Restaurant of the Week: The Stackz Co.

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The Stackz Co., 9223 Archibald Ave. (at Sixth), Rancho Cucamonga

I’ve passed by Stackz, which wasn’t far from our old office, but never pulled over. The aging business center is uninspiring, and then there’s the Z in the name and on the second sign, “Subz, Saladz and Brewz,” which subtly offended me.

Then we moved our office over to Archibald, where we’re now 3/10ths of a mile from Stackz. A couple of newsroom colleagues reported how good it was, as did a random reader. So I dropped my prejudices and went in.

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Stackz has beer and wine cocktails, and also sandwiches and salads. The interior is industrial chic, with plank walls, exposed ductwork, corrugated metal trim, a barrel and some interesting art, all vintage B&W photos of early airplanes and bicycles, I think to match the old-timey design of the logo.

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You order at the bar and take a seat at a table, a picnic table or the bar. On my first visit, I got the meatball sandwich ($8) as a combo with fries and drink ($3 more). This sandwich was very good, especially the springy roll, which tasted fresh. It was a pleasant surprise. No wonder people say nice things about Stackz.

I went back another day and got the cold Italian sub as a combo with chips and drink (same price as above). While I’m not generally a fan of cold sandwiches, this was pretty good too.

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The atmosphere is somewhat male. The majority of customers are men, and on my first visit, a picnic table of them silently eyeballed the female server as she walked away. That said, the service is friendly, there are women customers and the menu even has kids items. Also, the sandwiches are quite good. I’d go back even if I had to drive a few miles.

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Restaurant of the Week: Combine Kitchen

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Combine Kitchen, 12750 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Combine Kitchen is in what some of us call Foncho, the area east of the 15 Freeway that is almost Fontana but is still Rancho Cucamonga. Specifically, it’s in a modern center near Sacred Heart Catholic that has (ooh-la-la) Tilted Kilt, Starbucks and the area’s first dim sum restaurant, China Republic.

Combine is like almost nothing else in the area: a hipster coffeehouse with gastropub food, from a menu that changes seasonally. A foodie pal raved about it. A friend and I took a long lunch there recently.

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First you order a drink and they prepare it, then they’ll take your food order. They have espresso, chemex, nitro cold brew and pour overs, plus some oddities, like the Mello Yello, which is tumeric and ginger tea mixed with almond milk, and More Fat Coffee, with grass-fed butter, coconut oil and cinnamon — as the menu puts it, “don’t knock it till you try it.”

The menu has only a few items — five sandwiches, five breakfast items and three bowls, plus a special or two. Vegetarian and gluten-free items are marked, although there may not be enough of them; a vegetarian friend whom I invited for dinner declined because all she could get was one item, which had goat cheese, which she didn’t like. So there’s that.

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There are muffins and cookies at the counter, by the way.

But back to lunch. My friend had the Combine breakfast, scrambled eggs with bacon, potatoes and garlic toast ($11.50), plus an iced coffee ($4.45). I got the pork belly banh mi sandwich ($11.50) and potatoes, plus a cold brew float ($6.50).

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For seating, there’s a counter, communal tables and a shallow window counter, plus some nooks and crannies, the whole room sleek and modern, with lots of natural light. At one table, a mother was teaching her young son to read. There are a few shelves with specialty items arranged for sale, including books.

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We liked our food, including the potatoes, which are smashed flat. As a non-coffee person, I’m not sure what I was thinking by ordering a cold brew float. I had the jitters from the first sip that lasted the rest of the day. But that might be your thing.

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My foodie friend at last report had enjoyed the steak and eggs on garlic toast, shrooms and eggs on toast, lox and pork belly, all of which he called amazing, as well as several coffee drinks.

Combine is open for coffee from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For food, breakfast and lunch are served from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; after a two-hour break, the dinner menu runs from 5 to 9 p.m., except Mondays.

Basically, it’s a bit of Silver Lake in Rancho Cucamonga. If that sounds as appealing to you as it does to me, further instructions are unnecessary.

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Update September 2016: I had breakfast: shrooms on toast, with a side of bacon, and it was even better than I’d hoped, plus a chai latte.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Mug Shakes

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The Mug Shakes, Victoria Gardens Food Hall, 12434 N. Mainstreet, Rancho Cucamonga

The Mug Shakes, which opened in May, is a locally owned stall in the Victoria Gardens Food Hall, a non-chain that could become one. It created a sensation upon opening with its decadent creations that are served in glass mugs and spill out of them, with long lines reported on weekends. My colleague Neil Nisperos wrote about them. Fox 11 did a feature too.

As is often the case with me, I was curious but didn’t act on my curiosity for a while; it’s not often I’m at Victoria Gardens, and the messy look of the shakes was a little off-putting, even while it might draw in others. I kind of forgot the place was there. And then a friend from North Hollywood visited and posted photos, and, shamed, I made a special trip on a lunch break this week, when the mercury was 100.

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After lunch, I went to The Mug Shakes, where only a couple of parties were in line. I had time to read the menu board, where photos of the shakes scroll by. A few sounded enticing for my tastes: the Nutty Peanut, with peanut butter and Kit-Kats, the Pine Crunch, with pineapple cheesecake, the O’Real Bomb, with Oreo cookies, and the Grasshopper, with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Some shakes are $7 while others are $8, presumably due to ingredients or assembly time, as all are the same size.

I went for the Banana Bang ($7), with bananas and toffee, in part because it seemed like a (very relatively) lighter offering, and somewhat tidy. It arrived about five minutes later.

There were banana chips affixed to the rim and, inside, fresh banana pieces amid the ice cream, plus smears of toffee inside and around the rim and a topping that some say is marshmallow cream rather than whipped cream.

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Two could share one of these shakes. The elaborate, spillover presentation is eye-catching, if not all that appealing to me. What surprised me was that the shake wasn’t made with premium ice cream. I expected more after all the hype and the care spent on the appearance. Overall, my shake was very sweet but didn’t taste that great. It felt like wasted calories.

Toppings may not impress either: The few, lonely naysayers on Yelp, where Mug Shakes currently has a 4.5 rating, point out that the brownies in one shake are the processed Fiber One brand, not fresh-baked. If they’re going to go to this much trouble, why not use better ingredients and charge another $2 or $3?

“Does it come with a shot of insulin?” one friend asked after seeing a photo of my shake. My NoHo friend said she’d had the Marvelous Mango shake and found it refreshing. “I asked for the calorie counts,” she confided, “and the worker there laughed at me.”

You can take the mug home if you like — the staff will give you a plastic bag for it, since it will be goopy outside and in — or you can return it, which I did. Would I ever go again? Ehh, probably not. At the VG, you might get a better, and certainly more conventional, shake at The Melt (six flavors, including Snickerdoodle) or Johnny Rockets.

Below is a photo from Yelp of a more typical Mug Shakes offering, the Pebble Graham (I think), that may strike you as either challenging or disgusting. I report, you decide.

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Restaurant of the Week: Zait Bistro

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Zait Bistro, 7251 Haven Ave. (at Base Line), Rancho Cucamonga

Located in Terra Vista Village, next to Stuffed Pizza and Ralphs and near a boba shop, Zait Bistro is a mom and pop Lebanese restaurant. A friend picked it for dinner based on online ratings and it sounded fine to me.

Zait’s menu has 10 combo plates of shawarma, kababs and falafel, which come with two sides and pita bread. They can be ordered in two or three sizes depending on the number of skewers or pieces you prefer ($8 to $15). They also have grilled chicken, sandwiches and salads.

The woman at the counter let us try some of the sides, which were in small bins at the counter behind plastic. That was nice. It was like being at an ice cream shop, except we were trying Mediterranean salad, not mint chip.

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I ordered a small lamb kabab, with one skewer, plus tabbouleh and grape leaves ($10); my friend had two shrimp skewers plus potatoes and falafel ($15). We sat down to await our food. A sign on the wall cautions that “fresh food is not fast food” and gives the preparation time for each entree, up to 18 minutes.

Our food arrived after what seemed like a typical wait, but the heads-up was appreciated, as was the concept of making our food to order. It’s served in foam containers, which isn’t much for presentation, but for those taking home leftovers, it’s handy.

My lamb was very good, and one skewer was quite enough food, especially with the sides. My friend got about eight shrimp of impressive size. “This is a lot of shrimp,” she exclaimed. I was a little envious. She also praised her falafel for having more taste than the typical overly fried version.

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Zait has a Pepsi freestyle machine and Turkish coffee for 99 cents, plus baklava and harissa for dessert.

I would go back. Zait is all right.

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Restaurant of the Week: Java Bistro

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Java Bistro, 9090 Milliken Ave. (at 7th), Rancho Cucamonga; closed Mondays.

Did you know there’s an Indonesian restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga? It might be the only one in the Inland Valley. Java Bistro opened in February in a small complex that also has Gandolfo’s Deli. Reader Andy Sze drew my attention to Java Bistro’s existence.

It’s a small operation with only a few tables, plus a wall of grocery items on shelves, such as rice, dried shrimp and spices. The other wall has a photo mural of Indonesian scenes, very professionally done. (It was hard to get a photo of the dining room unobtrusively because it’s so small.)

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The staff will show you to a table and hand you a glossy menu, which has photos of many of the dishes.

On my first visit, I tried the anchovy fried rice ($9), because I like anchovies. The dish had the saltiness you expect from anchovies, as well as having sator, an edamame-like bean. I took about one-third home for a second meal. I wish I had ordered a second dish for contrast because this one by itself kind of wore out its welcome.

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On my second visit, I got mie ayam jamur, or chicken mushroom noodle ($7.50). This was a bowl of noodles with the aforementioned chicken and mushrooms, plus vegetables, and was delicious. A cup of soup — meatballs in broth — came as a side.

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Java Bistro is a good spot for the slightly adventurous. I like it and hope they succeed.

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Restaurant of the Week: N7 Creamery

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N7 Creamery, 7880 Kew Ave., Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

One of the few one-of-a-kind shops in the Victoria Gardens mall, locally owned N7 sells ice cream, baked goods and coffee. Open until 10 p.m. most nights and 11 p.m. on weekends, it’s a personality-plus environment: a high ceiling that looks like pressed tin, faux brick walls, distressed wood and local art on the walls.

N7 is on the east side of the mall, north of TGI Friday’s and across from the Macy’s women’s store. (The mall is finishing up a millennial-friendly area on the west side, but N7 shows there’s life on the east side too.)

The menu shows the type of offerings: Stumptown coffee, nitrogen ice cream, baked treats, even if some, such as the flavors of ice creams, change frequently. I’ve been to N7 a few times and have always been impressed.

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Not a coffee drinker, I’m afraid, but if you are, you’ll find them suitably serious about the whole thing. What I’ve tried is a scone ($3.75, above), cinnamon roll ($4.50) and a hazelnut hand pie ($5), in visits earlier this year, all three delicious and clearly made with care.

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I’ve also had the ice cream, which comes in such flavors as madagascar vanilla, guilford chocolate and salted caramel. The one I’ve had is winter citrus with blood orange sauce (above); it’s just as good as it sounds. (If you’re strictly a rocky road person, this may not be the shop for you.)

They make it in front of you, although the setup isn’t designed to show it off the way it is at some nitrogen specialty shops. Prices are $6 for 4 oz., $7 for 6 oz. and $9 for 8 oz. When I had the ice cream, months ago, it was $1.75 cheaper all around; I didn’t blanch at $4.25 for a scoop, but I might at $6.

In everything they do, they emphasize quality ingredients from local, organic and/or sustainable sources, and a ban on preservatives, a stance that boosts the prices, perhaps, but shows they care.

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In the back, there’s a lounge with more seating, plus a bookcase with a scattering of reading material. It’s a cozy place to hang out or study.

Basically, this is one of Rancho Cucamonga’s most unique, hand-crafted places, and it’s tucked away in a mall. That’s about as quintessentially Cucamonga as you can get. Give ’em a try. They deserve your support.

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Restaurant of the Week: Blaze Pizza

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Blaze Pizza, 7833 Monet Ave. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

Fast-fired pizza specialist Blaze Pizza opened over the summer in Victoria Gardens, the sole local outlet for now. The chain is based in Pasadena. Because I wasn’t around for the opening specials, the company sent me two coupons for free pizzas, which a friend and I recently redeemed.

Blaze is on Monet, the street undergoing a hipsterification. The pizzeria is a good fit for the street, which is being designed to appeal to the younger crowd.

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The setting is casual and lively, with some high-top tables. Because of the high, open ceiling, the room is a little loud, which must be how the young people like it. Only semi-populated on a weeknight, the noise level didn’t impede conversation.

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Like Pieology, you can order a pre-designed pie or customize one from a long list of ingredients (but not long enough to include anchovies). And much like at Subway or Chipotle, you move down a line past ingredients that a series of employees will add at your request. You pay at the end of the line, your pizza is popped into an oven and your number will be called in about five minutes.

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We each ordered “signature” pizzas: The White Top for her (white cream sauce with mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano and arugula) and the Link In for me (Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, sauteed onions, mozzarella and red sauce), typically each $8.

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These were pretty good pies, about the right size for one person. “On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say it was a 4 1/2,” my friend said. “Because I wish the crust was a little thicker.” I can appreciate that, although the thin crust is what allows it to be baked so fast. I liked Blaze and its crust better than Pieology’s. Neither compares with going to an actual pizzeria, but the experience is novel and you can be in and out in a lunch break. I would go back.

Oh, yeah, and we sprung for the S’mores dessert ($2.50), a sort of cookie filled with chocolate and marshmallow. You might want to try one.

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Restaurant of the Week: Luna

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Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen, 7881 Monet Ave. in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

Luna opened in April in a long-vacant spot previously occupied by Candelas and Wapango. There’s only one other Luna, in Corona. Some friends and I checked out the VG version recently for lunch.

It’s very stylish, with high ceilings, long corded fixtures and a light display in the bar area. We were seated in a half-oval banquette.

I have to do this from memory because I can’t find my notes (!), but off the lunch menu, we ordered (pictured in descending order below) a chopped salad, a Cabo roll (prawns, cheese, avocado in a tortilla), mole poblano chicken enchiladas and, for me, the pipian de puerco (pork loin in chimichuri sauce). (None of the prices are online, but the plates were around $12 to $18.) One got a drink, Luna’s signature, named El Pepino (about $8), from the extensive tequila list, and two of us ordered dessert: warm butter cake and deep-fried ice cream.

We all liked our items, and the friend who got the salad couldn’t help but be impressed by the presentation, a hat-like oval. All the dishes were plated well. Service was attentive and helpful and felt genuine.

You can get tacos or burritos here, but Luna is more of a modern, upscale take on Mexican cooking that presents new or altered dishes. It’s worth a try.

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Restaurant of the Week: King’s Fish House

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King’s Fish House, 12427 N. Main St. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

King’s is one of the original tenants from the launch of Victoria Gardens in 2004. It’s a chain with just 11 locations in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona, the nearest one being in Corona. I’ve eaten at the VG one a few times over the years, usually when someone else is buying. (I ate there once with my parents, for instance.)

An editor owed me lunch recently after losing a work bet and, wanting to pinch his wallet a little but not too much, I chose King’s.

It’s in a prominent place, on the corner where many turn for the parking garage, and there’s plenty of seating, including a bar and a covered patio. The interior looks the same as I remember it, vaguely Art Deco. They were having a lobster promotion and a salmon promotion too.

The menu has grilled seafood, a few sandwiches, salads and small plates, an oyster bar and even sushi, with lunch entrees running $14 to $24, dinner up to $30.

I got lobster bisque ($5.75) and cedar plank salmon ($21). The friend buying my lunch opted for fish and chips ($16.50). He liked his dish. The bisque was a bit sweet, as the server had warned, due to cooking sherry (ooh la la). But it was fine. Ditto with the salmon, rice and veggies. The glaze wasn’t my favorite. But then, the whole lunch was all the sweeter because I wasn’t paying.

Still, maybe I missed my chance by not getting filet mignon and lobster tail ($45) or at least dessert. I am merciful in victory.

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Restaurant of the Week: Septembers

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Septembers Taproom and Eatery, 6321 Haven Ave. (at Lemon), Rancho Cucamonga

In the old McAlan’s Pub building in the Trader Joe’s and Vons centers, Septembers is a welcome gastropub with local brews and better than average food, concentrating on classic American sandwiches.

Reader Dave Paniagua, who had earlier drawn my attention to Ontario’s Corner Deli, alerted me to Septembers, and since I’m now a regular at Corner Deli, I took his tip seriously.

Septembers is quiet on a lunch hour, with a few people around the bar and only a few diners. They have beer and wine, plus some cocktails. The interior is pleasantly industrial, with high-top and regular tables under an exposed ceiling, distressed wood walls and corrugated steel accents.

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Virtually everything on the menu was potentially of interest to me.

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Well, not nachos, but you get the idea. It’s a a well-designed menu, too, isn’t it?

They have several set lunch specials, all for $8. First time I got one of those, a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. It was good enough that I returned the next week to order off the regular menu. I got a sloppy joe — how often do you see that on a menu? — that was made with chuck and brisket on a long roll ($14, first photo below). An excellent version of the old-school classic. The criss-cut fries, with your choice of seasoning (I got sea salt and vinegar), were addictive.

Next visit I got a shrimp po’boy ($14, second photo below). Served open face, it was overstuffed and strictly knife and fork. Good, yet maybe too much of a good thing. The side of mac and cheese was excellent.

I’ve gone back three times since, making this one of the best-researched Restaurant of the Week posts ever. The Italian panini melt ($14) was a little boring and so big I couldn’t finish it even if I’d wanted to. The classic burger ($11, third photo below) with onion rings was very good; two onion rings don’t sound like much, but they were very large. That time I finally had room for dessert, getting the apple crisp a la mode ($5, bottom); as you can see, they didn’t skimp on the ice cream. And most recently, the fish and chips ($12) were meaty.

I’m not a drinker, so in that sense this may be the most poorly researched Restaurant of the Week ever, but I can tell you they have local brews such as Dale Brothers and Hangar 24. Margaritas are $3 on Mondays, wines are $3 on Wednesdays and you can get a $6 sampler paddle of beers on Thursdays.

If no dish has wowed me, everything has been solid, and my impression of the place is positive. I appreciate that the chefs are using quality ingredients and raising everything up a notch. A sandwich and an iced tea will set you back about $20 with tax and tip. If you can splurge a little, it’s worth it.

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