Restaurant of the Week: Boonsee Thai Kitchen

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Boonsee Thai Kitchen, 11368 Kenyon Way (at Milliken), Rancho Cucamonga

Boonsee is in the Vineyards Marketplace center off the 210 at Milliken, where there’s an Albertsons and other businesses. I’ve eaten at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, a couple of doors away, so a meal at Boonsee Thai Kitchen would complete the “kitchen” portion of the center.

I had lunch there back in May, where I got the staple dish, pad Thai ($7, pictured at bottom) off the lunch menu. It came with a small salad and an egg roll. It was a good version, and a filling portion.

Recently I returned with a friend for dinner. She had kung pao with tofu ($8, below), which she liked, except for the celery. But then, she doesn’t like celery. I had pineapple curry with shrimp ($11), served in a bowl, with rice on the side. It was a yellow curry, mildly spicy, and they didn’t skimp on the shrimp. I fished out five and removed the tails, then discovered two more at the bottom.

So I could dub my meal “pleasantly shrimpy,” a phrase that would look good on a list of low-key descriptors in my Restaurant of the Week posts. We liked Boonsee, a cozy place. We also liked thinking of ways to use “boonsee” as a verb or adverb.

Rancho Cucamonga has only a few Thai restaurants (ones I know about are Thai Diamond, Thai T and Green Mango) and, while Boonsee isn’t breaking new ground, it may be the first or second best in town. It’s certainly the boonsiest.

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Restaurant of the Week: Paul Martin’s American Grill

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Paul Martin’s American Grill, 12574 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Co-owned by the same guy behind P.F. Chang’s and Fleming’s, both also at Victoria Gardens, Paul Martin’s opened in June in the former Paisano’s/Sisley space by the AMC theaters. After two failed Italian restaurants, that spot has gone upscale American.

I tried it out for lunch recently with a friend who was a repeat customer at the Irvine location. The interior is swank, with low lighting, lots of wood, a full bar (photo at bottom) and a large wine rack. What they serve here is American classics, but done up in a modern ways, made from scratch, with seasonal and artisanal ingredients.

I had the three-mushroom burger ($14, below). The server said it was the best vegetarian burger she’d ever had, and I agreed. Delicious and juicy, the opposite of a lot of veggie burgers. (Candidly, when I ordered it I didn’t realize I was ordering a vegetarian burger, but when I asked about the mushrooms, and the server made the above comment, I didn’t change my order.)

My friend had the BLT ($16, second below), hardwood smoked bacon with romaine and tomatoes on a roll, and it was an excellent version, if you can swallow paying $16 for a humble BLT. “It’s so smoky and wonderful,” she said. “The bacon is amazing.”

I got a slice of banana cream pie for dessert, if only to see what a $10 slice of pie looks and tastes like. It was sweet and rich, and too much for one person; I’d have been better off taking half of it home.

Cocktails are $11 and are said to be great. There’s an extensive wine selection and some micro-ales. Of the other entrees my friend has tried, the brick chicken is especially recommended. The menu has salads, soups, burgers and sandwiches, seafood, chicken and steak; it’s tightly focused, with just a few examples of each. Dinner entrees range from $9 to $40. The lunch menu has three $12 items. And there are intriguing specials, like a three-course fried chicken dinner on Tuesdays for $22.

I would certainly return. Paul Martin’s is a good addition to Victoria Gardens and one of the finest restaurants in the city. Also, check out the restrooms. They’re austere, stylish and dimly lighted, like an art installation. How often can you say that?

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Restaurant of the Week: Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches

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Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches, 8880 Archibald Ave. (at 8th), Rancho Cucamonga

Located in the Aamco Plaza, an automotive center just below the Metrolink tracks, Mica’s is one of a handful of restaurants that seem designed to feed you while you wait for your car to be serviced. The narrow Mica’s storefront has been home to a revolving door of eateries, seemingly having a new occupant each time you drive past. Mica’s opened in March 2013, an eternity by that space’s standards, and the only reason it should leave is if it finds a better space.

Which wouldn’t be difficult. When you walk in, you’re practically in the kitchen. You order at the display case from a woman, presumably the owner, who takes your order on a tablet. Behind her, you can catch a glimpse of a small kitchen crew working away in a sort of corridor before the kitchen bends behind a wall. Seating is at an L-shaped bar around the walls or at a couple of high-top tables. (About half the dining room is visible in the photo at bottom. I’m tempted to say it’s shown actual size.)

In other words, you might want to take your food to go. I braved dining in both times. Reader Andy introduced me to Mica’s. We had lunch: He got lomo saltado in sandwich form (below), I got a chicharron sandwich ($5.79 each). Mine was pork, onions and sweet potato on focaccia bread. Wow!

The display case, by the way, has Peruvian cookies, empanadas, canned Inca sodas and mousse. The menu board is on one wall, below. Click on the photo for a larger view.

I returned another time for a late lunch. From 3 to 7 p.m. they were offering dinner plates, usually $9, with a soda for $7.07 with tax. I had the lomo saltado (below): beef, onions and tomatoes over fries. Very good, and great for the price.

During my mid-afternoon meal, when I was the only person in the restaurant, a family of five entered and filled the place. A small girl said quietly, “This is little.”

It is, but the taste is mighty. You can’t sit comfortably for long, but you gain the satisfaction at having found excellent food in exceedingly humble surroundings.

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* Update July 2014: I returned for the first time in a couple of months to find a much-improved interior (below): tables and stools that now seat 18. The wraparound bar seating was removed. A much better use of the space, I think, and I hope the investment means the restaurant is catching on. I ate a lomo saltado sandwich with fries and drink ($7.62 with tax) and thought it was great.

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant of the Week: Sushi Martini

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Sushi Martini, 8153 Aspen Ave. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga

A former Italian restaurant that went through several incarnations (Spaghetti Eddie’s and Cucina Italiana among them) near Foothill and Haven is now reimagined as a Japanese restaurant and proving successful since its opening in January.

A friend and I had lunch there a few weeks back. The interior is casual but slightly swank with modern decor and hardwood floors. There’s a dining room with sushi bar, tables and booths and a lounge. Bottled beer, wine, sake and cocktails are offered.

He had a combo of chicken teriyaki and vegetable tempura (bottom) and liked it; I had the all you can eat sushi ($20). After a salad and miso soup, I had seven pieces of nigiri sushi and a cut roll, adding up to more than $20 worth of food. Below, left to right, is red clam, squid and tuna. I also had salmon, shrimp, mackerel, scallop and a salmon skin cut roll, one of my standbys, and a good version too. Some say the specialty rolls are better than the nigiri, but I rarely order those.

This was not the valley’s best sushi, but it was good enough, I’d rate it higher than nearby Omakase and Ken’s, and the deal was priced well. The atmosphere was comfortable and the service friendly. In other words, I would return.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tio’s Tacos, Rancho Cucamonga

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Tio’s Tacos, 7305 Day Creek Blvd. (at Base Line), Rancho Cucamonga

A small chain of family-owned Mexican restaurants, Tio’s has two locations in Rancho Cucamonga (10451 Lemon Ave. and the Day Creek location above), one in Riverside and one in Fontana, the latter of which I wrote about in 2011. I’ve visited the Day Creek Tio’s once or twice in the past but never wrote about it. I was pleased when some friends wanted to meet up for lunch there.

Like the other Tio’s, the decor incorporates folk art and colored tile, making for a nice visual experience, and has the sort of seating you’d expect at a sitdown restaurant. Among the decorative objects on the walls are photos of Cantinflas, one of Mexico’s greatest exports. We ordered at the counter — you can see the menu here — and the food was delivered to us. (I got a large horchata for $1.75, the result rivaling an oil tanker in size.) Three of us were given baskets of chips. We did not lack for chips. Good ones, too, and with a salsa bar.

I had a chile verde burrito ($4.99, bottom), which was really good and really filling. A vegetarian had potato tacos ($2.09 each; “tasty salsa”); one had a combo plate with a cheese enchilada and a fish taco ($7.39, below; “I thought it was fantastic”); the fourth had the Mexican chicken salad ($5; large but “very generic, soggy”). He added that he’d been to Tio’s before and would return.

Me too. After lunchtime conversation came to a close, your burrito-infused blogger went home, took a nap and didn’t need to eat again the rest of the day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taco Hut

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Taco Hut, 9451 Foothill Blvd. (at Hellman), Rancho Cucamonga; other locations at 11815 Foothill, Rancho Cucamonga, and 1150 E. Philadelphia St., Ontario

Taco Hut is a Rancho Cucamonga mainstay, located in the AutoZone center between Hellman and Archibald. The signs say “Est. 1982.” Two other locations have opened in recent years, one in the Masi Plaza on the east side of town, the other in south Ontario.

I’ve been to the original a few times over the years. Because its absence from this blog was overdue to be remedied, a friend and I met there for dinner recently. The interior is more colorful and modern than I recall, presumably the result of a fire that closed the restaurant a few years ago until remodeling could take place. The walls have kitschy sombreros, serapes and miniature guitars as decor, as well as a fringe of hut-like straw. The glass-topped tables have serape-like fabric underneath.

The menu is extensive with the usual tacos, burritos, etc., plus seafood dishes, hamburgers and salads. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had an asada burrito ($7, below), my friend had a shrimp quesadilla ($10). “It was so good,” he said with satisfaction. My burrito was likewise quite good, the steak, fluffy rice and refried beans melding into a delicious whole.

Great food, and the service was exceptionally friendly. All hail the Hut.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sal’s Pizza

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Sal’s Pizza, 6773 Carnelian St. (at 19th), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily at 4 p.m.

Someone mentioned the takeout-only Sal’s in Rancho Cucamonga here when I wrote about the unrelated Sal’s in La Verne. I’d never been, and still hadn’t until recently, when the New Diner blogger brought the place up to me. We arranged to meet for dinner.

Sal’s is in the Island Pacific center just below the 210. It’s been in business at various addresses since 1979, not long after Rancho Cucamonga incorporated as a city. We ordered a medium Sal’s Special ($16.25), which has pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. Wait time was 15 minutes. But what to do next, as neither of us lives nearby?

If it was warmer, I’d have suggested Beryl Park just above the 210, but it wasn’t. The New Diner said we should walk a few paces across the parking lot to eat inside a fast-food restaurant. Daringly, we did, ordering drinks and then keeping a low profile. Nobody said anything about the two guys sharing pizza inside a place known to make a swell taco. (I say that only as a rhyme with its name.)

We were impressed by the pizza. Toppings were plentiful, tasty and fresh. Cheese was generous, the sauce a good complement. The crust was crunchy and didn’t wilt under the load of toppings. It was a solid, well-made pizza, among the best in town.

Other than pizza, all they have is spaghetti, ravioli, garlic bread, salad and wings. On Yelp, where Sal’s currently has 4 1/2 stars, one commenter says they have a secret pizza menu that includes one called “The Roadkill” that is all meat. Anyone know of others?

The New Diner’s review is here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Brio Tuscan Grille

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Brio Tuscan Grille, 12370 S. Main St. (at Monticello), Rancho Cucamonga

Filling the former Borders anchor space at Victoria Gardens, Brio opened in October, “bringing the pleasures of the Tuscan country villa to Rancho Cucamonga,” as their website puts it. (In return, maybe The Deli can bring the pleasures of Rancho Cucamonga to Tuscany?) It’s a national chain, but at 57 locations at this writing, it’s not ubiquitous; this is the first Brio in all of California. This puts the coup in Cucamonga.

Even though it’s not a bookstore, having the space occupied is welcome, and they’ve done a great job on the decor. Outside, protected seating with heat lamps; inside, a circular bar (where the new releases used to be displayed), then a dining room with a high ceiling, drapery and columns. For the Inland Valley, it’s a fairly dramatic dining space.

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The evening began on a slightly discordant note when the employee seating us cheerfully declared, “We’re definitely not Olive Garden!,” a comparison that probably shouldn’t be made even jokingly. I would hope that if I were walking into, say, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, they wouldn’t quip, “We’re definitely not Sizzler!”

Anyway, we were seated in the former nonfiction section, probably around computer science or business. Yes, I miss Borders. The menu is less pasta than steaks, seafood, chicken and chops. As Italian goes, this is the anti-Vince’s Spaghetti. Entrees range from $11 to $30. I had a pork chop ($17.50, below), my friend the roasted half-chicken ($16, bottom).

Our entrees were decent: the chicken hormone-free and lemony, the pork chop large, marinated and relatively moist, by pork chop standards. However, my roasted vegetables were desiccated, and they were paired with mashed potatoes. Basically, I had two sides of dry stuff. (And, in the photos, compare the moistness of the veggies on our respective plates.) Oh well. We left full, with no room for dessert, and thankful we hadn’t ordered an appetizer.

I’ll give Brio a mixed review. It’s not bad, and you may want to try it. (In a weird sidenote, a top Google search result was a blog post by Philip K. Dick’s fifth wife about how she wants to go.) But we were hoping for a little better, and for the price, it didn’t knock our socks off. At the VG, I’m more likely to go to Lucille’s or, for a more modest meal, Corner Bakery. It’s possible I’ll return. If I do, in honor of Borders, I’ll bring a book.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pieology

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Pieology, 8158 Day Creek Blvd. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily.

The Inland Valley’s first fast-fired pizza parlor, Pieology, opened last week south of Victoria Gardens in the Sears Grand center below Foothill Boulevard. The Fullerton-based chain is expanding quickly; with 10 locations open as I write this, including Walnut; one is due to open in Chino on Sept. 11 at 3908 Grand Ave.

I had lunch there Wednesday. This was my first Pieology visit, but I’d eaten at Blaze in Pasadena and 800 Degrees in Westwood, which have similar concepts. You line up like at Chipotle or Subway and your pizza is assembled in front of you by a line of workers to your specifications (within reason). They pop it in the oven, you pay, get your drink and sit down, and within a couple of minutes they’re bringing out your pizza.

There are pre-selected combinations you can order, or you can customize. I customized, going with the standard marinara and mozzarella with sausage and mushrooms ($7.50). (Disappointingly, if understandably, anchovies aren’t offered.) Because I’m soft-spoken, ordering involved my repeating most of these items to the staff on the other side of the sneeze shield. Also, I looked away at one point after answering the question “is that all?”, and when I looked back, “yes” had translated into ham being added. Well, all toppings seem to be free, so I let it go. As a friend put it, without some restraint you can end up with a pizza resembling a bas-relief map of the Sierra Nevadas.

I also picked up a prepackaged salad of spinach, cranberries, bleu cheese and walnuts ($3.50), which I liked. The pizza is very thin crust, crisp and almost cracker-like, with some char. The toppings were less generous than your typical pizza parlor.

Pieology was very much like Blaze (I think I had essentially the same salad both places), but less foodie than 800 Degrees and its Neopolitan-style pies and menu. I can see the appeal: You can get a decent pizza quickly on a lunch or dinner break, and it’s all yours; in a group, everyone can get exactly what they want without compromising and having to accept, say, black olives or another objectionable topping. Vegetarians can do their own thing.

Purely for taste, it’s not great pizza, but it’s all right, and the whole thing is kind of fun. I mean, Chipotle doesn’t make the best burritos either, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to go there anyway once in a while.

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Restaurant of the Week: Juanita’s III

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Juanita’s III, 9651 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga

Owned by the same family that has Juanita’s III in Ontario at 1209 E. 4th St. (since 1983), and related to the Juanita’s in Pomona at 1735 Indian Hill Blvd. since 1976, this Juanita’s opened in 2011 in a converted Taco Bell in the Baseline Village center.

(The location in Pomona carries an implicit I; the location in Ontario was II for years until a divorce rendered the name unusable, leading to two locations named Juanita’s III. Such is life.)

It’s the only Juanita’s with inside seating, as well as outside, but the food is essentially the same. The thing to order is the burrito, although they do sell tacos, taquitos, quesadillas, nachos and chile rellenos. In Juanita’s fashion, the prices are listed depending on whether you want your burrito all meat, meat and cheese, meat bean rice and cheese, meat bean cheese, meat and beans or meat and rice. (The old board at the Pomona location inspired a blog post.)

On my first visit I strayed off the reservation for some reason and tried the cheese enchiladas, a brutalist version under a river of melted yellow cheese. They were okay for what they were, but not something I’d recommend or order again.

Next time I reverted to my Juanita’s usual: a chicken, rice and cheese burrito ($5.25) and a small horchata ($1.45). Much better. They make their own flour tortillas and it shows. The burrito was carelessly wrapped, although the fact that it fell open when unwrapped did facilitate adding dollops of their excellent red salsa to the main body of the burrito instead of a bite at a time.

Not the most authentic Mexican food around, but Juanita’s burritos make a satisfying meal. It’s a big improvement on Taco Bell.

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