Restaurant of the Week: Big D’s Burgers

Big D’s Burgers, 135 E. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

For a brief spell the three main restaurants in a two-block stretch of 2nd Street were hamburger parlors, which was kind of a drag. Big D’s, which has a location in Whittier, was the latest, joining Burger House and the Rookery. But Burger House has closed, leaving a more manageable two burger specialists.

I hadn’t been to Big D’s due to the overkill factor, and because I like the Rookery, but with the path clearer, two friends and I gave it a shot recently at lunchtime.

It’s the first business on the east side of Garey and in recent years has cycled through a crab restaurant, a sushi restaurant and two pizza restaurants. As before, it’s got exposed brick walls, a high ceiling and a deep layout, with patio seating at the sidewalk.

In recent years it’s been a party spot rather than a serious restaurant, catering to the club and concert crowd, and nothing wrong with that. I’m always up for a good burger.

I got the shroom burger ($11) with Swiss and fries ($2), someone else got the patty melt ($11), which comes on parmesan sourdough, and the third got a chicken caesar salad ($9). None of us were blown away, but our food was fine, and the server was nice. My expectations were low, and they were exceeded.

Besides 10 burgers, the menu has four salads, fish and chips, a couple of sandwiches and a hot dog. Oh, and unless my eyes deceived me, you can get a $12 milkshake. Has anyone had one? At that price, I hope it’s sharing size.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Pueblo Meat Market

El Pueblo Meat Market, 13218 6th St. (at D), Chino; open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

I pass carnicerias in many of our cities, like El Tarasco in Rancho Cucamonga near Red Hill Coffee Shop, or Mi Mercadito in Pomona, without ever going in. But after a recommendation from a (*cough*) highly placed law enforcement figure in Chino, I gave El Pueblo a try. It’s across from City Hall and the old police headquarters and courthouse.

Downtown Chino, such as it is, is light on places to eat. A couple of times now while attending council meetings, I’ve needed a quick bite and walked over to El Pueblo. They have some grocery and convenience items, but largely it’s a butcher shop, plus a counter for ordering food to go. They sell tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, menudo and a few more items.

My first visit I had an al pastor torta (price forgotten, but around $6). This was consumed on a bench outside the council chambers in near-darkness in January. It hit the spot.

And this month, on a summer evening after a meeting ended early, I got an asada burrito ($6), then walked it over to Aguiar Square, the plaza behind the Children’s Museum, to eat. A fountain is circled by amphitheater-type seating, but a transient was there talking to himself, and sitting near him might have resulted in getting hit up for the money I’d saved by eating a cheap dinner. So I took a spot on a bench elsewhere in the plaza.

The burrito was okay, nothing special, but filling. On Yelp, someone gripes that they mix the steak with ground beef, which I can’t say is true, but which might be true. The torta was a better choice. Even better might have been the taco Tuesday special, which I noticed too late: three chicken tacos for $3.

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Restaurant of the Week: Project Pie

Project Pie, 4711 Chino Hills Parkway (at Ramona), Chino Hills; open daily

I noticed Project Pie a year ago while heading to another restaurant within the Commons shopping center. Initially disappointed it was a pizzeria rather than a pie shop, I was open to trying it sometime. A year later, meeting a friend for lunch and a movie, Project Pie came to mind.

It’s another fast-fired pizza place, where your food is cooked in about two minutes. Project Pie has only a few locations; oddly, its website lists three (Chula Vista, Eastlake and Carlsbad) and doesn’t cite Chino Hills. Thankfully I took photos or I might wonder if I imagined the whole meal.

One eye-catching part of the interior is a long wall of quotes, great and small. They seem random, but they can be fun to read. (Pieology is the inspiration here, although its are typeset rather than seemingly hand-written.)

The menu is pizza (most are $9) and salads ($4.50 to $8.50). You can build your own pizza, or choose from the pre-selected options, most of which are white pies, without tomato sauce.

I got the No. 4: sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, parmesan and garlic. Its crust was crisp and charred, more so than at other such places. While I still prefer Blaze to its competitors, including Pieology, Project Pie was among the better ones I’ve tried.

My friend got a spinach salad (spinach, feta, bacon, mushrooms, red onions and honey mustard dressing) and added sunflower seeds. “This salad is unbelievably delicious,” she said. “It’s got so many goodies in it.”

That completed our lunch project at Project Pie.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cream

Cream, 960 Ontario Mills Drive (at Rochester), Ontario; open daily, noon to 11 p.m. (midnight Fridays and Saturdays)

Cream is said to be an acronym for Cookies Rule Everything Around Me; the first opened in Berkeley in 2010. One came to the Ontario Mills area in 2016, sharing space in a building with a Noodle World Jr. across Rochester from the Edwards 22.

I had meant to try it at the time but forgot the whole thing until Tuesday, when I met a friend for lunch at Rubio’s (which has a new name, Rubio’s Coastal Grill, and new menu since the last time I ate at one; it’s an improvement, btw) and parked facing Cream. Walking back to my car on a hot afternoon, I decided to hit up Cream before going back to the office.

They have two dozen ice cream flavors and more than a dozen cookies (menu is on the website), with the concept being that while you can get one or the other, you really ought to make your own ice cream sandwich. In real life, the cookies are less blurry than in my photo.

I paired peanut butter twist ice cream with two peanut butter cookies ($4). There’s the option of adding toppings to the sandwich, like chocolate sauce or Nutella, many of them as a drizzle, for another 75 cents, but that sounded messy for eating by hand, so I skipped that step.

The server first warmed the cookies for me — mmmm — and the sandwich made for a nice mid-afternoon treat.

You can get your ice cream in a cone, or get your sandwich with brownies rather than cookies. Also worth noting, it’s vegan-friendly, with two soy ice cream flavors (blueberry and mint chocolate chip) and three vegan cookies, as well as three gluten-free cookies.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sweet Dough Cafe

Sweet Dough Cafe, 360 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Redding ), Upland; open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Saturday

They make cinnamon rolls at Sweet Dough, which is in the Foothills Kitchen incubator in the space that used to have Bert and Rocky’s. It’s a walk-in operation with limited seating. Most people evidently want to eat their cinnamon rolls out of sight, maybe with the container open on their lap, where they can huddle over it in privacy.

At any given time the display case probably has eight rolls, but the full list is 50, and the staff says it’s more like 80. The basic rolls are $4, with specialty rolls $4.45 or $4.95.

Among the rolls: the Elvis, Butterfinger, caramel macchiato, Snickers, caramel apple, cinnamon horchata, maple, salted caramel and Nutella butter cookie.

I’ve had the Valencia orange, the original cinnamon and one that was more clearly a dessert than a breakfast item, the peanut butter and chocolate. They’re pictured below in that order.

These are proportionately like cupcakes, but bigger, rather than disc-shaped. I liked them, the first two more than the more elaborate peanut butter and chocolate, which may be more a reflection of my no-frills taste than commentary on the rolls themselves. One thing’s for sure, Sweet Dough’s orange beat Pillsbury by a mile.

The staff is friendly, particularly the woman I believe is the owner. Her young son helped ring me up on my last visit.

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Restaurant of the Week: Grizzly’s Biscuits and Donuts

Grizzly’s Biscuits and Donuts, 353 W. Bonita Ave. (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It’s the first place in the Village to sell fresh doughnuts (newspapers’ preferred spelling, btw) in this century. Grizzly’s opened in April and was an immediate hit, because: doughnuts. Also because: good doughnuts.

It’s from the team that brought us Pappas Artisanal in La Verne, one of the area’s better dining options. Grizzly’s sells small-batch doughnuts, about six styles per day, from $2 to $3.50, plus biscuit sandwiches from $7 to $9. They use choice ingredients, some of them locally sourced, like Chino eggs, and good for them.

Doughnuts first: I’ve had the glazed, chocolate raised, vanilla crumb, raspberry Nutella, apple fritter and strawberry rhubarb fritter. They got off to a good start with me because the glazed was still warm. There is nothing like a warm doughnut, when the icing is still gooey. Grizzly’s doughnuts are less sweet than we’re used to, but they have more flavor. The only one of the above I wouldn’t get again is the vanilla crumb; the crumbs largely fell off onto the bag as I ate.

Now, biscuits? An unexpected concept — do people go out for biscuits? — but in sandwich form, these are worth trying. I’ve had the Harper (cheddar, sunny side egg, roasted onions, garlic aioli) and the Baseline (bacon, cheddar, sunny side egg, roasted onions, garlic aioli, pictured below), both of which were very good as well as filling, the sort of breakfast that keeps you going past lunchtime. Plain biscuits are $2 each.

An editor here got the Le Monde (egg whites, mushrooms, roasted onions, spinach, swiss cheese, chickpea garlic sauce) and was both wowed and relieved our office isn’t next door.

That said, one Claremont loyalist put off by the pricing told me she’d rather get one of Some Crust’s famous egg sliders for a couple of bucks less, and if you just want a dozen doughnuts for the office, you might be better off going to Yum Yum for a wider variety at a cheaper price. (Or to Cake Among Us in Rancho Cucamonga.) But if you’re the foodie type, Grizzly’s is the best spot this side of Glendora’s Donut Man.

There’s limited seating. Also, you may find a line out the door, especially after my colleague Liset Marquez’s feature story on the business a few days ago, but don’t be deterred: Because the doughnuts are displayed right inside the door, any time there’s more than, say, three customers, one of them will be outside. Good marketing.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizza ‘N Stuff

Pizza ‘N Stuff, 1532 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily

I was meeting a friend for lunch at the Vons center a few weeks ago, with a Mexican restaurant our destination. But then it turned out to be closed that day. So we went next door to Pizza ‘N Stuff instead.

I’d been there a couple of times, but it had been a few years, and might even have been before this blog started. In other words, having a chance to write about Pizza ‘N Stuff was a good fallback.

It’s been in business since 1977 — 40 years! — and under the same owners since 1982 — 35 years! Congratulations to them. Their menu has pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and an array of pasta dishes. Don’t confuse them with Claremont’s similarly named Pizza n’ Such, although it’s easy to do.

That lunch, I got a mini pizza with one topping (anchovies) and salad ($8.35). The pizza was cheesy, not bad, but not distinctive. My friend had an Italian beef sandwich ($6.35) plus a side salad ($4). He said the salad was “overdressed and overcheesed,” but he did like the sandwich, even if he’s had better.

I felt like going back to try the pasta and made a point of going in for dinner one evening. I got the linguini with white clam sauce, a la carte with garlic bread ($12.75); as a dinner ($14.65) you would get soup or salad plus a dish of ice cream, but that was more than I wanted. The dish was generous with the clams and tasty.

The seating is interesting. There are tables and booths that get a lot of natural light from the windows, but then there’s a warren of high-backed wooden booths that are fairly intimate, with dimmer lighting. Service was friendly on both visits, and the man at the cash register, probably one of the owners, had a nice touch with everyone, newcomers and longtime customers alike.

While I can’t say I was wowed by Pizza ‘N Stuff, it’s low-key and family-owned, I liked it well enough, and they’re obviously doing something right.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mariscos el Puerto

Mariscos el Puerto, 5599 Riverside Drive (at 13th), Chino; open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Years ago I ate Mexican food in a quaint 1920s-style gas station in Petaluma, where the seating was outdoors by the old pumps. In Chino, there’s a Mexican restaurant inside a ’60s or ’70s Texaco service station, the kind where they might have sold you candy bars, checked your fluids and put your car up on the rack for Murph to take a look-see.

A couple of foodie friends in Pomona tipped me off to Mariscos el Puerto, which specializes in food from Ensenada, largely seafood. They both liked their meals, and one later urged me: “You gotta try the gas station. It seems so wrong, but it’s so right.”

So I made a special trip and met a Chino friend for lunch. After four taquerias cycled through the building in five years, Mariscos el Puerto took it over three years ago, a sign it’s got staying power. While the gas pumps and canopy are gone, the building still resembles a gas station from the street.

Inside, you wouldn’t know it, at least not in the dining area. You order at a counter that might be original. Otherwise, it’s just a restaurant, one with colorful wall-filling murals of undersea scenes, and no Slurpee machine in sight.

I got a fish taco ($1.75), a shrimp taco ($2.29) and a limonade ($2), the latter ladled from a jug on the counter and pleasantly pulpy. The tacos were crunchy and very good. Presumably, to live up to their building’s heritage, they change the oil frequently.

My friend got a ceviche tostada ($3) and a taco. Her verdict? “Cheap. Cheap and good.”

Mariscos el Puerto is a good place to pull in, if you brake for tacos. Also, the former gas station sells beer and wine, in case you want to — wait for it — get lubricated.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Patron

El Patron, 9269 Utica Ave. (at Sixth), Rancho Cucamonga; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends

El Patron has spawned a second location, El Patron II, in La Verne. I tried to eat there recently but unfortunately chose a Monday, the only day it’s closed. A few days later, I went to the older one in Rancho Cucamonga. Who can judge the sequel without having seen the original?

It was in a business park and hard to find, but the key is that El Patron faces 6th, not Utica. The facade is biz park bland, but open the door and you’re hit with bright colors, as the walls are painted mustard, maroon and orange. (Your color wheel may differ.)

I took a seat, examined the menu and was delivered chips and salsa. I asked the server about the specialties and he pointed to menu items 6 (chile relleno, taco or enchilada) and 7 (chile relleno, taco AND enchilada). I went for No. 6 ($10), with a hard shell shredded beef taco.

This proved to be a great choice. While I’m not a big fan of chile rellenos, this was a good one, smothered in green sauce, and the taco was freshly fried, something you don’t see all that often. It made me think of Ramon’s Cactus Patch and the Mitla Cafe.

I could see El Patron becoming an occasional lunch stop for me as it’s not that far from our office and the food is very good, with friendly but low-key service. Now I feel prepared for El Patron II. By the way, readers say the same family runs Los Jarritos in Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ

Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ, 7373 East Ave. (at Base Line), Fontana; open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily and 8 p.m. weekends; closed Tuesdays

I read about Bigg Dane’s in late 2015 but only recently sought it out, after 1) remembering and then 2) learning it’s on the near side of Fontana, off the 15 at Base Line Road, a stone’s throw from Rancho, rather than a few further miles out of the way. Actually getting to Bigg’s from the freeway is tricky due to the layout of the intersection, but a couple of counter-intuitive left turns and I was in the shopping center.

There’s a smoker out front, a good sign; inside, you order at the counter and take a seat in the adjacent dining room. The menu has plates with two sides, sandwiches with one side and a few lunch specials. My first visit, I ordered brisket with collard greens and cornbread ($15).

My food was delivered on a metal tray lined with paper: two long strips of brisket, sauce on the side, a plate of cornbread and a dish of greens. It was all good.

Wanting to try the ribs, I returned the next week for the three-rib lunch special ($10) with one side, mac and cheese. The mac was dense and cheesy.

As soon as I picked up the first rib, its heft, density and smell let me know these were serious. The meat was tender but firm and came off the bone cleanly; the taste was excellent. I am no barbecue expert, but I’ve eaten at Franklin’s in Austin, Pappy’s in St. Louis and Bludso’s in L.A., and while Biggs’ weren’t at that level, nor would I expect them to be, they were reminiscent of that level. The ribs have a dry rub and don’t need sauce, and yet the thin, slightly sweet sauce on the side was quite good too.

The dining room is clean and new, a little sterile due to minimal decor. I was surprised how unoccupied it was given the quality of the food. Maybe it’s busier on the weekend. Owned by two longtime friends, it’s a family-run operation, and on one visit a young daughter was stationed at a table, coloring. Gotta like a place like that.

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