Restaurant of the Week: Petrilli’s Pizza

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Petrilli’s Pizza, 110 S. Mountain Ave. (at 9th), Upland

One letter can make a lot of difference. Petrilli’s isn’t Petrillo’s, which is a San Gabriel Valley institution, with locations in San Gabriel and Glendora. But it used to be. The Upland storefront opened as a Petrillo’s circa 2004 but changed a letter the following year. (A close look at the sign hints that the “o” may have been cut in half.) Someone who knows more about Petrillo’s could probably explain, and if so, please account for Mama Petrillo’s in La Verne, Rosemead and Temple City, whose connection to the main operation is nebulous.

Located at the north end of the Dollar Tree and Fresh & Easy center, Petrilli’s is takeout only, except for a lone table. That, a soda case and a TV are about the only adornment. A friend and one of his friends and I met up there recently for dinner and snagged the table.

We ended up getting two pizzas: a medium specialty ($23.75) and a small three-topping veggie with mushrooms, onions and jalapenos ($14), because a small pizza was half-off that night with purchase of a medium or large. The menu has a few sandwiches and salads, and lasagna, but it’s mostly pizza.

The specialty had sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, salami, onions and green peppers and was enormous. So were the toppings. As my friend said, “Those are some of the biggest pieces of sausage I’ve ever seen,” and I agreed. The medium was cut in squares, not triangles, and encompassed 16 pieces. Two of us ate less than half.

We liked our pizzas, but we weren’t totally sold. The crust was crunchy and a little boring; my friend left all the edges on his plate, piled like chicken bones. It was a heavy pizza, probably double the usual amount of cheese, loaded with toppings, a little hard to pick up and eat, the opposite of the type of pizza I usually get. It was extreme, even a little freakish, like the giant horse at the county fair.

I took home seven pieces and got four more meals out of them. I’ve never had anything quite like Petrilli’s — well, except for my single Petrillo’s experience — and it’s hard to imagine returning. But it’s some people’s favorite pizza, and I won’t fault them for it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Ashirwad – The Blessings

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Ashirwad – The Blessings, 583 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Fifth), Upland; closed Mondays.

Vegetarian restaurants in these parts are unusual enough, but this one is devoted to vegetarian Indian food. Blessings — the full name seems to be Ashirwad – The Blessings, middle punctuation uncertain — opened in 2012 in a strip mall in Upland. Its specialties are foods from West and South India, but without lamb, chicken or other meat.

Two friends who’d had an enjoyable meal there invited me to join them for a return visit. Blessings is nothing fancy and feels almost temporary, with practically no decor, cheap tables and chairs, foam plates and plastic utensils. Needless to say, though, the food (see the menu here) is mostly unknown unless you’re a devotee of all things India and is thus of high interest.

We shared three items: pani puri ($5, below left), small puff pastries which you crack, fill with spooned-in potato cubes and eat in one bite; khichdi kadhi ($7, below top), a stew of rice, lentils and vegetables, kind of spicy; and masala dosa ($5.50, bottom), an enormous crepe rolled into a funnel the size and shape of a megaphone, inside of which is spiced potatoes and onions. That and the pani puri were our favorites. I also had a salted lassi ($3), a foamy yogurt drink.

We didn’t get dessert, but the restaurant makes its own non-dairy ice cream, one scoop at a time, to order.

The main item on the menu that I recognized was palak paneer, a spinach, cheese and rice dish, but the version served here was not to my friends’ liking on their previous visit, and while we were there the table next to us sent theirs back. So, take your chances with that.

The restaurant seats about 16. Half-filled when we arrived at 7:15 p.m., it was full, with maybe eight people waiting inside and on the sidewalk, at 8. Service, by the owner, was disarmingly friendly and humorous. A small selection of Indian history, literature and philosophy books were lined up on the counter for the curious to read.

What they’re doing is very different, but it’s a good advertisement for both vegetarianism and Indian food. May they continue to be a blessing.

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Restaurant of the Week: Charlie’s Stars and Stripes

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Charlie’s Stars and Stripes American Deli, 296 N. 2nd Ave. (at C), Upland

After a couple of high-profile failures on the southeast corner of 2nd and C, Christophe’s and Aria, the folks at JD Allison’s, a sports bar on the southwest corner, took over the spot across the street and opened it last October as bar and grill with a military theme. It’s named for a relative who died in 2012 in Iraq while serving as an Army medic.

The interior is more welcoming to the general public than might be feared. There is red, white and blue, but you don’t feel like you’re eating inside a giant flag. The decor is fascinating, actually: old recruiting posters, memorabilia, maps and framed servicemember photos. There’s a wall devoted to them, with photos brought in by customers, and the effect is respectful and participatory.

Now to the menu. It’s mostly sandwiches, including hot dogs and burgers, with some salads, stuffed baked potatoes and entrees. I had a lunch with friends in which we got pastrami sliders and corned beef sliders ($9 each; pastrami is pictured below) and a buffalo fried chicken salad ($10, below), all of which met with our approval.

I returned another day for lunch and got a Pearl Harbor burger ($10, below). (Many of the menu items have military-themed names.) This was a hand-packed burger, probably one-third of a pound, and very good, with grilled pineapple and onions, Swiss and teriyaki glaze.

There’s a full bar, and they have happy hour and dinner specials, the most notable of which may be Monday’s $5 steak night. I went back for that: You get a small salad, a smaller steak and a loaded baked potato (pictured at bottom). Service was slow and with an iced tea, tax and tip I paid $10, but it’s still an amazing deal.

Charlie’s is a decent option downtown, and you’ll feel like you gained entrance to a VFW, only with better food.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Hat

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The Hat, 857 N. Central Ave. (at 11th), Upland

I hadn’t been to a Hat in years, and that was at Victoria Gardens, so when a friend invited me to lunch at the one in Upland I agreed immediately. The location is funny, a somewhat desolate stretch of Central Avenue, but that may accentuate the novelty of the inviting sight of the broad windows and neon sign, especially at night. What is this doing here?

(It was worth doing this Restaurant of the Week solely for an excuse to return at night for a photo!)

They do have nine cold sandwiches, but the Hat is known for its pastrami dip, burgers, hot dogs and chili. It’s a popular spot despite (or because of) the location, with a steady stream of cars in the parking lot and the drive-through.

My friend had the cold ham and Swiss ($5.60, below), which he swears by. I got the signature pastrami dip ($8, below that). It’s a good sandwich, and there was so much loose pastrami that I could have made a half-sandwich out of it. Wonder if I could have bought half a French roll?

My friend praised the chili cheese fries, which I hadn’t had. I returned a few weeks later for that ($6.60) as an entree. Not my healthiest meal, obviously, but the chili is pretty good and ladled generously. I ate about two-thirds and took the rest home, where I got two small meals out of them.

The Hat was founded in 1951 in Alhambra. Upland’s location, which opened in May 1987, was the third and at that point was in unincorporated territory; it’s since been annexed into Upland. Jerry Cook, the general manager, opened this Hat and is still there daily, touching tables and chatting with customers. The chain now has 10 locations.

One thing I love is the guy behind the counter in Upland who calls out order numbers. He has no microphone. His lungs provide the amplification. He just bellows in what sounds like a Swedish accent, but almost certainly isn’t. “Nomber vorty-twooo-ooh!!” His volume and urgency make you hop to it — an action you would be unable to take after being weighed down by your meal.

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Restaurant of the Week: Elvira’s Mexican Grill

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Elvira’s Mexican Grill, 373 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 4th), Upland; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner but closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Elvira’s opened early in 2013 in a strip mall in Upland and has received strong ratings online. Twitter follower Original Pechanga (!) also advised me to check it out and recommended the flan. So, in the area for lunch recently, I dropped in.

It’s a sit-down place, everything new and tidy, with neat touches in the decor. The menu notes that they make their chile rellenos and tamales daily. Accordingly, I got the No. 3 combo ($9.49, above), with a chicken tamale, cheese enchilada, rice and beans. Excellent, and I liked the green salsa on the tamale. The complimentary chips and salsa were fresh and delicious.

Only after I left did I remember the flan. Well, a repeat visit was not exactly an unpleasant prospect. A couple of weeks later, I returned for another lunch. This time I got the No. 2 combo ($9.49), with a chile relleno, cheese tamale, rice and beans. Also very good. The chile relleno was light despite being fried.

At this point I didn’t really need the flan ($4.59, below), but I got it anyway. Served on a plate, the flan was a disc an inch high, practically the dimensions of a quarter pounder, firm and creamy, whipped cream on top. It would be better for two or three to share, but I’m not ashamed to say I finished it solo. Well, maybe a little ashamed.

It’s a family run restaurant, named, because you are no doubt dying to know this, for the family matriarch rather than for the Mistress of the Dark. Many of the recipes are hers. Based on the results, she’s now my favorite Elvira. And a tip of the sombrero to Original Pechanga for the advice.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sammy’s Cafe

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Sammy’s Cafe, 131 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland

Sammy’s is a locally owned American-style breakfast, lunch and dinner spot that took over a former Baja Fresh in 2012. I’ve been there for lunch a few times. Generally I’m among the youngest customers. It’s that kind of place.

But there’s nothing wrong with that. Oldsters love diners like this, and Sammy’s does a decent job, at least with the items I’ve had: a salmon caesar salad ($9, below), a tuna melt and, if memory serves, a chile colorado plate. The results seemed to me to match or better comparable restaurants. A friend in the restaurant business says the breakfasts are good.

The interior makes the best of an odd and almost teardrop shape, the seating is comfortable, the service friendly. One mistake is the counter, evidently unchanged from the days when you ordered there at Baja Fresh: The lip extends only inches beyond the base, so even though they have seats there, there’s nowhere to put your legs other than sideways.

But it wouldn’t be a mom-and-pop place if it wasn’t individual.

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Restaurant of the Week: Eden Garden

Eden Garden Fusion Grill, 392 E. A St. (at 5th Ave.), Upland

Eden Garden, the third in a small chain of family-owned Mediterranean restaurants in Pasadena and Glendora, opened in summer 2012 on the edge of downtown Upland. The building, once a headquarters for the Lemon Growers Exchange, dates to 1932, has an Art Deco style and was recently restored.

For broader appeal, it’s not full-on Lebanese; they also have breakfast, pasta, seafood, steaks, burgers and buffalo wings. That’s evidently why they call it fusion, because aside from falafel spring rolls, none of the items really mix and match cuisines. But they do have a range of Lebanese items.

A Turkish friend and I had lunch there recently. We had chicken shawarma ($8, pictured above middle), a sort of chicken salad in a pita pocket, with fries; soujok ($10, top left), pan-seared Armenian sausage sauteed with onions and tomatoes; mutabal ($7, top right), a hummus-like dip made with eggplant; and, for dessert, knafe ($5, pictured at right), a piece of baked cheese with shredded phyllo dough.

We weren’t knocked out, but we liked each item. To quibble, there was too much tahini sauce in the shawarma, making it a bit messy, and the rosemary on the fries was distracting. The dessert was a standout.

The interior is sparkling and clean, the tall arched windows letting in lots of natural light. The upscale-diner seating (metallic red vinyl booths, black-and-white tiled floor, lots of chrome) is purposely all-American, probably more inviting to an Upland crowd, but it doesn’t seem to match the thrust of the menu. That split personality could help or hurt; one can imagine the menu leaning one way or the other in the future to reflect whatever clientele develops.

There’s also an expansive patio, at least equal in size to the dining room, for smoking, including hookahs at night, and entertainment, including belly dancers and music on weekends. Eden Garden is open until midnight Sunday to Wednesday and until 2 a.m. the other days, making it one of the few places in town for late-night eats. The restaurant has a full bar.

The Metrolink station is just yards away, and from our seat inside we could easily see and hear trains passing by beyond a retaining wall, a picturesque touch. The Istanbul Express is not among them.

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Restaurant of the Week: Johnson’s Hot Dogs

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Johnson’s Hot Dogs, 851 W. Foothill Blvd. (at San Antonio), Upland

Upland is graced with two locally owned hot dog stands, the established Windy C’s, here since 1999, and the newer Johnson’s, which opened in 2011. I’ve blogged about the former and only recently visited the latter, meeting a friend there for lunch.

While Windy C’s is a Chicago dog specialist, in a hole-in-the-wall location, Johnson’s takes a more ecumenical approach, offering more varieties: Chicago, New York, Southern, Seattle, Texas, Sonoran and L.A. See the menu here. The restaurant interior offers far more elbow room too.

I got a New York deli dog, which comes with sauerkraut, onions and mustard, as a combo with fries and a drink ($8). My friend got a Sonoran dog (pictured) with a soda and a side salad.

His verdict? Tasty. He liked his dog, which came bacon-wrapped, and his salad. He said he’d come back and expressed interest in the mac ‘n’ cheese dog. My dog and fries were decent, although the same combo at Windy C’s (there called the Wrigley) is better on balance: tastier dog and bun, not quite as tasty fries. Oh, and my green tea with honey was addictive.

Whichever Upland spot you prefer, neither of them is the Stand, Slaw Dogs, Skooby’s, etc., referring to some of the top L.A. haute dog stands, but they both are more than acceptable and preferable to Wienerschnitzel.

Incidentally, Johnson’s patriotic interior has walls and counter painted steel blue, with oversized white stars, and the ceiling has stripes of white and burnt red. If you’re of the right age and musical inclination, you’ll feel like you walked into the cover of Neil Young’s “Hawks and Doves.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Taco Man

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Taco Man, 915 N. Euclid Ave. (at Foothill), Upland

Taco Man opened in August in the Stater Bros. CVS center on the southwest corner of Euclid and Foothill, fronting Euclid just south of Coco’s. (I’m being precise on the location because I had trouble finding it.)

It’s a simple storefront operation with ample natural light through the floor-to-ceiling window. The decor involved some work: There’s a tile floor, a panoramic mural of a Mexican street scene (below) and a second mural featuring a man who resembles Diego Rivera but probably isn’t. The interior practically sparkled. (I also cracked up at the sign at right.)

A group of us went recently for a mid-afternoon meal. I had two soft tacos ($1.39 each, pictured above), one each of asada and pastor, which arrived in double tortillas and were very good.

A friend who also got tacos liked them equally well. Not outstanding, but a bit above average. (For the record, this was “Ask a Mexican” columnist and food writer Gustavo Arellano, a man who knows his tacos.) The others in our group got sopes and cheese enchiladas and were unimpressed.

Hey, it’s not named Enchilada Man. You go to a place called Taco Man, you get the tacos. Oh, and I got a Mexican soft drink I’d never seen before, Sidral Mundet (apple soda), in a bottle for $1.69. I liked it.

Service was bilingual and helpful. The kitchen seemed unprepared for a group of six at that hour, our food arriving a plate at a time courtesy of the lone cook. So, a mixed review, but if you’re looking for decent Mexican food in Upland, you could do lots worse.

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Restaurant of the Week: Limericks Tavern

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Limericks Tavern, 1234 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Mountain), Upland

An Irish pub in an Upland shopping center, Limericks opened in 2011 in a not especially promising storefront by a Stater Bros. and a thrift store on the southwest corner of Foothill and Mountain. Once inside the doors, things improve: a lot of dark wood, a long bar, semi-private three-sided booths and antique-like lights.

I’ve visited twice recently. The first time, after bowling with friends, I wasn’t hungry enough for an entree, but a friend shared his meaty popcorn shrimp. Others got fish and chips, fish bites (like popcorn shrimp) and a salmon burger, which was said to be “crumbly” and perhaps not successful but not bad.

They also have burgers (including a 50/50 with beef and pastrami), corned beef sandwiches, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, ribeyes, seafood and more. In other words, the menu is reasonably serious, not just bar food.

I was impressed enough to return a few days later for lunch, ordering the fish and chips ($10, pictured). My platter arrived with a substantial portion of both: three pieces of fish, pretty tasty, and skin-on fries that were delicious. My iced tea was $2.

A first-timer seated near me got Irish nachos, which use corned beef, and he not only cleaned his plate but declared that he might lick it next. He also joked about sending the empty platter back because the food “wasn’t right” so he could get another one.

As a nondrinker, I’m in no position to comment on the beer, but one discerning friend from the first visit said the selection was “pretty awesome” and about as extensive as you’ll find in the 909, especially for a non-chain. Also, the happy hour special Monday to Thursday, from 9 p.m. until closing (the period we went), was buy a beer for $5, get the second one for $1, which was deemed “ridiculous” (in a good way). At that hour the place was quiet and laidback, as it was during my lunch. The bartender was nice and let us stay past the 11 p.m. close.

I liked the atmosphere and the food and I think any of our group would go back.

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