Restaurant of the Week: Sushi Area 909

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Sushi Area 909, 9319 Foothill Blvd. (at Hellman), Rancho Cucamonga

The last time I ate at this place, near several other Asian eateries and a Chuck E. Cheese, it was called Sushi Wa. It was acceptable: pleasant, reliable, unexciting. After a name change, it’s part of a chain, with locations in Las Vegas, Henderson, Paso Robles, West L.A. and Wilshire Boulevard, presumably with area codes other than our beloved 909 attached.

I had lunch there Monday. My friend had the chicken teriyaki and shrimp tempura lunch ($13) and I had a chirashi bowl of sashimi, vegetables and rice ($14); we also shared shrimp and mackerel sushi ($3 each). We weren’t blown away, but we liked what we had, and there was plenty of it. The menu has the usual assortment of rolls, plus udon, ramen, bowls and bulgogi (it’s evidently Korean owned). Friends have had ramen here and liked it.

Each meal also came with miso soup and a salad. My friend’s arrived several minutes before mine, and according to the menu mine wasn’t supposed to come with salad. Service may not be their strong suit.

So, new owners, new name, but roughly comparable to the old Sushi Wa: a decent mid-range Japanese restaurant.

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Restaurant of the Week: Farrell’s

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Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, 10742 Foothill Blvd. (at Aspen), Rancho Cucamonga

Farrell’s means a lot to many longtime Inland Valley residents who marked birthdays and other occasions at the Montclair Plaza ice cream parlor, which operated through the 1970s and into the mid-1980s before folding like other locations after a disastrous buyout. Now the chain is back, with SoCal restaurants in Rancho Cucamonga, Brea, Mission Viejo and Santa Clarita, with more in the works. Here’s its website.

Me, I was a Farrell’s newbie when I showed up for lunch recently with two Farrell’s fans, my friends Dave and Rose Linck of Rancho Cucamonga. They grew up on the place and had already been to the Rancho location twice, once for Rose’s birthday. (She wasn’t asked to stand on a chair.)

In fact, Rose wrote several letters in recent years to Farrell’s suggesting they take over the closed Romano’s Macaroni Grill, advice that Farrell’s took. They should give her free ice cream for life or something.

The restaurant has been completely made over. After a short wait even at 1 p.m. for a table, we were seated. We were among the few adults not accompanied by children. It’s a festive atmosphere, the Chuck E Cheese of ice cream. Every few minutes a siren would blare and employees, dressed in straw boaters and vests, would gather around a table and sing happy birthday while the child stood on a chair. They’ve revived all the old traditions, including the Zoo and the Pig Trough ice cream platters.

I got a half BLT with chicken noodle soup and fries ($7.79), Rose had chicken strips known as Cock-a-Doodle Dippers ($8) and Dave had the Gastronomicaldelicatessenepicurean’s Delight (whew!), a cold cut combo with fries ($10.59).

Surprisingly, this was all pretty good. My BLT, for example, used a better grade of bacon that you’ll find almost anywhere else and the soup tasted fresh. The others were impressed by their meals too.

For dessert, we each got hot fudge or hot butterscotch sundaes, the single-scoop versions available if you get a meal ($3.29), and it was delicious, as you’d hope. Including the $2.79 vanilla Coke I got from the soda fountain, my tab was $17, a couple of bucks more than I’d have preferred, but fine given the quality of the food and the attentiveness of the service.

Would I go back, though? Maybe, but it’s hard to imagine when I would. (Other than if any friends choose Farrell’s for their own birthday, which one is threatening to do.) I don’t think I would go even for my own birthday (when you get a free sundae), although I reserve the right to change my mind.

It’s evidently a good facsimile of the old Farrell’s, a parent would probably not be disappointed by the food and a kid would probably love it. But unless you’re a retired fireman who misses the sound of a siren going off every few minutes, or deaf, this is not a place many adults could endure. Nostalgists, of course, will want to try it, and should.

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Restaurant of the Week: Koyla

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Koyla Indian Restaurant, 8140 Haven Ave. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga; also at 1845 Holt Blvd. (at Vineyard), Ontario

Koyla opened earlier in 2011 in a former Daphne’s Greek fast-casual spot at the Chaffey Town Square center, and it’s a big upgrade. Koyla is swankier inside than expected, with muted lighting, white tablecloths and table service.

Dinner entrees are from $10 to $20 and encompass chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetable dishes. See the menu here. Of course they do a lunch buffet too, which seems to be a requirement for an Indian restaurant, at least the ones out here, but I visited at dinnertime.

A friend and I shared an appetizer, tawa mushrooms ($10); two entrees, chili fish ($15) and shrimp saag ($14); and an order of plain naan ($2), the Indian flatbread, and basmati rice ($4). A little of all the above is pictured at top.

The mushrooms were sauteed with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes; good stuff. The chili fish, chunks of deep-fried fish, came with tamarind sauce, onions, bell peppers and spices. A little spicy for my taste but I’m a sensitive Midwesterner. My favorite was the shrimp saag, which is a sort of creamed spinach; you can also get it with chicken, vegetables or lamb.

We liked all the dishes, although the chili fish stuck out a bit as an offering that didn’t seem particularly Indian. We had a coupon that knocked a chunk off the bill as long as the total was more than $40, which it was.

Koyla has two locations, both aggressively located near longstanding Indian restaurants; the one in Rancho Cucamonga is a block from Haandi, while the one in Ontario is equally close to Bombay. I’d give Haandi the edge over Koyla, but Koyla was pretty good too.

* Ontario location has closed.

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Restaurant of the Week: Red Chilli House

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Red Chilli House, 9795 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga

The Inland Valley has a lot of Chinese restaurants but only a handful that serve what might be called modern, authentic Chinese cuisine, a la the San Gabriel Valley. The short list is made up of Peking Deli and Good Time Cafe, both in Chino Hills, Foothill Bistro in Rancho Cucamonga and a recent addition, Red Chilli House, also in Rancho Cucamonga.

Red Chilli opened in June 2011 near the 99 Ranch Market. Other than kung pao shrimp and chicken in spicy garlic sauce, everything on the menu was unfamiliar. There’s no chow mein or orange chicken or cream cheese wontons. They don’t bring a basket of chow mein noodles to your table with a plate of ketchup and spicy mustard. Instead they have dishes like boiled pork intestines in chili sauce and stir-fried kidney with pickled chili. Yum!

Just kidding. Well, for all I know, those are delish. But don’t be put off: They also have many non-frightening dishes. (The menu has 112 items.)

A friend well-versed in Chinese cuisine ordered for us: a plate of cold appetizers (seaweed, cucumber, beef with Szechuan peppercorns; price forgotten; pictured above right), something called crispy rice crust dishes with pork ($10, middle right) and Dan Dan noodles ($6, below right).

The noodles came in a bowl with a peanut-sesame sauce. The pork dish had vegetables and crispy rice. I liked both, as well as the appetizer, although the edge goes to the noodles.

Service was low-key but helpful; they refilled our water glasses regularly and answered questions. The dining room was pleasant if utilitarian. There’s a boba shop a few doors down and an Asian market in the same center.

I meant to write this visit up weeks ago but delayed; I was considering writing a tie-in column about the place, or the whole shopping center, but that fell by the wayside. So, at last, here’s the Restaurant of the Week version. For what it’s worth, people on Yelp like the place.

If you want sweet and sour something, don’t go here. As my friend said mockingly: “Chinese food is supposed to be slivers of white meat deep-fried in a sugary glaze!” If you want something that’s not that, try Red Chilli House.

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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: 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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