Restaurant of the Week: H. Salt Fish & Chips

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H. Salt Fish & Chips, 67 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 2nd), Upland

With the demise of Long John Silver’s in Montclair, the only corporate venue for fried fish locally is H. Salt in Upland. (One non-corporate venue is Pomona Fish Market.) I dropped in for dinner this week before a city council meeting.

H. Salt is in a strip center by a bike shop and barbershop, near a laser tag center, a 99 Cents Only store and a lot of vacancies. The center is in desperate need of redevelopment. H. Salt is a tiny place, the door only a few paces from the counter. It’s run by an older Taiwanese couple who, like the decor, look to have been there for years. I’d guess the shop has been in place since the 1970s and some of the decor is probably original: English family crests, pink and aqua booths, a faux Tube map with icons for Westminster, Charing Cross and other stops.

They have fish, shrimp, scallops, clams, oysters, and chicken strips and wings. I got the London Special, two pieces of fish with chips ($5.30). They cook to order and the result is about what you’d expect. Actually, it might be a little better: not too greasy, not too fishy. The setting is a bit dumpy, though, and in the shop’s small confines, the near-constant sound of bubbling cooking oil was as loud as a fountain.

There was a steady stream of customers, and people on Yelp generally like the place. According to Wikipedia, the chain was launched in 1965 by an English expatriate man named Haddon Salt. There are 27 locations in California.

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Restaurant of the Week: Le Bistro

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Le Bistro, 121 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland

You can find Italian food anywhere and no one thinks anything of it, but French food remains rare despite decades of work by Julia Child.

Le Bistro, which opened in late 2011, is one of only two French restaurants in the Inland Valley (the other is La Creperie in Chino), but in a way, it’s not all that new. The same family had Cafe Provencal, The Blackboard and La Cheminee, all in Upland, Montclair or Ontario. Now a new generation has launched Le Bistro in the Vons center.

As the bistro name suggests, this is a nice but relatively casual spot. Formerly a budget Italian place where you ordered at the counter, the interior has been classed up with black tablecloths, better furniture, dimmed lighting and servers, but there are flat screen TVs in the corners and the kitchen is still open, with the former occupant’s pizza oven still in service.

The dinner menu has pizzas, pastas, steaks and salads, with sandwiches and crepes at lunch and daily specials at either mealtime.

I ate dinner there recently, opting for the French staple coq au vin ($23), which is two pieces of chicken in wine sauce with sauteed vegetables and croquettes. I liked it. I also ordered a side salad ($6.50), which was fine but hardly worth the money. Overall, though, a very good meal, although the dinner was a splurge for me. (I’m more of a $5-$15 fella.)

I returned for lunch, ordering another staple, the croque monsieur ($9), essentially a hot ham and cheese sandwich, pressed, which comes with either fries or virtually the same salad I ordered at dinner. A satisfying lunch. Entrees at lunch range from $9 to $13, which is more in my price range.

It’s early yet, but Le Bistro is already one of the Inland Valley’s finer restaurants and is well worth a try. The restaurant doesn’t seem to have a website, but the menu is posted in the window. And if you don’t want a crepe or chocolate fondant cake for dessert, there’s a Cold Stone Creamery next door.

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Restaurant of the Week: Windy C’s

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Windy C’s Chicago Hot Dogs, 140 S. Mountain Ave. (at 8th), Upland

Upland is now home to two independent, non-Wienerschnitzel, non-Jody Maroni hot dog joints, which I believe is two more than any other city in the valley. Johnson’s arrived this fall. Windy C’s (visit its website here) has been around since 1999.

It’s a dinky place with 11 seats in a storefront by a Rubio’s and in the same center as Fresh & Easy and Dollar Tree. A brief experiment with a second location downtown (on C, appropriately) failed, but the Mountain storefront continues.

I’ve been there a few times over the years. I don’t have any experience with Chicago hot dogs, so I can’t say how this place measures up. Chicago dogs are loaded up with too many condiments for my taste anyway. But I went in again recently for a Wrigley ($7.39 as a combo with soda and fries), which comes with sauerkraut, mustard, cheese and a pickle slice on a steamed bun. I liked it.

Other dogs have Windy City-friendly names like Rush Street and Comiskey, and they also serve chili, corn, Polish dogs and Italian beef. There’s a signed photo on the wall from Richard Daley, who presumably signed the photo in the City of Broad Shoulders rather than the City of Gracious Living.

Windy C’s uses Vienna beef dogs, which owner Freddy Johnson says is more authentic than the red hots at Johnson’s. (Note how the competing place’s name is also his own name. That’s gotta smart.) Signs proclaim that Vienna beef is the official dog of the Sox and Cubs.

Now, about the service. A lot of people hate it here. As one Yelper put it: “I believe the owner is at his wit’s end and has the attitude that he’s super fed up with your BS even though you’ve never met him before.” Overall the place gets 1.5 stars. The New Diner blog didn’t like it either. Two reviews on Trip Advisor are brutal, with one comparing Johnson to “Seinfeld’s” Soup Nazi and other other saying the owner laughed at his complaint.

Johnson is abrupt and that obviously rubs a lot of people the wrong way, although from my observation over a lunch hour he has friendlier interplay with customers he knows. People always wonder how he can stay in business, but the New Diner asked that question in 2005, and you’ll notice Windy C’s is still hanging tough. People who aren’t on the Internet must be made of sterner stuff.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tango Baires

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Tango Baires Cafe, 870 E. Foothill (at Campus), Upland

The only full-service Argentinian restaurant in the Inland Valley (a takeout place, Empanadas to Go, is in Chino), Tango Baires has been in business since about 2000 in a small shopping center on Foothill Boulevard in Upland. It’s next door to a Baskin Robbins and a couple of doors from Brandon’s.

I ate there once or twice not long after it opened and had vaguely desired to return. A chance came recently with two friends, one a first-timer and the other a frequent customer who discovered the place last year.

Tango Baires is small, with only a half-dozen small tables, but is colorfully decorated and cozy. Although it’s a cafe, they take your order at your table. Our server was relaxed and cheerful.

The menu has salads, hot and cold sandwiches, barbecue, steaks, pastas, pizzas and desserts. Argentina has a large Italian population and the country has put its own spin on traditional Italian dishes. The menu is online with helpful descriptions.

The restaurant is also open for breakfast, with a few items, but they don’t open until 10 a.m. on weekends and 10:30 on weekdays, so the cafe may be on a different schedule than you.

I had the milanesa cordobesa sandwich ($8), a breaded steak with ham and a fried egg on top, and lightly toasted. Tasty, and also enormous; half would have been a decent meal.

The first-timer got the pesto Tango Baires pasta ($11.90) with chicken ($2.50) and liked it, although he preferred the bit of the sandwich I shared. “I’d come back,” he said.

The regular, who is vegetarian, got the fugazzetta pizza ($7 for a half), which is mozzarella, black olives, onions and oregano on an airy, pastry-like crust. The half was five slices.

“This tastes just like the food I had in Buenos Aires,” she said with a contented sigh about her recent vacation. I wouldn’t know. For me, it was just a pleasant meal in Upland.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Heights

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The Heights Restaurant and Bar, 1883 N. Campus Ave. (at 19th St.), Upland

Part of the Colonies shopping center off the 210 Freeway, The Heights is in a building along Campus and has established a good reputation for its food and bar. I’d been meaning to check it out, especially after it captured “Best Restaurant Bar” honors in the Bulletin’s Readers Choice Awards. Recently I met a friend there for lunch.

The interior is casually nice, with comfortable booths, tile floor, gold and deep brown colors and a classy feel. Good place for a business lunch or to impress someone. The dining room is separated from the bar seating, but that area looked inviting too.

I had the fish and chips (price forgotten, sorry), hand-battered halibut with fries and slaw on the side. It’s one of their signature items and proved to be among the best fish and chips I’ve had. The fries were good, the slaw was meh. My friend had the Cobb salad and said he liked it.

Service was attentive and we got plenty of refills. The dining room, almost empty at 11:45, was almost full by 1 p.m. Clearly the Heights is doing something right.

They have burgers, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, lasagna, pork chops and chicken marsala, among other items. Can you believe it’s owned by the same family that has the Village Grille diner in the Claremont Village? “Fine dining” is a stretch, but The Heights probably is the nicest restaurant in north Upland.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taqueria Los Magueyes

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Taqueria Los Magueyes, 185 S. Euclid Ave. (at 8th), Upland

This walkup taco stand lies on a quiet stretch of Euclid, a few blocks south of the Civic Center. The 1962-vintage building looks like a classic SoCal burger shack: angled roof, crushed rock facade, an order window and outdoor-only seating.

Actually, though, the building began as Taco Aqui, there from 1962 to 1974, followed by Gus’ Burgers for the next 30 years, according to research by the Upland Public Library. Classic Burger operated from 2003 until Los Magueyes took over in 2010.

As Charles Phoenix put it in “Cruising the Pomona Valley”: “With wings wide spread, this jet age taco and burger stand is ready for takeoff.”

Los Magueyes, presumably an offshoot of the sitdown restaurant in Upland on 16th Street, has tacos, burritos, tortas, sopes, menudo, breakfast items and burgers.

On one of our recent warm evenings I went there for dinner, getting two fish tacos ($1.50 each), a shrimp taco ($2) and a horchata and eating on the patio. The tacos were pretty good, if not on the level of Senor Baja, and the walk-up concept is unusual. It’s like Upland now has its own Juanita’s. Way to go, Upland.

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Restaurant of the Week: Molly’s Souper

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Molly’s Souper, 388 N. 1st Ave. (at D Street), Upland

Is there a more charming restaurant in Upland? Molly’s, located cater-corner from the library, is in a 1912 house with dining inside in one of several first-floor rooms, one of which has a fireplace and all of which look like grandma’s house, or outside on an L-shaped patio surrounded by a white picket fence.

They serve breakfast and lunch daily. Breakfasts include all the staples, plus relatively rare items including apple pancakes and mimosa. You can also get green eggs and ham, but I’ve never dared. Pictured is bacon, eggs and country potatoes.

Lunch is salads, sandwiches and, of course, soup (it’s Molly’s Souper, after all). A half sandwich and cup of soup is $8.50 and comes with a tiny cup of apple crisp. Awww. Pictured is egg salad and tortellini soup, both fine.

On a warm or hot day, the patio is recommended. The wooden tables and chairs are quaint, the umbrellas big enough to shade everyone and keep you reasonably cool.

The house was converted to a restaurant in 1972 named the Souper and has been owned by Molly Brouse since 1990. I’ve been an occasional customer for years. The food is good, the ambience is better and the service is always friendly.

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Restaurant of the Week: Zaky

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Zaky Mediterranean Grill, 1013 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Mulberry), Upland; also 6622 Carnelian St. (at 19th), Rancho Cucamonga

Zaky Grill, which has a mostly-takeout location in Rancho Cucamonga off the 210, expanded to a larger second location in Upland a few weeks ago along Foothill Boulevard.

As an occasional customer at the Carnelian spot, which has just a couple of molded-plastic tables, I stopped in for dinner recently in Upland, where Zaky’s shares a new-ish minimall with a Starbucks, a cell phone store and a pizza parlor.

This Zaky’s has plenty of dining space. You still order at the counter, and the menu of sandwiches, plates, salads and rotisserie chicken turns out to be exactly the same in both locations. (View it here.)

I had the chicken kabob sandwich ($5), which is prepared to order on pita bread with garlic sauce, onions, pickles and tomatoes. Delicious.

The owner recognized me from previous visits and gave me a dessert, knafeh ($4), a pastry with cream cheese and honey, very nice.

I’d been to the minimall location before when it was B-Man’s Teriyaki and later when it was a Philly’s Best. The interior hasn’t changed much, being a bit stark, with track lighting near the ceiling that is mildly unpleasant. But Zaky’s food is pretty good stuff and the dine-in option is welcome. I hope they beat the location’s curse.

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Restaurant of the Week: zPizza, Upland

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zPizza, 1943 N. Campus Ave. (at 19th), Upland

zPizza is a chain founded in Laguna Beach with 49 locations in California, but the one in Upland’s Colonies Crossroads Center is the only Inland Empire spot. There’s also one in Glendora, at 1365 E. Gladstone St. (*Turns out there’s also one in Chino Hills at 3090 Chino Ave., although it’s not listed on zPizza’s website.)

zPizza is in a small storefront on the north end near Starbucks and is cramped, with only a half-dozen tables inside and a few more outside. You order at the counter.

But zPizza is different and pretty good. Their pizzas are on the healthy side, with organic flour and tomato sauce, gourmet toppings and the options of wheat crust or vegan. They even have gluten-free beer, if that’s how you roll.

I go there now and then for their slice, salad and soda special ($7). Recently a friend and I tried it out for dinner.

We split a pear and gorgonzola salad ($8.50) and the Tuscan pizza ($17.50 for a large) on whole wheat crust. It’s a white pizza, no tomato sauce, with roasted garlic, mozzarella and feta cheese, shiitake and button mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle oil and thyme. We liked the pizza and the salad both. The only downsides were the shoebox location and the 9 p.m. closing; it’s not a great dinner spot. The service was cheerful.

You can view the menu here. The rustica pizzas, on what they call a “free-form crust,” look delicious, as does the curry chicken sandwich.

This isn’t the sort of place you’d get a pizza to share with your buddies on football night (although you can get pepperoni), but as essentially a quick-service version of California Pizza Kitchen, it’s pretty good. This is my second-favorite Upland pizza joint, after San Biagio’s.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fire House Express

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Fire House Express, 121 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland

Rather than a fire station with express firefighting service, Fire House Express is a casual pizza and pasta restaurant in a shopping center storefront by Vons. Pizza is baked in an open fire oven, probably accounting for the name.

It’s a clean, sharp looking place with modern design and a couple of TVs hanging in the corners. You order at the counter and return to a booth. (A server brings the food to your table.) They sell pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken and pasta. I stopped in for dinner this week and had the lasagna ($7.99) as a dinner with salad and soda ($2.99 more). Later in the week I returned for a pizza slice lunch special with salad and soda ($4.99).

The salad comes in a transparent takeout container but isn’t bad for what it is. The lasagna was made while I waited and was essentially a plate of noodles, sauce, cheese and sausage, rather than a tightly layered concoction. Still, I liked it enough to return for the pizza. It’s not a high-volume slice place. The chef, who was making a pizza as I ordered, asked what I’d like on my slice. What the heck, I requested sausage and mushrooms.

What arrived was a wide but stubby slice, apparently one-fourth of a small pizza. The crust was airy, almost fluffy, the toppings generous, the sausage especially good.

Overall, Fire House Express was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t recommend going there for dinner unless you like solitude — over the course of 90 minutes one evening, I was the only customer — but it’s a good lunch spot if you’re anywhere nearby.

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