Restaurant of the Week: Luchador Urban Taqueria

Luchador Urban Taqueria, 341 S. Garey Ave. (at 4th), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Luchador, named for masked Mexican wrestling, opened in December 2018 in the former Papa’s Tacos spot around the corner from the Fox Theater. I had tried Papa’s only once with friends prior to a concert by the National, and we were so hungry, one memorably said, “This is the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had. But I can’t stop eating.”

Luchador, by contrast, is by the chef and owner behind Corazon Urban Kitchen, Sergio Nogueron. He had opened Corazon downtown, then after a spat with his landlord moved it uptown. Corazon closed a few weeks ago. But Luchador seems to be going strong.

I ate there in May, the afternoon of the Alejandro Aranda concert outside the Fox. I forget what I’d wanted, but they were out — it was a busy day, what with the crowds — so I went for the sopesitos, one carnitas, one al pastor, plus a pineapple agua fresca (total $8.23 with tax).

They were delicious and just the right amount of food, filling without weighing me down. There’s not much seating, a couple of tables inside plus a bar. A woman behind me said to her friend about her own meal: “This tastes like what my grandmother would make. My mom’s mom.”

I meant to come back, but it took me a while. Last Saturday, chatting with a friend downtown at Cafe con Libros, we headed over for an impromptu dinner. She’s vegetarian and got taquitos de papa ($8.50); in deference, and also because I’d had steak picado at lunch, I got two veggie tacos ($2.50 each). The restaurant was busy, which was encouraging. We got a sidewalk table. It was too dark to take photos of our food.

My tacos, on handmade tortillas, had poblano and bell peppers, onions, spinach and cactus, an unusual mix (no beans?), but it worked. The taquitos weren’t the typical fried tubes but more like rolled tacos. “They were very good,” she said, impressed. “I thought they might be saturated with grease and crispy. I could taste the potatoes.”

Pomona has a few restaurants in the modern Mexican movement, not the same old stuff (that we love) but with a more creative touch, better ingredients and with multiple vegetarian or vegan options. Many are along Garey: Dia de los Puercos, Borreguitas, Just Vegana, El Jefe and Luchador.

It’s a good trend. And Luchador is a good spot.

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Restaurant of the Week: Kiku Sushi

Kiku Sushi, 3090 Chino Ave. (at Emerald Way), Chino Hills; open 11:30 to 10 p.m. daily

Chino Hills has more good Japanese restaurants than any other Inland Valley city. I tried Kiku Sushi recently; it’s in the same center that has a Harkins 18 cinema and a few so-so restaurants. Kiku means “chrysanthemum.”

A friend and I arrived just as the place opened for lunch, which I say to explain the photo below of a seemingly empty dining room. The restaurant was nearing capacity by the time we left.

Apparently Kiku is known for its all you can eat sushi, but that’s how I (crunch) roll. I just ordered off the sushi menu.

I had albacore ($6.50) and yellowtail ($7.50) nigiri sushi, with large pieces of fish. Unusually, besides the two pieces each on rice, a third piece of each fish was provided. That was new to me, but a nice bonus.

I also got my standby, the salmon skin cut roll ($6). (As the tuna melt is my baseline sandwich, the salmon skin cut roll is my baseline sushi.) Not the best version I’ve had by any means, but acceptable.

My friend got the tonkatsu bowl ($7), a fried pork cutlet over rice. No Japanese food enthusiast, she liked it.

Service via an English-language server was helpful. A giant video screen played YouTube music videos, which was a little tacky. A better touch were the slatted screens over the windows, which muted the light coming in from outside. It’s hard to block out an ocean of asphalt, blinding noontime sun and throngs of people headed for the multiplex a few yards away, but the screens did a commendable job of creating a cozy atmosphere.

Kiku is fairly average as far as Japanese restaurants go in Chino Hills (and some on Yelp say it’s really gone downhill after an ownership change), but I’d go there again for a semi-civilized meal before or after a movie. It’s got to beat Buffalo Wild Wings.

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Restaurant of the Week: Maniac Mike’s Cafe

Maniac Mike’s Cafe, 1749 W 13th St. (at Benson), Upland; open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cable Airport has had a restaurant going back at least to the 1970s, gaining the name Maniac Mike’s in 1999 under new owner Mike Stewart. Like most restaurants at general aviation airports, there’s the food and then there’s the chance to see small planes take off and land, or to just enjoy the ambiance of a low-key airport.

Mike’s closed after a fire and the owner’s death in 2018, as I’ve recounted; it’s reopened in the same family but with a new look. At this writing it’s still in the soft opening phase until the patio can be completed. A friend and I ate lunch there two weeks ago and I may as well file a report on it.

The menu is largely the same as before, with hot and cold sandwiches, pancakes and such. My friend (whose name is Mike, but who is no maniac) ordered the “biplane,” a half-sandwich and soup or chili ($10). He got roast beef, piled four layers high, and chili, which as you can see came with cheese and onions. He washed it all down with a Runway IPA, one of the beers on tap ($6). “It was good diner food,” he said.

I got my baseline sandwich, the tuna melt ($8.55), the one by which I judge a diner. This tuna melt was above the baseline, tasting fresh. I got steak fries as my side; they were OK, but boring, and I left most of them behind.

The airplane kitsch is gone, replaced by handcrafted tables of reclaimed wood, teak paneling, tile and hanging copper lamps. The staff described it as “modern chic.” It’s almost a gastropub look. The patio will triple the seating and should be a popular spot.

The only disappointment, unless the fries count, is that during an hour lunch, only one plane was seen in action. C’mon, pilots, step it up.

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Restaurant of the Week: Doner & Gyros

At Montclair Place mall last month for a morning event, I decided to eat lunch before leaving. A trip up the escalator to the Moreno St. Market food court revealed a new-ish spot, Doner & Gyros.

Gyros are a longtime favorite; it’s typically a mix of lamb and beef, cut from a spit and placed in pita bread. It’s the Greek version of the Turkish doner kebab, which is likewise sliced from a vertical rotisserie. Doner really has been popularized by Berlin, which has a lot of Turkish immigrants and which turned doner into go-to fast-food meal.

Upland had SpireWorks, which didn’t last. Montclair may be the only other Inland Valley city with doner. Intriguingly, Doner & Gyros is based in Dubai, where it has multiple locations, and just two so far in the U.S., with Montclair being the first and Houston the second. (Reader DebB left a comment nine months ago on my SpireWorks writeup saying she’d just been to Doner & Gyros. She is far ahead of me.)

Styles are Chicago gyro, Berlin doner or classic wrap, with beef, chicken or falafel as choices. They also sell salads and bowls.

I got the Doner Grand ($9), which was the Berlin style, as a combo ($3.25) with fries and a soda. The food was ready after a moderate wait.

The pocket-like bread was similar to SpireWorks but otherwise unlike any pita bread I’ve ever had, thicker and chewier with rough edges. The gyro meat came alongside lettuce, tomatoes and onions. It was perfectly acceptable, although to be honest I ate it without really thinking about it. The flavors just didn’t stand out to me. It’s possible the halal meat didn’t have a lot of flavor or simply that I was too hungry to care. But give the sandwich this, it disappeared soon enough. The double-fried fries were crispy and pretty good.

Unusually, an employee (the manager?) came out to the communal seating area and checked her customers. She asked me what I thought and if I had any recommendations. I didn’t have any ideas, but as a customer I was a little surprised to be asked.

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Restaurant of the Week: Taste of Sumatra

Taste of Sumatra, 1490 Foothill Blvd. (at Grove), Upland; open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Monday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday

Indonesian food is represented locally, but you have to know where to look. I was aware of only Cross Court Cafe in Pomona (located inside a badminton club) and Java Bistro in Rancho Cucamonga. Then a friend tipped me to Taste of Sumatra, open since May 2018 in a service center in Upland at Grove and Foothill. He said his Indonesian-American wife approved.

It took me a while to get there, in part because of the funky schedule: closed Tuesday and Wednesday. But eventually I made it in for lunch on a Monday. (The owners must be those rare souls who think, “Thank God it’s Monday.”)

It’s sparsely decorated, and of course the menu is full of unfamiliar combinations of vowels and consonants, but there are descriptions, not always complete concerning ingredients, plus photos on a page of “popular dishes.”

My friend had the nasi padang ($12, pictured above), a combo with chicken, beef rendang (a type of curry), potatoes with yellow curry, a spicy hard-boiled egg and rice. He liked the chicken and the egg, didn’t like the curry, while saying he’s not really a fan.

I had the kwetiau goreng medan ($12), the Indonesian equivalent of the Thai staple pad see ew, with flat rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, egg and green onions. I liked it.

It’s always inspiring to see mom and pop restaurants like Taste of Sumatra that satisfy a small niche we might not know existed out here in suburbia.

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Restaurant of the Week: Chapala Restaurant

Chapala Restaurant, Bar and Grill, 1542 W. Holt Blvd. (at Benson), Ontario; open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., except Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

You could date your longevity here by whether you know the low, long building at Benson and Holt as Last Round, or Las Playas, or Antonio’s, the latter of which occupied the corner for a few decades until the mid-’00s. The latest restaurant and bar is Chapala.

I learned of its existence from a rare mention of an Inland Valley restaurant in the Times food section’s news briefs column. The paragraph cited Chapala’s ceviche towers, tortas ahogadas, birria de res and handmade tortillas, plus mariachis on Friday and Saturday. To be clear, the Times didn’t visit; the mention was merely a rehash of a news release.

Still, I was impressed by the savvy of a local restaurant able to insert itself into the Times. So when a small group wanted lunch in Ontario, I chose Chapala. It’s named for a city in the Mexican state of Jalisco by a lake, accounting for the restaurant’s lighthouse logo.

The building has two halves, a restaurant side and a bar side. We checked out both and both were empty at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, perhaps not the best sign. We were seated in the bar area. I counted nine TVs, so it’s probably a fun place to unwind after work and watch sports.

Two had shrimp tacos ($2 each), said to be “all right” but served on cold tortillas. Handmade, but cold. Someone else got carne asada tacos ($1.55 each), which he said were “good.”

I had a chicharron torta ($6.75), decent but unexceptional.

The asada guy also got a shrimp cocktail ($13). He said the shrimp had been frozen and thawed in the cup, which might have accounted for the watery cocktail sauce.

Perhaps we came at the wrong time and ordered all the wrong things. But for what we experienced, Chapala was disappointing. On the bright side, we weren’t disturbed by the conversation of other diners.

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Restaurant of the Week: H. Salt Fish & Chips, Chino

H. Salt Fish & Chips, 12461 Central Ave. (at Walnut), Chino; open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. except Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.

Last Saturday I had to be in Chino for a 1 p.m. event and thought I’d find a good spot for lunch beforehand. But I was hung up at home washing clothes — ah, the bachelor life — and didn’t get to Chino until almost 12:30. I didn’t know of an interesting place downtown that I hadn’t tried, so I gave up and pulled into a shopping center to the reliable New York Pizzeria, where I could get a quick lunch.

Then across the parking lot I spotted an H. Salt Fish & Chips. For the novelty of it, I went there instead.

There aren’t many H. Salts left. In 2017 when the one in Upland was closing, I wrote about that. The Upland interior still had a bunch of aging, original decor with Tube maps and Big Ben photos. Chino’s is a little newer, maybe from the ’80s, and utilitarian. Like Upland, the owners here are Asian. The menu has fish and chips, clams, shrimp and a few more items.

I got the London Special ($5.65), two pieces of battered cod plus fries, plus a 20-oz. bottle of soda ($2).

The food came out in a few minutes, piping hot. The thick, stiff batter is not what your better fish and chips places would use, of course, but if you like H. Salt, and miss H. Salt, the food here will be to your liking. The crinkle-cut fries were fine. And lunch for $8.24 was easy on the wallet.

On Wednesday, by the way, a reader phoned asking if the couple from the Upland H. Salt ever found a new location. I had to tell him no, not to my knowledge. But maybe Chino will be an acceptable substitute.

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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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