Restaurant of the Week: Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken

Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken, 13865 City Center Drive (The Shoppes), Chino Hills; open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays

I learned about Hotties from The New Diner blog; he doesn’t eat chicken, but he liked the mac and cheese. Me, I’ll eat almost anything, even in far-away Chino Hills. My interest was further stirred when the LA Times Food section had a mention of the shop, owned by Michael Pham and John Park, and alleged lines out the door in a piece about the Nashville hot chicken craze.

In Chino Hills for a recent assignment, I decided to eat lunch before heading to the office and remembered I wanted to visit Hotties. It’s in the Shoppes at Chino Hills outdoor mall, near Pinkberry (there are still Pinkberry shops, evidently) and a chicken wing’s throw from Barnes & Noble.

There was no line on a Wednesday right after opening, but the restaurant is small enough that if there were four people in line, it would reach the door. You order at the counter and there is limited seating, a couple of high top tables and a few window seats at a counter. The menu is short: combos with two or three pieces of chicken, two sliders or two tenders, all with fries, plus sides of truffle mac and cheese, fries and slaw.

I went with the two tender combo ($8.50) with hot shake fries, ordering the chicken with mild spice, as opposed to no spice, medium, spicy or fire (the latter has ghost pepper). My meal arrived a few minutes later in a white box with a checkerboard liner.

Inside were two tenders atop a fat slice of white bread, two pickles on top, with crinkle-cut fries seasoned with “Cajun spices,” very good. I alternated between picking up the tenders and cutting them with a knife and fork to eat them along with the bread. They were seasoned just right for my mild tastes with a dusting of cayenne pepper and paprika. The lightly fried skin tended to come off, but it fell into the box, so no harm done.

Having waited in line 2 1/2 hours at Chinatown’s famous Howlin’ Ray’s, the place that started the hot chicken trend in L.A., I can state that the style and presentation closely follow Howlin’ Ray’s, that the food is very good but not up to that level, and that waiting in no line close to home is far superior. There’s a chart at the counter, by the way, that marks the wait time after ordering: 10 minutes, 15, 20, 25 or 30-plus.

If you ordered your food too spicy, Hotties has no desserts, but Afters Ice Cream is across the way. Or there’s Pinkberry almost next door.

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Restaurant of the Week: Guido’s Pizza and Deli

Guido’s Pizza and Deli, 9755 Arrow Highway (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Sundays

Guido’s Pizza and Deli has been around since 1991, always at the same location, Arrow Plaza in Rancho Cucamonga. Namesake owner Guido Sciortino retired in 2014 at age 75 and sold the business to Alex DeGioia and Marisa Furno, who promised to keep the sandwiches, add items from Furno’s native Argentina and restore pizza to the menu after a long absence.

I hadn’t been in since the changeover, but a friend ate there and told me he’d liked it. Some time later, trying to think of a place to have him meet me for lunch, I invited him to Guido’s. He initially had no recollection of having been there, then at my prompting replied, “the place I ate at a couple of years ago?” Personally I’m not sure it had been that long. Anyway, my memory for odd details is sometimes stronger than my memory for the important stuff.

Inside Guido’s, which is dinky, there are a couple of tables, but mostly it’s for takeout. Some Italian and, now, Argentinian grocery items are for sale, just as in the old days. Signs list the old familiar sandwiches, including the Guido and the Tony ($6 each), named for the Sciortino brothers, as well as some Argentinian sandwiches, empanadas ($2 each) and pizzas.

We got Argentinian sandwiches: the choripa ($6.50) for him, the milanesa ($9.50) for me. His had sausage, chimichurri sauce, lettuce, tomato and cheese; mine had country-fried steak, mustard, lettuce, tomato. mayo and cheese. The milanesa was large enough to hang over the edge of the roll.

Our sandwiches arrived split in half. After finishing our halves about the same time, I suggested we swap the other halves, and we did.

Also, after eating half the milanesa, he said he preferred his choripa. After eating half the choripa, I preferred my milanesa. Maybe swapping wasn’t such a great idea.

His conclusion concerning the meal: “Delicious, super-filling. If I come again I’ll go for the pizza.”

DeGioia, by the way, said Sciortino still makes his homemade sausages, just as he always has, and had just been in the day before.

I returned a week later with a different friend to share a pizza. This wouldn’t have been necessary as it turns out Guido’s also makes personal pizzas at half the size. Well, we got a full ($17) and got a split of the styles: the Putanesca (mozzarella, spicy tomato sauce, anchovies) for my half, the Neopolitan (mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, garlic) for his half.

DeGioia said he makes the best pizza in the Inland Empire. I wouldn’t go that far. But it was a good pizza, substantial, laden with cheese. We both thought it was salty, but we both had anchovy slices, so maybe it was just the anchovy and not the pizza. We each ate 2 1/2 slices of the pizza. I took home three slices and ate one per night the next three nights. That’s a pizza with staying power.

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Restaurant of the Week: Omni Deli

Omni Deli, 402 S. Milliken Ave. (at Brickell), Ontario; open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, closed weekends

Located south of the 10 Freeway in a business park, Omni Deli opened in April. It’s open weekdays only, gearing itself toward nearby businesses, there being no residences nearby. A friend heard about it and suggested we meet up for lunch.

The area doesn’t have much ambiance; the business next door is named Cheap Fingerprints. But the deli is clean and new. Its walls are decorated with B&W photos of generic people enjoying themselves generically, so bland as to be comical.

Omni sells 13 sandwiches, eight kinds of burgers, seven salads, five kinds of pizza, plus breakfast burritos and a half-dozen random entrees, among them hot dogs, buffalo wings, baked zitti and poke bowls. They’re eager to please.

A half-sub is $6, a large is $9. We got half-sandwiches. Above, the Godfather, with roast beef, mozzarella, garlic butter spread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and pepperocini on a roll. He liked the Boar’s Head meat and the toasted roll.

Meanwhile, I had the Italian, with capicola, salami, mortadella, provolone, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and pickles. It was a good sandwich on a soft roll.

If you’re in a certain radius of Omni Deli and like deli sandwiches, you might want to give it a try. And they’re friendly: The woman behind the counter went table to table and offered free ice pops. Like I said, eager to please.

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Restaurant of the Week: House of Fortune

House of Fortune, 13788 Roswell Ave. (at Schaefer), Chino; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Chino Hills is where the Chinese food action is, but there’s spillover to neighboring Chino. House of Fortune, on the east side of the 71 Freeway, is near the Asian food hall Cravings. Also of note: House of Fortune is all vegetarian.

It says so right on the menu.

Actually, almost every dish qualifies as vegan.

I was there for lunch with three friends recently, the ones with whom I get together every quarter or so for a lunch for one of these Restaurant of the Week pieces. Our resident vegan chose the restaurant, saying she’d been here multiple times. The rest of us are omnivores.

We ordered a bunch of items to share. Above: lettuce wraps ($8.25). They did a good job of mimicking chicken. Below, clockwise from rear: crispy oyster mushrooms ($12), veggie meat pancakes ($9.25), veggie meat buns, or “Chinese tacos” ($3.50 each).

These were winners. The pancakes, which were sort of like quesadillas, were my favorite. The veggie buns, similar to ones I had at Lotus Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga except vegetarian, were tasty too. I liked the mushrooms, but they were a bit salty.

We also had clay pot eggplant tofu ($11, above), and veggie chicken fried rice ($9.25, not pictured), which I avoided, as I have an aversion to fried rice with peas and diced carrots. The tofu was OK but was my least favorite.

One of us said the mushrooms were “phenomenal” and the eggplant tofu “surprisingly good.”

Another said of the meal: “Jokey response could be: ‘It didn’t make me a vegan.'” (Since the comment is now on the blog, it’s gone from “could be” to “is.”) He added, more seriously: “Nice to cross the final frontier once in a while and taste the other side.” This is almost certainly the first Restaurant of the Week with a “Star Trek” reference.

So, overall, one of us was wowed, the rest of us were impressed. Let me add, the service was notably good for a Chinese restaurant; our bilingual, or perhaps multilingual, server spoke flawless English and was friendly to boot.

The New Diner blog gave House of Fortune a good writeup last year, btw.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fat Burrito

Fat Burrito, 9608 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Have you had puffy tacos? They’re a specialty in San Antonio, Texas, where I ate them at Ray’s, but they’re rare in SoCal, with Arturo’s Puffy Tacos in Whittier being the prime exemplar. Bar Ama in downtown L.A. makes them, although they’re off-menu; personally, I found them oily and disappointing on a visit earlier (oilier?) this year.

But now comes Fat Burrito, a family owned Tex-Mex restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga that opened last December in what had long been home to the late Chile Red.

Fat Burrito is a good name for a Mexican restaurant. But the specialty is puffy tacos.

On my first visit back in April, a friend got a chicken huarache ($8), seen above. He hadn’t had a huarache before. “That was excellent,” he said after finishing. “I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone.”

I got the puffy tacos ($3.55 each): one al pastor, one chile verde. They come with onions, cilantro, cotija cheese and sour cream. The tortillas puff out, as if the tortilla were an animal in defense mode. These were delicious tacos, and scarcely oily at all.

On a subsequent visit I got carne asada and pollo asado in my puffy tacos (above). I was back this week and got the final two meats: machaca and carnitas. I have completed the Fat Burrito meat circuit.

I’d be hard-pressed, though, to tell you which meat to get. They were all tender and moist. But as a pork fan, I’m partial to the al pastor and chile verde.

You order at the counter, by the way, and take a seat in the small but comfortable dining room. The menu has a couple of other items, including something called a burrito salad, plus standard tacos for $2.25, but that’s about it.

All told, I’ve eaten at Fat Burrito four times so far, and I’m sure I’ll return many more times. Between Fat Burrito and El Patron, Rancho Cucamonga now has a couple of very good Mexican restaurants. (And perhaps more of which I’m unaware.)

On one visit, I tried a burrito. It’s in their name, right? I got chile verde ($9.25). You know, the burritos here are good too, wrapped in flour tortillas, the interior a pleasing mishmash of rice, beans and meat, everything kind of fusing into one filling.

It’s also true, though, that you can get a good burrito plenty of places, but you probably can’t find puffy tacos anywhere else in the Inland Valley. Go for those. You’ll thank me.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pie Hole

The Pie Hole, 12466 N. Mainstreet (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

The Pie Hole, as in “shut your — —-,” specializes in pies by the slice, plus coffee. It began in downtown L.A.’s Arts District in 2011 and has since expanded to Long Beach, Orange, Venice, Glendale and good ol’ Rancho Cucamonga, where a location opened in the Victoria Gardens outdoor mall in 2017. Nice of them to take notice of us fairly early instead of decades from now.

I’ve been to the Arts District shop a few times, where slices are $8, a lot to pay even for an artisanal slice of pie. While I was excited by Pie Hole’s impending arrival in Rancho Cucamonga, I never ended up going. Somehow I was under the impression it was only going to be takeout only, kind of a turnoff, and also I rarely go to the VG.

Earlier this year, after a friend expressed surprise and amusement (as we ate at the Pie Hole in the Arts District) that I hadn’t been to the one in Rancho, I resolved to make a trip soon, and did.

It turns out our Pie Hole is just as full service as DTLA’s. Oops.

It’s got a few tables indoors and out, and floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides that let in a lot of light. Very appealing. The menu has pies, pot pies ($7-$7.50) and breakfast pies ($7), as well as coffee, draft beer and ice cream.

The seasonal pies change, but the current ones include Earl Grey, Mexican Chocolate, banana cream and a few more. One crucial note: slices are $4, half the price of L.A.’s. I like the 909 pricing.

On my first visit, I went with Mom’s Apple Crumble, got it heated and splurged on ice cream for $1.50 more. In other words, $5.49 total, still cheaper than $8. The pie was excellent, loaded with apples, and the ice cream was premium.

I was back a month later and couldn’t resist ordering the Cereal Killer pie. On my Arts District meet-up, one friend got that kind (I had ordered a Blood Orange slice) and while his choice hadn’t struck me as appealing, not being prone to getting, say, doughnuts with cereal on them, the slice actually looked pretty good. So at the VG, I got one.

It’s a cheesecake with bits of cereal inside. The clerk asked what cereal I wanted on top. I forget the choices; maybe Froot Loops or Fruity Pebbles? I went with the more prosaic Frosted Flakes. It was a fun slice, but truth to tell, I’m more of a fruit pie person and having indulged this whim, I doubt I’ll order it again.

But I’m sure I’ll be back to the Pie Hole to fill mine. Sorry it took me so long to visit!

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Restaurant of the Week: Pepo Melo

Pepo Melo, 301 Harvard Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont; open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Taking the place of a Chinese antiques store that never seemed to have any customers and yet hung on for years, Pepo Melo is a hive of activity in the morning, and for all I know at other times of day as well. It specializes in fruit bowls, most of which are vegan, and seems to be a hit with the colleges crowd.

I’ve been there twice so far, starting with an inaugural visit on my birthday, which shows I had confidence in them. I wanted a light breakfast to take me with on the train.

You might remember the building as the Sugar Bowl, a malt shop that was a setting in a “Fugitive” episode of the 1960s. It’s across from the Harvard Square complex that was once the Village Theater.

The Pepo Melo menu is below (click for a larger view), although you can customize your own bowl based on the fruits and toppings that are available. The bowls are made in front of you behind a row of ingredients, like at Chipotle.

I went with the PBB&J ($6, medium), with strawberries, bananas, hemp granola and peanut butter drizzle, plus a $2 fruitade drink, cucumber mint, of the two options. These are made from leftover fruit from the previous day. The drink was refreshing and the cost less than expected.

The bowl was similar to the chunky strawberry bowl at Jamba Juice, a favorite, only without yogurt. It was tasty and had lots of fruit, but was slightly dry.

I returned a month later for an Aww Snap ($9), with ginger, mint, lemon, raspberries and pitaya sorbet base. (It’s supposed to have granola but they were out.) An impressive amount of labor went into this, with the employee slicing mint, grating ginger and cutting a fresh lemon to squeeze. The result had zing. I liked it, although I missed having granola.

Pepo Melo has no seating, but Shelton Park is right across the street, and that’s where I ate the Aww Snap bowl.

According to a story in the Student Life campus newspaper, the owner is a melon broker, Pepo is the scientific name for the flesh of a melon and Melo is one letter shy of melon. I think it’s a nice addition to the Village, although a Claremont friend hooted at the whole idea: “All they sell is fruit bowls? Who’s going to buy that? I don’t give them long.” Hey, I’d have said the same thing about the antiques store!

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Restaurant of the Week: The Spot Cafe, Claremont

The Spot Cafe, 435 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

In a prime location in the same building that houses a Trader Joe’s, the Spot Cafe has been serving up healthy fare for a few years now. I’ve been in a couple of times for breakfast, but it’s never been my (wait for it) spot.

Then a friend offered to meet up for dinner, wanted a salad and suggested the Spot. A look at the menu online revealed that the Spot has a more extensive menu than I’d realized, including a half-dozen salads. It dawned on me that the Village is light on places to get a salad. I used to get one now and then at zPizza, which recently closed.

The Spot also has sandwiches, wraps and more, with smoothies, fresh juices, protein shakes and coffee the specialty. Acai and pitaya bowls and bagels are offered at breakfast. They also make pizza, of sorts, on tortillas. (It’s that kind of place.)

My friend got the grilled chicken salad ($8 for a full), with mixed greens, cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, olives, pepperocinis and balsamic dressing. “The salad was super filling and tasty,” she declared. As for breakfast, “I usually get their bowls, which I love,” she said, saying they’re more filling than the ones at Jamba Juice.

Having had a large lunch, I got a half-size salad: strawberry and spinach ($5.25 half, $7 whole), with cucumber and almonds. OK, more almonds than I’d prefer, but a good salad, enlivened by a light lemon poppyseed dressing.

I also got a regular Amazon acai smoothie ($7), with acai, bananas, strawberries, nonfat yogurt and apple juice.

May I say it hit (wait for it) the spot?

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Restaurant of the Week: Bento Kuma

Bento Kuma, 8796 19th St. (at Carnelian), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily from noon to 7:45 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and to 8:45 p.m. Thursday to Sunday

A friend had been talking up Bento Kuma, a Chinese spot in Rancho Cucamonga that opened last November. He said it’s on his way home and that if he phones in an order when he leaves work, it’s ready for pickup when he arrives. And that he likes it, of course. He invited me and one of his work colleagues to lunch there. Thankfully he didn’t make us take it all to go to his house.

If you think about the name, it’s kind of funny: Bento boxes are Japanese, not Chinese. But they sell some lunch specials as bento boxes — not really in sectioned-off trays, but with a few courses in bowls on a tray.

I got the barbecue pork ($9.50), which came with rice, an egg roll, a cream cheese wonton, orange sections and edamame (which is Japanese). He got the same except with broccoli as well. The other guy got curry chicken ($9) a la carte.

He said the chicken was fresh and had plenty of curry. Our barbecue pork was fatty and not that appealing. The broccoli was said to be crisp.

“We are the only customers,” the invitee noted with accuracy. “In the evening there are definitely people here. People are lined up for takeout orders.”

Personally I see no reason to return, this being a neighborhood spot without a lot to recommend a drive here. But I’m glad he enjoys his takeout.

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Restaurant of the Week: Creme Bakery

Creme Bakery, 116 Harvard Ave. (at 1st), Claremont; open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

Claremont’s had a good bakery going back decades: Hodges, Jensen’s and then Some Crust, perhaps the quintessential Claremont Village business, where you can get not only very good pastries, breakfast sliders and coffee but a sense of Claremont.

Now there’s a second bakery in the Village. Creme opened last September and has quickly established itself as a formidable presence one block east of Some Crust. A frequent customer of the latter, I’ve begun gravitating to Creme.

It’s the product of a retired Whole Foods executive and enthusiastic baker, Erica Hartig Dubreuil. You’ll know right away it’s a French bakery from the genteel atmosphere, the lovely displays and the emphasis on croissants, scones, tarts and baguettes.

The croissants are superb, the slight crust of the exterior yielding to a pliable interior.

The apple danish is lightly crunchy and chewy, with a generous amount of apple.

I’ve also had a cranberry orange scone, dense and sweet, the first item I tried, and a ginger scone. I wouldn’t mind working my way through all the offerings. The only item so far that I’ve been indifferent toward was the vegan blueberry muffin, which stuck to the paper. I do think Some Crust does vegan muffins better.

Morning buns, muffins, scones, cookies and more will face you when you enter. Creme has a few coffees, baguette sandwiches for lunch, a case of elegant tarts and more. Seating is at a long, L-shaped communal sofa with the occasional tiny table. You won’t stay for hours, or bring a group, but you can meet with or bring one or two people, or just sit and people watch or, as I do, read a newspaper.

Is the Claremont Village now popular enough for two bakeries? I hope so, because I love Some Crust, and I’m quickly coming to love Creme too.

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