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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Restaurant of the Week: Kula

Kula Revolving Sushi Bar, 9659 Milliken Ave. (at 4th), Rancho Cucamonga

Said to be the Inland Empire’s first revolving sushi bar, Kula opened in August 2012 across from Ontario Mills. It’s a Southern California chain with six other locations, including Rowland Heights. Revolving would seem to imply it’s round, but really it’s a conveyor belt that wends its way around the room. It’s almost like an elaborate model train layout, only with salmon nigiri instead of coal cars.

Almost everything is $2, whether it’s sushi, hand rolls, cut rolls, salads, grill items, desserts or sodas. (Udon, however, is $5.) No matter where you sit, plates trundle by, covered by a clear plastic lid, ready to be snagged off the belt. A friend and I had lunch the other day, leaving stuffed after a total bill of $32.

Kula isn’t the place to go for high-end sushi, obviously, and the cuts of fish were thinner than is typical. Most plates had two pieces, meaning you and a companion could each have one piece and move on. The experience was novel, and if you’re undemanding, the sushi is good enough. You can sit at the sushi bar if you like conversing with the chefs, although they seem busy cranking out the sushi; for everyone else, you don’t really have to deal with anyone. It’s kind of like the automats of old.

The closer you sit to the bar, the fresher your items, potentially. We sat in the middle of the room. Pointing to the folks at the far end, my friend commented, “Those people really get whatever it is we don’t want.” I suppose the people at the bar were saying that about us.

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Restaurant of the Week: Flamingo Palms

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Flamingo Palms, 11400 4th St. (at Pittsburgh), Rancho Cucamonga

Cuban restaurants have come and gone out here like the tide against the Havana shoreline, but Flamingo Palms seems to be succeeding. After a few years in Rancho Cucamonga in a charmless Archibald Avenue business park, the restaurant moved in April to a higher-profile location across from Ontario Mills, in a space that briefly housed a Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe.

I had dinner there with a friend recently. The interior has a modern ambience, with walls my friend described as “faux wood, faux terracotta and faux brick,” adorned with some not-bad art and two flat-screen TVs.

Having had a filling lunch, I opted for a light entree, the Flamingo salad ($9), with grilled shrimp and blood orange vinaigrette. Delicious, and with seven large shrimp, they didn’t skimp on the shrimp.

My friend had the arroz con pollo ($15), which he was warned would take 40 minutes. It arrived in a cavernous bowl (he took home half) and had rice, two pieces of chicken on the bone and plantains. He pronounced it excellent and said with satisfaction: “They took their time. They didn’t rush it.”

We also split an order of crispy plantain chips, called mariquitas ($5), which didn’t do anything for either of us.

Service was attentive, with both our server and the table busser inquiring how we were doing. You won’t think you’re in Cuba, but the music is unobtrusive, the food pretty good and the experience unhurried.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lazy Dog Cafe

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Lazy Dog Cafe, 11560 4th St. (across from Ontario Mills), Rancho Cucamonga

Lazy Dog, which opened in May in the sort of restaurant row along 4th Street near Ontario Mills, is off to a good start. Five of us went in for lunch earlier this week and the place was busy, most seats filled and servers efficiently going about their work.

The 10th location in the SoCal-based chain, Rancho Cucamonga’s is open until midnight every night — imagine! — and dogs are allowed on the expansive outdoor patio, where servers will bring them a bowl of water. (According to the website: “Doggie ‘accidents’ must be cleaned up and sanitized immediately by employees.”)

Inside, there’s a rustic look, the open ceiling a latticework of beams, lots of natural light pouring in. The website says the ambience is meant to evoke a hunting lodge in Wyoming and its lazy, friendly feeling. Uh-huh. With loud rock and pop playing (Steve Miller Band, ELO) and servers trying to upsell you, “lazy” isn’t really the feeling evoked here.

So even if the story behind the restaurant is the usual BS, the food is pretty good. We all liked what we had: a handformed turkey burger ($9.25) on whole wheat with a side a chilled brocollini; a lavash veggie wrap (price forgotten; pictured below) with a cucumber salad on the side, the wrap served in an accordion stand useful to hold it together between bites (“It’s genius,” the diner marveled); fish and chips with slaw ($10); and a half-sandwich (walnut chicken salad) with fries and a full salad.

“They’re not lazy with the portions,” said the diner who ordered the latter. “All this for, like, $7.95?”

The menu also has pizzas, pastas, steaks, seafood and wok-fired dishes, with lunch specials $10 and under.

Two friends dined there the previous day, one getting an ahi tuna burger with Asian slaw and wasabi dressing ($10), the other, a discriminating diner, ordering a pesto chicken and hummus salad ($8.25) and ending up satisfied despite the iceberg lettuce. They also had the sangria sampler and the beer sampler and noted the enticing selection of martinis ($6) and craft beers ($5).

Service was friendly, although the mid-meal effort to tempt us with dessert seemed like trying too hard, and like rushing us through a meal in non-lazy fashion.

Overall, though, not bad for corporate dining. And it’s a really beautiful building.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Ranchero (Haven Ave.)

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El Ranchero, 9260 Haven Ave. (at 6th), Rancho Cucamonga

Famished after a Rancho Cucamonga council meeting, I despaired of finding a restaurant open at the locally ungodly hour of 9 p.m. But on my drive to the freeway, I noticed an “open” sign alight in the window of El Ranchero and made a hasty right turn.

There’s a smaller El Ranchero at 19th and Carnelian, which is a nice little mom and pop fast-food place. This is larger and newer. When I pulled in, students from the adjacent automotive trade school were congregating for a meal break.

I ordered an al pastor torta ($5.75), which came on an oval bun at least 8 inches long and was loaded with pork, refried beans, lettuce and tomatoes. Tasty and filling, it was one of the better tortas I’ve had in these parts.

With bare floors and a high, exposed ceiling, the interior is kind of cavernous, but there are plenty of windows, two flat screen TVs and four tourism poster-type paintings of Veracruz, Xochimilco, Guadalajara and, charmingly, Rancho Cucamonga. And the place is open until 10 p.m. Thanks, El Ranchero.

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