Restaurant of the Week: Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho, 8880 Archibald Ave. (at 8th), Rancho Cucamonga; open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sundays

I heard about Calle Ocho from our Dine 909 columnist, who tweeted a mention of it a few weeks ago. Interesting that that would make two Cuban eateries in the same center, which is half automotive shops (and half, it sometimes feels like, businesses to patronize while your car is being smogged).

Not long afterward, I pulled into the center just above the railroad tracks with an eye toward eating again at Mica’s, the other Cuban spot, while taking a peek at Calle Ocho for future reference. But Mica’s was “closed for remodeling,” which often means a change of ownership. So I stepped into Calle Ocho.

The owner, or maybe co-owner, who was seated at one of the two small glass-topped tables, immediately greeted me and moved behind the counter. The menu is small: a few sandwiches, empanadas and coffees, including cafe con leche, some sides and some breakfast items. There’s a counter with a few more seats by the open kitchen.

I ordered the mainstay sandwich, the Cuban ($11), with roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard, plus garlic fries and a Materva soda. Probably 15 minutes later, the sandwich was delivered.

This was an excellent sandwich, with the tender pork a standout. Very filling too. The Cuban soda was like a less intense Inka soda.

“You’re lucky you came in at this time,” the woman had told me after I ordered, which was around 1:30 p.m. “At lunch sometimes people have to wait 45 minutes for their food!” Prepare accordingly, or phone in your order to (909) 560-2925. Also, note that they’re open only five hours a day.

Calle Ocho, which translates to Eighth Street, seems like a relaxed, friendly place. A regular came in, sat at the counter and bantered with the woman and the cook, as if this were a bar. They gave as good as they got. When he complained that last year no trick or treaters came, she fired back: “Nobody wants to go trick or treating in Fontana. They come to Rancho. They don’t want to trick or treat where there’s no sidewalks.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Combine Kitchen

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Combine Kitchen, 12750 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Combine Kitchen is in what some of us call Foncho, the area east of the 15 Freeway that is almost Fontana but is still Rancho Cucamonga. Specifically, it’s in a modern center near Sacred Heart Catholic that has (ooh-la-la) Tilted Kilt, Starbucks and the area’s first dim sum restaurant, China Republic.

Combine is like almost nothing else in the area: a hipster coffeehouse with gastropub food, from a menu that changes seasonally. A foodie pal raved about it. A friend and I took a long lunch there recently.

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First you order a drink and they prepare it, then they’ll take your food order. They have espresso, chemex, nitro cold brew and pour overs, plus some oddities, like the Mello Yello, which is tumeric and ginger tea mixed with almond milk, and More Fat Coffee, with grass-fed butter, coconut oil and cinnamon — as the menu puts it, “don’t knock it till you try it.”

The menu has only a few items — five sandwiches, five breakfast items and three bowls, plus a special or two. Vegetarian and gluten-free items are marked, although there may not be enough of them; a vegetarian friend whom I invited for dinner declined because all she could get was one item, which had goat cheese, which she didn’t like. So there’s that.

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There are muffins and cookies at the counter, by the way.

But back to lunch. My friend had the Combine breakfast, scrambled eggs with bacon, potatoes and garlic toast ($11.50), plus an iced coffee ($4.45). I got the pork belly banh mi sandwich ($11.50) and potatoes, plus a cold brew float ($6.50).

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For seating, there’s a counter, communal tables and a shallow window counter, plus some nooks and crannies, the whole room sleek and modern, with lots of natural light. At one table, a mother was teaching her young son to read. There are a few shelves with specialty items arranged for sale, including books.

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We liked our food, including the potatoes, which are smashed flat. As a non-coffee person, I’m not sure what I was thinking by ordering a cold brew float. I had the jitters from the first sip that lasted the rest of the day. But that might be your thing.

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My foodie friend at last report had enjoyed the steak and eggs on garlic toast, shrooms and eggs on toast, lox and pork belly, all of which he called amazing, as well as several coffee drinks.

Combine is open for coffee from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For food, breakfast and lunch are served from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; after a two-hour break, the dinner menu runs from 5 to 9 p.m., except Mondays.

Basically, it’s a bit of Silver Lake in Rancho Cucamonga. If that sounds as appealing to you as it does to me, further instructions are unnecessary.

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Update September 2016: I had breakfast: shrooms on toast, with a side of bacon, and it was even better than I’d hoped, plus a chai latte.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mi Cafecito

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Mi Cafecito, 101 S. Main St. (at First), Pomona; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

A coffeehouse with a Latin twist, Mi Cafecito is the first independent coffee shop in downtown Pomona in some years. It’s in the former VFW building, renovated and carved into storefronts and offices, by the railroad tracks.

I met a Pomona friend there on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. It’s a small place on the corner, with floor to ceiling windows on both sides, letting in lots of light, and the interior is cheery.

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The menu has espresso and coffee drinks, most available hot, iced or frozen, all 16 ounces, with such flavors as cajeta, caramelo and hazelnut, plus brewed coffee and pour-overs. They also sell some bakery items, including flan, cookies, dessert empanadas and cakes, made by a bakery owned by the owner’s father.

My friend had a frozen coconut latte with almond milk ($6) and I got an iced horchata latte ($5.45). We took one of the small tables and on this warm afternoon caught up over our cold drinks.

She called hers “yummy,” said she’d be back (she has) and hoped Mi Cafecito would succeed despite its corner location a block above Second Street.

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Since then it’s become a near-weekly stop for me. I’ve ordered something different each time. I’ve had two iced lattes — tres leches (made with three milks: regular, condensed and evaporated) and coconut — and four frozen lattes: mocha Mexicano, churro (!), masapan and vanilla. The latter three are my favorites. Tres leches, pictured above, was a little sweet for my taste, but that’s personal. I tried an apple empanada ($1.50), which I liked, on the same visit. The churro latte is below.

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The staff I’ve dealt with are exceptionally nice and remember my name, and on my fourth visit even recalled the three previous drinks I’d ordered. On one visit they had cafe de olla, which they don’t always make, and gave me a small cup. (They have no idea I have a blog or anything; they just recognized me as a regular and gave some away near closing time.) That was actually among my favorite drinks too, and I’m not a hot coffee person.

Mi Cafecito seems to have caught on. It’s got a five-star rating on Yelp, and on my visits, a heartening range of customers walk in, from chipsters to middle-aged couples to families with small children or grandchildren. Hours have increased, another good sign: They recently added an extra hour in the evenings and two hours more on weekend mornings, although they’re still closed Mondays. * Update: it’s now open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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A bookish friend doesn’t like the stark, modernist seating, all stools with high-top tables, and it’s true too that the tables are so small it’s hard to get more than two drinks (if you’re with someone) or a drink and a laptop on them; on one visit I put my dessert plate on a nearby chair.

But they’re trying to make good use of a small-ish space, and they are. Warm regards to them. Also, you can watch trains go by, which is kind of cool.

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Restaurant of the Week: N7 Creamery

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N7 Creamery, 7880 Kew Ave., Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga

One of the few one-of-a-kind shops in the Victoria Gardens mall, locally owned N7 sells ice cream, baked goods and coffee. Open until 10 p.m. most nights and 11 p.m. on weekends, it’s a personality-plus environment: a high ceiling that looks like pressed tin, faux brick walls, distressed wood and local art on the walls.

N7 is on the east side of the mall, north of TGI Friday’s and across from the Macy’s women’s store. (The mall is finishing up a millennial-friendly area on the west side, but N7 shows there’s life on the east side too.)

The menu shows the type of offerings: Stumptown coffee, nitrogen ice cream, baked treats, even if some, such as the flavors of ice creams, change frequently. I’ve been to N7 a few times and have always been impressed.

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Not a coffee drinker, I’m afraid, but if you are, you’ll find them suitably serious about the whole thing. What I’ve tried is a scone ($3.75, above), cinnamon roll ($4.50) and a hazelnut hand pie ($5), in visits earlier this year, all three delicious and clearly made with care.

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I’ve also had the ice cream, which comes in such flavors as madagascar vanilla, guilford chocolate and salted caramel. The one I’ve had is winter citrus with blood orange sauce (above); it’s just as good as it sounds. (If you’re strictly a rocky road person, this may not be the shop for you.)

They make it in front of you, although the setup isn’t designed to show it off the way it is at some nitrogen specialty shops. Prices are $6 for 4 oz., $7 for 6 oz. and $9 for 8 oz. When I had the ice cream, months ago, it was $1.75 cheaper all around; I didn’t blanch at $4.25 for a scoop, but I might at $6.

In everything they do, they emphasize quality ingredients from local, organic and/or sustainable sources, and a ban on preservatives, a stance that boosts the prices, perhaps, but shows they care.

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In the back, there’s a lounge with more seating, plus a bookcase with a scattering of reading material. It’s a cozy place to hang out or study.

Basically, this is one of Rancho Cucamonga’s most unique, hand-crafted places, and it’s tucked away in a mall. That’s about as quintessentially Cucamonga as you can get. Give ’em a try. They deserve your support.

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New Starbucks opens in Pomona

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A skinny little Starbucks opened last week on Garey Avenue and Alvarado Street in Pomona, only blocks from the 10 Freeway and on the western edge of the historic Lincoln Park neighborhood.

It’s not exactly what residents there would have liked, as the coffee house is oriented toward motorists, not pedestrians looking for a place to hang out. There’s no inside seating. There is a walk-up window, like you’re at a Dairy Queen, but the only outdoor seating is a couple of tables with umbrellas by the drive-thru lane, so, not really cozy. (Starbucks got in its application to build before a ban on drive-thrus on this portion of Garey went into effect.)

On the bright side, Starbucks replaces a gas station that had been closed and derelict for years. Its presence may add momentum to efforts to oust the methadone clinic that operates quietly in the building to the north, or to generate interest in redeveloping the long-vacant Firehouse Inn building on the south side of Alvarado. And if the traffic introduces more people to Donahoo’s, that won’t be bad either. (If Donahoo’s were encouraged to fix both its signs — one of which is missing two letters, the other of which has two letters in a different color than the rest — that would also be progress.)

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Restaurant of the Week: Wahfles

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Wahfles, 1502 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; also 5751 N. Pine Ave. (at Butterfield), Chino Hills

My colleague Pete Marshall alerted me to the existence of Wahfles, a dessert and coffee house in La Verne, which opened in February. It turns out the original opened a year ago in Chino Hills. It’s a mom-and-pop. One recent morning I ventured to the La Verne location, which is in the Vons center, for breakfast.

Well, it’s not really a breakfast spot. (It’s no Waffle House.) They have some lunch waffle sandwiches and dessert waffles. Other than a coffee bar, the only thing that works for breakfast is one waffle. I had that: the Breakfast Sammy ($4.45), with ham, Swiss, fried egg, mayo and honey mustard. It was cut in half and could be eaten like a sandwich. And was. Very good.

I liked the vibe of the place: dark wood tables, rugs, some leather chairs, a sofa, a coffee table, magazines to read and locally produced art on the walls. So I returned one afternoon for a dessert waffle, the kind that make up the rest of the menu.

Mine had speculoos (described as “cookie butter” — what’s not to like?), bananas, ice cream, whipped cream and cinnamon sugar ($4.45 for a half, $5.95 for a full; I got the half). Delicious. Rather than get a fancy beverage, I cheaped out with a free water from a dispenser on the counter.

Wahfles (there’s an umlaut over the “a,” incidentally) is a neat addition to the area. Their website has a menu.

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Restaurant of the Week: 85 Degrees C Bakery Cafe, Chino Hills

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85 Degrees C Bakery, 12959 Peyton Drive (at Beverly Glen), Chino Hills

Sometimes called the Starbucks of Taiwan, 85 Degrees Celsius has been sprouting in Southern California’s Asian enclaves, with locations to date in Irvine, Hacienda Heights and West Covina. A Chino Hills outpost opened in July. It’s the largest at 5,000 square feet and took over the defunct City Broiler.

It’s been radically transformed, with lots of windows and lots of seating, as well as a shady, pleasant rear patio. I met a friend for lunch who had previously shown me the one in West Covina, so I knew what to expect.

Breads and pastries, both savory and sweet, are displayed in clear plastic cases, from which you pluck whatever you want with tongs and place them on a cafeteria tray. If you’ve been to a panaderia, you’ll recognize the concept. When you pay, each item is put into a clear bag. They also sell coffees, smoothies and other beverages.

So it’s basically a bread buffet, a carbohydrate cafeteria. Three pieces will generally fill you up. We had a pork sung bun, wheat germ mushroom, garlic cheese, and ham and onion roll, with red bean bread and mocha bread for dessert. Each was from $1.10 to $2. I also had a taro slush drink ($3.75). So, two of us had a satisfying lunch for $13, and I saved the mocha bread for breakfast the next morning. It was too bready for me, and the pork sung bun, essentially a bun dusted with powdery pork, was too dry for my taste. The rest were delicious, and I liked my drink too.

Definitely worth a visit: The items are different and really good (people rave about the sea salt coffee too), and as there will be more 85 Degrees locations, you may as well try one now so you can brag to your friends when one pops up in, say, Rancho Cucamonga that you already know all about it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dripp

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Dripp, 13855 City Center Drive (at Grand), Shoppes at Chino Hills

Dripp, a new coffeehouse at the Shoppes center in Chino Hills that opened in November 2011, took the place of a Peets on a busy corner. In a surprise to me, this is a one-off coffeehouse, not a chain, although it certainly could become one. A lot of money was poured into the space to revamp it and install some complex drip coffee equipment.

The beans are roasted by high-end LA coffeehouse Intelligentsia. You’ll have to find someone else to explain or critique this aspect (the website uses such terms as “ambrosial coffees,” “flavor-enhancing methods” and “Japanese drip bar”) because I don’t drink coffee. But I visited recently with three friends and they were impressed.

What I can tell you about is the ice cream. Dripp has eight flavors of ice cream and eight types of cookies. The sandwiches ($4) are made to order and you can choose two different cookie types if you like.

I had peanut butter ice cream between two peanut butter chip chocolate cookies. As you can see, they put a spoon in it and that’s recommended for getting started. The cookies and the ice cream both were amazing. You can also get ice cream solo in one, two or three scoops, or the cookies by themselves.

The coffeehouse looks like hipster central: exposed piping, menus attached to pieces of distressed wood, ropes hanging from the ceiling, antiques, a loft upstairs with sofas and chairs. An annoying notice on the door reads “No Photography,” which is roundly ignored. There’s a shady patio outside.

But, wait: Dripp? At the Shoppes? As my local friend told me: “It’s Chino Hills. We can afford some extra letters.”

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