Restaurant of the Week: 2nd Avenue Saloon

2nd Avenue Saloon, 271 N. 2nd Ave. (at 9th St.), Upland; open daily, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Note: This post, about a meal in late February, was prepared prior to the pandemic. The restaurant is now offering outdoor dining on Second Avenue.

A friend messaged me recently with a photo of a flier in the window of 2nd Avenue Saloon for $5.99 Steak Night, which is each Wednesday. We made a plan to meet (meat?) up.

The bar and restaurant, formerly Old Baldy Brewing Co. and the Sea Cove, opened in 2008, and I realized I’d never been inside, only to neighboring JD Allison’s. The layout inside 2nd Avenue Saloon seems completely different than Old Baldy, but then it’s been more than a decade and perhaps my memory is off. A couple of pool tables greet you when you walk in, then there’s a classic-looking bar, plus tables and booths, and a second “VIP” room for parties, karaoke and live music.

I’d enjoyed Steak Night at nearby Charlie’s Stars and Stripes, which began at $5, included a steak, baked potato and salad, and supposedly required a drink purchase, although the staff didn’t enforce that (once or twice, not knowing the requirement, I ordered water). The price rose to $7 and the day of the week changed from Monday, which had made it a good place to eat before a council meeting, to Wednesday, and I got out of the habit. (It’s still taking place and now costs $8.)

There’s a special every night at 2nd Avenue Saloon. We each ordered the steak, which comes with two sides. Options included fries and onion rings, but not baked potato. I got a salad and mixed vegetables, as did my friend. The salads were served on individual plates and were substantial.

The steaks came out soon, grilled green and yellow zucchini and onions on the side (see above). The server told us she thought our veggie servings were undersized and had instructed the kitchen to make more. That extra serving came out in a couple of minutes on a separate plate and we split it up.

My sirloin, medium rare, was great. I ate half and took home half, along with some veggies. My friend ate all of hers but wished she’d followed my sterling example of restraint. I’ve always thought more people should emulate me but they rarely agree.

Also, we only ordered waters, so the total bill for both of us with tax was around $14. Thanks, 2nd Avenue Saloon.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: El Sinaloense

El Sinaloense, 9673 Sierra Ave. (at San Bernardino), Fontana; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and at 9 a.m. Friday to Sunday

Note: This post, about a meal in February, was prepared in early March, prior to the coronavirus shutdown.

On my way to a Fontana council meeting one recent evening, I saw the glowing sign for El Sinaloense and on an impulse pulled into the parking lot. It’s in a small business center with an insurance office and more, with the restaurant in the elbow of the L-shaped complex.

There’s a large dining room painted a cheery orange with green accents. You have your choice of booths or tables, and they’ll wait on you. El Sinaloense means “The Sinaloan” and is such a popular song in the banda style that it’s practically the Mexican state’s anthem.

The menu has tacos, burritos, mulitas and tostadas, with an emphasis on seafood and birria, which is stewed goat or beef (the menu didn’t specify which). In fact they make an item called the quesabirria, a quesadilla with birria.

Birria fan though I am, I went for a single taco gobernador ($5.50), which is marlin and shrimp, after being assured the tacos are large. (A poster on the wall showed two on a plate, but an order is just one.) A few minutes later, the cook brought it to my table and presented it with a near-flourish. The taco was indeed large, in a handmade corn tortilla, with small shrimp, chunks of marlin and a bit of melted cheese, the whole thing grilled. On the side was shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and onions, and a cup of avocado cream sauce.

The result was delicious, especially spiked with the condiments. This would not have constituted a meal under most circumstances, but being moderately hungry, the taco was moderately filling, so I left satisfied.

El Sinaloense also serves beer and Micheladas (the restaurant’s name ends with “Tacos & Beer”) and $25 towers of meat and vegetables for groups. As I left, the dining room that had been near-empty at 6 p.m. was getting busier. I’m glad I pulled into El Sinaloense.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Whither Restaurant of the Week?

My regular Thursday account of a meal(s) at a restaurant has been on hold during the pandemic, for obvious reasons. Although one reader did suggest modifying the concept to Carryout of the Week, ha ha — which I didn’t pursue.

The break has been welcome on my end. During the first part of the pandemic in particular, I was in something of a state of shock and relieved to just get columns done under these crazy circumstances. Not feeling obligated to write RoWs was one burden I was delighted to shed.

After restaurants reopened, a bit prematurely in my opinion, they had to revert to takeout and delivery, or offer outside dining, now that no inside dining is allowed.

Before the shutdown, I had two RoWs written and scheduled. Because the restaurants were closed, I put the posts on ice. In late June, as restaurants began opening up, I scheduled the posts for early July. Then restaurants were ordered closed again July 1 and the posts were put on ice again.

At this point, with the two posts not getting any younger, I may as well run them. At least the two restaurants are kind of open. The posts are scheduled for Aug. 6 and 13.

After that, we’ll see if the RoW continues. There’s a lot riding against it.

My eating habits have changed for the better, the result of which is that I’m less omnivorous than before. (I’ve almost entirely given up bread, for instance, which would make it tough to review a sandwich shop.)

For the foreseeable future, there are obvious logistical issues in writing about restaurants that are only half open and from which food might be taken to go, but taken only so far. Whether I’m working from home or the office, I’m not traveling with hot food more than 5 or 10 minutes, which has tightly limited my choices.

One possibility is to drop the now-venerable name Restaurant of the Week and simply use the restaurant’s name for the title. That way I can skip weeks if necessary and no one can cry about false advertising. Or I could come up with a new name completely.

Suggestions are welcome — as are your thoughts on the whole matter, including about dining out during the coronavirus era.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Remembering China Gate

Upland’s China Gate for years was considered by many — and certainly by me — the best Chinese restaurant in the area. I enjoyed at least a dozen meals there over the years. Finally in the past decade more exciting and authentic Chinese fare began showing up in cities like Chino Hills, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga. Before that, China Gate was as real as it got out here, and it was popular too.

The restaurant lasted roughly 40 years before closing in March 2018 as part of a shakeup of the Mountain Green shopping center. I’d heard the restaurant’s original owners had sold and that the quality may have slipped. Regardless, I meant to write something here or in my column but it just slipped through the cracks.

I did, however, take some post-closing photos, and what the heck, they may as well be shared here for posterity. Above is the exterior, which faced north.

Through the glass front door and windows I shot what was left of the very 1980s-looking interior.

And posted outside was the menu. A couple of people wrote farewell messages, a sweet touch. If you click on the full menu, you’ll get a larger version of it in case you’d like to scroll through the offerings and reminisce about a favorite.

Former Montclair resident Grace Corcoran remembers. She emailed me in April asking about the restaurant:

“Last year I was in Upland, looking forward to lunch at China Gate on Mountain; I simply can’t explain my deep disappointment to learn it was no longer there. They had a dish on their menu that consisted of steamed fish in a light white sauce with a hint of fresh basil flavor. It was the most refreshing and delicate entrée I’ve ever had in a Chinese restaurant. For the past year I have searched the internet — in vain — for a recipe for this dish. I have experimented in my own kitchen trying to replicate it. In all cases I have failed.”

I couldn’t help her, but she reminded me of China Gate, which led to this blog post. If you remember China Gate too, here’s your chance to comment.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Cup Noodles Shop

Cup Noodles Shop, 9783 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday to Tuesday, closed Wednesday

A Rancho Cucamonga-area diner interested in Chinese food ought to make a beeline for the southeast corner of Base Line and Archibald, where a 99 Ranch market is the centerpiece of an L-shaped plaza devoted to Asian-oriented businesses. I’ve been to most of them, but it’s hard to keep up as the operators and names turn over.

Cup Noodles Shop opened in mid-2018. A friend who’s become enamored of the place invited me to join him for lunch recently. And no, despite the name, they don’t serve instant soup. They did bring our water in these funny Lego-like cups.

The menu is mostly noodle soups, served in cups. We perused the menu at length and ordered three dishes: No. 16, pickled pork with leak noodles ($9.75), with an upgrade to cut noodles ($1), No. 8, ChongQing cold noodles ($8.85), both pictured below, and red chili chao shou ($9.38), not pictured.

We liked both noodle dishes, with the cold noodles being an interesting change, but the handmade noodles in the pork soup — see my bowl of it below — were the clear winner, wide and stretchy. I’m a fan of wontons in red chili oil and the version here matched up.

Also, the soup cups were adorable.

The small restaurant also has milk teas and desserts, including cakes in the shapes of cartoon pigs and dogs. An open-minded child might find this place even more delightful than an adult.

In the plaza, I spotted one restaurant I’d never noticed before that seemed to be devoted to spicy food and two others whose names have changed since my last visit. A hobbyist could do worse than to try to stay on top of things on that corner.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Mica’s Peruvian Fusion

Mica’s Peruvian Fusion, 8421 Haven Ave. (at Civic Center), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday

I’ve eaten a few times at Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches, a cubbyhole of a restaurant on Archibald Avenue at the railroad tracks in Rancho Cucamonga, but I had not been to the full-fledged, sit-down version, Mica’s Peruvian Fusion over on Haven Avenue. It’s in the sleepy strip of businesses south of City Hall and the courts that’s now slightly less sleepy after the dead J.C. Penney Outlet next door was turned into the Haven City Market food hall.

But after a movie at the end of the year, two friends recommended we eat at Mica’s. It’s several times larger than the other Mica’s, but still modest. At dinner time it’s dimly lighted and somewhat atmospheric. There’s alcohol: sangria, cocktails, wine and Peruvian beers.

I had the lomo saltado ($12), steak with onions and tomatoes on fries, with a side of rice in case you wanted more starch. We shared some fish chowder ($13.50) and one got a dish that I can’t positively identify in retrospect based on the menu descriptions. So I’ll scratch that photo.

Because I didn’t get an interior photo or prices off the menu in such an offhand dinner, a few weeks later I returned for a weekday lunch with another friend. The menu has appetizers, soups and salads, chicken, beef, seafood and five meatless dishes.

He got the spaghetti a la huancaina ($14), roast beef on pasta with huancaina sauce, kind of a spicy pesto. I got picante mariscos ($14), calamari, shrimp and mussels in a creamy pepper sauce with potatoes and rice. I took home half of mine for a whole separate meal.

Service was slow, with our server apparently thinking someone else had taken our order for a long stretch. “Not the place to go for an express lunch,” my friend observed. But we were in no hurry.

We’re not sure why the name has “fusion” in it, since the offerings seemed like straight Peruvian food to us. We liked it just the way it was.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Just Vegana

Just Vegana, 180 E 6th St. (at Garey), Pomona; open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

In the former Sabor Mexicano spot across from City Hall, Just Vegana is part of the vegan-Mexican trend. In fact the restaurant is about four blocks from Borreguitas, another vegan-Mex spot previously featured here. Something is afoot, and it’s plant-based.

I met an out-of-town friend here for breakfast recently. Except that since it was a weekday, Vegana doesn’t serve breakfast, just an early lunch. They only have breakfast on weekends.

We ordered at the counter. I got an al pastor torta ($11) and an agua fresca ($4); he got four tacos ($10): al pastor, asada, pollo and chorizo. We took our seats and soon the food arrived.

He was impressed, and he’s an omnivore. He said the chicken was right, the asada a bit salty, the pastor a bit sweet, and the chorizo “really, really good. It’s got that grease. It’s amazing.” Overall, his verdict was “awesome.” As you can see, they didn’t skimp on the faux meat. It looks like eight tacos’ worth of fillings.

I polished off my torta. Taste- and texture-wise, I never feel like vegan meat is the same as the real thing, but I can appreciate it. Also, the bread was great. My agua fresca — guanabana flavor — was refreshing. There’s a salsa bar too.

Kind of amazing that vegan Mexican in Pomona isn’t simply an option itself, but that diners have several options for where to get it.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Dumpling Village

Dumpling Village,  7203 Haven Ave. (at Base Line), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

I don’t know how town planners would feel about a village constructed out of dumplings, but it’s a pleasant prospect for the hungry. Dumpling Village doesn’t put the concept to the test, as it’s the name of a restaurant rather than a descriptor of a complete community. Friends and I had lunch there on a recent Saturday.

It could easily be, and perhaps once was, a fast-casual restaurant based on the counter arrangement. But no, you take a seat and peruse a laminated menu on which you can indicate your choices with a marker.

We ordered six items: a chives and egg turnover ($4.50), a green onion pancake ($4.50), lamb and pickled vegetable soup ($10), pork and shrimp dumplings ($9), vegetable dumplings ($8) and orange chicken ($11).

The server cautioned us that the soup would be “sour.” That only emboldened us. We liked it.

The pancake, turnover and dumplings were all enjoyed. We engaged in some good-natured ribbing of the fellow who came to an authentic Chinese restaurant and ordered orange chicken, as if he were at Panda Express. But it was tasty, and what was on the plate looked much better than in the photo on the wall. How often does that happen?

We all liked the experience. The vegan in our group said the food was “decent,” but a little bland, which she said isn’t unusual for vegetarian items.

“Dumpling Village is a wonderful addition to the Rancho Cucamonga culinary community,” one declared. “I say that as a proud Rancho Kook.”

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Nguyen’s Kitchen

Nguyen’s Kitchen, 4021 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Nguyen’s is a recent addition to the Chino Spectrum shopping center, over in the food section at Grand and Pipeline, where there’s a Starbucks and a half-dozen casual restaurants clustered around a fountain and outdoor seating. It took the place of the area’s only Jollibee.

With a hankering for Vietnamese food, I drove down for lunch on a recent Sunday. It’s inviting inside with a lot of wood and deep booths, some that seat two and others that might seat eight, plus tastefully framed and matted Vietnam photos. The menu is simple, with a few sandwiches, noodle dishes and rice bowls, hardly a dozen items all told.

I ordered the grilled pork sandwich ($7), cajun fries ($4) and a peach lychee tea ($3.50) and took a seat. The fries came out first and merited their own tray. They were delicious, with chunks of roasted garlic, and plentiful. They’d have made a meal on their own or have been good for sharing. My sandwich was ready as I was polishing off the fries, and at that point I almost didn’t need the sandwich anymore. But I ate it anyway, of course.

It was a banh mi, for those who know their Vietnamese food, but not named as such: grilled pork on a roll with carrots, daikon, cucumber and cilantro, and likewise delicious. And the tea tasted strongly of peach.

I’d return here as the noodle and rice dishes — including garlic noodles or rice with chicken, pork, bulgogi or shrimp — also sounded appealing. The hip-hop radio station was turned up a bit loud, though. Nguyen’s has locations in Costa Mesa and Orange. Surprisingly, Nguyen’s is the second Vietnamese restaurant in that corner of the Spectrum. Pho Grand is just across the patio.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Poke Bistro

Poke Bistro,  11819 Foothill Blvd. (at Rochester), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. except Sunday, closed; also at 2570 S. Vineyard Ave., Ontario

A former newsroom colleague used to talk up Poke Bistro, saying it was a little different than most poke restaurants, with a more Hawaiian touch. As often happens, it took me a year or two to get around to trying a recommended restaurant. I guess I’m (wait for it) poky. Anyway, I met a friend for lunch at Poke Bistro, in Rancho Cucamonga’s Masi Plaza, in mid-December.

The interior is rather minimalist, for good or bad, but the service was friendly, with the man behind the counter going over the menu and offering suggestions.

We each got bowls ($10). Mine, above, had Hawaiian tuna, spiny tuna, spicy salmon, plus cucumber, ginger, seaweed and wasabi. His, below, had Hawaiian tuna, Hawaiian salmon, scallops, cucumber and seaweed. We each got a sparkling grapefruit soda, which was delicious and provided a sharp contrast to the fish.

Aside from the Hawaiian-marinated salmon and tuna mentioned above, the menu has udon and ramen bowls and a shrimp tempura burrito, an interesting-sounding cultural mashup. So, it’s still a poke place, a trend that’s probably peaked, but Poke Bistro isn’t bad.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email