Restaurant of the Week: Corner Bakery Cafe

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Corner Bakery Cafe, 12375 S. Main St. (at Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

Corner Bakery is a chain, but one with only two Inland Valley locations, fewer than some of our mom-and-pop restaurants, so it’s fair game here. I haven’t been to the one in Chino Hills (4517 Chino Hills Parkway) but over the years I’ve been to the Victoria Gardens location many times.

It’s one of the more affordable restaurants there, falling into the fast-casual category. A purveyor of sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta, not to mention fresh bread and other bakery items, Corner Bakery is similar to Panera, except for the pasta, and similarly priced $1 or $2 above what you’d like to pay; a sandwich and drink will run you about $11. Still, it’s a lot cheaper than a sitdown meal at, say, Lucille’s or King’s.

A friend prefers Corner Bakery, I prefer Panera. The Corner Bakery menu (view it here) is awfully complex, with a lot of items (I count 21 sandwiches and 19 salads), and you can stand there like a dope for some minutes figuring out what you want. On the bright side, there’s usually a line, which buys you time.

The pesto cavatappi pasta (about $8, pictured, as a “Corner Combo” as a small portion with a side salad) is a solid choice. One time I got the full-size order with a side salad for $1 that, mistakenly I think, turned out to be a full-sized salad. I ate the salad and two bites of the pasta and took the rest of the pasta home for an entire extra meal. Best dollar I ever spent. That hasn’t happened again.

They also have breakfast, with pastries, oatmeal (including a chilled version), egg paninis and fruit bowls.

A lot of people on Yelp think the VG location is subpar, with indifferent service and crumbs on the seats. That’s never stood out for me but then I’ve never visited other, allegedly better locations. I just take it for what it is.

At the VG, it was easy enough to park in a surface lot nearby, hit Corner Bakery, hit Borders, hit Pinkberry (if desired) and then hit the road. I had three recent meals there during the Borders closeout sale.

I like the VG, but there’s not a lot of interest for me there and there’ll be even less so without a bookstore. But Corner Bakery will be there when I need it.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Deli

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The Deli, 9671 Foothill Blvd. (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga

The Deli is a sandwich-making institution at the epicenter of old Cucamonga, the crossroads of Foothill Boulevard (Route 66) and Archibald Avenue. It’s in half of an old market that apparently dates to the 1920s.

I don’t know the age of The Deli, but it was in full swing in 1997 when I arrived here and it’s still packed at lunchtime, with no obvious change or dropoff in quality.

It’s not an ethnic deli, just a sandwich shop. Most of the sandwiches are hot. They have dip, steak, sausage and chicken sandwiches, burgers, cold cuts, hot dogs and salads. i haven’t made a survey of the menu, but the grilled Cajun chicken breast sandwich ($6, pictured) is my standard order; the burger ($2.89) and Italian steak ($7.69) are pretty good too.

The oak-intensive interior is full of character, especially with the two model trains that chug along on tracks suspended from the ceiling (pictured) and the vintage photos of the intersection that line one wall. The soda machine stands atop an old safe. The shaded patio, which has its own order window, is a nice place to hang too.

At noon, the place is a hive of activity. (It’s open until 8 p.m.) One can’t help but notice that almost every employee is female, an observation a staff photo makes even clearer. Is The Deli an EEOC complaint waiting to happen?

Who knows, maybe it already has. When I visit I’m often reminded of the “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine files a complaint with the feds against the diner over the pulchritude of its staff, and the investigators, two men, in the name of research become regulars.

But the eye candy is unnecessary (or a bonus, depending on your viewpoint). It’s the food, atmosphere and sense of tradition in a young city that make The Deli well worth a visit.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oporto

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Closed as Oporto; now known as Feisty Chicken

Oporto, 8220 Haven Ave. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga

Oporto is an Australia-based restaurant chain that opened its first U.S. location in (why not?) Rancho Cucamonga. A quirky way to launch, I suppose, but we would expect no less from the Aussies. The website promises coming locations in Ontario and Glendora. We appreciate their laser-like focus.

The Rancho Cucamonga restaurant is in the former Pei Wei location, much missed by some of us, in the Chaffey Town Square center at the southwest corner of Haven and Foothill. Oporto opened in February. I went in with a friend recently for dinner.

They specialize in Portuguese-style chicken, unbreaded and unfried, served either as whole chickens or in a variety of sandwiches, in which the chicken is pressed and served as one, two or three stacked “patties.” It’s a casual, order-at-the-counter place, with an overhead menu of similar-looking sandwiches whose variations can only be read when standing directly underneath it.

We had a single Bondi meal (one-patty sandwich, fries, drink, $5), which has “chilli” sauce, and a double Otropo meal (ditto, but with two patties, $7), which has pineapple, bacon and “creamy mayo” sauce.

Well, it was no Pei Wei, but the sandwiches were tasty, and served on above-average buns. The crusty fries were different, enjoyable, but salty. I would go back and so would my friend. (*Correction: She says she wouldn’t.) The food is very different from Chick-fil-A but of comparable quality. There’s plenty of seating indoors and a large patio.

Throw another chicken on the…oh, never mind.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pho Ha

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Pho(to) above: John Valenzuela

Pho Ha, 9319 Foothill Blvd. (at Hellman), Rancho Cucamonga; also 695 Indian Hill Blvd. (at Keystone), Pomona

Pho Ha is reputed to be among the best Vietnamese restaurants locally, and none of my experiences there would refute that. The one in Rancho Cucamonga is in the Chuck E. Cheese center. At busy times it’s like a food hall, every table lined up in rows and occupied, a few diners standing and waiting for a seat, waiters scurrying.

They do a very good version of pho, the beef noodle soup that is a Vietnamese staple. There’s also an extensive menu of appetizers and entrees, which are what I usually opt for. I’ve never had a bad meal there.

The Pomona location is also good, albeit a notch below the Rancho Cucamonga location in ambience. At last count there are 128 reviews on Yelp.

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Restaurant of the Week: Five Guys

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Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 7945 Haven Ave. (at Town Center Drive), Rancho Cucamonga

The Inland Empire’s first Five Guys outpost of the East Coast chain opened in March in the Terra Vista center north of Foothill Boulevard. Lines are usually out the door, showing either strong curiosity or repeat customers, probably both.

I visited with three pals on a recent Saturday at high noon, in retrospect perhaps the worst time to have picked. The place was jam-packed and noisy and tables were scarce.

It’s a simple menu of burgers, fries, hot dogs and a couple of veggie sandwiches, and no milkshakes. They have free peanuts while you wait. Bags of potatoes are stacked around the otherwise utilitarian red and white interior. (A familiar color scheme…) A chalkboard sign notes where the day’s potatoes are from. OK, so they’re a little fanatical about their potatoes.

Burgers ($3.59 to $5.79) come with your choice of toppings, all the standard stuff plus rarer ones such as jalapenos, grilled onions or mushrooms and hot sauce, all free. A burger, fries and soda will run you about $10.

Your order comes in a paper bag. Even the regular fries ($2.59; $3.89 for a large) filled a cup with twice as much more in the bottom of the bag. They’re good, very potato-like. In the hubbub we overlooked the option of Cajun fries, darnit; others rave about them.

The standard burger turns out to be two patties; the menu’s “little hamburger” is one. It was fresh and filling. But the presentation looked sloppy and the burger is messy if you get a lot of toppings, which I did. I will go back, but my initial take is that I prefer the tidier offerings (and less hectic atmosphere) of Fatburger and the Habit, not to mention In N Out.

My friends were less ambivalent. (We’ll ignore the one who got the veggie sandwich, which was a bun with a bunch of vegetables on it.) One praised the peanuts as a welcome touch and the fries as excellent. The other said: “I would give this a thumbs-up over In N Out. I thought this burger was tastier. But In N Out sure has a shorter wait.”

* Update: I returned later in April for a single burger with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions and found this simpler burger neatly presented and quite good. The Cajun fries were a nice change. However, the music remained far too loud and I couldn’t concentrate on the book I’d brought. Five Guys has its uses, but it’s just too pumped up for me.

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Restaurant of the Week: Magic Lamp Inn

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Photo: Thomas R. Cordova/Daily Bulletin

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Magic Lamp Inn, 8189 Foothill Blvd. (at Red Hill Country Club Drive), Rancho Cucamonga

The Magic Lamp is the venerable restaurant on Route 66 in far western Rancho Cucamonga with the rococo roof, stained glass windows and neon lamp sign that burns a gas flame at night. The look is Old World European despite the Arabian Nights name and theme.

The restaurant opened in 1955, taking over from Lucy and John’s, a spaghetti parlor, and was the brainchild of the man behind Clearman’s North Woods Inn, who clearly loved high-concept eating places.

The Lamp’s interior hasn’t much changed in recent years. There’s still a round fireplace in the center of one dining room, a lot of wood in the decor and a specially made lamp-patterned carpet. The Lamp is a little fancy for a casual meal so my visits have been rare over the years, but some friends and I had lunch there not long ago.

One had the Chinese chicken salad, which did not skimp on the chicken; the other had the Cobb salad, which was tossed tableside and declared to taste “just the way I like it”; and I had the peppercorn top sirloin (pictured), which comes with rosemary potatoes and vegetables. Good steak and sides, and just the right size for a lunch. (I forgot to note the prices but the steak was about $15 and the salads about $10.)

Service was friendly and our waters and iced teas were refilled regularly, although the server’s response when asked for recommendations, that “everything is good,” didn’t provide any guidance. Then again, since we liked all three of our entrees, she might be right.

It’s quiet and sedate in the Lamp, making it a good place for conversation and an unhurried meal. As we relaxed post-lunch in our leather chairs, one of my friends said: “They don’t make restaurants like this anymore.” True dat.

Check the Route 66 Landmark sign below; the fine print reads “Recognized by Hampton Hotels Save-a-Landmark program as a site worth seeing.” Who would argue?

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Restaurant of the Week: Myung Dong Tofu House

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Myung Dong Tofu House, 9799 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga

Korean restaurants are relatively rare in the Inland Valley, and the subset of Korean tofu restaurants is even smaller. The only ones I’m aware of are Young Dong in Chino Hills and Myung Dong in Rancho Cucamonga.

The latter is in the shopping center where the 99 Ranch market recently opened. Based on the pit area, Myung Dong appears to have taken over a Korean barbecue restaurant. The furnishings aren’t quite up to snuff; merely plopping into a booth rattled the booth back and the customer sitting behind me.

I ordered a bibimbap with beef paired with pork tofu soup ($12) and friend got mushroom tofu soup ($9). Bibimbap — assorted vegetables with a meat of your choice, rice on the side — is a basic Korean dish, albeit one I’d never had. The thick soup, spiked with chunks of tofu, comes in a hot pot and arrived at our table bubbling.

Service was helpful. The food was okay if unspectacular. Too much tofu and not enough of the main item (pork or mushroom, in our cases). The spice legend on the menu ranges from four peppers (extra spicy) past mild (one pepper) to white. (I joked that maybe white is for white people.) My friend’s spicy soup (three peppers) wasn’t very spicy; even I could eat it, and I’m sensitive to spiciness. So the food, at least in this one experience, was blander than it should have been.

Young Dong was a better experience. But if you’re closer to Rancho Cucamonga than to Chino Hills, and you’d like to try Korean tofu, Myung Dong is good enough.

I would advise against the combinations unless you’re a bigger eater than I am. Either the soup or the bibimbap would be enough for a decent meal, especially with the free appetizers you always get at a Korean restaurant, the small dishes of kimchi, bok choy, potato, cucumber and other items.

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Restaurant of the Week: Classy Cafe

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Classy Cafe, 9135 Archibald Ave. (at 7th), Rancho Cucamonga

Ensconced in a business park, Classy Cafe doesn’t get its name from its surroundings. Taking the former Angelina’s Cafe space, the cafe offers breakfast and lunch, weekdays only, with an uncommon focus on quality ingredients. They bake their own bread daily, make their own soups and even roast their own meats for the sandwiches.

A friend and I dropped in for lunch recently. The bistro-style interior, with its bare concrete floor, is a bit underdone, but I like the script over the entrance: “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what’s for lunch. — Orson Welles.” It was a warm day so we ate outside at one of the umbrella-shaded tables.

They have deli and panini sandwiches and salads for lunch and omelets, sandwiches and bakery items for breakfast.

The daily special ($8.99) is half a sandwich, a cup of soup or a cup of pasta salad or potato salad, a soda and a small dessert. We opted for that. I had ham on onion-cheese bread and potato salad; he had turkey on wheat and the steak onion bleu cheese soup (which is more a list of ingredients than a name, isn’t it?).

We were both impressed by the quality of the food and the freshness of the bread. Each lunch came with a small wedge from a blueberry muffin; that was the sweet treat.

The cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. You can view the menu on the cafe’s website. Bread is sold by the loaf from $4.50 to $5. Despite what they seem to think, they’re selling artisan bread, not “artesian.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Vince’s Spaghetti, RC

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Vince’s Spaghetti, 8241 Foothill Blvd. (at San Bernardino Road), Rancho Cucamonga

While I prefer the Holt Boulevard Vince’s in Ontario for history, as it’s been there since 1945, the location in Rancho Cucamonga, known as the Route 66 Vince’s, is closer to the newspaper, and thus more convenient at lunchtime.

By this point the upstart, in operation since 1984, is starting to feel historic too. The high-backed wooden booths are private and some are capped by the top of a wine barrel, stamped name faded but visible.

The food, of course, is the same. The In-N-Out of pasta, Vince’s has six menu items, and I don’t know that anyone orders one of them, Victoria’s antipasto salad. Actually, this Vince’s has a dinner item known as mostasagna, a combination mostaccioli and lasagna, unique to this location.

On a recent visit, a friend had his standby, a half-order of spaghetti with meat sauce ($8), which comes with soup or salad and bread, either garlic or cheese. Having been there fairly recently for spaghetti, I plowed new territory and finally tried the french dip ($7) with soup.

Have you had the Vince’s french dip? That was the main item when Vince’s opened as a six-stool dip stand. As a history on the website says, “If Frank Cuccia’s uncle hadn’t eaten a plate of his grandmother’s spaghetti in front of the customers, Vince’s Restaurant might still be a French Dip Stand.”

The sandwich turned out to be tender and delicious, even better when dipped in the au jus. I began wondering if they don’t put a little extra care into the dips simply because it’s more of a specialty item. In any event, while I dote on the pasta, the french dip may be Vince’s secret weapon. Why, it might almost be the “revelation in taste” the menu quaintly promises about the cheese bread.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sonic Drive-In

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Sonic Drive-In, 11370 4th St. (at Milliken), Rancho Cucamonga

Sonic Drive-In opened its first Inland Valley location in June across from Ontario Mills — it’s in Rancho Cucamonga, as only the south side of 4th Street is in Ontario — and the place proved an immediate hit. There’s a drive-thru, a drive-in with car hop service (!) and patio seating, but no indoor seating.

I went on a recent evening with a friend whose family is from Oklahoma, where Sonic is based. Sonic, Dairy Queen and Braum’s ice cream are ubiquitous regional chains in Oklahoma and Texas, he says, comparing their popularity to In N Out here.

He’s become a regular at this Sonic. I’d never been to one. (Our RC Now blog beat me there.)

We grabbed the only available drive-in slot. We got footlong Coney dogs with chili, mustard and onion as combos with tater tots rather than fries and cherry limeades ($5.69 for a medium combo, $6.19 for a large).

Ordering is done via speaker and perhaps 10 minutes later the food was delivered by a young man on in-line skates. Pleasant service.

The food was okay, nothing special, and the whole thing is, let’s face it, a watered-down version of the “Happy Days” experience.

That said, even this pale version is fun, and the options (tater tots, Coney dogs, various limeades) are a break from the fast-food norm. And Sonic is open until midnight Monday to Thursday and until 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday.

Have you tried Sonic?

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