all tasty and all probably better than your mom’s.

We should have tried the pie or another dessert, but after all that food, that wasn’t possible. The $40 lunch tab provided further discouragement.

Stunningly, perhaps, Punch Bowl Social instantly became one of Rancho Cucamonga’s better restaurants. It certainly beat the similar but generic Big Al’s in Ontario. Be prepared to pay a little extra, and consider working off some calories through bowling.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Patron

El Patron, 9269 Utica Ave. (at Sixth), Rancho Cucamonga; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends

El Patron has spawned a second location, El Patron II, in La Verne. I tried to eat there recently but unfortunately chose a Monday, the only day it’s closed. A few days later, I went to the older one in Rancho Cucamonga. Who can judge the sequel without having seen the original?

It was in a business park and hard to find, but the key is that El Patron faces 6th, not Utica. The facade is biz park bland, but open the door and you’re hit with bright colors, as the walls are painted mustard, maroon and orange. (Your color wheel may differ.)

I took a seat, examined the menu and was delivered chips and salsa. I asked the server about the specialties and he pointed to menu items 6 (chile relleno, taco or enchilada) and 7 (chile relleno, taco AND enchilada). I went for No. 6 ($10), with a hard shell shredded beef taco.

This proved to be a great choice. While I’m not a big fan of chile rellenos, this was a good one, smothered in green sauce, and the taco was freshly fried, something you don’t see all that often. It made me think of Ramon’s Cactus Patch and the Mitla Cafe.

I could see El Patron becoming an occasional lunch stop for me as it’s not that far from our office and the food is very good, with friendly but low-key service. Now I feel prepared for El Patron II. By the way, readers say the same family runs Los Jarritos in Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: Min’s Dumpling House, Rancho Cucamonga

Min’s Dumpling House, 9789 Baseline Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

There are Min’s Dumpling House locations in Chino, Corona and Rancho Cucamonga, the latter of which I tried out recently at lunchtime with two librarian friends. It’s in the 99 Ranch center, home to another Chinese restaurant, a Korean restaurant and a boba shop.

Min’s is on the small side, but brightened by sunlight, art, carved screens and other decor, and the seating is spaced apart, giving everyone some elbow room. Its menu is on the large side, with 156 items: rice dishes, dim sum, soups, seafood, hot pot and more, including 15 vegetable-only dishes. The specialty is cuisine from the Hunan province. Many dishes are spicy, but they’re marked as such on the menu and we stayed away.

We ordered six items: pork dumplings (item 1, $7); BBQ pork buns (item 5, $6); shrimp and pork dumplings (item 19, $9); sweet and pungent spare ribs (item 59, $11); Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce (item 123, $8); and vegetable fried rice (item 150, $7).

I was a big fan of the dumplings — the pork were soup dumplings, the shrimp and pork were simply filled — and the pork buns. Nothing wrong with the broccoli either. The others liked the spare ribs and rice the best.

Min’s is among Rancho Cucamonga’s best Chinese restaurants, and given that the menu has a couple of my favorite items, cumin lamb and beef roll, I’m sure I’ll be back.

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Restaurant of the Week: China Republic

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China Republic, 12806 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A shopping plaza in easternmost Rancho Cucamonga, on Foothill Boulevard east of the 15 Freeway, is a surprisingly happening spot. It’s got Combine Kitchen, Tilted Kilt, a Korean BBQ and an ambitious Chinese restaurant, China Republic. I’d been wanting to try the latter and jumped when a friend and his wife wanted dinner.

The parking lot was bustling early on a Friday evening and a couple of likely Kilt customers were arguing belligerently. Things were more sedate at China Republic.

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It’s got a beautiful interior, with high ceilings, wooden panels with carved cutouts, lovely lantern-like fixtures and a modernist bar. It might be the most impressive restaurant interior in Rancho Cucamonga.

To my knowledge, China Republic is one of the very, very few Inland Valley restaurants with dim sum, or small-plate luncheons, and I’m told the place is packed. But this was a weeknight dinner. We ordered, as presented below, black vinegar mushrooms ($6), braised pork belly ($15), garlic broccoli ($10), dry scallop fried rice ($14) and Singapore noodles soup ($10, not pictured).

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We enjoyed our items, although none of them knocked us out. In what must be a concession to local tastes, the menu includes orange peel chicken and cream cheese wontons, not the sort of dishes they serve in Hong Kong.

“An A for aesthetics but a B for execution,” one friend suggested.

China Republic is worth trying, especially to admire the place, and if you get the dim sum, report back, please.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cake Among Us Bakery & Donuts

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Cake Among Us, 7890 Haven Ave., (at Town Center), Rancho Cucamonga; open 4:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays

Cake Among Us vaulted into prominence late in 2016 when a state-by-state ranking of doughnut shops on BuzzFeed chose it to represent California. The list is titled “The Best Doughnut Shop in Every State,” the rankings determined via Yelp star ratings and number of reviews. Skip to No. 5 to find Cake Among Us.

Here the alleged best doughnut shop in California was in Rancho Cucamonga — and I’d never heard of it. How could I live this down? But I quickly tracked it down and had breakfast there, not once but three times, as well as a sort of lunch with friends.

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First off, it’s not precisely a doughnut shop, but rather a bakery with doughnuts, scones, danishes, cupcakes, wedding cakes and more. That said, they do have a fair number of doughnuts, many of them creative, and all the ones I’ve tried are quite good. They even have vegan doughnuts.

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They’ve included lemon-filled with vanilla frosting and raspberry icing, apple-filled, honey wheat blueberry (dense, chewy, with real blueberry flavor) and an apple fritter (light, not burnt-looking as many are, with bits of apple).

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With friends, we got a half-dozen that included cream cheese, one person’s favorite, and pineapple, another’s. One had Nutella and peanut butter.

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“All the doughnuts were really good,” the wife said. “They were all good,” her husband allowed, “but it wasn’t like ‘this is the best.'” That’s the problem with being ranked No. 1: It’s hard to live up to. Their daughter seemed to like them all and went off in a glaze haze.

Another customer was picking up a cake. The message in icing: “We’re Here for the Sex!” Next to that were pink and blue footprints. Ha ha. Must be for a baby shower. I got cupcakes later that day for a friend’s birthday party. Among the flavors they have: creamsicle, raspberry, Oreo and peanut butter.

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It took me a while, by the way, but eventually the pun in the store name became clear and I liked the place all the more.

Is Cake Among Us better than, say, Donut Man in Glendora? Perhaps not, especially with Donut Man being 24 hours. But Cake Among Us is really good.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mezzaterranean

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Mezzaterranean, 9491 Foothill Blvd. (at Malachite), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; closed Sundays

I learned about Mezzaterranean, the name being a clever mashup of Mediterranean and mezza, the Lebanese name for appetizers, from a friend’s Yelp reviews, and eventually got around to going once I figured out where it was, the Auto Zone center, which many of us would tend to think of as the Taco Hut center.

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Opened in 2014, it’s a small place, and packed during the lunch hour; on my first visit, at noon, a friend and I had to sit at the makeshift counter as all 25 or so seats were taken. On a second visit, around 2 p.m. (on a different day, just to be clear), I got the only indoor table that was free, although it did clear out over the next hour. It’s a popular place, with many getting take-out besides the dine-in orders.

You order at the counter, from a menu with hot and cold mezza, soups and salads, sandwiches and plates. The open kitchen is right behind, a hive of activity. That first visit, I had a lamb kebab plate ($12) and my friend ordered a beef shawarma sandwich ($7).

The place was crazy busy and our orders seemed to get misplaced; eventually someone noticed we hadn’t gotten our food, asked what we’d ordered and made it, upgrading my friend to a plate and giving us free baklava ($1), which was very good. And so was the food.

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I went back a few weeks later and ordered the soujuk sandwich ($7, below), a spicy beef sausage on a pita with pickles, tomatoes, hummus and sauce. I’d never tried that, and it was okay, but I should have gotten fries or rice or something on the side.

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On a third visit, I tried the chicken shawarma fries ($8-ish), at a friend’s recommendation, and those were really good too.

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I like Mezzaterranean, although I might give the edge to Zait Bistro, elsewhere in town, for Rancho Mediterranean — which wouldn’t be a bad name for a city.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mustang Sally’s on 66

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Mustang Sally’s, 8411 Foothill Blvd. (at San Bernardino), Rancho Cucamonga; open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends

Mustang Sally’s was subject of a column of mine due to its location, in a small older building, probably originally a house, by the Pacific Electric Trail and overlooking Foothill Boulevard. At the time I hadn’t eaten there, but since then I’ve been in twice.

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It’s a cute place, with decor that emphasizes Texas and the Southwest. I went in on a quiet Friday last month for lunch.

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They have a steak special that day: a bone-in ribeye, salad and fries, normally $12, for $8. Too good to pass up. Did I want onion straws? Sure.

The salad, served in a metal bowl, could have been a meal in itself — but then there was the steak, said to be fresh from Hottinger’s, a well-regarded meat market in Chino. It was a decent steak, and excellent for the price; I took home half or more of everything. I can fault them only for bringing out the salad at the same time as the entree. It really was an embarrassing amount of food for eight bucks.

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I returned earlier this month to try the Mexican food, ordering the Tasty Tacos ($7), three hard shell tacos with lettuce, tomato, cheese and a mix of beef and potatoes, a family recipe.

They were stuffed and the overflow from each created a sort of mini-taco salad on my plate. The tacos were tasty, just as advertised, and the avocado salsa was a solid accompaniment. I took a photo of the final taco so you could see what one actually looks like under all the cheese.

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Service is casual but friendly. (It might have been the cook who was waiting on me during the slow period.)

There’s a neat patio out back with picnic tables and a bean-bag toss with a view of Foothill and the bike/walking trail. The food at Sally’s is good, the setting a little better.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Melt

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The Melt, 7870 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

The Melt is a San Francisco-based burger chain with a small number of locations in California and Colorado. I’d eaten once at the Sunset and Vine restaurant and was only barely conversant with it before one opened earlier this year at Victoria Gardens.

The menu has burgers, grilled cheese, two salads, tomato soup and mac ‘n’ cheese, plus milkshakes and all-natural sodas. The corporate ethos is to use better ingredients and no preservatives. They also serve craft beer and wine.

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On my first visit I ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo ($10) and got a black cherry soda. It was a warming, basic meal. Frankly, it was forgettable, but pleasantly so.

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I wanted to return sometime for a milkshake after trying the overdone version at The Mug Shakes. On my second visit, then, I got the swiss and shrooms burger ($7) with fries ($2.45) and a mint chocolate chip shake ($5). Other choices were vanilla bean, double chocolate, cookies and cream, snickerdoodle (!) and salted caramel.

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Very good burger, which came with grilled onions and greens, on a poppyseed bun, and the fries, sprinkled with oregano, were addictive. The shake had a crumbled cookie, like a Thin Mint, on top and I liked it too.

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A couple of small tables stand outside the restaurant, beyond which is more of a communal patio with chairs in cheerful primary colors. The restaurant is along the made-over street for youngish people with outdoor seating, stylized crosswalks and sidewalks, and overhead strings of lights. I like it.

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