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: 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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Restaurant of the Week: Pine Haven Cafe

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Pine Haven Cafe, 1191 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 11th Avenue), Upland

Pine Haven opened in May as the restaurant in the Guest House Inn, which might make this eatery difficult to find if you didn’t realize Upland had a hotel on Foothill. (It’s across from Memorial Park.)

It’s a catering business, begun in 2005, that now has gone public, in a sense, with a restaurant that does breakfast, lunch and, on Fridays only, dinner. Everything is made from scratch.

I’ve been in twice. For lunch, I had the “gourmet grilled cheese” (oooh la la) on parmesan bread ($5.50 as the Wednesday lunch special). My two sides were sweet potato fries and tropical slaw, both good; some won’t like the limp fries, but I did. I wasn’t knocked out overall, but I suppose if I’d wanted something exciting, I shouldn’t have ordered grilled cheese.

I tried breakfast on my next visit, ordering the chorizo huevos ($8), which was three eggs scrambled with Mexican sausage, goat cheese and roasted red peppers. Unexpectedly, this came served atop my choice of potato (home fries) in a bowl. This was really good. I’d asked for wheat toast and the result was large, oval slices of house-baked bread. An impressive breakfast.

The regular menu isn’t online but you can find the cafe’s website here.

A couple of female friends coo over the decor; personally, with its tiled floor and stucco walls and ceiling, the space looked a bit bare and institutional to me, like a hospital cafe. But the food’s good and service is friendly, so I’m pulling for them. As one friend said of the food: “It’s like eating at the house of someone who’s a really good cook.”

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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: 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: 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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