Restaurant of the Week: Vita Italian Bar and Grill

Vita Italian Bar and Grill, 3101 W. Temple Ave. (at the 57), Pomona; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

For many years the off-ramp from the 57 Freeway at Temple Avenue was notable for only one thing: It was home to the Inland Valley’s only Wendy’s. (The chain had evidently contracted; it’s since expanded again.) But since last March it’s also been home to a newly renovated DoubleTree, and also Vita, an ambitious hotel restaurant.

It’s mildly challenging to access. Basically, you use the driveway for Wendy’s, then take the fishhook driveway up and around to the restaurant entrance.

It’s modern Italian, served in an airy, stylish space with repurposed wood, brick and metal. That’s meant to reflect our rustic heritage but basically just reflects contemporary design. There’s expansive indoor seating and a large patio, which for obvious reasons wasn’t in use on the blustery December afternoon a friend and I visited.

The menu has small plates, soups, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizza and dinner entrees ($32-$48) like cioppino, pork chop and N.Y. steak. (You can also get, to quote the menu, a “spice rubbed baby lamb.” I’m picturing it being led to my table, where my party would ruffle its wool, lick the spices from our fingers and then send it bounding back to its mother.) There’s a full bar, happy hour and wine.

Complimentary rosemary ciabatta bread was served with olive oil.

My friend got the roasted porchetta sandwich ($17), with pork, spinach, smoked cheese from Pomona’s Di Stefano and chili aioli on a Tuscan roll. He called it the best sandwich he’d had in some time. It came with a basket of housemade potato chips.

Knowing that Vita sources its produce from Cal Poly Pomona’s farm, I ordered the farmers market vegetable lasagna ($18), with housemade pasta, local cheeses and (ooh-la-la) vodka sauce.

Lasagnas come in all forms, and this one, rather than the usual cake-like layered block, was more horizontal, heavy on the sauce and cheese. The taste was fine, and there were vegetables amid the sauce, zucchini most recognizably, but the dish wasn’t as vegetable-intensive as I had hoped for.

Service was welcoming, attentive and not overbearing. We were seated by a window, which provided natural light. The scenery below us left a little to be desired. “There’s a view of three gas stations,” my friend remarked dryly. There were, I suppose, the promised “sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains,” but with a lot of clutter in the foreground. That’s hardly Vita’s fault. The patio views of the San Jose Hills to the west are probably more inspiring.

Vita — it’s pronounced vee-tah, by the way — is one of our valley’s better dining experiences and well worth a visit. It’s almost too good for us.

I only wish the restaurant’s website were seemingly less embarrassed by its location. Taking a broad view of things, the website is vitalosangeles.com, and you have to go to the Contact Us page to learn the city and address.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizza ‘N Stuff

Pizza ‘N Stuff, 1532 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily

I was meeting a friend for lunch at the Vons center a few weeks ago, with a Mexican restaurant our destination. But then it turned out to be closed that day. So we went next door to Pizza ‘N Stuff instead.

I’d been there a couple of times, but it had been a few years, and might even have been before this blog started. In other words, having a chance to write about Pizza ‘N Stuff was a good fallback.

It’s been in business since 1977 — 40 years! — and under the same owners since 1982 — 35 years! Congratulations to them. Their menu has pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and an array of pasta dishes. Don’t confuse them with Claremont’s similarly named Pizza n’ Such, although it’s easy to do.

That lunch, I got a mini pizza with one topping (anchovies) and salad ($8.35). The pizza was cheesy, not bad, but not distinctive. My friend had an Italian beef sandwich ($6.35) plus a side salad ($4). He said the salad was “overdressed and overcheesed,” but he did like the sandwich, even if he’s had better.

I felt like going back to try the pasta and made a point of going in for dinner one evening. I got the linguini with white clam sauce, a la carte with garlic bread ($12.75); as a dinner ($14.65) you would get soup or salad plus a dish of ice cream, but that was more than I wanted. The dish was generous with the clams and tasty.

The seating is interesting. There are tables and booths that get a lot of natural light from the windows, but then there’s a warren of high-backed wooden booths that are fairly intimate, with dimmer lighting. Service was friendly on both visits, and the man at the cash register, probably one of the owners, had a nice touch with everyone, newcomers and longtime customers alike.

While I can’t say I was wowed by Pizza ‘N Stuff, it’s low-key and family-owned, I liked it well enough, and they’re obviously doing something right.

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Restaurant of the Week: Caffe Allegro, Upland

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Caffe Allegro, 186 N. 2nd Ave. (at Ninth), Upland; open daily

It can be easy to take a restaurant for granted. Downtown Upland’s fortunes ebb and flow, but Caffe Allegro has hung in there for nearly two decades. It opened in 1998, five years after the original location debuted in La Verne, and both are still operating today.

I’ve been to the Upland version perhaps a half-dozen times, both in the early days and then again the past two Decembers, visits that reminded me that it’s an unsung local restaurant.

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There’s patio seating along Second Avenue; inside, a substantial dining room adjoins a dimly lighted, popular wine bar. Near year-end, an upside-down Christmas tree near the front door is an annual sight. The dining room has high ceilings with rooms-spanning arches, inscriptions in Italian and faux sculptures.

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Entrees range from $14 to $32 and include pasta, salads, a few pizzas and more. With friends in 2014, I got tortellini a la pesto ($16); last year, it was linguini tuttomare ($25), with shrimp, scallops, tuna, squid, mussels and clams in broth. An Italian American at the table said, “That’s as Italian a dish as you can get. My parents would be proud of you.”

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Service was low-key and professional. The only problem was the wine three of my friends ordered hadn’t been chilled, and the waiter’s attempt to quick-chill it wasn’t really successful. But they didn’t mind. We also shared a tiramisu ($8).

I’m only an occasional Italian diner, but the Italian American at the table had the same conclusion as me: Allegro is among the better Italian restaurants around these parts. Give them a try if you haven’t, or try them again if it’s been a few years. It’s right where it was last time you saw it.

In the hallway leading to the restrooms: Fellini movie posters. Nice touch.

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Restaurant of the Week: Eddie’s Pizzeria

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Eddie’s Pizzeria, 1065 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Towne), Claremont

Eddie’s replaced a Straw Hat Pizza a dozen years ago in the Stater Bros. center in Claremont, and I had slices there at lunch a few times before moving on. In more recent years, a friend has raved about the place. Finally we met up for lunch.

The interior is much as I remember it: a faux New York with ceiling fans, street-like signs and lampposts. Cute. We settled into a red booth and examined the menu, which has pizza, pasta, salads, soups and sandwiches, including burgers.

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We decided to share a medium Eddie’s Special ($17.45), which has sausage, onions, tomatoes, black olives and ricotta, and also an order of bruschetta ($8.45), which my friend said was a personal favorite that had rotated onto the menu again.

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The bruschetta was pretty good, a nice appetizer. The pizza was good too. “I love the ricotta. It’s like little bursts of creaminess,” my friend rhapsodized. We each took home two slices, and mine made for a light dinner a few nights later.

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The sign says Eddie’s New York Pizzeria, the original sign, but the website (eddiesnypizza.com) calls the place Eddie’s Pizzeria and Eatery. I wouldn’t say the pizza is New York style, but it’s thin crust, and it’s good. There are some weekly specials that are tempting, like cioppino on Fridays ($19), roasted half-chicken on Mondays ($14) and meatloaf Italiano ($14) on Sundays, each with roasted potatoes or fries, quinoa or the daily vegetable.

Since its opening, Eddie’s, which I believe from the start was an offshoot of Spaghetti Eddie’s in Glendora, has been folded into the group that owns the well-regarded Tutti Mangia in the Village, which may account for the upgrade. So, while I’m not raving about Eddie’s, I’m glad I returned, and I may be back again.

Near the entrance, by the way, there’s a Ms. Pac-Man machine.

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Restaurant of the Week: JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen

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JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen, 2923 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily

JoJo’s has been in Chino Hills since the 1990s, practically the dawn of time by that city’s standards, operating from the Crossroads Marketplace shopping center in the north part of town. I’d had takeout pizza from there once with friends who lived nearby but visited for the first time recently for lunch with a fan of the place.

The menu has pizza, pasta, salads, calzones, sandwiches and entrees, some of which are unusual or unique: Italian mac and cheese, risotto bowls, shrimp diavolo.

I had a mini, 8-inch pizza with anchovies and mushrooms ($9.65) and my friend got angel hair pasta with marinara sauce ($9) plus a side salad ($3). Hearty pizza, generous with the anchovies; the pasta was proclaimed worthy, and some was taken home. Asked what else is good here, she recommended the stuffed artichoke, focaccia salad, caprese salad and cannoli.

JoJo’s is said to not be as quality conscious as when the original owners had it. People on Yelp are of two minds, with some saying it’s overpriced or the service is poor and others praising the food and service. Our service was acceptable, although a cup of coffee took 10 minutes to procure, and was delivered not on a saucer but on a plate. That was a little weird.

There are also locations in Brea and Mira Loma. But those are farther away.

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Restaurant of the Week: Uno Tre Otto

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Uno Tre Otto, 114 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont; open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to closing

This is the former La Piccoletta, known as the little place in the alley (Alley 39, to be precise), pretty much in the center of the block bordered by First, Second, Yale and Indian Hill. It’s a small building with a trompe l’oeil mural outside and one small room inside.

La Pic opened in 1977 and once had a reputation as Claremont’s finest restaurant, but in recent years it’s changed hands several times; a friend and I had an inconsistent meal there six years ago on the one time I tried it. (It’s out of my usual price range.)

Now it’s been acquired by John Solana and Brad Owen, who have the Back Abbey and Union on Yale; Solana owns Petiscos with another partner. That makes four Village restaurants under Solana’s ownership. He and Owen quietly took over La Pic in 2014 when it became available and in November, after 38 years as La Piccoletta, changed the name to Uno Tre Otto and focused the menu on regional Italian with local ingredients.

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A friend and I had dinner there earlier this month. The interior looks much the same: rustic, with no windows and an open kitchen, seating 38 in an intimate space. It’s one of the more unique interiors in the valley.

The menu is small and is anticipated to change along with the availability of ingredients, many of them supplied by Amy’s Farm in Ontario, whose proprietor is Owen’s wife.

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The kitchen sent over a free starter, thinly sliced persimmons with lemon, vinaigrette and parmesan. (Forgive the quality of the photos; the lighting is dim.)

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From there we shared wild fried shrimps ($15), four whole shrimp with lemon, garlic, parsley and chives.

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My friend had fazzoletti ($16), a pasta with kale-hazelnut pesto.

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I had pork osso buco ($26), with carrots and polenta.

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We then shared a dessert, persimmon bread pudding with creme fraiche ($8).

This was quite a meal, and in a lovely setting, on white tablecloth, the fanciest meal this hole-in-the-wall diner has had in a while. We were impressed by every item. My friend was effusive, saying she had never particularly liked persimmons or kale before but loved their uses here, and describing the charming environs as “kind of like being in a book.”

On our way out, after paying, I introduced myself to a man who turned out to be Owen, who’d been dining informally with his wife and three of his children. Our waitress, we learned, was his sister-in-law. All in the family.

While a meal of $40-plus per person, and that’s with only water to drink, isn’t something I’m likely to repeat soon, those with more ready cash, or celebrating an occasion, might want to give the place a try. They encourage reservations to (909) 624-1373.

I hope to write a column on the restaurant in the near future, but in the meantime, there’s this blog post.

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Restaurant of the Week: Padua Pasta Makers

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Padua Pasta Makers, 300 E. Arrow Highway (at 3rd), Upland; closed Sundays

Two friends teamed up to open an Italian market in March, after more than a year of work and a failed crowd-funding campaign. But that didn’t deter them. Padua Pasta Makers took over a former dance studio, which operated as a cleaners prior to that, that now is a gleaming, tiled shrine to Italian food.

There’s a deli counter with meat and 18 kinds of pasta; refrigerator cases with pre-packaged pasta and sauces made onsite; shelves and tables of canned tomatoes, olives and olive oils; and fresh bread, baked daily. Also, a light fixture made, upon closer inspection, from utensils.

You can get hot or cold sandwiches at lunchtime, 6 inches for $6.50, 10 inches for $8.50. I met a couple of friends there for lunch recently and ordered the Padua Special, the 6-inch version, with mortadella, salami, capocolla and provolone. I got it as a box lunch for $9.50, which gets you a soda, a tiny salad (I chose pesto pasta salad) and a piece of chocolate, not to mention a box.

The sandwich was quite filling, and I ended up taking half of it home. Should they make a 3-inch version? You might be better off skipping the box, as the extras may not feel worth $3. (Although the small piece of chocolate was awfully good.) I’ve meant to go back and buy pasta or sauce to go and will have to do that.

The business is evolving: When I was there late in August, they’d just got their beer and wine license, and they’ve added more dine-in tables because people want to eat there. And I can’t blame them: It’s lovely and sparkling, almost like a tea room. Also, the bathrooms may be the nicest in all of Upland. One friend said: “It’s like a men’s room in a Manhattan hotel lobby.”

Nothing but the best for the City of Gracious Living.

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Restaurant of the Week: Angela’s Italian Kitchen

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Angela’s Italian Kitchen, 130 E. Bonita Ave. (at San Dimas Ave.), San Dimas

Looking for somewhere to eat in San Dimas, I found Angela’s on Yelp and invited a friend to meet me for lunch. It’s on the main drag, only a block east of another Italian spot, Pozzetto, where he and I ate last year. Angela’s is in the Albertsons center, toward the west end.

It’s so small, your first sight as you walk in is the door to the women’s room. But after that, they’ve managed to make the dining room feel cozy, not small. The dark wainscoting and tan paint help, as do the plethora of decorations, which include many Sinatra posters.

Rather than salad, we each ordered Italian wedding soup as our side (pictured below); full of pasta, spinach and meatballs, it was very good. We each got pastas: pasta carbonara (“good consistency and flavor,” my friend opined; pictured second) and baked mostaccioli (maybe too much cheese, but good; pictured third); each was $16. I took home half of mine and got a second meal out of it.

Did we like Angela’s or Pozzetto better? Based on one meal at each, it’s Pozzetto by a nose, and note too that Pozzetto is larger and has a wine bar. But there’s nothing wrong with Angela’s.

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Restaurant of the Week: Seventh Heaven Cafe

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Seventh Heaven Cafe, 1042 N. Mountain Ave. (at Foothill), Upland; closed Monday

This Italian-influenced cafe, which bills itself as “gourmet casual dining, pizza and art,” opened in July 2014 in the old Albertsons center on the northeast corner of Foothill and Mountain. Reader Rick Cuevas tipped me off that it was good, and people on Yelp agree. I scheduled dinner there with a friend.

A wood-fired pizza oven is the big draw; supposedly it’s the only such pizzeria in the area. For more authenticity, the kitchen uses only organic flour from Naples. This isn’t the place to get your pepperoni pizza for the big game; while they do have pepperoni, toppings run more to organic roasted pork, peso, artichoke hearts and grilled eggplant.

The pizzas themselves come in 10- and 14-inch sizes and the 14-inch one we got, with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and provolone ($15), was in the charred Italian style, not the chewy, heavily sauced American style. We liked it a lot.

The interior is minimalist but stylish: blond wood tables and chairs, drop-down pendant lights, interesting art on the walls, even a few jars of jam and handmade jewelry for sale. That weeknight, the dining room filled up with actual adults. “This place is really popular with people who aren’t teenagers,” my friend said approvingly.

Most items are made from scratch, including the sauces and dressings, and customer favorites from the menu are said to be salads, chili and the pizza. They have craft beers and wine by the glass.

Dinner wasn’t perfect: They delivered the pizza to our table but we had to remind them we’d ordered two sides and that I’d ordered a drink. My friend didn’t like the side, a kind of rice pilaf (it was a special and I can’t remember what they called it); I ate mine.

I’d have written this post back in December but I wanted to go back for a second meal. I did go back the next week, but it was a Monday, which turns out to be the one day they’re closed. The year ended and my column item on my favorite restaurants of 2014 appeared, and a woman phoned to ask, didn’t I know about Seventh Heaven? I was impressed and told her I did know about it and that I’d have the post done this week.

So, on Tuesday I went in for a late lunch. I was going to try one of the panini sandwiches, but a daily special, gnocchi with homemade sauce ($9), was tempting. Well, I liked that too. It was a light lunch, and probably I should have ordered a side of some sort, but they don’t seem to have a small salad.

I expect I’ll go back for a salad or panini, and maybe dessert: They have biscotti, lemon bars, cookies, semi-freddo and granita. Nice to see a restaurant trying to achieve a higher level. Seventh Heaven is a blissful addition to Upland.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pozzetto Italian Dining

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Pozzetto Italian Dining, 114 W. Bonita Ave. (at San Dimas Ave.), San Dimas

A friend recommended Pozzetto, an Italian restaurant in downtown San Dimas. I know and like the main drag of San Dimas, but I didn’t know Pozzetto. So recently I met a different friend there for lunch.

Pozzetto is small but cute, with a couple of outdoor tables along the wooden-sidewalk promenade and a few more inside. There’s also a wine bar and a mural of Venice sprawling across much of a wall. Pozzetto has all sorts of Italian items — salads, sandwiches, a dozen pastas — with only five pizzas.

I got one of the pizzas, whose name I forgot and which I can’t find online. All are Neapolitan style, a more traditionally Italian pizza; mine had tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella and garlic ($10). It was a good lunch-sized pizza and I ate it all.

My friend had a roast beef sandwich ($7.50), served warm on a roll. He liked it and shared a portion with me. I’m not a big roast beef fan but I would consider ordering this sandwich myself.

Service was brisk; the lone server was handling about five tables by himself, but he did the best he could.

All in all, Pozzetto was a pretty decent mid-priced Italian spot. Thanks to my first friend for the recommendation and my second friend for joining me.

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