Restaurant of the Week: Min’s Dumpling House, Rancho Cucamonga

Min’s Dumpling House, 9789 Baseline Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

There are Min’s Dumpling House locations in Chino, Corona and Rancho Cucamonga, the latter of which I tried out recently at lunchtime with two librarian friends. It’s in the 99 Ranch center, home to another Chinese restaurant, a Korean restaurant and a boba shop.

Min’s is on the small side, but brightened by sunlight, art, carved screens and other decor, and the seating is spaced apart, giving everyone some elbow room. Its menu is on the large side, with 156 items: rice dishes, dim sum, soups, seafood, hot pot and more, including 15 vegetable-only dishes. The specialty is cuisine from the Hunan province. Many dishes are spicy, but they’re marked as such on the menu and we stayed away.

We ordered six items: pork dumplings (item 1, $7); BBQ pork buns (item 5, $6); shrimp and pork dumplings (item 19, $9); sweet and pungent spare ribs (item 59, $11); Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce (item 123, $8); and vegetable fried rice (item 150, $7).

I was a big fan of the dumplings — the pork were soup dumplings, the shrimp and pork were simply filled — and the pork buns. Nothing wrong with the broccoli either. The others liked the spare ribs and rice the best.

Min’s is among Rancho Cucamonga’s best Chinese restaurants, and given that the menu has a couple of my favorite items, cumin lamb and beef roll, I’m sure I’ll be back.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: China Republic

chinar1

China Republic, 12806 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A shopping plaza in easternmost Rancho Cucamonga, on Foothill Boulevard east of the 15 Freeway, is a surprisingly happening spot. It’s got Combine Kitchen, Tilted Kilt, a Korean BBQ and an ambitious Chinese restaurant, China Republic. I’d been wanting to try the latter and jumped when a friend and his wife wanted dinner.

The parking lot was bustling early on a Friday evening and a couple of likely Kilt customers were arguing belligerently. Things were more sedate at China Republic.

chinar2

It’s got a beautiful interior, with high ceilings, wooden panels with carved cutouts, lovely lantern-like fixtures and a modernist bar. It might be the most impressive restaurant interior in Rancho Cucamonga.

To my knowledge, China Republic is one of the very, very few Inland Valley restaurants with dim sum, or small-plate luncheons, and I’m told the place is packed. But this was a weeknight dinner. We ordered, as presented below, black vinegar mushrooms ($6), braised pork belly ($15), garlic broccoli ($10), dry scallop fried rice ($14) and Singapore noodles soup ($10, not pictured).

chinar4

chinar5

chinar6

chinar8

We enjoyed our items, although none of them knocked us out. In what must be a concession to local tastes, the menu includes orange peel chicken and cream cheese wontons, not the sort of dishes they serve in Hong Kong.

“An A for aesthetics but a B for execution,” one friend suggested.

China Republic is worth trying, especially to admire the place, and if you get the dim sum, report back, please.

chinar3

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Tasty Noodle House

tasty1

Tasty Noodle House, 2947 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Chino Hills, as has been noted here before, has the best Chinese food in the Inland Valley. I was planning to eat at Noodle House, but it looked full, and right across the shopping center driveway was a larger restaurant. So I went there instead.

Not that it occurred to me until later, but the second place had the same name plus an adjective, and given the choice between Noodle House and Tasty Noodle House, who wouldn’t upgrade to the tasty one? The sign says simply Tasty House, either due to space considerations or politeness to its neighbor, but the menu and receipt say Tasty Noodle House, which is a Southern California chain of at least seven restaurants, including Walnut, San Gabriel and Irvine.

tasty2

Tasty’s interior is immediately appealing: blond wood, benches, slim hanging fixtures and large windows. Scandinavia meets Shanghai.

It was bustling, but there were empty seats, and I was given one, as well as the typically extensive menu and time to look it over. I ordered xiao long bao ($7.50) and sauteed spirals (mushrooms) with leeks ($12), plus a taro milk tea ($3).

The pan of eight XLBs, or soup dumplings, weren’t to the Din Tai Fung standard and were more dumpling than soup, but that didn’t bother me, and they were a good choice. The leeks (one must have one’s greens) were sauteed with mushrooms and carrots and were very good too; half were taken home, making the price, which seemed a bit high, more palatable. And I liked the taro tea.

By Chinese restaurant standards, the service was friendly, I liked all my items and would go back. It’s only a block from the multiplex, which was my next stop after lunch. Nothing wrong with regular old Noodle House, though. It’s tasty too.

tasty3

tasty4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Sam’s Unique Diner

sams1

Sam’s Unique Diner, 4721 Chino Hills Parkway (at Monte Vista), Chino Hills

Don’t let the name fool you: Sam’s Unique Diner is not a hash house with a waitress named Flo but rather a Chinese restaurant, and a stylish one. It opened in the Commons shopping center a few weeks ago.

sams2

The entry looks like a hotel and the dining room has a chandelier.

sams3

I was there for a group lunch recently and ordered off the lunch menu, not dissimilar from that of many Chinese restaurants. I got the most exotic sounding item, twice cooked pork ($8, below), and liked it. But the restaurant, I could tell, was better than the orange chicken, kung pao chicken and other standbys on the lunch menu.

sams4

So I returned for a weekend lunch with a friend. We had westlake beef soup ($11, not pictured); yam with blueberries ($10, below); beef with cumin ($14, second photo below); and fish filet with vegetables ($11, third photo below).

sams5

The yam item was the only one we thought was just okay. The white yams had a taste like jicama. Pleasant, but dull.

sams6

I love cumin dishes and beef with cumin did not disappoint. The soup was good as well and we liked the light, moist tilapia in the fish filet.

sams7

The expansive restaurant has private dining rooms and a covered patio for groups. It’s said to have Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghai-style cuisine. Chino Hills has a number of authentic Chinese restaurants and Sam’s is among the best, and in what may be the most spectacular restaurant setting in the city.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Szechuwan Garden

szech1

Szechuwan Garden, 8851 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; open daily

This ’80s strip mall has had a Chinese restaurant of one name or another for 30 years: first Royal China, then Golden Buddha and then, since 1998, Golden China. When it closed in 2014, after a long run, its replacement was yet another Chinese restaurant, Szechuwan Garden.

Thankfully, they made the place over, ditching some of the dated touches that left you wondering if A Flock of Seagulls might drop in for a pu-pu platter. The dining room is more industrial now, the lighting is focused and the atmosphere less tacky.

The menu is slightly more interesting than your typical Chinese American restaurant — shredded pork with dry bean curd, chow fun — but largely has familiar dishes, even moo goo gai pan, and cream cheese wontons, but no orange chicken at least.

szech3

I had lunch there last month with a friend. He got tangerine chicken off the lunch menu ($7), while I got one of the chef’s specialties, Mao braised pork belly ($13). His came with soup, salad and egg roll. They gave me a soup to be nice.

szech4

He liked his lunch, and mine was pretty good too, soft chunks of pork belly atop sauteed spinach, with brown rice on the side. Inland Empire had named it to its 10 Dishes to Die For list, a display at the entrance had boasted.

This isn’t San Gabriel-style authentic Chinese food, and thus I wouldn’t recommend driving across the valley to eat here. That said, it’s clean and comfortable, a small step up from Golden China, and in a time when decent sitdown places for traditional Chinese food are becoming scarce, I wish them luck.

szech2

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Shi-Foo Chinese Food, Chino

shifoo1

Shi-Foo Chinese Food, 12198 Central Ave. (at Philadelphia), Chino; also 15942 Los Serranos Country Club Drive, Chino Hills

Hungry before a council meeting in Chino, I figured I could find something along Central Avenue, vaguely recalling the location of a pho restaurant. I pulled into a center just above the 60 Freeway with Goodwill and 99 Cents Only stores as its main tenants and realized I’d been here once before, trying a Japanese restaurant, Bento Box. This wasn’t the center with Pho Express.

But a couple of doors down from Bento Box was something named Shi-Foo, with this motto: “Chinese Food Remastered.”

Remastered? Would there be bonus tracks? It was just unusual-sounding enough to entice this music fan to enter.

shifoo2

It looks like a typical quick-service Chinese restaurant, and in fact was a Happy Wok previously. They have steam table stuff if you’re in a hurry, chow mein and beef broccoli and orange chicken, all of which I bypassed — which is not to dismiss it. The menu says they use non-GMO cooking oil and that the orange chicken is made with real oranges, with no corn syrup.

I went with the create-your-own-entree option, where you choose a protein, sauce and side. I went with shrimp with garlic sauce and brown rice ($10.50). In a bonus, there was a 5 percent discount for cash customers. As a guy who pays with cash, this was the first time I’d saved money by doing so, which put a spring in my step as I walked to my table.

shifoo3

My food was made fresh and was ready in a few minutes. My goodness, it smelled good, very garlicky, and there were — I counted — 14 shrimp. They did not skimp on the shrimp. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled.

Shi Foo was a pleasant surprise, one of those places you enter on a whim, knowing nothing, and walk out thinking you’ve made a find, in part because you had no expectations. But I think I would like it on a second visit even with my expectations raised.

My fortune, reproduced below, was slightly mysterious, as a Chinese fortune should be, due primarily to what might (or might not!) be a superfluous comma. Exactly how much time will this decision require, anyway? I’d better get started.

shifoo4

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Happy Kitchen

happykitchen1

Happy Kitchen, 3233 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Chino Hills is the prime spot in the Inland Valley for authentic Chinese good, with numerous worthwhile spots, and new ones popping up or replacing existing eateries all the time. I was led to Happy Kitchen as a Yelp recommendation for another restaurant I was eyeing.

I met two friends at Happy Kitchen for lunch on a recent Saturday. It’s in the Albertsons center (nice to know there are still Albertsons around), and several of the other restaurants are Asian too, including the wonderfully named Korean tofu joint Youngdong.

happykitchen2

Happy Kitchen is small and at noon was bustling. We got about the only empty table and examined the multipage menu, which has about 200 items: appetizers, noodle dishes, rice dishes, chicken, pork, lamb, seafood, vegetarian, hot pot and more.

We got three entrees, pictured in order below: Happy Kitchen tofu ($10), tangerine chicken ($10) and cumin pork ($12). Also, two appetizers: fried bread roll and vegetable egg rolls ($5 each). This proved to be too much food, but that’s part of the fun of a shared meal.

happykitchen5

happykitchen3

happykitchen4

“Very tasty, I liked it,” one friend said. She said the fried bread reminded her favorably of something you’d get at the Fair and that the tofu entree was larger than in the menu photo.

“It didn’t exceed my expectations but it met them,” the other friend said. “It was very good for strip mall Chinese.”

That seemed a little unfair to me, as 1) almost every restaurant in Chino Hills is in a strip mall and 2) most San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants are in strip malls too. Din Tae Fung, anyone?

My view was that there were a lot more items on the menu that I’d like to try, especially the beef roll (it’s a dish I’ve had at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra). I liked Happy Kitchen as much as Noodle House, my previous Chino Hills favorite.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Cachanilla

cachanilla1

Cachanilla Chinese Restaurant, 305 E. Holt Ave. (at Palomares), Pomona

Once upon a time, I believe, this restaurant was an American coffee shop, Hull House; later it became a series of Mexican restaurants, among them La Cabana and Molcajete; later still it was a Chinese buffet. Now it’s Cachanilla, which bills itself as Chinese food in the style of Mexicali.

Mexicali, in Baja California, at one point had a high concentration of Chinese immigrants and still has more Chinese restaurants than any other part of Mexico. I had no idea.

Intrigued, a friend and I gave Cachanilla a try recently for lunch. The interior is kind of swank, an upgrade from what I recall of a decade-old visit to La Cabana.

The menu seems very American Chinese, with chow mein, chop suey, orange chicken (“pollo a la naranja”) and the like. I got Mongolian beef ($8, “carne deres estilo mongolia”), my friend got the house special chow mein ($10, “chow mein de especialadad de casa”), and we shared dumplings ($8).

Well, these all tasted pretty standard to us, and a query of our waiter about what made the food Mexican got us an off-point answer about how people in Pomona wouldn’t care for San Gabriel Valley-style authentic Chinese food. A better answer had come via email from reader John Clifford, who learned from a server that Mexicali Chinese tends to use fewer vegetables and more bean sprouts and that some dishes include jalapenos or cilantro.

To be honest, we were a little disappointed by our lunch, having envisioned something more fusion-y. (But not like the Ontario Chinese-Mexican fusion place.) This was just regular Chinese food, which can be found seemingly everywhere.

That said, Chinese food is as scarce a commodity in Pomona as it is in Mexico, with a Panda Express in the Target center perhaps the only other edible Chinese food within city limits, unless fried rice specialist Kwon’s or the teriyaki bowls at Jinza count. So I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for liking Cachanilla, but also I wouldn’t steer anyone there from out of town.

By the way, I guess what I had really is Chinese food. An hour later, I was hungry again.

cachanilla4

cachanilla2

cachanilla3

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Panda Inn

panda1

Panda Inn, 3223 E. Centrelake Drive (at Guasti), Ontario

Panda Inn, an outpost of the small Pasadena-based chain that also owns Panda Express, opened in 1992 in Ontario in what was then the hinterlands. But we had an airport. The location, only yards from the 10 Freeway, was renovated in 2013, the subject of one of my columns. I’ve dined at this Panda several times over the years with groups of friends. I had dinner there last month with a friend and figured I might as well memorialize it here.

Panda is a little more modern inside now. They knocked down a wall to the bar, making it more accessible, and it has more TVs. And the dining rooms are more stylish and colorful with elements like decorative bird cages.

The menus are updated too, although I don’t remember enough about the old menus to gauge how much it’s changed. Panda is still Americanized, as perhaps you must be to fill an enormous restaurant in Ontario, and orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried egg rolls remain on the menu.

But they do a good job. My friend got kon pao chicken ($14), pork fried rice ($10) and braised string beans ($7.75). A creature of habit, she orders those same dishes at any Chinese restaurant she visits. She likes Panda’s versions best, though. I got steamed pork dumplings ($6.25) and wok-fried scallops on a bed of spinach ($19.25). Pretty good.

All the food came out quickly, except my dumplings, which arrived 10 minutes after everything else.

The waiter was exceptionally friendly. Celebrating mutual March birthdays, we got birthday ice cream and a song from three servers. And of course, Panda’s signature foil-wrapped fortune cookies dipped in white chocolate.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal in nice surroundings. Leaving our dining room for the men’s room, my way was momentarily blocked by a party of four taking a selfie. “The arches,” one explained apologetically. Ah, yes, the arches: The long hallway got five arches as part of the renovation, and it does make for a neat, almost science fictional sight.

panda2

panda3

panda4

panda5

panda7

panda6

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Noodle House

noodle1

Noodle House, 2935 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Chino Hills is home to numerous Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley style, and if perhaps not to that level, they’re often very good. I tried another one recently pretty much at random: Noodle House.

It’s in a Mediterranean-looking shopping plaza maybe a half-mile west of the 71 Freeway and near the Harkins 18. At least one other Chinese eatery is in the center, Home Cooking. Haven’t tried that one. Noodle House is small and bustling. I was there for a late lunch and the place was almost full. Someone had just left, thankfully, and I was given their table once it was cleaned.

The menu had appetizers, soups, dry noodle dishes and specialties. I got a seaweed salad ($3) and shredded pork with dry noodles ($5).

The cold salad was light and lightly chewy; the bowl was hot. I really liked both dishes and took half of each home, where they were also delicious in the coming days.

The staff’s English was pretty good, and service was brisk but not unfriendly. People on Yelp talk about the fried fish filet with seaweed and the beef soup with handcut noodles, so I may not have ordered anything extraordinary. But I recommend the place.

noodle2

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email