Restaurant of the Week: Nara

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Nara Japanese Restaurant, 3277 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Chino Hills has a fair number of sushi bars. Nara is the oldest, opening in 1996, which in Chino Hills terms is practically the dawn of time (cityhood was in 1991). Like everything else in Chino Hills, Nara is in a shopping center, this one across Peyton from the Shoppes. The sign reads, generically, Japanese Restaurant, a hint that the sign was a way to introduce the pioneering restaurant to a skittish city.

Inside, the feel is much more promising: small, intimate, quiet on a Tuesday evening despite the presence of several diners. It’s arranged such that you could have a semi-private meal here even though the space is about the size of your living room.

I sat at the sushi bar and had a nice meal with sushi off the regular menu and off the specials board. Live scallops ($7.50) came from a shell pried open in front of me; black cod ($8.50, pictured top right) and Oregon albacore tuna ($7.50) were both tasty; and the salmon skin cut roll ($4.95, pictured below right), one of my standard orders, arrived in larger rolls than I’ve usually seen it. It was intricately prepared, the skin crisped in an oven.

Ojiya and Rokuan are other above-average Japanese restaurants in Chino Hills that I’ve tried. It would take a more expert diner than me to rank them, but Nara wouldn’t seem out of place in their company.

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Restaurant of the Week: Rokuan

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Rokuan, 14230 Chino Hills Parkway (at Grand), Chino Hills

Chino Hills is home to Ojiya, a Japanese restaurant well above the norm for the 909. Yelp led me to Rokuan, another Chino Hills Japanese restaurant that, like Ojiya, gets great ratings. I tried Rokuan out Tuesday evening with three friends before “Lost.”

Located in a small shopping center with a Stater Brothers market, Rokuan’s sign says only “Sushi” (“Rokuan” appears on the door.) The interior is less generic. It’s small, dimly lit, with five dark wooden booths, without padding, that would each seat eight; there’s also one standard table and a nine-seat sushi bar. A sign warns the parents of noisy children.

Most of the crowd that night was Asian, likely a good sign. Our table got teriyaki salmon with spicy tuna rolls ($20.95), a chirashi bowl ($16.95), a beef teriyaki bowl ($10.50), and assorted sushi: white tuna ($5), scallops ($5.25), squid ($4) and salmon skin cut roll ($5.95).

All four of us were impressed by the quality of the ingredients, their freshness and their taste. Rokuan doesn’t skimp on the fish, either: The cuts were generous. Service was attentive, if perhaps too eager to remove plates as they emptied.

Chino Hills isn’t easy to get to from my home in Claremont or my office in Ontario, but it’s now my favorite city for sushi.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tokyo Wako

This week’s restaurant: Tokyo Wako, 4480 Ontario Mills Parkway (at Franklin), Ontario.

This teppan grill restaurant is in a minimall on the south side of the Mills. A fire pit near the entrance provides a place to warm up if you’re waiting to be seated. I don’t know if that’s ever the case in this economy: A friend and I were seated immediately on a Tuesday night around 8 p.m. and the restaurant was mostly empty.

The interior, however, is enormous: a large sushi bar and dining area as well as a large teppanyaki room. And it’s lovely too, even if the koi “river” (a la Tokyo Tokyo) was dry.

The special is worth trying: For $29.95, two can have the full teppan experience with both chicken and steak, plus soup, salad and rice. The results were pretty good, too.

But one has to ask: What is the point? Benihana does the exact same thing. And I mean the exact same thing. The grill seating, the soup, the salad, the shrimp appetizer, the vegetables (zucchini, onion, mushrooms and bean sprouts), it’s awfully familiar. Ditto with the chef’s tricks, which mostly involve randomly knocking various implements and containers against the edge of the grill, and making the de rigeur onion volcano.

The food at Tokyo Wako was fine, the decor was a cut above Benihana and you can probably be seated faster. But how about a bit more wako?

View the menu here.

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Restaurant of the Week: Yatai Sushi Express

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Yatai Sushi Express, 8956 Foothill Blvd. (at Vineyard), Rancho Cucamonga

Yatai is in the winery center on the northeast corner, in a building between Souplantation and Bobby Baja’s. The interior is small, clean and colorful. Even though it’s “express,” the tables have waitress service.

This is far from a high-end sushi palace and, expectations adjusted downward, I opted for the Yakisoba Chicken ($6.95). This began with a small lettuce salad. The main course had noodles, teriyaki chicken and cabbage. I ate every bit.

Meanwhile, my friend had one of the lunch specials, the Alaskan Roll ($6.99) — salmon atop a California roll, baked — and thought it was quite good. I sampled it and agreed. Who knew? It came with a choice of two other items, the proverbial one from column B and one from column C; she got two pieces of salmon sushi and a Coke.

Yatai has a large array of sushi and sashimi, plus bento boxes, $6.99 three-item lunch specials and meals no pricier than $12.95.

Not fine dining, but a pleasant surprise.

Update: Yatai has since moved elsewhere in the same center to make way for a Fresh & Easy market. Photo is of the new location.

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Restaurant of the Week: Ojiya

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Ojiya, 4183 Chino Hills Parkway, Suite J (at Pipeline), Chino Hills

I ate at Ojiya last week but saved the review for this week. It’s yet another of the sit-down restaurants in Chino Hills that the masses seem unfamiliar with. But it got good reviews on Yelp, so I met up with a couple of CHills friends for dinner.

Ojiya is in a strip mall — it’s a couple of doors from Peking Deli, a Chinese restaurant reviewed favorably here a while back — and once you’re inside you forget you’re in a strip mall. It’s a cozy interior with touches of bamboo and with a serious-looking sushi bar. I felt like I was in Little Tokyo.

I ordered various nigiri sushi items, especially ones I rarely see elsewhere: Spanish mackerel, seared salmon, fatty albacore and large scallop, plus my baseline dish, the salmon skin cut roll. (I don’t remember the individual prices but they added up to about $24.)

I’m confident in saying that Ojiya is the best sushi I’ve had in the 909. Then again, there’s still Rokuan, another Yelp favorite in Chino Hills that is still on my list.

My friends enjoyed their food, a chicken teriyaki bowl and a salmon teriyaki/crunch roll combination plate. Our only complaint was the green salad of iceberg lettuce was boring. At least it was only $3 for me, and free for them with their meal.

We met up, by the way, at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, and the place was mostly empty. It quickly began filling up. By 7:45, when we left, the dining room was full.

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