Restaurant of the Week: Chuy’s Cocina

Chuy’s Cocina, 10285 Central Ave. (at Kingsley), Montclair; open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A friend who drives up Central on a frequent basis noticed Chuy’s and suggested a group of us meet there for lunch. I had overlooked the restaurant, which opened last September in a small, multi-tenant building, but agreed instantly. Always nice to find a new restaurant to try in modest Montclair. (The current Yelp rating, by the way, is five stars, based on 63 reviews.)

You generally order at the counter, it seems, although a staffer came to our table to take our order based on the menu behind the counter. Hey, it’s a family-run place, they can make their own rules. Menu board is below; click on the photo for a more readable view.

I got a sope (with pastor) and a mulita (with asada), each $4. I think I’d had a sope once, which is pictured at top below, but not a mulita, foreground. A mulita is somewhere between a taco and a quesadilla. I liked it. It turns out I’m not a fan of sopes, which are hard to pick up and eat, and have crumbled cheese and other toppings that fall off, but there was nothing wrong with this version.

One friend got the chile relleno and enchilada combo ($9) with beans, rice and a wee salad. “Esta muy rica,” he said, practicing his Spanish. “Very delicious. I liked it very much.”

The other two friends each got three-taco combos ($7), one with bean tacos — “Tasty. I really liked the salsa,” she said — and one with chicken. After much thought as to a pithy comment, he settled for: “The tacos were excellent.” Posterity thanks him.

Chuy’s seats about 30. The staff was helpful, even if their English is lacking. When the vegan in our group had a question about the preparation, the chef came out to answer. When our complimentary chips were finished, they brought out more, and also refilled our drinks.

The friend whose idea it was to meet there mused aloud, “My thought was, how could a place so small be a restaurant? In the inside, it’s a lot larger than it looks from the outside.”

“Like the Tardis,” said another.

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Restaurant of the Week: Burger Bar

Burger Bar, 665 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Claremont Blvd.), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday; closed Monday

When the Meat Cellar moved a few blocks west to the old Wolfe’s Market, the former location was turned into Burger Bar under the same ownership. I wrote about Meat Cellar last week and may as well round things out by giving the same treatment to Burger Bar.

It’s been upgraded a bit, with a bar (obviously you need a bar at a place named Burger Bar) and local beers from No Clue, Last Name and nearby Claremont Craft Ales as well as red and white wines. The seating is a little better too, and there’s table service rather than ordering at the register.

The new Meat Cellar has an expanded menu. Burger Bar is more like the old Meat Cellar menu: sandwiches, burgers and a few entrees, like steak frites. Basically, my favorites are still served here in this quieter, more low-key (no valet parking, at least) restaurant. And there are some new items too.

On my first visit, I had one of those new items, the turkey burger ($15). This was not what I had expected, frankly, being more like the “chicken burger” you sometimes see on a menu; this was a tightly packed disk of turkey rather than ground turkey that would closely resemble a hamburger in looks and flavor. The crispy onion straws helped relieve its monotony, but I would recommend they drop it from the menu.

As that’s not how I wanted this Restaurant of the Week to go, I decided to return before writing something.

On my second visit I got a hamburger — in this case, splurging for the Wagyu ($18). This was more like it.

On the other hand, the guy at the table behind me complained about his burger being undercooked and said he had a Cordon Bleu degree. Compounding its evident flub, the kitchen made him the wrong burger for his replacement sandwich, for which management apologized and comped him. (I’ve had days like that too.)

I’m pretty sure I’ll return to Burger Bar, but a little less enthusiastically than expected. They may have a few kinks to work out yet.

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Restaurant of the Week: Meat Cellar

Meat Cellar, 160 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Harvard), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Meat Cellar was already the subject of a Restaurant of the Week post, in 2016, only now it’s moved a few blocks west to the old Wolfe’s Market, and the old location has become a Meat Cellar-owned spinoff, Burger Bar. So it seems best to start over.

The new Meat Cellar is probably triple the size, a full-service restaurant with a full bar, an open kitchen and, as before, a meat case like a butcher. That in a way serves as a nod to the space’s century as a grocery until its demise in 2017 (although the back part of the building continues as Wolfe’s Kitchen and Deli). There are two dining areas, one near the bar and the other near the kitchen.

I went in for a weekday lunch recently on a day off. Here’s the new menu; click for a larger view. (I’m glad I took a photo, as Meat Cellar currently has no website and its Facebook page hasn’t been updated since July 2017.)

The menu is greatly expanded from the original location; it’s still got the sandwiches, steak frites and other items from before, but now there’s salads, appetizers, desserts, more small plates and far more seafood.

They brought out a piece of cornbread, which was tasty, and a dollop of butter almost the size of the cornbread, which went unused.

I ordered the farmers market salad, a new item, with chicken ($13 + $5).

It’s got strawberries, currants, romaine, feta and more, plus balsamic vinaigrette. I liked it: It felt like a meal, with chicken and strawberries in nearly every bite.

The interior is rustic, with exposed rafters and ductwork, a skylight and wooden slat tables. Service was low-key and professional.

The new Meat Cellar, which opened earlier this year, was a hit immediately; drive past any evening and you’ll see plenty of diners inside through the large windows. Due to the small parking lot, Meat Cellar has valet parking, possibly the only restaurant to offer this in the Inland Valley, and you’ll see cars parked on the streets around the neighborhood for two or three blocks. It’s a more intense use than Foothill or the primarily residential neighborhood is used to, for sure. But it’s a good use of the space and a great addition to the local dining scene. Congratulations to them.

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Restaurant of the Week: Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan

Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan, 818 S. Mountain Ave. (at Mission), Ontario; open daily

Ontario doesn’t show up as often in these Restaurant of the Week posts as some cities. So when a friend suggested meeting at a carnitas specialist in south Ontario, I was all for it. Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan is in the shopping plaza on the southwest corner of Mountain and Mission.

You order at the counter, by a steam table of meats. Here’s the menu; click for a larger view. As befits the restaurant’s name, it’s pork-intensive: pork, stomach, skin and the carnitas mix, pork with brains.

But they also have beef. My friend got the two-taco combo: one pork, one birria, which is stewed beef, with rice and beans (about $9, below); I got the same, except both birria. This wasn’t on purpose. I can get a little tongue-tied at unfamiliar and ethnic restaurants.

Their tacos are large and meaty; I ate about half the beef with a fork before picking up the remainder. We both thought the tacos were quite good. She bought a bag of housemade pork rinds for her parents.

A couple of weeks later, I returned for two carnitas tacos, again as a plate. Couldn’t very well write about Carnitas al Estilo Michoacan without trying the carnitas. It was tender and flavorful.

Next door there’s a La Michoacana Ice Cream shop in case you’d like to continue the theme and maybe cool off the spicy salsa.

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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: Alex’s Tacos

Alex’s Tacos, 941 E. Mission Blvd. (at San Antonio), Pomona; open daily 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In Pomona, Mission and Holt are prime taqueria corridors. On Holt, I like Tijuana’s Tacos; on Mission, Taqueria Guadalupana is a winner. But there are others. Lured by reviews on Yelp, I’ve been trying Alex’s Tacos, in a small, battered building a couple of blocks east of Towne Avenue.

Entrance is through the back, from a parking lot that has been full the couple of times I’ve tried it. Might be better to park on the street or a block over on Caswell. There’s a popular boba shop in the building next door, by the way.

Alex’s has a half-dozen booths, often full, and a counter where you can sit to eat or await a takeout order. The menu is tacos, burritos and quesadillas, with a variety of meats, including one I hadn’t seen on a menu before, sessos. I googled it. Let’s say zombies would go right for it. But there’s pork, chicken and beef as well as tongue, stomach and more.

They specialize in birria, the stew that you can get as either beef or goat, and that you can get in taco form. My first visit I got three birria tacos: two goat, one beef ($1.85 each). They came double-wrapped in flaky tortillas, with red and green salsas on the side. The meat was tender, and while my nod would go to the beef, my mind might change by next time.

My next visit, I got an al pastor burrito with everything ($6.10), delicious, the pork nice and crisp.

Realizing they had hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados), I ordered three al pastor tacos on my most recent visit ($1.85 each). The outer tortilla came crisped lightly, but still flexible; the inner tortilla was warm. I prefer soft shell, but these were good.

Alex’s also has menudo on weekends and based on Yelp reviews has a consomme for $1 that people seem to like.

Service is brisk but polite and you’ll probably have to wait a bit for your food due to demand. Be patient, it’s worth it.

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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: McKinley’s Grille

McKinley’s Grille, 601 W. McKinley Drive (at White), Pomona; open daily 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

McKinley’s is the restaurant in the Sheraton Fairplex hotel at the Pomona fairgrounds. I’d been there a couple of times for fair-related lunches, and a few times more for service club lunches. Once I met Jon Provost and his wife for an interview over iced teas. But it had not occurred to me to go there for a Restaurant of the Week.

That is, until reader Ken Haerr contacted me to rave about the place. “If you haven’t already reviewed McKinley’s Grille at the Fairplex Sheraton, you must. There is a 5-acre farm to table plot at the LA County Fairgrounds that is dedicated to this restaurant,” Haerr wrote. “There is no reason that this restaurant should not be packed during off-event hotel times. My wife and I ate here tonight in an empty restaurant and the food was utterly spectacular.”

After Haerr’s email I was looking for an excuse to try out McKinley’s when a colleague’s farewell dinner was scheduled there. Bingo.

McKinley’s has a long main dining room with a bar, plus a private room, which is where our dinner was. The decor is all earth tones, comfortable but a little dull. But it’s swankier than a hotel coffee shop, that’s for sure.

The dinner menu has starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees, the latter ranging from $12 to $32. I opted against circling the table to photograph everyone’s food, especially since most people got sandwiches.

But the friend to my right had the Szechuan stir-fry ($12) with chicken ($6). She said the vegetables were fresh and likely from Fairplex’s farm and that the sauce had a pleasant kick to it. She took home half.

Meanwhile, yours truly splurged on the seared rare yellowfin tuna ($28), crusted with yuzu miso and served atop wild rice pilaf with wasabi cream and farm vegetables. This was a winner, light and delicious.

Our dearly departed was given a free dessert, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with berries. I don’t know if it’s on the menu as such, but it was enjoyed by the table. I didn’t poll the table, as I would at a lunch or dinner that was primarily about the food rather than a farewell, but everyone seemed to like what they ordered.

The restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch (the $16 burgers are made with ground brisket and short rib), with a mid-afternoon break in service, and has a wine list.

McKinley’s exists primarily for hotel guests and to provide catering for community group events on the premises, and thus perhaps doesn’t live or die by attracting regular folks in for meals. But I can see why the reader was excited about it, because the food is superior, the atmosphere serene and, at least on that Thursday, there was plenty of elbow room.

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