Restaurant of the Week: Luna Grill

Luna Grill, 10877 Foothill Blvd. (at Spruce), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The fairly new Spruce Plaza in Rancho Cucamonga is a mini-restaurant row. I don’t believe the center has anything but restaurants: Cafe Rio, The Habit, Tokyo Joe’s and Luna Grill. (In the old days, there’d have been a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl.)

Luna is a San Diego-based Mediterranean restaurant chain with local-to-us locations in Eastvale, Redlands, Temecula and, said to be coming soon, Chino Hills.

Don’t confuse Luna Grill with Luna Modern Mexican Kitchen a few miles east. Besides the difference in cuisines, that Luna is a sit-down restaurant; this Luna is fast-casual.

The menu has salads, plates, wraps and bowls. No stranger to Mediterranean food, I thought several of the items sounded or looked inviting. I went for the salmon plate ($14), which came with rice, pita bread and a small salad, and got carrots as my side. My friend ordered the lamb plate ($15), ditto.

Of the lamb, which is halal (the Muslim equivalent of kosher), my friend noted from the menu board that it’s the second-most caloric entree — after the veggie plate. Hmm.

We liked our meals. I’m a fan of Mediterranean food, fine versions of which can be had in Rancho Cucamonga at Zait Bistro, Mezzaterranean and Zaky’s, plus a new Saca’s. But Luna Grill, while corporate, and sanding off some of the rough edges, hasn’t compromised too much in bringing that style of food to the masses. (Compare to, say, SpireWorks in Upland, where you can get a kebab sandwich “Philly style.”)

In other words, returning to Luna Grill would not be lunacy.

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Restaurant of the Week: Paris Pastries Cafe

Paris Pastries Cafe, 8220 Haven Ave. (at Foothill), Rancho Cucamonga; open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

I still think of this corner spot in the Chaffey Town Square center as Pei Wei, although it’s been a restaurant or two since the Chinese fusion place left. It’s been Paris Pastries for a couple of years now. I made it in earlier this month for a weekday lunch with a Francophile phriend, er, friend.

My visit was prompted by reader Charlene Comeaux, a regular there, who emailed to tell me the owners moved to Rancho Cucamonga from southern France, are fluent in French and thus serve authentic French cuisine and baked items.

Several of the patio tables were taken, a nice sight, and inside the restaurant was being enjoyed by several more, so maybe Paris Pastries is catching on. Besides the tables and chairs, there’s a sofa, which was occupied and gave a homey touch. The dining room was decorated in pastels, and a long bakery case offered enticements: macaroons, cakes and more. You order at the end.

The menu is short, with a couple of salads, a few sandwiches, quiches, plates and crepes, plus coffee drinks including espresso.

My friend had been here a couple of times before for croissants on weekends but had not had a full meal. He ordered the quiche combo ($11): a spinach and goat cheese quiche, a salad and a drip coffee. He pronounced himself satisfied, if not quite transported to the French countryside.

I got the crispy chicken pasta ($10.49), with fried chicken breast, pasta, cream sauce and mushrooms. This was plenty filling, and the bread pudding I ordered ($4) about finished me off. But I finished it off first.

It’s a cute place and one of the very few spots locally with French cuisine. Mention should also be made of the little corner designed for children, with a small table and chairs, books and play objects. I found it adorable — which I’m mentally saying in the French way.

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Restaurant of the Week: Grill 8

Grill 8, 7890 Haven Ave. (at Church), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Grill 8 opened last year in the northern reaches of the Virginia Dare center, near Cake Among Us and the bike shop. A friend and I met there for a weekday lunch recently. Inside there’s reclaimed wood, an array of hanging bulbs and a communal counter, besides booths and tables. The place was tidy and clean.

The menu has burgers, other sandwiches, wings and salads, plus a soup of the day. They also have local beers on tap and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

You order at the counter. (The website says they have “full-service dining,” but no.) My friend got the turkey avocado sandwich ($9), with havarti cheese and olive salad spread, plus a side salad; I got a turkey burger ($11), with white cheddar, and garlic fries as my side. (A third choice is onion rings.) I scraped off the avocado; sorry, not a fan.

We liked our meals. My burger was a little dry, which can happen with turkey, but it was fine. “Fun atmosphere, good food,” my friend summarized. Agreed. I would go back. I’d rather eat at the more sedate and comfortable Grill 8 than the Five Guys across the street.

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Restaurant of the Week: Lotus Cafe

Lotus Cafe, 9775 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except closed Tuesday

The 99 Ranch Center at Base Line and Archibald in Rancho Cucamonga is home to several Asian eateries: Min’s Dumpling House, Red Chili House, a boba shop, Myung Dong Tofu House and the food court inside the 99 Ranch market. Connected to the market but with a separate entrance is the small Lotus Cafe, where two friends and I had lunch recently.

It’s a modest place, and they offer steam table basics for quick service, but they also have an extensive menu. Not Min’s-extensive, with 100-plus items, but there’s dozens to choose from. Reviewer David Cohen says the cuisine is from northern China.

We got pan-fried dumplings ($8, top), a beef roll, kung pao chicken, fried lamb with cumin (above) and a unique item, the Chinese burger ($3.45, below), which based on the name we simply had to order. (Amid the conversation I didn’t get prices scrawled down for the other items before the menus were taken away.)

The Chinese burger was ground pork inside a rice bun with cilantro and grilled onions, and very tasty. It might not be dissimilar to a Maid-Rite sandwich. In descending order, we ranked our items this way: dumplings, lamb, burger, beef roll and kung pao. And there was nothing wrong with the kung pao, except that the peanuts were on the side, which bothered the guy who ordered it. He ate them by hand, like bar snacks.

The only problem with the meal was that the beef roll (above) arrived about 45 minutes after everything else. The server updated us a couple of times on its progress. Not sure what the issue was there; it’s possible they had to buy an ingredient at the market. Thankfully we weren’t in a hurry, although we also weren’t hungry anymore by the time we got it. Not that that stopped us from eating most of it.

“I like Min’s better,” said the guy who had been there before, “but for a little place inside a grocery store, it’s good.” The other two of us agreed.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sabor a Mi

Sabor a Mi, 8976 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Vineyard), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

I’m rarely johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to new restaurants. Either I don’t know about them or I wait until they find their footing. I wouldn’t have known about Sabor a Mi if a reader hadn’t alerted me within a couple of weeks of its early February opening and even invited me to join her and her husband for dinner.

So a recent evening found us meeting up at the restaurant, which occupies a storefront within the Thomas Winery Plaza. It’s very well-appointed, with tasteful decor, art on the walls, Edison bulbs and an inviting bar.

The menu has starters, salads and entrees ($14 to $19). Sabor a Mi does not have tacos or burritos, but rather empanadas, carne asada and mixiote. Our table ordered conchinita pibil ($16), chicken enchiladas with mole ($16) and mole poblano ($18), pictured in that order below.

The first is slow-roasted pork in Yucatecan style, the second is self-descriptive other than perhaps the dark sauce (typically containing chocolate, fruit and various spices) and the latter is boneless leg and thigh chicken, also in mole.

We liked all our dishes; mine was the poblano, which came with handmade tortillas. For dessert we shared the creme brulee trio ($6), which were flavored with guava, jamaica and horchata, respectively. Excellent.

Sabor a Mi, by the way, is a popular Mexican song — Eydie Gorme, of all people, did a version in 1964 — and translates as Taste of Me. The Cordon Bleu-trained woman behind the restaurant has worked her way up in the business from bussing tables to chef to owner. The menu has items from various states in Mexico, including mole birthplace Puebla, Michoacan, Mexico City and the Yucatan.

Service was friendly and the owner visited our table as she made the rounds of the room, a nice touch. Things weren’t perfect: The waiter misinterpreted our declining the guacamole appetizer as an order for the guacamole appetizer ($8), not that we minded, one of my sides was wrong and when he brought back the bill and credit card slip, he had to apologetically explain that he’d at first charged another table on the card before realizing his mistake and voiding it. No harm done.

On the other hand, there were little extras, like an aperitif of pork rinds with avocado and sprouts, and small complimentary dishes of avocado ice cream. My friends had been there before and also gotten such fillips. They said the service was better this time. So, be patient.

Few other restaurants in the area (Sabor Mexicano in Pomona comes to mind) seem to be doing quite what Sabor a Mi is attempting, and good for them. Sabor a Mi is also one of the most stylish local Mexican restaurants. They serve beer, wine and tequila, and a Mexico City-style weekday lunch special, comida corrida (“lunch on the run”), with three courses served simultaneously, promises to get you out within 30 minutes. But maybe you’ll want to linger.

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Restaurant of the Week: The State

The State, 7900 Kew Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

The Redlands gastropub The State (it’s on State Street) has expanded west to Victoria Gardens, where it took over the old Ra Pour space. Three friends and I had lunch there in December.

It’s a large spot with an oblong main dining room and then a patio. (It was a cold afternoon and we didn’t investigate the option when asked “would you like to eat outside?”) There’s a full, elaborate bar with cocktails and more. The motto: Kitchen * Beer * Whisk(e)y.”

Between the concrete floor and the cranked-up music, one friend said: “My first comment: ‘loud.'” We could hear him, though. And as at that point they were playing such soul oldies as “I’m Your Puppet,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” it wasn’t in me to object.

The menu has upscale versions of classic comfort food, but other items too: starters, salads, burgers, sandwiches, main courses and desserts. (One unappealingly named entree is Airline Chicken — although surely it’s a better version.)

Two got the portabella sandwich ($12), one with a salad as the side (free), the other with fries ($1). Both called it “average.” The bread looks great.

Another got steak and egg tacos ($8), which the server cautioned would be small as a main course. The warming proved accurate, although they were enjoyed.

I got the apple harvest salad with chicken ($11 + $4), light and tasty, and some of us shared the poutine ($13), the Canadian comfort food of fries topped with cheese curds, braised short ribs and gravy. That was a real winner. “I would definitely come back” and “delicious” were the comments.

Meanwhile, TVs silently played “Casablanca” — easy enough to fill in the dialogue on that — and other old movies or clips. Nice backdrop. The state of The State is strong.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dog Haus, RC

Dog Haus, 7815 Monet Ave. in Victoria Gardens, Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

A Pasadena-based hot dog chain, Dog Haus opened over the summer in Victoria Gardens along what we might call the millennial-friendly street with wider sidewalks, benches, charging stations and, increasingly, a more eclectic range of shops and restaurants.

I’ve been to the original location a time or two and had something of a mixed reaction, liking what they were trying to do — quality links without hormones, etc., and on King’s Hawaiian rolls — but not entirely sold on the rolls compared to good ol’ buns. Still, that the chain was opening one out here was welcome, and I was interested in giving it a try again.

The VG location opens to the sidewalk in decent weather, with a wraparound bar/counter where you can get a local beer (including Claremont Craft Ales, Hamilton Family and Dale Brothers) and the food. There are also tables, a casual counter and communal seating, all under Edison bulbs. I was there on a warm December evening (remember those?) and the restaurant was comfortable even with the door open and grating up.

I got the Das Brat ($8), a bratwurst with sauerkraut, onions and mustard. Very good dog, and the roll caught me by surprise, lightly toasted to a sort of buttery perfection. I’ve been back since and the roll was close but not quite as prime. Still, I’m sold. My only beef, ha ha, is that Dog Haus really lays on the mustard, as you can see. It’s a bit much and a bit messy: I’d prefer about half as much, personally.

The menu has a few burgers too, plus ice cream from Alhambra favorite Fosselman’s. (Note to whoever handles the website: Don’t say you’re “proudly serving” that brand and then misspell its name.) So it’s a limited menu, but Dog Haus sticks to what it does best, and does it pretty well.

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Restaurant of the Week: Stonefire Grill

Stonefire Grill, 10680 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Spruce), Rancho Cucamonga

Stonefire Grill opened in June in the long-closed On the Border restaurant building at Terra Vista Town Center in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s one of nine current locations around Southern California, with the next-nearest one in Pasadena.

A friend and I went in for lunch recently. It was bustling, that’s for sure. You order at what you might have expected to be a greeter station, at one of two registers. So you get a kind of McDonald’s or Panera vibe, except for the higher price points.

They sell sandwiches, salads, barbecue, pizza, pasta and more. (See menu.) I’m a little suspicious of places with such a broad menu.

Despite the lunchtime line, the staffer who took our orders was friendly. On the counter to tempt us were the largest brownies I’ve ever seen, square slabs about the size of a grilled cheese sandwich, but thicker. We demurred.

After ordering, you fetch your drink, as well as plates and silverware, and find a seat in the sprawling dining room. Why take a plate? It turns out your food is delivered on a metal platter, like a pizza pan.

I got a “meal,” which comes with a salad or side, ordering mesquite BBQ tri-tip and baby back ribs, plus a salad ($16.60). My friend got the All American Burger ($7.50) and a bowl of chicken tortilla soup ($3.50), which he asked to be brought out at the same time as my salad.

My salad arrived, and then when my platter arrived, he got his soup and burger at the same time (sigh).

He said the soup had jack cheese, avocado and plenty of chicken, that his burger was better than fast food if not to a gourmet burger level and that the salt and pepper potato chips reminded him of the ones at the Buffalo Inn, “back when there was a Buffalo Inn” (another reason to sigh).

My ribs had a good bark, matching Lucille’s but not Famous Dave’s (or Bigg Dane and Beale’s), and the tri-tip, which I ordered medium rare, was soft and buttery.

Oh, and at least with the meal, you get a free basket of breadsticks, which made me think I was at a higher-class Olive Garden.

I’m a little mixed on the experience and probably would like the place better if there was table service instead of the DIY, cafeteria feel. But the food was a little above average. So, overall, not bad.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jack’s Urban Eats

Jack’s Urban Eats, 7811 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Victoria Gardens earlier this year gained a Jack’s Urban Eats, a self-described “urban cafeteria” with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables. It currently has 14 locations, all in California and most around Sacramento. The closest to us is Fresno.

At the mall, it’s just south of King’s Fish House along the street that got a hip makeover a year or so ago, with design-conscious pavers, benches and lights, and which has gradually focused its stores and restaurants to match the feel. I checked out the restaurant recently at lunchtime with friends.

There’s a faux brick exterior, a high ceiling with exposed duct work, tables and booths and a few outdoor tables. You take a menu and line up to order, then move down the line to pay and collect your food at the end.

They have salads, which you can build to order, sandwiches such as tri-tip, chicken, reuben, cheese steak and club, plates such as tri-tip (a specialty), chicken or turkey, and beer and wine.

I got the steak salad ($11.75), with tri-tip, mixed greens, cranberries and bleu cheese. I liked it.

Someone else was set on one item but impulsively ordered a summer special item, the Hawaiian chicken sandwich ($9.50). I would describe it, but I forgot to ask what was on it. Odds are good that pineapple and teriyaki were involved. He said: “Delicious. I want to come back and try one of their regular menu items.” His wife has had their banh mi and loved that.

Our second friend, a vegan on a repeat visit, ordered the grilled portabella sandwich ($9.75), with a mushroom, sprouts, tomato and grilled onion on a ciabatta roll, holding the provolone. “Second time I’ve had it. Still good,” she said. So noted.

Our only complaint was that at the height of the lunch rush, the restaurant was noisy with not just conversation but music. As people cleared out, talking became more comfortable. You’re too urban, Jack!

I kept thinking of Tender Greens, a similar but better cafeteria chain that hasn’t ventured east of Pasadena. Probably we’re not yet worthy. Nothing wrong with Jack’s, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: Punch Bowl Social

Punch Bowl Social, 12635 N. Main St. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays

The Denver-based Punch Bowl Social opened at Victoria Gardens in May in the vast former Toby Keith’s space with an entertainment zone and restaurant. There’s casual bowling (pins held in place by overhead strings), karaoke, arcade games and more. The dining, though, is of interest, with a menu by “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, and the dining area evokes a ’50s diner. Is it any surprise I’ve tried it out?

The menu has breakfast, brunch, sandwiches, salads and Southern specialties including fried balogna sandwiches, pimiento cheese and chicken biscuits, but you’ll see “grass fed” and “hormone free” at various points, and these are obviously upscale takes on the food. There’s also a long beverage list, from beer and mixed drinks to “adult” milkshakes.

I was there for a late breakfast in May. First they give you a biscuit and housemade jam, maybe the strawberry ginger. I ordered the mushroom biscuit and gravy ($11), which came with a couple of eggs atop potatoes. I liked it..

In July, I returned with another friend for lunch. She got the A La Bama chicken sandwich ($13) and a grapefruit soda ($5), while I had the meatloaf ($13) and a black cherry soda ($3.50). She liked her sandwich. Checking my notes, I have this direct quote: “It was good.” OK, that’s not that helpful. But her sociopolitical message is a winner.

My meatloaf was a chef’s take on the humble dish, served atop mashed potatoes and with pickled radishes and carrots, all tasty and all probably better than your mom’s.

We should have tried the pie or another dessert, but after all that food, that wasn’t possible. The $40 lunch tab provided further discouragement.

Stunningly, perhaps, Punch Bowl Social instantly became one of Rancho Cucamonga’s better restaurants. It certainly beat the similar but generic Big Al’s in Ontario. Be prepared to pay a little extra, and consider working off some calories through bowling.

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