Restaurant of the Week: Burger Bar

Burger Bar, 665 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Claremont Blvd.), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday; closed Monday

When the Meat Cellar moved a few blocks west to the old Wolfe’s Market, the former location was turned into Burger Bar under the same ownership. I wrote about Meat Cellar last week and may as well round things out by giving the same treatment to Burger Bar.

It’s been upgraded a bit, with a bar (obviously you need a bar at a place named Burger Bar) and local beers from No Clue, Last Name and nearby Claremont Craft Ales as well as red and white wines. The seating is a little better too, and there’s table service rather than ordering at the register.

The new Meat Cellar has an expanded menu. Burger Bar is more like the old Meat Cellar menu: sandwiches, burgers and a few entrees, like steak frites. Basically, my favorites are still served here in this quieter, more low-key (no valet parking, at least) restaurant. And there are some new items too.

On my first visit, I had one of those new items, the turkey burger ($15). This was not what I had expected, frankly, being more like the “chicken burger” you sometimes see on a menu; this was a tightly packed disk of turkey rather than ground turkey that would closely resemble a hamburger in looks and flavor. The crispy onion straws helped relieve its monotony, but I would recommend they drop it from the menu.

As that’s not how I wanted this Restaurant of the Week to go, I decided to return before writing something.

On my second visit I got a hamburger — in this case, splurging for the Wagyu ($18). This was more like it.

On the other hand, the guy at the table behind me complained about his burger being undercooked and said he had a Cordon Bleu degree. Compounding its evident flub, the kitchen made him the wrong burger for his replacement sandwich, for which management apologized and comped him. (I’ve had days like that too.)

I’m pretty sure I’ll return to Burger Bar, but a little less enthusiastically than expected. They may have a few kinks to work out yet.

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Restaurant of the Week: Grill 8

Grill 8, 7890 Haven Ave. (at Church), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Grill 8 opened last year in the northern reaches of the Virginia Dare center, near Cake Among Us and the bike shop. A friend and I met there for a weekday lunch recently. Inside there’s reclaimed wood, an array of hanging bulbs and a communal counter, besides booths and tables. The place was tidy and clean.

The menu has burgers, other sandwiches, wings and salads, plus a soup of the day. They also have local beers on tap and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

You order at the counter. (The website says they have “full-service dining,” but no.) My friend got the turkey avocado sandwich ($9), with havarti cheese and olive salad spread, plus a side salad; I got a turkey burger ($11), with white cheddar, and garlic fries as my side. (A third choice is onion rings.) I scraped off the avocado; sorry, not a fan.

We liked our meals. My burger was a little dry, which can happen with turkey, but it was fine. “Fun atmosphere, good food,” my friend summarized. Agreed. I would go back. I’d rather eat at the more sedate and comfortable Grill 8 than the Five Guys across the street.

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Restaurant of the Week: Schaefer’s Food N Drinks

Schaefer’s Food N Drinks, 6939 Schaefer Ave. (at Euclid), Chino; open 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Schaefer’s opened over the summer, and a source at City Hall soon recommended the tacos. A few weeks later, when I was in Chino for my book talk, a friend brought up Schaefer’s and said it was a burger place. Realizing it was lunchtime, I decided to head over.

It’s in a new Stater Bros. center large enough to have several other eateries and businesses. Across Schaefer to the north are crops, and in fact the whole area is caught in an interesting transition, with a lot of empty land, some new tract homes and some farmland. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Schaefer’s is a new venture by Joe and Angie Guillen, who did catering for 30 years before opening a restaurant, according to a story posted inside. It’s a sit-down restaurant with a full bar and which features “from-scratch recipes,” a sign proclaims.

The menu has burgers and Mexican food, which is how it could be described as specializing in either, plus salads, sandwiches and a full breakfast menu that includes menudo. That first visit, I had the Frisco burger, one-third pound on parmesan cheese bread ($12), very good, plus thick-cut fries. It was very filling.

Figuring I should give the other half of the equation a try, I returned for a carne asada burrito ($7.50) on a lunch break. The lunch pricing means you get a drink, in my case an iced tea, for only $1 more. That’s a good deal. The burrito was rather light on the carne asada and I wasn’t impressed. But that’s okay. I think Schaefer’s is a winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Big D’s Burgers

Big D’s Burgers, 135 E. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For a brief spell the three main restaurants in a two-block stretch of 2nd Street were hamburger parlors, which was kind of a drag. Big D’s, which has a location in Whittier, was the latest, joining Burger House and the Rookery. But Burger House has closed, leaving a more manageable two burger specialists.

I hadn’t been to Big D’s due to the overkill factor, and because I like the Rookery, but with the path clearer, two friends and I gave it a shot recently at lunchtime.

It’s the first business on the east side of Garey and in recent years has cycled through a crab restaurant, a sushi restaurant and two pizza restaurants. As before, it’s got exposed brick walls, a high ceiling and a deep layout, with patio seating at the sidewalk.

In recent years it’s been a party spot rather than a serious restaurant, catering to the club and concert crowd, and nothing wrong with that. I’m always up for a good burger.

I got the shroom burger ($11) with Swiss and fries ($2), someone else got the patty melt ($11), which comes on parmesan sourdough, and the third got a chicken caesar salad ($9). None of us were blown away, but our food was fine, and the server was nice. My expectations were low, and they were exceeded.

Besides 10 burgers, the menu has four salads, fish and chips, a couple of sandwiches and a hot dog. Oh, and unless my eyes deceived me, you can get a $12 milkshake. Has anyone had one? At that price, I hope it’s sharing size.

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Restaurant of the Week: Wicked Cow Burgers and Brews

Wicked Cow Burgers and Brews, 131 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland; open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and to midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Wicked Cow, a gastropub, opened in December 2016 in a restaurant building on the edge of the Vons Center, taking over a space briefly occupied by Mes Amis, and for years previously by Pick Up Stix.

The interior is reminiscent of both prior occupants, with the same basic layout and open kitchen as Pick Up Stix and the nicer decor of Mes Amis. There’s a lot of red, gray and black, with wood accents and a tile floor, with a bar/counter.

The menu is short but interesting, mostly burgers and other sandwiches, a couple of salads, appetizers (including poutine), two dinner entrees, a steak and pasta, and 12 beers.

My first visit, I tried the signature burger, with onion rings as my side ($12). Arriving on a brioche bun, the burger was loosely packed and very good. This was promising enough that I returned on a drenching day in January for a second lunch.

This time I got the Oink-LT ($12), basically a BLT except with pork belly rather than bacon. That was a good switch, the soft, thick slices of pork belly having more taste and meat to them than the standard bacon. The side of fries was tasty.

Service was friendly and attentive both visits. In the spirit of full disclosure, the server, who is the general manager, comped my meal, she said because she remembered my early visit. I did not introduce myself. Anyway, I formed my judgment of the meal before realizing no bill would be forthcoming.

I would suggest only more attention to vegetarians, who must content themselves with either the Hipster burger or one salad, as virtually everything else, even the mac and cheese, has pork belly or another meat, and also the addition of a soup, which would have been a comforting choice on that cold, rainy day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Smashburger

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Smashburger, 13855 City Center Drive (the Shoppes at Chino Hills), Chino Hills

Chino Hills gets interesting restaurants these days. In this case, the city got the Smashburger chain’s first Inland Empire location — yes, even before Victoria Gardens. I met a local friend there for lunch to try it out.

I’d heard of Smashburger, which is based in Colorado and operates in 32 states, but I hadn’t had a chance to eat at one. It’s one of the wave of better-burger restaurants. They use fresh, not frozen Angus, egg buns and fresh produce. You can get fries with rosemary, olive oil and garlic. And their shakes are made with Haagen-Dazs.

The one at the Shoppes is in a walkway across from Panera and a few yards from Dripp. It’s bigger inside than it looks. The menu has eight burgers, with create-your-own options (including six kinds of cheese), plus chicken sandwiches and salads. It’s unusual to find a Cobb salad at a place like this, but they have one. They also have a black bean vegetarian sandwich and veggie frites, which appear to be carrots and string beans served in a basket like fries.

I had the classic Smashburger ($5.39, below) with Smash fries (the ones with rosemary, olive oil and garlic, $2.29) and a Butterfinger shake ($4.59).

It was a very good burger, very close to the two I’ve had on the East Coast at Shake Shack; it was heartening, in a weird way, to know I can find their local equivalent. The fries didn’t do much for me and I left half of them. Good shake. (Trivia note: I’m a sucker for Butterfingers in ice cream, such as at Foster’s Freeze.) Did I want it as a malt? Sure. How about with whipped cream? What the heck. No extra charge for either. And you get the old-school metal cup with a little extra shake left.

My friend had the buffalo and blue cheese burger with sweet potato fries (next photo). He liked both and was especially taken by the fries. At least someone at our table finished his fries.

You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. They also check on you and take your trays, at least when it’s only moderately busy, like when we were there. I liked it.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Rookery

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The Rookery Alehouse and Grill, 117 W. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; closed Mondays

The Rookery, which opened in 2013, replaced the long-lived Joey’s BBQ at the entrance to the downtown Pomona arts district. It’s been a good change, even if Joey’s was something of a tradition for some of my friends for birthdays and pre-concert eats. The food is arguably better now, and business is up.

The menu is mostly burgers and beer, with a couple of salads and other sandwiches, and a grilled cheese and tomato soup pairing. I’ve eaten here a half-dozen times and generally find the experience on the tipping point between good and okay.

On a recent visit, I got the soup and sandwich ($8), which are about what you would expect, but a decent alternative to a burger. I was back a month later and tried the roasted red burger ($10), which comes with roasted red peppers and goat cheese. Pretty good, and for the first time I got fries as my side rather than the mixed green salad. The fries are thick and blocky, with skin on, a little different than any I’ve had before, and very good.

As for beers, they currently have 16 on draft and 17 in bottles, from all over, including Belgium, but mostly the West Coast. It’s obviously a well-curated beer list.

The previously little-used entry room from Second is now the bar and main dining room at lunchtime, with high and low tables, and a patio toward Garey is a popular spot on warm evenings. The decor includes art of birds and bird-keeping, a rookery being a nesting place for birds, but there’s also a poster with the pilot’s alphabet (bottom).

Service has been a weak spot. On my first visit, with two friends, the server looked at one of the sandwiches on the tray and asked good-humoredly, “Which burger is this?,” a question that involved us as customers on a level that was disconcerting. A friend on a separate visit asked a server if she could sit outside and then was never waited on.

I don’t know if all the kinks have been worked out, but even if it’s not a tight ship, you’ll probably be waited on, and you’ll probably find it was worth the trouble.

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Restaurant of the Week: Samo’s Burgers

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Samo’s Burgers, 1701 S. Garey Ave. (at Franklin), Pomona

Samo’s is a burger shack in south Pomona next to Garey High, probably an optimal location to catch young people in search of cheap eats. I ate there once a few years ago and later discussed the place with a friend who goes there; she told me she informed the owner that someone from the Daily Bulletin had been there, and his reaction was astonishment, maybe pride.

I was reminded of Samo’s after “Mad Men” set a scene at a Burger Chef (restoring a vacant Burger Chef in Rialto for the shoot) and someone informed me Pomona has two of them: Golden Wok on north Garey and Samo’s on south Garey. Unlike the heavily remodeled, and popular, Golden Wok, Samo’s, I realized, still has the Burger Chef-era sign, even if the building has been stuccoed over.

So it had been on my mind to go back and feature Samo’s here, and when a friend wanted to meet for lunch in the Pomona area, I suggested Samo’s.

He was still parked in his vehicle when I pulled up. “Is this really where you want to eat?” he asked skeptically, giving me a chance to back out. I affirmed that it was. As I reminded him, I’d described it to him as “a beat-up burger joint,” so I hope he wasn’t under any illusions of white tablecloths.

The menu is broad, as it is in most Greek-owned burger emporiums, with Mexican food, a few random sandwiches and a couple of dinner plates. I got the burger combo with fries and soda ($4.90 with tax); he got a carne asada burrito (price unnoted). We sat in the lonely dining room with its yellow and blue-cushioned molded plastic booths.

The burger was a typical thin fast-food patty, but the bun was broad; the sandwich was dressed with tomato, lettuce, onion and thousand island. They were generous with the fries too. It was a filling meal and I ate only half the fries. My friend’s burrito fell apart — he’d opened the wrapper upside down and the burrito never recovered — but he used a fork and said it was pretty good, loaded with meat and beans.

Our only problem was that Samo’s has no air conditioning, or no working a/c at least. It was 95 degrees outside and maybe 105 inside. We hung out a while until the sauna conditions proved too much. I don’t envy the staff in the kitchen.

At least one commenter on Yelp says Samo’s has been there under the same owner for 30 years. Burger Chef faded out in the early 1980s after Hardee’s bought the chain. It’s likely that it’s been Samo’s longer than it was Burger Chef, maybe twice as long by this point. I can’t really sell you on Samo’s, and it may be years before I return, but as a Burger Chef fan, I liked being inside one again.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oh Queso

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Oh Queso, 14270 Chino Hills Parkway (at Grand), Chino Hills; open daily

Chino Hills isn’t really a burger town, so I was doubly surprised when a foodie friend advised me that an excellent burger could be had in town at a Mexican restaurant. I ventured into the far western reaches of Chino Hills to find Oh Queso, located in the Stater Bros. center, around the point where the town peters out into scrubby hills.

Oh Queso looks like a chain but isn’t. It calls itself California Mexican Cuisine and has the usual array of tacos and burritos. They also have “gourmet burgers,” described on the menu as being made with “6 ounces of fresh ground chuck and brisket beef.”

I got the cheeseburger ($5.25) but with a fried egg ($1 extra) and as a combo with fries and soda, a total of $9.14 with tax. I’d never had an egg on my burger but my friend said it helps, and another friend swears by eggs too.

The fries were of the crunchy, double-fried variety, very good. A basket of house-made tortilla chips, also good. The burger? It was served on an egg bun, sturdy enough to hold up under the burger, cheese, egg, tomato, onion and sauce. The patty was thick, fresh and loosely packed. In sum, this burger was a magnificent thing, beefy and drippy.

They also sell pastrami burgers, bacon cheeseburgers and a green chili cheeseburger, or you can add sauteed mushrooms, an extra patty or extra cheese. The egg didn’t do much for me, but maybe I’ll acquire the taste. The guy at the next table got a pastrami burger, seemed impressed and took a menu home.

The restaurant interior is nothing to get excited about, although it’s pleasant enough, with tables and actual chairs, as well as a communal table with padded benches. You order at the counter and your food is brought to you. The service was friendly.

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Oh Queso’s cheeseburger is certainly a contender for best Inland Valley fast-food burger, possibly beating out the Habit, Five Guys, Fatburger and Rounds, and for the money it’s a better deal than sit-down burger champions Back Abbey and Eureka. I haven’t made a comprehensive survey, and note I said “contender,” but if there’s a better burger locally, somebody tell me where it is.

I don’t know when I’ll be driving that far out into western Chino Hills again, but if I do I now know a good place to eat there.

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Update September 2016: Actually, I’ve gone back twice. The burgers are worth it. I hear the carne asada fries are another winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Slater’s 50/50

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Slater’s 50/50, 8009 Day Creek Blvd. (at Victoria Gardens Lane), Rancho Cucamonga

In proof the Inland Valley is getting hipper, or more accurately less unhip, Rancho Cucamonga is now home to the sixth location of a rising high-end burger chain. Slater’s signature ingredient is bacon, its 50/50 burger being half-bacon, half-beef, and they have 100 beers on tap.

Replacing Harry’s Pacific Grill, Slater’s opened July 1 and people discovered it quickly. A friend and I showed up at 6:30 p.m. for dinner midweek and the stated wait was 60 to 75 minutes. Thankfully there’s a Starbucks next door, which is likely to see booming business from people cooling their heels. They’ll text you when it’s your turn, and it was indeed 75 minutes before it was.

The interior is much as I remember it from the sedate Harry’s, heavy on the wood and with its own bar. They’ve added multiple TVs, all tuned to sports, albeit with the sound off, or at least overwhelmed by the classic rock blasting from the sound system and the dull roar from the couple of hundred people inside.

We had an appetizer platter ($6.45, below) of onion rings (a bit greasy, but okay) and sweet potato fries (very good) and two sandwiches ($9 each): a 50/50 for me (bottom), a veggie burger for my friend. Counter-style, you can fill out a slip to choose your patty, bun, cheese, condiments, etc. An indecisive fellow, I’d also rather leave the choices of what goes well together to the kitchen professionals, yet I decided to build my own this time.

The veggie burger was declared “pretty wonderful,” with actual vegetables (black beans, most notably) visible. “I would so get that again,” my friend said. The buns are especially good, the brioche and the honey wheat, being flavorful and substantial.

My 50/50 was fine, but as you’d expect a burger made half of bacon to be, saltier than a typical burger. By the end I was a little tired of it. It was gimmicky, although less so than the chain’s “burger of the month” for July, which is an all-bacon patty, topped with bacon, with bacon dressing, bacon cheese and bacon pretzel bun, plus a fried egg. Maybe they’ll sell you a pancake as a side.

I’m not sure I’d get the 50/50 again, but I would try something else, maybe one of the standard burgers where they’ve already made the choices, or one of the non-burger options. The desserts and milkshakes sound intriguing too. (I might have ordered a shake but the restaurant was chilly.)

Service was attentive, with multiple people checking on us multiple times. There was a glitch on the bill where they tried charging me 50 cents each for condiments that were supposed to be free, but the bill was corrected.

Worth trying to see what the fuss is about, but you might want to arrive at an off-hour. And it helps if you like Starbucks.

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