Restaurant of the Week: Raising Cane’s, Upland

Raising Cane’s, 183 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 2nd), Upland; open 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Founded in 1996 and based in New Orleans, Raising Cane’s is a rapidly expanding quick-service chain of chicken finger restaurants. Ontario has two and Fontana, San Bernardino and Upland have one each. Upland’s opened back in January and, after months of meaning to go and forgetting, I went there on my lunch break recently.

When I got there after 1 p.m., there was a line out the door (thankfully it wasn’t raining), and a majority of the seating was taken. However, the first register is angled toward the entry, close enough to the door that it takes only five or six people to make a line out the door. Very canny.

The menu is of course flat against the wall and begins a little beyond the first register. You can’t really see it in its entirety unless you’re ordering from the second register.

(I’m a little put off by their chirpy “One Love” motto, seen above. Bob Marley’s shade must be shaking his dreadlocked head at his song being used by a corporation. On the other hand, maybe the expression of unity and inclusion is a subtle jab at the Chick-fil-A founder’s retrograde social views, in which case, carry on.)

I got the three-finger combo with fries, toast and drink ($7.42). A four-finger combo that also had slaw was a little under a buck more, but I didn’t see it on the distant menu board until picking up my order directly under it. Oh well.

The chicken was fine, perhaps more heavily battered than is strictly necessary. The skinny crinkle-cut fries were crisp. It was a decent cheap meal.

The music was cranked up too loud for comfort for my tastes. Employees were hustling. It’s a high-energy place. As when Lou Grant told Mary Richards that she had spunk, and he hates spunk, I’m not really a fan of high-energy places. There’s an expansive patio outside that was quieter, but also colder. That would be my preferred seating on a warm day.

As must be obvious, after all the hype about Cane’s, the experience was a slight letdown. Expectations adjusted, perhaps a second visit will be more to my liking. Food-wise and ambience-wise, I’d prefer to eat at Chick-fil-A. Although Cane’s is better on Sunday (rim shot).

One neat local touch on the wall inside the entry: a framed 1978 issue of Skateboard World magazine. The cover promotes not only a feature on the Cal Jam II concert in Ontario, but one on the “Upland finale” of a skating event, presumably at the old Pipeline skate park.

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Restaurant of the Week: Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken

Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken, 13865 City Center Drive (The Shoppes), Chino Hills; open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays

I learned about Hotties from The New Diner blog; he doesn’t eat chicken, but he liked the mac and cheese. Me, I’ll eat almost anything, even in far-away Chino Hills. My interest was further stirred when the LA Times Food section had a mention of the shop, owned by Michael Pham and John Park, and alleged lines out the door in a piece about the Nashville hot chicken craze.

In Chino Hills for a recent assignment, I decided to eat lunch before heading to the office and remembered I wanted to visit Hotties. It’s in the Shoppes at Chino Hills outdoor mall, near Pinkberry (there are still Pinkberry shops, evidently) and a chicken wing’s throw from Barnes & Noble.

There was no line on a Wednesday right after opening, but the restaurant is small enough that if there were four people in line, it would reach the door. You order at the counter and there is limited seating, a couple of high top tables and a few window seats at a counter. The menu is short: combos with two or three pieces of chicken, two sliders or two tenders, all with fries, plus sides of truffle mac and cheese, fries and slaw.

I went with the two tender combo ($8.50) with hot shake fries, ordering the chicken with mild spice, as opposed to no spice, medium, spicy or fire (the latter has ghost pepper). My meal arrived a few minutes later in a white box with a checkerboard liner.

Inside were two tenders atop a fat slice of white bread, two pickles on top, with crinkle-cut fries seasoned with “Cajun spices,” very good. I alternated between picking up the tenders and cutting them with a knife and fork to eat them along with the bread. They were seasoned just right for my mild tastes with a dusting of cayenne pepper and paprika. The lightly fried skin tended to come off, but it fell into the box, so no harm done.

Having waited in line 2 1/2 hours at Chinatown’s famous Howlin’ Ray’s, the place that started the hot chicken trend in L.A., I can state that the style and presentation closely follow Howlin’ Ray’s, that the food is very good but not up to that level, and that waiting in no line close to home is far superior. There’s a chart at the counter, by the way, that marks the wait time after ordering: 10 minutes, 15, 20, 25 or 30-plus.

If you ordered your food too spicy, Hotties has no desserts, but Afters Ice Cream is across the way. Or there’s Pinkberry almost next door.

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Restaurant of the Week: Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, Rubidoux

Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, 5749 Mission Blvd. (at Riverview), Rubidoux; open daily, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; cash only

Only three Donahoo’s chicken locations remain, I believe: Ontario, Pomona and Rubidoux, which is just west of Riverside. The chain’s history isn’t well-documented, which I’ll have to rectify sometime, but there used to be more locations around the state.

I’ve been to Ontario once or twice and to Pomona dozens of times, which is more a reflection of where I am when I want takeout rather than the relative quality. I’d never been to or seen the one in Rubidoux, but it was in my mind to try it one day.

That day came last Saturday, when I drove to Riverside for the afternoon. I ended my day at Donahoo’s, taking Mission west out of town and pulling up to Donahoo’s, in a standalone little building with what must be an original 1950s-’60s sign. It was kind of adorable. There’s only a couple of parking spaces, but the lot next door is good too since you won’t be there long.

It’s takeout only, just like the other Donahoo’s. I got the chicken strips box lunch ($7.55), which came with five pieces, a small salad, a roll and fries. They cook the chicken to order and it was ready in 10 minutes, handed over in a brown cardboard box inside a plastic bag. I got on the 60 Freeway when it met Mission at Valley View, headed home and ate there.

It was a different meal than Pomona: crinkle-cut fries, which they also do in Ontario and which are the original style, rather than the Pomona steak fries; a green salad, rather than slaw or macaroni as in Pomona; and a different, lighter batter for the chicken. It tended to slip off the chicken, which was disconcerting, but the taste was good. I liked the fries and roll; the iceberg salad was meh.

I ate half the meal that night and saved the other half for lunch the next day. Not bad for $7.55.

I would return, but probably won’t, given there are closer Donahoo’s, but I’m glad I went and am glad this one is still around. And yes, like Pomona but unlike Ontario, there’s a rooster on the roof.

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Restaurant of the Week: Maple House

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Maple House Chicken and Waffles, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at 6th), Ontario

Chicken and waffles are hard to come by in the 909; I think there used to be a Roscoe’s in San Bernardino, but other than that, the only place I’m aware of is an obscure Pomona restaurant, Day Day’s, which isn’t open for dinner. But now there’s a spot in Ontario.

Maple House opened in March in what had been Sal and Sons Pizza, right off the 10 in the Gateway Center, near Starbucks and a cupcake shop. One of Sal’s sons is still involved, and the interior looks largely the same. But service is now at your table rather than at the counter and the menu, needless to say, is entirely different. (There’s also a patio with umbrellas.)

Have you had chicken and waffles? I have, a couple of times, at the Roscoe’s in Pasadena. The chicken and the waffle are usually plated separately, if you’re curious, and can be eaten separately, with the waffle more of a side dish, or eaten together. They do pair surprisingly well.

A friend and I tried Maple House for dinner recently. They serve several kinds of waffles (with such toppings as bananas, strawberries, pecans and Nutella) and various pieces of chicken, all cooked to order; they also serve omelets, salads, desserts — peach cobbler and sweet potato pie — and beer and wine. Sides include yams, mac and cheese, turkey greens and more. And my friend got a grape Kool-Aid. So it’s a soul food restaurant, and the background music included James Brown, but they’re not quite all-in.

The chicken and waffle dinners came with two sides, which seemed like too much food, so my friend and I ordered a la carte: a waffle each ($4) with a breast for me ($4.35) and a leg ($2.50) and wing ($2.25) for him. We each found that a filling meal.

The chicken coating was crunchy, with excellent texture, and the chicken itself came off the bone easily and tasted great; my friend declared it “awesome,” and as chicken is his favorite meal, that says a lot. The waffles were Belgian, puffier than Roscoe’s, and had powdered sugar too. Roscoe’s is a tradition, the food’s very good and the energy and vibe part of the experience; Maple House doesn’t have that, but the food is arguably just as good, and depending on where you live, it’s probably closer.

Each table, by the way, has a small sign advising that the food is cooked to order and that the chicken “can take up to a minimum of 30 minutes to prepare.” Isn’t “up to a minimum” contradictory? Mixed messages aside, our food came out in about 20 minutes during a slow period. Be prepared to wait a bit, but it’s worth it.

I’m not a guy who wants to order chicken and/or waffles very often, but it’s cool to have a local place, and one with good hours: from 9 a.m. daily, closing at 8 on Sundays, 9 on Mondays to Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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Update February 2016: Wanting to try more sides, I returned for dinner when hungry, getting a dinner plate with a waffle, chicken breast and two sides: greens and grits ($15). It was hard to get it all into one photo, but I did a better job than above. Excellent meal, and every item was top-notch. Too much food for me to try a dessert.

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Restaurant of the Week: Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, Pomona

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Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, 1074 N. Garey Ave. (at Columbia), Pomona

Donahoo’s used to be a modest chain, but now it’s down to three or four unconnected stands in Pomona, Ontario, Riverside and maybe up north somewhere. The one in Pomona may be the best known due to its prominent, freeway-close location and fiberglass rooster on the roof.

I’ve been getting food from the Pomona location for years, generally once or twice per year. The owners seem to have changed a few times, always Asian in recent years, but the food keeps roughly the same level of quality. I went in again recently with a Donahoo’s first-timer. The menu board is gone after many years, replaced by tacked-up notices of the most popular items. (Fans of gizzards, livers and the like will find those items on a menu on the counter.) It’s a sensible change.

The box lunch is the most popular: You get your choice of fried chicken or chicken strips, plus a tiny container of salad, a pile of steak fries and a giant roll, served in a white paperboard donut box, with a paper towel liner and a plastic fork wedged into the side. One innovation since my last visit is that the strips meal can be ordered with three pieces ($5.49) or six ($7.25). Before, it was six pieces only. As I always ate three and saved the other three as leftovers, the three-piece strips meal (pictured at bottom) was the obvious choice despite the the-more-you-eat-the-more-you-save pricing. My friend got a two-piece fried chicken box ($5.99, below).

Donahoo’s is takeout only. Orders are turned around quickly, thanks in part to a large staff in the open kitchen (two rows of fryers and some heat lamps) and a towering stack of pre-folded boxes, each no doubt with forks already tucked in. You have to grab napkins from a dispenser at the counter, which I never remember to do.

We took our boxes to Lincoln Park a few blocks east, sat at a picnic table, cut the boxes’ tape, opened the lids and dug in.

Mine was the quality I’ve come to expect, which means excellent. The shell is golden brown and speckled with black, crunchy and not greasy, the chicken white meat and flavorful. I was stuffed even without finishing my fries and didn’t eat dinner that night. My friend was pleasantly surprised by his meal. He took home one piece and some of his fries; he reports that he reheated them in the oven and that even the fries stayed crisp that way.

We saw others in the park toting the distinctive white boxes. Next time Pomona buries a time capsule, it ought to be in a Donahoo’s box, so Pomonans of the future can see how their forebears ate.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bruxie

Bruxie Gourmet Waffle Sandwiches, 13865 City Center Drive (in the Shoppes), Chino Hills

Waffles are tasty for breakfast, and as any Roscoe’s admirer can tell you they pair perfectly with fried chicken, but do they make a good bread substitute for sandwiches? Bruxie, which is based in Orange County, thinks so. Expanding northward from its locations in Rancho Santa Margarita, Orange and Brea, they opened last December in Chino Hills, taking over a Johnny Rockets that had just closed in the Shoppes outdoor mall.

The joint was jumping on a recent weekday lunch. Occupying a corner spot, Bruxie has a wraparound patio and, because it was a warm day, had opened the rollup doors that separate the patio from the dining room, turning the whole restaurant into an open-air environment. (There were heat lamps operating on the patio.)

A friend who’d already eaten there twice met me. The menu has savory waffle sandwiches, sweet waffle desserts, salads, coffee and frozen custard, a Midwestern treat that is rare out here. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially ice cream that’s made with egg yolks. (The Bruxie website has an amusing and informative FAQ section, by the way.)

A greeter explains the concept for first-timers, a nice touch for a restaurant where you order at the counter. She described the waffles as light and crisp, much like toast, which proved true. Overhearing us discuss frozen custard while in line, small samples were profferred. That spared us from having to order that on top of the dessert waffle we wanted to try.

We shared a tuna melt with waffle fries ($10.45 as a combo), a chicken-and-waffle sandwich ($7) and a creme brulee waffle ($6.50). I preferred the chicken and waffle, a boneless, breaded piece of chicken inside a wraparound waffle. (You can get syrup for $1 but we didn’t.) My friend liked the tuna melt better, commenting on the tuna’s seasoning. To me, a connoisseur of the tuna melt, it was tasty but more like tuna salad and a waffle rather than melding into a unit. We liked the dessert waffle best, filled with strawberries and bananas and dusted with powdered sugar.

The meal was light and fun, as was the experience. I also had a root beer made with cane sugar ($2.50), like the rest of the sodas. I will definitely go back, especially for the frozen custard. No waffling on that.

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Restaurant of the Week: KiKiRyKi

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KiKiRyKi, 344 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Arrow Highway), Claremont

That dull, gray shopping plaza at Indian Hill and Arrow was updated into a more colorful, eye-catching design in 2013, but even before that, it had a couple of intriguing eateries, among them KiKiRyKi, which I tried at the urging of a friend who’s a fiend for the place.

It’s Claremont’s other Peruvian restaurant, the finer one being Inka Trails on Foothill near Towne. That place has atmosphere and is a bit pricey. KiKiRyKi is cheaper and you order at the counter, but the food seems practically as good.

Before you ask, I don’t know what the deal is with the upper-lower name, which reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in “L.A. Story” — you remember, SanDeE* (“capital S, small A, small N, capital D, small E, capital E, star”). Just as confusing, you walk up to the entrance under the sign and a small sign tells you to use the entrance to the left, which is under a sign reading Pollos.

Well, they do specialize in rotisserie chicken, but we skipped it. I had the Lomo Saltado ($9.99, below) and an Inka Kola in a can ($1.75). My friend got the Tallarin Saltado (also $9.99) and, to split, a fish ceviche ($11.99).

The ceviche was dressed in lime, cilantro and slivered onion, with a hunk of sweet potato on the side. Simple and tasty. Our lomo dishes were beef with chunks of tomato and onion, mine served on papas fritas (french fries), with rice on the side, the other with spaghetti. Mine was quite good. The sole disappointment was the dry rice, but as it was on the side I just left it. The Inka Kola was pleasantly unnatural, tasting like a Fanta soda crossed with bubble gum.

People on Yelp like the place too but, alas, none explain its name. In fact, Yelp calls it Pollos Kikiryki.

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Restaurant of the Week: Macho Pollo

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Macho Pollo, 1245 E. Holt (at East End), Pomona; closed Wednesdays

Before last Monday’s Pomona council meeting, I stopped at a place I’d passed by for years: Macho Pollo.

It’s a fast-food joint on East Holt near East End Avenue with a drive-thru. Its distinguishing characteristic is the monument sign at the curb featuring, to match the name, a cartoon of a shirtless chicken showing off his biceps. Weird but amusing. This time, instead of smiling as I drove by, I pulled in.

Macho Pollo isn’t much to look at inside: a counter, a few booths, a mirrored wall and a couple of foosball games, the kind with players attached to rods. The menu on the wall was a little confusing: all items appeared to be complete meals, including one with four tacos and one with a hamburger, but no chicken sandwich and no a la carte menu obvious. Maybe I only wanted three tacos.

A bit dazed by the menu, I told the man waiting to take my order, whom I soon judged to be the owner, that this was my first visit and I wasn’t sure what to get. A friendly fellow, he assured me “everything is the best” and gave me a plate with a thigh and some tortilla chips, just as a sampler. The chicken was astonishingly good. So I ordered the chicken breast meal, plus a medium horchata ($8.11).

The chicken is lightly spiced, grilled and served on a styrofoam plate with grilled onions. I would say it’s like El Pollo Loco but several orders of magnitude better. Rice, beans and tortillas came with it.

Macho Pollo has been on Holt for four years. The sign at the entrance optimistically calls the restaurant “Macho Pollo No. 1”; I don’t know if there are others. But there should be. I’m still a Donahoo’s man, but for non-fried chicken, this is tasty stuff.

“Tell your friends. Risk-free,” the owner joked as he handed me my plate.

Well, you’re all my friends, right? Check the place out. Macho Pollo is mighty (get it?) good.

* Update July 2014: Seven years after the above writeup, I returned with a chicken-loving friend for dinner. The menu was easier to comprehend, and we each got the same thing: the four-piece meal with fries ($10). At this point I can’t tell you how it compared to my earlier meal, but I liked it. The sign says “a la brasa,” which typically means cooked over charcoal, in Peruvian style, but I didn’t ask how they prepared it. My friend said approvingly that it tasted like the pan-fried chicken his mom used to make.

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