Restaurant of the Week: Chu Fine Chinese Cuisine

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Chu Fine Chinese Cuisine, 11334 Fourth St. (at Milliken), Rancho Cucamonga

Chu has been across from Ontario Mills, in the same center as Chipotle and Kula, since about 2008. I ate there once, occasionally made jokes with friends about Chu Chinese Food being a good place to chew Chinese food and kind of forgot about the place until returning recently with a friend for dinner.

It’s a sitdown restaurant, comfortable and moderately snazzy, with vases and other objects displayed in a series of niches (seen below) and 3-D art produced with layered cutout images hanging on the walls. One depicts the Last Supper. People were seated in front of it, eating supper themselves, which prevented a closer look. All the pieces are for sale, generally at $1,000 or more, a price that would seem beyond the means of most who would eat at Chu’s, where entrees range from $7 to $13.

We ordered a la carte entrees from the house specialties list: fried chicken with hot garlic sauce ($11, below) and rice cakes Shanghai style ($9, bottom). The chicken came in bite-sized pieces. We liked it best, even if the sauce didn’t qualify as hot. The rice cakes weren’t the diet-food kind but rather soft, chewy discs the size and color of water chestnuts, served with a few vegetables. I liked them, although a platter of them was a few too many.

Most of the rest of the menu is typical Cantonese-American fare, down to chop suey and cream cheese wontons. Unexciting, but not bad, and this is one of the few Ontario Mills-adjacent spots (Green Mango is another) where you’re guaranteed to be able to get a table quickly on a Friday or Saturday night when all the chains are gridlocked, and get a decent meal to boot.

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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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Restaurant of the Week: Slater’s 50/50

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Slater’s 50/50, 8009 Day Creek Blvd. (at Victoria Gardens Lane), Rancho Cucamonga

In proof the Inland Valley is getting hipper, or more accurately less unhip, Rancho Cucamonga is now home to the sixth location of a rising high-end burger chain. Slater’s signature ingredient is bacon, its 50/50 burger being half-bacon, half-beef, and they have 100 beers on tap.

Replacing Harry’s Pacific Grill, Slater’s opened July 1 and people discovered it quickly. A friend and I showed up at 6:30 p.m. for dinner midweek and the stated wait was 60 to 75 minutes. Thankfully there’s a Starbucks next door, which is likely to see booming business from people cooling their heels. They’ll text you when it’s your turn, and it was indeed 75 minutes before it was.

The interior is much as I remember it from the sedate Harry’s, heavy on the wood and with its own bar. They’ve added multiple TVs, all tuned to sports, albeit with the sound off, or at least overwhelmed by the classic rock blasting from the sound system and the dull roar from the couple of hundred people inside.

We had an appetizer platter ($6.45, below) of onion rings (a bit greasy, but okay) and sweet potato fries (very good) and two sandwiches ($9 each): a 50/50 for me (bottom), a veggie burger for my friend. Counter-style, you can fill out a slip to choose your patty, bun, cheese, condiments, etc. An indecisive fellow, I’d also rather leave the choices of what goes well together to the kitchen professionals, yet I decided to build my own this time.

The veggie burger was declared “pretty wonderful,” with actual vegetables (black beans, most notably) visible. “I would so get that again,” my friend said. The buns are especially good, the brioche and the honey wheat, being flavorful and substantial.

My 50/50 was fine, but as you’d expect a burger made half of bacon to be, saltier than a typical burger. By the end I was a little tired of it. It was gimmicky, although less so than the chain’s “burger of the month” for July, which is an all-bacon patty, topped with bacon, with bacon dressing, bacon cheese and bacon pretzel bun, plus a fried egg. Maybe they’ll sell you a pancake as a side.

I’m not sure I’d get the 50/50 again, but I would try something else, maybe one of the standard burgers where they’ve already made the choices, or one of the non-burger options. The desserts and milkshakes sound intriguing too. (I might have ordered a shake but the restaurant was chilly.)

Service was attentive, with multiple people checking on us multiple times. There was a glitch on the bill where they tried charging me 50 cents each for condiments that were supposed to be free, but the bill was corrected.

Worth trying to see what the fuss is about, but you might want to arrive at an off-hour. And it helps if you like Starbucks.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dalia’s Pizza Buffet

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Dalia’s Pizza Buffet, 9558 Base Line Road (at Klusman), Rancho Cucamonga

The former Sizzler on Base Line Road has been converted into something almost unique to the area: a pizza buffet. No, not just like Shakey’s or someplace where they have a buffet at lunchtime. I mean it’s all-you-can-eat all the time, like HomeTown Buffet. There is no menu to order from.

Curious, I went there for lunch one day last week. I paid my $7.49 at the cashier for a buffet and $2.39 for a soda (“all you can drink”) and then checked out the offerings.

There is pizza, obviously, seven or more at a time, even at 1:30 p.m. when I arrived. And there is salad, soup, pasta and garlic knots. They also have fried chicken, french fries and onion rings. And there is soft-serve ice cream, cookies and even chocolate-covered strawberries.

The salad was fine, the Italian wedding soup not bad, and a ravioli was unexpectedly meaty. The pizza, oddly enough, was the weak link, blandly sauced, bready and unmemorable. I ate six slices anyway. It seemed like the thing to do.

(I didn’t take pictures of my plates of food. With a buffet, photos seemed kind of beside the point.)

When I left, after 2:30, the buffet had eight pizzas out, and there were still a handful of customers. A manager told me that during the afternoon lull, customers can request a pizza, saving the kitchen from putting out a lot of food no one is there to eat. But by 5 p.m., he said, people start coming in for dinner ($9). Putting out individual-serving submarine sandwiches is under consideration, and customers can place to-go orders.

Dalia’s has six other locations in the area, most of them take-out or delivery only. I thought Dalia’s pizza buffet might be unique, but CiCi’s Pizza, a Texas-based buffet chain, now has a location in Chino Hills (4200 Chino Hills Parkway).

It’s an interesting concept and Dalia’s does seem to be trying. I might even go back for the novelty factor. I wish the pizza were better, though.

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