Restaurant of the Week: El Patron II, La Verne

El Patron II, 1524 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily except Monday

A reader told me a year ago to try out El Patron II. This led me to find El Patron (I) in Rancho Cucamonga, which is a couple of miles from our office and has become a favorite. Once I arranged to meet a friend at El Patron II for lunch and, of all the luck, we picked the day it’s closed.

But on a night last month, craving Mexican food, I remembered El Patron II and went there for dinner.

It’s a storefront in the Vons center. Like RC, it’s sitdown, although they were doing a lot of takeout, and the menu looked about the same. I’d describe the food as homestyle Mexican cooking: nothing fancy, but good versions of the staples, with an emphasis more on plates than on simply a la carte items, although they have those too. And they fresh-fry their hard tacos, which are worth trying.

I got the chile verde plate ($10), which I hadn’t had before. What came were impressive hunk of tender pork in a slightly spicy green sauce, with rice, refried beans  and corn (or flour) tortillas. Delicious, and I took some home. And yes, there were complimentary fresh chips and salsa.

Another thing similar to RC: the exceedingly attentive and helpful service. It must be a thing they emphasize, and it’s appreciated. They don’t rush you, they check on you a few times and when I asked for a to-go box, the server also refilled my iced tea.

It’s nice to have an El Patron not far from where I live and another one not far from where I work. You may not be so lucky.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tamsui River

Tamsui River Taiwanese Cuisine, 2855 Foothill Blvd. (at Fulton), La Verne; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Tamsui River is on the old Person Ford site in La Verne, now apartments with some restaurants and retail facing Foothill Boulevard. The restaurant has gotten high marks, but I hadn’t been there until just before Christmas, when a Chinese food-lovin’ friend was in town and I suggested we try it out.

The L-shaped dining room is moderately sized, with an area separated by glass for a larger party. We were seated in a booth and examined the expansive menu of more than 100 items: soups, dumplings, noodles, seafood, etc.

We got sauteed lamb with scallions ($14, above), smoked duck noodle ($11) and pork soup dumplings ($9).

The lamb, similar to the cumin lamb that I’ve had elsewhere, was my favorite. We liked the XLB dumplings (below), even if they wouldn’t make me forget Din Tai Fung’s. We were surprised that smoked duck noodle came as a soup (bottom), since it wasn’t listed under soups, but there was nothing wrong with it.

The menu didn’t have photos of any dishes, so the names weren’t always a great help for two non-experts. And a few of the names were both puzzling and amusing, like “modeling dessert.”

Kidding aside, we liked the food. I wouldn’t say it’s San Gabriel Valley level, but for local Chinese, it’s in the upper ranks. As a foodie acquaintance who was leaving said as he passed our table, “This is a good place.”

Also, you know a Chinese restaurant is authentic when the menu isn’t online and they can’t be bothered to even have a Facebook page.

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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: Nancy’s Pizza

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Nancy’s Pizza, 2855 Foothill Blvd. (at Falcon), La Verne

As a native of Illinois, although not of Chicago, I’ve had Chicago-style deep dish pizza a few times in my life, mostly in the Midwest. Only a couple of times have I had it in California that I recall: once at a Pizzeria (or maybe Numero) Uno outlet in San Francisco, and once three years ago in Placentia. It’s pretty rare out here.

But a few months ago, a Nancy’s opened in La Verne in the mixed-use La Verne Village center on Foothill that used to be the site of Person Ford. I’d never heard of Nancy’s, but they’re based in Chicago, and they claim to have invented the stuffed pizza in 1971.

Evidently, deep dish was invented in the ’40s or ’50s, and the stuffed pizza claimants are Nancy’s and Giordano’s, in the ’70s, the difference being “deeper topping density,” according to Wikipedia.

I delayed visiting in part because I wasn’t sure Nancy’s was legit, and also because going out solo for deep dish pizza is an undertaking, like scaling Everest.

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Finally I dropped in for lunch on a recent weekend. There’s a visit to Chicago in my near future and I had to get in shape. Unless you’re ordering to go, you take a seat.

The menu has salads, sandwiches, pasta, cannoli and pizza in several varieties, including thin crust and pan pizza.

The waitress explained that the stuffed pizza — the one described as 2 1/2 inches tall — is the traditional Chicago style with the toppings inside. (More to the point, as I read later, under the top layer of sauce it’s got a thin layer of crust, besides the bottom layer, which is why it’s described as stuffed.) So I got one of those, a small Rocco’s party pizza, with sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers ($23).

It arrived after about 20 minutes, fairly speedy for pizza this thick.

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If you haven’t had Chicago-style pizza before, you might think, $23 for a small? But take a look at the photo, with the parmesan dispenser included for perspective. The pizza is almost as tall as the dispenser.

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I was hungry and could eat only two slices. The rest was taken home and consumed over two meals. This was pretty good pizza, perhaps not as good as Tony’s in Placentia but with the crisp, buttery crust and high edges that fans love. I would go back.

Update July 2016: And I have. Having run out of time to get an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago, I got one in La Verne. Oh, that garlic bread. This was an excellent sandwich. Also tried the meatball sub, another winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Corner Butcher Shop

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Corner Butcher Shop, 2359 Foothill Blvd. (at Fruit), La Verne

It was January 2008 that a standalone butcher opened in a shopping center in La Verne, and while brothers John and Will Feuling’s business may have seemed a bold and even risky proposition to some of us, Corner Butcher Shop has thrived despite opening amid the recession.

I don’t cook, as must be sadly obvious from these weekly posts, but besides selling meat to take home to grill, fry or broil, they serve food in-house: sandwiches, steak and barbecue. Over the years I’ve had hot dogs and burgers, and at one point, after they added barbecue, I had ribs that in my memory were okay but nothing special.

I returned recently for lunch and learned they’d just celebrated eight years in business, and good for them. I eyed the menu and got the brisket as a plate, with two sides and a piece of cornbread ($13), plus a bottled soda, then took a seat at one of the heavy oak communal tables.

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What arrived was a plate with a heap of brisket, tender and delicious. I can’t say it’s the best brisket I’ve had, but then, I’ve been to Franklin in Austin and Pappy’s in St. Louis, two of the best brisket makers in the country. But this was the best brisket I’ve had locally, which is still impressive. The slightly spicy pasta salad and the cole slaw were both fine versions as well. I would definitely order this again.

Corner Butcher sells grass-fed beef, makes its own sausages, buys only hormone- and additive-free meat and sells Shelton’s turkeys, so they set a high standard for themselves. They also sell craft beer (Dale Brothers, Claremont Craft Ales) and wine, and they cater. Sandwiches and entrees range from $6 to $18. The steak dinners are $40, and while I probably won’t be spending that kind of money anytime soon, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re worth every penny.

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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: Pizza Barn

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Pizza Barn, 2021 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne; open daily

It’s not in a barn, unfortunately — how cool would that be? — but rather in an older, oak-shaded strip center. I’ve seen Pizza Barn for years, especially as a regular at Taste of Asia in the same building, and remember a positive New Diner review of the place, but I had never stepped inside until one recent Monday evening. There is only one window and the door is wood, so you don’t really know what you’re stepping into.

Well, it is kind of barn-like inside: The ceiling is exposed and peaked. It’s also kind of bar-like: There’s a bar, a small one, with maybe nine beers on tap, and posters for Miller and Coors. They also have small tables and one long table for communal dining or large groups.

You order at the counter. I got a small sausage and mushroom pizza ($10) and a Coke from a very personable employee and took a seat. The Home Run Derby contest was on the TV. A few guys were seated at the bar, a small group at the big table and a few other patrons scattered around, and a couple of people came in for to-go orders. For that night, at least, it was basically a middle-aged crowd.

Besides pizza, the menu has calzones and stromboli, hot and cold sandwiches (including one called Mario’s Ultimate, which sounds like a Dagwood, a little of everything), a few pastas and salads, burgers, wings, and fish and chips. (Yes, fish and chips.) They serve all you can eat spaghetti on Wednesdays for $4 and tacos (yes, tacos) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

My pizza had generous toppings, lots of cheese and a thick and crispy crust. The slices were dense and chewy. I ate half and took the other half home; when ordering, I’d thought about getting a 12-inch medium to ensure I had leftovers, but that didn’t prove to be an issue even with a 10-inch small. It was what I would call a good bar pizza.

The decor is as eclectic as the menu. I saw sports trophies, a shelf of kerosene lamps, a couple of random framed pieces of art, a Lotto machine, video games, paneling and ceiling fans. Pizza Barn probably hasn’t been remodeled since it opened in 1992, nor should it be. It’s got character.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pasta Cucina Rustica

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Pasta Cucina Rustica, 2086 Foothill Blvd. (at D), La Verne

Opened in 2010, Pasta Cucina Rustica is owned by the same family that has Aruffo’s in Claremont, an Italian restaurant I like. The La Verne location, which has a different menu and a similarly upscale casual vibe, is in a storefront in the Stater Bros. center, one of the city’s string of shopping centers along Foothill. It replaced Gambino’s.

The interior has wooden tables and booths, tile floors and vintage Italian advertising posters. It’s a little fancy but not off-putting. I was there for lunch with two friends and their baby and they immediately liked it (the baby’s reaction could not be determined).

The menu has pasta, seafood, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas, desserts, wine, beer and coffees. They also have items in smaller portions for seniors. Entrees top out at $17.

We had the parma rustica panini ($10), a ham and mozzarella sandwich on cheese-encrusted bread; a salsiccia pizza ($11) with sausage, peppers and sweet onions; cheese ravioli ($9); and a child’s portion of cheese ravioli ($7).

We all liked our entrees to greater or lesser degrees, with the sandwich being the highlight. The small loaf of rosemary bread they brought out was also delicious. The pizza had a barely-there crust with a cracker-like rim; it was unusual, but the one who ordered it liked it. My cheese ravioli was about what you’d expect.

My ravioli lunch portion, incidentally, was exactly the same size as the child’s portion, but $2 more, leading one person to joke that a budget diner might want to order child’s portions to go. Who would know? Also on the child’s menu: Nutella and red raspberry jam sandwich, provolone and mozzarella grilled cheese and chicken parmigiana strips. You know, that’s not a crazy idea…

Service was friendly and understanding of an infant’s needs, not to mention adults’ needs. We enjoyed ourselves.

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Restaurant of the Week: Warehouse Pizza

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Warehouse Pizza, 2340 D St. (at Bonita), La Verne

Anchoring a prime corner in downtown La Verne, Warehouse practically anchors the entire downtown. Its website says it’s been there 23 years, but that seems to refer only to the current owners. A University of La Verne alumnus friend says he was eating at Warehouse as early as 1971.

Either way, it’s an expansive place — could it have been a former citrus warehouse? — with a large, open interior and exposed industrial ceiling. Equally large is the patio, only a portion of which could fit into the above photo. Warehouse is a favorite of ULV students and professors, as well as Bonita High students, sports teams and families.

The menu has a dozen sandwiches and three salads, plus beer and wine, but the pizza is the main reason anyone goes (the beer may be second). A 14-inch mushroom ($13.95), pictured, comes loaded, the sauce tomatoey, the crust chewy, but crispy at the edge.

For its size, La Verne has a lot of homegrown pizza parlors (Red Devil, Sal’s, Pizza Barn, Pizza N Stuff and maybe one or two I’ve forgotten), with Warehouse perhaps the best, and certainly the most fondly regarded.

Two ULV alums are said to have opened Warehouse knockoffs in Hawaii and Colorado, duplicating the interior to the last neon beer sign, hanging ladder and miniature gas pump. The original is a classic college-town pizza parlor. Long may it bake.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Habit

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The Habit Burger Grill, 1608 Foothill Blvd. (at Chelsea), La Verne

The Habit opened recently in a standalone building in front of the remodeled Vons center near Wheeler and was busy pretty much from day one. There are two dozen Habits, which began in Goleta in 1969, but the nearest one is in Glendale.

The operation seems perched between Fuddruckers and In-N-Out with its emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients and its somewhat stylish interior. On Saturday, when I visited, the lunchtime line stretched to the door. The menu has charbroiled burgers, some tasty-sounding sandwiches including chicken, tri-tip and albacore tuna, and salads.

I got the No. 1 Char combo ($5.95), a single burger, fries and soda, and took a seat on the patio. My number was called on the loudspeaker in a few minutes. The fries were pretty good and the burger even better, charred to perfection and served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle and, a nice touch, caramelized onions.

The staff was friendly, just like at In N Out. They’ll come take your tray or offer to fetch a soda refill.

The patio is the stroke of genius. Rather than an afterthought with one or two tables, theirs has 12, and the tables and chairs are wood, not molded plastic. Saturday was uncommonly warm, as it’s been all week. I sat outside in short sleeves for the first time in weeks, reading the centennial issue of Westways with its pieces on two SoCal icons, ’30s artist Maynard Dixon and writer Carey McWilliams, soaking up the weather and feeling mighty fine about living in Southern California.

This could become a habit.

* Update, February 2014: And indeed it has. I still eat at the Habit now and then. I should probably try more items on the menu, but the burgers and fries are really good.

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