Restaurant of the Week: Elvira’s Mexican Grill, Claremont

Elvira’s Mexican Grill, 415 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Indian Hill), Claremont

Elvira’s, which has become a popular spot in Upland, opened a second location this year in Claremont in the Old School House complex. A friend and I checked it out recently for lunch. (It’s pronounced “El-veer-uh,” btw.)

I’m a fan of the one in Upland and had been to Claremont’s for a take-out order of flan for an office farewell party. That gave me a couple of minutes to admire the decor. It may be the most upscale Mexican restaurant in the area, with Gloria’s in downtown Ontario in the running. Except the food at Elvira’s is superior.

The main dining room has a soaring ceiling, exposed wood beams, two chandeliers, original paintings and niches to display pottery. Even the hallway to the restrooms has art. There’s a bar area and an expansive patio.

The Old School House is the former Claremont High School. The restaurant is the former library, sans enormous drapes, according to my friend, an alumni. He says the first restaurant was Casa Ramon, then Casa de Salsa, which vacated in 2014. As the space was renovated, some great exterior features such as statuary over the entrance and education-themed panels on the outside wall were revealed and incorporated.

Since I’ve talked up the food at the Upland location, I’m saying less about that here. It’s a nice sit-down spot. My friend got the enchiladas suizas and I had the chile verde burrito (each $13.50). “They were really excellent,” my friend said when done, also praising the guacamole. If you get an order of guacamole, they make it tableside.

I enjoyed my burrito. Now, I could have had a burrito of comparable quality for under half the price at a beat-up, quick-serve place and been perfectly happy, but you’re paying for service and ambience. Service was friendly and attentive, and the ambience couldn’t be beat. Also, the salsa was really good.

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Restaurant of the Week: Stonefire Grill

Stonefire Grill, 10680 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Spruce), Rancho Cucamonga

Stonefire Grill opened in June in the long-closed On the Border restaurant building at Terra Vista Town Center in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s one of nine current locations around Southern California, with the next-nearest one in Pasadena.

A friend and I went in for lunch recently. It was bustling, that’s for sure. You order at what you might have expected to be a greeter station, at one of two registers. So you get a kind of McDonald’s or Panera vibe, except for the higher price points.

They sell sandwiches, salads, barbecue, pizza, pasta and more. (See menu.) I’m a little suspicious of places with such a broad menu.

Despite the lunchtime line, the staffer who took our orders was friendly. On the counter to tempt us were the largest brownies I’ve ever seen, square slabs about the size of a grilled cheese sandwich, but thicker. We demurred.

After ordering, you fetch your drink, as well as plates and silverware, and find a seat in the sprawling dining room. Why take a plate? It turns out your food is delivered on a metal platter, like a pizza pan.

I got a “meal,” which comes with a salad or side, ordering mesquite BBQ tri-tip and baby back ribs, plus a salad ($16.60). My friend got the All American Burger ($7.50) and a bowl of chicken tortilla soup ($3.50), which he asked to be brought out at the same time as my salad.

My salad arrived, and then when my platter arrived, he got his soup and burger at the same time (sigh).

He said the soup had jack cheese, avocado and plenty of chicken, that his burger was better than fast food if not to a gourmet burger level and that the salt and pepper potato chips reminded him of the ones at the Buffalo Inn, “back when there was a Buffalo Inn” (another reason to sigh).

My ribs had a good bark, matching Lucille’s but not Famous Dave’s (or Bigg Dane and Beale’s), and the tri-tip, which I ordered medium rare, was soft and buttery.

Oh, and at least with the meal, you get a free basket of breadsticks, which made me think I was at a higher-class Olive Garden.

I’m a little mixed on the experience and probably would like the place better if there was table service instead of the DIY, cafeteria feel. But the food was a little above average. So, overall, not bad.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Buen Gusto

El Buen Gusto, 360 N. Park Ave. (at Center), Pomona; open daily, 10:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.; cash only; second location at 990 E. Holt (at Reservoir)

Reader Helen Uceda recommended El Buen Gusto to me possibly three years ago (ulp), seconded by a friend of mine, and the restaurant was dutifully added to my list of places to try around the region. Time passed, as it does, until recently I scanned the list and I made a point of finding the restaurant, which I didn’t believe I had ever noticed despite it being on the fringes of downtown Pomona.

But there it was when I looked for it, in a nondescript building alongside a barber and a botanica with its own tarot reader. I parked around the corner and stepped inside for a late lunch.

Even after 3 p.m., there were a few customers inside the modest restaurant. You order in the lobby at the window, where they also dispense takeout orders. I asked the employee, who might have been an owner, what people ordered, and she listed a few items — pupusas, fajitas and beef soup are the ones I recall — while saying the pork, cheese and bean pupusas were the most popular.

I got two of those — they’re known as revueltas — and a guanabana agua fresca. She said I could pay upon leaving.

There are two small adjoining dining rooms, probably evidence the restaurant has expanded into the next door space. An El Salvador flag is displayed in one window. A Spanish-language program played silently on a TV. After a while my food was delivered: a plate of two thick, pancake-like pupusas, plus a bowl of a vinegary slaw to use as topping.

I’ve had pupusas a handful of times. These might be my favorite, stuffed, delicious and filling. The guanabana drink was sweet but light, a good combination.

The bill: $8. That’s hard to beat.

El Buen Gusto may not be much to look at, but the food is good and the staff polite. I should have tried them three years ago.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bert and Rocky’s Cream Co.

Bert and Rocky’s Cream Co., 242 Yale Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Ice cream and candy shop Bert and Rocky’s started in Upland in 1989 and expanded to Claremont in the late 1990s; the Upland location, by the high school, has closed, leaving the Claremont shop as the mainstay.

It’s a popular spot with a lot of foot traffic, great homemade ice cream and a community-oriented outlook with school fund-raisers and the like.

I’ve gone to Bert and Rocky’s since its Village location opened — not frequently, but probably once a year. It wasn’t until meeting a friend there during October’s heat wave that it occurred to me to make it a Restaurant of the Week.

They’ve got a couple dozen ice cream flavors, plus sorbet and other non-dairy permutations, at any given time, available as cones (their waffle cones are housemade), dishes, sundaes, banana splits, freezes and milkshakes.

I went for Butterfingers and cream in my go-to size, junior scoop ($3.45). Seems plenty big to me.

Bert and Rocky’s also has fudge, bark, caramel apples, chocolate-dipped items, scooped candy and nostalgic packaged candy like Necco wafers. There are a few tables, a bar, some outdoor chairs and, on most afternoons, a crush of customers — but also a friendly and patient staff.

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Restaurant of the Week: Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, Rubidoux

Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, 5749 Mission Blvd. (at Riverview), Rubidoux; open daily, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; cash only

Only three Donahoo’s chicken locations remain, I believe: Ontario, Pomona and Rubidoux, which is just west of Riverside. The chain’s history isn’t well-documented, which I’ll have to rectify sometime, but there used to be more locations around the state.

I’ve been to Ontario once or twice and to Pomona dozens of times, which is more a reflection of where I am when I want takeout rather than the relative quality. I’d never been to or seen the one in Rubidoux, but it was in my mind to try it one day.

That day came last Saturday, when I drove to Riverside for the afternoon. I ended my day at Donahoo’s, taking Mission west out of town and pulling up to Donahoo’s, in a standalone little building with what must be an original 1950s-’60s sign. It was kind of adorable. There’s only a couple of parking spaces, but the lot next door is good too since you won’t be there long.

It’s takeout only, just like the other Donahoo’s. I got the chicken strips box lunch ($7.55), which came with five pieces, a small salad, a roll and fries. They cook the chicken to order and it was ready in 10 minutes, handed over in a brown cardboard box inside a plastic bag. I got on the 60 Freeway when it met Mission at Valley View, headed home and ate there.

It was a different meal than Pomona: crinkle-cut fries, which they also do in Ontario and which are the original style, rather than the Pomona steak fries; a green salad, rather than slaw or macaroni as in Pomona; and a different, lighter batter for the chicken. It tended to slip off the chicken, which was disconcerting, but the taste was good. I liked the fries and roll; the iceberg salad was meh.

I ate half the meal that night and saved the other half for lunch the next day. Not bad for $7.55.

I would return, but probably won’t, given there are closer Donahoo’s, but I’m glad I went and am glad this one is still around. And yes, like Pomona but unlike Ontario, there’s a rooster on the roof.

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Restaurant of the Week: Schaefer’s Food N Drinks

Schaefer’s Food N Drinks, 6939 Schaefer Ave. (at Euclid), Chino; open 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Schaefer’s opened over the summer, and a source at City Hall soon recommended the tacos. A few weeks later, when I was in Chino for my book talk, a friend brought up Schaefer’s and said it was a burger place. Realizing it was lunchtime, I decided to head over.

It’s in a new Stater Bros. center large enough to have several other eateries and businesses. Across Schaefer to the north are crops, and in fact the whole area is caught in an interesting transition, with a lot of empty land, some new tract homes and some farmland. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Schaefer’s is a new venture by Joe and Angie Guillen, who did catering for 30 years before opening a restaurant, according to a story posted inside. It’s a sit-down restaurant with a full bar and which features “from-scratch recipes,” a sign proclaims.

The menu has burgers and Mexican food, which is how it could be described as specializing in either, plus salads, sandwiches and a full breakfast menu that includes menudo. That first visit, I had the Frisco burger, one-third pound on parmesan cheese bread ($12), very good, plus thick-cut fries. It was very filling.

Figuring I should give the other half of the equation a try, I returned for a carne asada burrito ($7.50) on a lunch break. The lunch pricing means you get a drink, in my case an iced tea, for only $1 more. That’s a good deal. The burrito was rather light on the carne asada and I wasn’t impressed. But that’s okay. I think Schaefer’s is a winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Frary Dining Hall, Pomona College

Fray Dining Hall, Pomona College, 347 E. 6th St., Claremont; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with afternoon breaks

I’ve made a slow circuit of the dining halls of the Claremont Colleges, hitting Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Scripps over the past few years. Since they’re open to the public, they’re fair game for a Restaurant of the Week.

The food at all the above is pretty good and varied too, with potentially more vegetarian and vegan options than many restaurants, thanks to the ethical, philosophical and gastronomic attitudes of the college population. And the chance to mix in a collegiate environment may be a nostalgic experience for post-collegians. The dining is almost certainly better than you remembered.

Pomona College’s Frary Hall (hours and menus here) is the granddaddy of the dining halls, opened as it was in 1929. I went there for lunch recently with two friends, one of them a colleges employee.

The environment is the best of the dining halls, a grand space with cream walls, dark wood and a soaring, arched ceiling. It’s the Hogwarts of the Inland Valley. (A Potter fan might really like a meal here.) And you get to see the “Prometheus” mural by Jose Clemente Orozco.

My friend said Frary has the worst food of all the colleges. And the choices that day did not inspire: not one but two nacho bars (if there was a difference, we failed to discern it), pizza and dim sum. Meanwhile, over at Pitzer, they were feasting on blackened pork loin with nectarine avocado salsa and broccoli.

We had nachos and dim sum, which consisted of vegetable spring rolls, pork siew mai, cha su bao and meatless Hoisin meatballs, with three dipping sauces.

It was all acceptable, and washed down with papaya mango iced tea. Dessert offerings consisted of cookies and fried cheesecake. I’ve seen soft serve, hand-scooped premium ice cream, brownies, pastries and more at other colleges. As the president might tweet about the photo below: “Sad!”

Still, for $14 for a visitor, the price for an all-you-can-eat buffet is all right, and the quality beats the inedible Hometown Buffet by a mile. But Frary might be due for an upgrade.

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Restaurant of the Week: Guadalajara Bakery

Guadalajara Bakery, 4727 Riverside Drive (at Yorba), Chino; open daily, 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

A friend who was making an informal survey of local panaderias scored Guadalajara Bakery fairly high. Two years later, this fact clicked in on a morning in which I had to drive to central Chino. So I headed to the Stater Bros. Plaza to find the bakery.

It’s a small place with three bakery cases. At mid-morning, I was the lone customer at that particular moment. I grabbed tongs and a tray and picked up six items. Cost: a mere $5.05. The nice woman behind the counter rounded the bill down to $5.

Unusually, some of the decor is vintage Coca-Cola items. The woman told me the bakery has been there 16 years. As I left, another customer entered.

Back at the office, I laid out the pan dulce expectantly. It turns out I’d picked a day when literally nobody was in the newsroom but me. So much for my heroic effort. Later an editor came in and had half a pastry. I ate a couple and took the rest home, polishing them off the next two mornings.

Not bad for five bucks.

My friend, it turned out upon a rereading of his recommendation, had said Guadalajara was essentially a solid middle-of-the-road panaderia, one to use as a baseline from which to judge ones worse and better. I don’t have a lot of experience with panaderias, so that’s good to know. I had found Guadalajara Bakery perfectly good but not amazing, which may mean my tastes are in line. But besides being good, it’s friendly. Also, according to Yelp, they have tamales.

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Restaurant of the Week: Jack’s Urban Eats

Jack’s Urban Eats, 7811 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Victoria Gardens earlier this year gained a Jack’s Urban Eats, a self-described “urban cafeteria” with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables. It currently has 14 locations, all in California and most around Sacramento. The closest to us is Fresno.

At the mall, it’s just south of King’s Fish House along the street that got a hip makeover a year or so ago, with design-conscious pavers, benches and lights, and which has gradually focused its stores and restaurants to match the feel. I checked out the restaurant recently at lunchtime with friends.

There’s a faux brick exterior, a high ceiling with exposed duct work, tables and booths and a few outdoor tables. You take a menu and line up to order, then move down the line to pay and collect your food at the end.

They have salads, which you can build to order, sandwiches such as tri-tip, chicken, reuben, cheese steak and club, plates such as tri-tip (a specialty), chicken or turkey, and beer and wine.

I got the steak salad ($11.75), with tri-tip, mixed greens, cranberries and bleu cheese. I liked it.

Someone else was set on one item but impulsively ordered a summer special item, the Hawaiian chicken sandwich ($9.50). I would describe it, but I forgot to ask what was on it. Odds are good that pineapple and teriyaki were involved. He said: “Delicious. I want to come back and try one of their regular menu items.” His wife has had their banh mi and loved that.

Our second friend, a vegan on a repeat visit, ordered the grilled portabella sandwich ($9.75), with a mushroom, sprouts, tomato and grilled onion on a ciabatta roll, holding the provolone. “Second time I’ve had it. Still good,” she said. So noted.

Our only complaint was that at the height of the lunch rush, the restaurant was noisy with not just conversation but music. As people cleared out, talking became more comfortable. You’re too urban, Jack!

I kept thinking of Tender Greens, a similar but better cafeteria chain that hasn’t ventured east of Pasadena. Probably we’re not yet worthy. Nothing wrong with Jack’s, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: Painted Dough

Painted Dough Donuts, 5702 Riverside Drive (at Benson), Chino; open 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Tuesday, 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday

A friend told me about Painted Dough, an unusually named and creative doughnut shop, but as is often the case it took me months to wind up there, not having a lot of reason to drive to Chino for breakfast.

But recently I had morning business in Chino and made a point of seeking out the business. It’s in a standalone building with a drive-through; one sign still reads Donut Avenue, the previous occupant, but the staff says it will be changed out soon.

They have regular and specialty doughnuts, plus muffins and a few other bakery items. Unusually, but cleverly, they offer other kinds of food to get them through the day and evening: not steam table Chinese but burgers, tacos, burritos, tortas, bowls, plus coffee, smoothies and ice cream. This must be one of the few doughnut shops in America that also sells carne asada fries.

I noticed such specialty doughnuts as red velvet, horchata, ube, apple pie, Pop-Tart and ones decorated to resemble Wonder Woman, Pikachu, Elmo, Hello Kitty and the Mutant Ninja Turtles. The fancier ones are $3.50, the standards (glazed, maple, bars, etc.) $2.

I got a Homer Simpson ($2), with the classic pink frosting and multi-colored sprinkles seen on “The Simpsons.” It was soft, fluffy and sweet with a strawberry taste.

A little girl nearby downed a Wonder Woman doughnut, showed her red-stained hand to her father and said proudly, “My hand is going to be red all day!”

The shop seemed popular and the staff friendlier than the norm. On a weekday this week I made a special trip. The specialty offerings were largely different and included one with Ghiradelli chocolate and another with Butterfingers. That seemed too indulgent for my breakfast.

I picked up a Spider-Man ($3.50) for a friend, who later described it as “soft, ever so slight crunch on the outside,” and a blueberry ($2) for myself. Probably half the powder on top ended up on the table.

I don’t know that I would go back for carne asada fries, but I would definitely go back for the doughnuts. An employee told me that with notice and a sketch he can make any sort of character doughnut, which means Painted Dough could be a low-cost alternative to springing for a cake.

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