Restaurant of the Week: Claro’s, Upland

Claro’s Italian Market, 1655 N. Mountain Ave. (at 16th), Upland; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; closed Wednesday

You know how it is: Sometimes there’s a long-lived, beloved restaurant that you always mean to try, but you never get around to it. Claro’s was like that for me. I knew where it was, but it’s rare that I pass by on North Mountain, and since it’s a market, seating might be an issue. It was always a “one day I’ll check it out” kind of place for me.

But then a friend in the San Gabriel Valley brought up Claro’s to me, as there are a few out that way. This was two weeks ago, on what was looking to be the the last hot stretch we were likely to have in 2018. Since the heat was such that eating outdoors would be comfortable for your easily chilled blogger, I resolved to make a special trip for lunch that Friday before inspiration faded.

Claro’s is larger than I’d have expected, the deli area busy with employees preparing catering orders and fulfilling a long grocery list of the other mid-afternoon customer, who ordered a pound or half-pound of multiple deli meats. The store, incidentally, has pasta, sauces, canned tomatoes and many other Italian items — as probably everyone reading this has known for years.

The young man taking my order suggested the Grandpa Joe as the deli’s most popular sandwich. It’s got salami, capocolla, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, pepperocini and dressing on a (what else?) Italian roll. Price is $7 for a small or $8.49 for a large. So obviously I got the large.

I paid at the register and also bought a $1.20 cookie, which, charmingly, rang up on the receipt as “Delicious Claro’s cookies,” and a Pepsi, then took it all out to one of the half-dozen outdoor tables, situated under the broad awning. Customers came and went from the store, some grabbing a small shopping cart before entering.

The capocolla and pepperocini provided a nice kick that cut through the other fillings like Willie Nelson’s voice through your speakers. The roll was soft and crusty. The result was delicious, possibly the best such cold deli sandwich in the Inland Valley.

Half a sandwich would have been fine, by the way, but I went ahead and finished it. And the cookie did not make a liar out of the receipt.

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Restaurant of the Week: Golden Corral

Golden Corral, 1640 E. 4th St. (at Baker), Ontario (also at 2037 Rancho Valley Drive, Pomona); open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

(It’s schedules like the above, by the way, that make me regret my policy of typing out restaurants’ business hours.)

Buffets’ heyday might seem to have come and gone, with the late, and lame, HomeTown Buffet driving the final limp celery stalk into any remaining interest. But along comes Golden Corral, the North Carolina-based chain that has made a big entry into California.

I was only mildly curious about Golden Corral. I’m not a buffet guy. But a week ago, three members of our newsroom, which was practically the entire newsroom, were all going to the Ontario location for lunch and invited me to join them. Why not? I knew I’d never go on my own.

When you enter, you get your tray and your self-serve drink before you pay, which probably cuts down on cheating from those who would claim they would only get a water while later secretly filling up on soda, and plenty of it. Lunch is $13, with drinks extra. I actually did get water. A server stopped by our table a couple of times to offer refills, since you can’t get them yourself, so be prepared to tip a dollar or two.

There’s oceans of seating, and a weekday lunch does not seem to be the busy time. I’ll bet weekends are a different story. There are five areas for food: Greenhouse (salads and fruit), Smokehouse (Southern/BBQ), Hacienda (Mexican), Grillhouse (chicken and fish) and Brass Bell Bakery (dessert).

One colleague went all-Southern (see above), which she called a Southern potluck: fried catfish, hush puppies, popcorn shrimp, fried okra, mashed potatoes with sausage gravy, fried chicken, “Bourbon St. chicken,” pot roast and a roll. She liked it and singled out the popcorn shrimp for being more shrimp than batter.

My first plate, above, was, to go clockwise from left, toasted ravioli, pulled pork, fried shrimp, hush puppy, fried fish, Bourbon St. chicken, collard greens and rice. Not bad.

Another colleague had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans. Taking after the “Southern potluck” diner, he declared: “My course is Sunday afternoon at Aunt Bea’s house.”

He said his strategy is to try to get seven courses, but not seven plates, represented. The fourth in our group said he looks at buffets as a competition: “Oh, David got the clam chowder. I need to get that.”

It’s hard to photograph a buffet, especially when you’re 1) trying to be subtle about it and 2) not trying that hard to begin with. But here’s one view.

The dessert area included a chocolate fountain, soft serve ice cream, hand-scooped ice cream (which the staff serves), cookies and brownies. I had a chocolate pudding, which was pretty good.

Overall, my friends were satisfied. The competitor did his best to keep up and, sated, spent the afternoon struggling to stay awake. Golden Corral is all right for what it is. As a non-buffet guy, it’s hard for me to imagine going back. It wasn’t that good. But it’s definitely of better quality than HomeTown. If you’re a buffet guy or gal, you might like it.

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Restaurant of the Week: Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho, 8880 Archibald Ave. (at 8th), Rancho Cucamonga; open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sundays

I heard about Calle Ocho from our Dine 909 columnist, who tweeted a mention of it a few weeks ago. Interesting that that would make two Cuban eateries in the same center, which is half automotive shops (and half, it sometimes feels like, businesses to patronize while your car is being smogged).

Not long afterward, I pulled into the center just above the railroad tracks with an eye toward eating again at Mica’s, the other Cuban spot, while taking a peek at Calle Ocho for future reference. But Mica’s was “closed for remodeling,” which often means a change of ownership. So I stepped into Calle Ocho.

The owner, or maybe co-owner, who was seated at one of the two small glass-topped tables, immediately greeted me and moved behind the counter. The menu is small: a few sandwiches, empanadas and coffees, including cafe con leche, some sides and some breakfast items. There’s a counter with a few more seats by the open kitchen.

I ordered the mainstay sandwich, the Cuban ($11), with roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard, plus garlic fries and a Materva soda. Probably 15 minutes later, the sandwich was delivered.

This was an excellent sandwich, with the tender pork a standout. Very filling too. The Cuban soda was like a less intense Inka soda.

“You’re lucky you came in at this time,” the woman had told me after I ordered, which was around 1:30 p.m. “At lunch sometimes people have to wait 45 minutes for their food!” Prepare accordingly, or phone in your order to (909) 560-2925. Also, note that they’re open only five hours a day.

Calle Ocho, which translates to Eighth Street, seems like a relaxed, friendly place. A regular came in, sat at the counter and bantered with the woman and the cook, as if this were a bar. They gave as good as they got. When he complained that last year no trick or treaters came, she fired back: “Nobody wants to go trick or treating in Fontana. They come to Rancho. They don’t want to trick or treat where there’s no sidewalks.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Dia de los Puercos

Dia de los Puercos, 115 W. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday except until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday

You may recall this corner spot as home to Joey’s BBQ, or later The Rookery, which has moved a few storefronts west. Since August it’s been home to Dia de los Puercos, a Mexican restaurant that began as a food truck and added a West Covina restaurant, as well as becoming a vendor at the LA County Fair. Shuttering Covina, owner Rick Garcia has now opened in Pomona and also at the new Riverside Food Lab food hall.

I’d been to the Fair spot and to the Covina location, enjoying both, and was happy to see the restaurant in a permanent spot closer to home. I went in for dinner earlier this month.

It was populated on a Saturday night, but low-key. It can be hard to tell if the dark-windowed restaurant is open but for the open front door. A greeter is right inside when you enter. Here’s the menu; click on the image for a readable view.

For a place whose name translates as Day of the Pigs, pork is obviously a theme, but there are other meats too, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. I got the El Tri ($10), the three-taco plate, with pastor, barbacoa and huitlacoche.

Underneath the cabbage were three very good tacos, and filling too, on handmade tortillas, with some fresh chips on the side.

The dining room has banquettes, a bar and two original Joey’s picnic tables as well as some newer communal tables. The walls have graffiti-style art, street signs for 6th Street and Brooklyn Avenue, and a wall-length photo mural of the 6th Street bridge, all appealing for the Boyle Heights diaspora. Latin and soul oldies such as “Sideshow” and “Ring My Bell” played. The place had a mellow, friendly vibe.

In addition, there’s a front dining room with a bar as well and a patio. As with Joey’s and The Rookery, the space is larger than needed, and a bit awkward, but they’re trying to make use of the entire floor plan.

I went back a week later for lunch on a Sunday. There were some large groups, including extended families with men in buttoned-up flannel Pendletons. A Latina reader saw me and later shared that while I was the only Anglo in the restaurant, “you looked totally comfortable” — which I was.

Anyway, I got the El Sangweesh ($7), a sorta with pork mole as my meat. The result, which I cut in half for easier eating, was flavorful and carried me through the rest of the day.

Eater LA’s Bill Esparza has produced a close look at the restaurant, which he describes as “a shrine to Chicanismo, or Mexican-American street culture” and an exemplar of “pocho cuisine.” Recommended reading, and the photos are great.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mimi 5 Bobee

Mimi 5 Bobee, 9799 Base Line Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Tuesday, closed

Sometimes these restaurant visits are planned, sometimes they’re on a whim based on what’s near where I need to be for a story assignment and once in a while they become even more random. Needless to say, this is among the latter.

A friend and I had planned to meet at a Chinese restaurant in Claremont on a certain Wednesday, but when we got there we learned it’s closed on Wednesdays. He suggested a Chinese restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga in the 99 Ranch center that he’d tried and liked. We each drove there and learned that it, too, is closed on Wednesdays. What were the odds? Before that day I knew of only two restaurants that are closed Wednesdays, Vince’s Spaghetti in Ontario and Mariscos Jalisco in Pomona, and suddenly that number doubled on one lunch break.

But I noticed the Taiwanese restaurant Mimi 5 Bobee in the same center, and my friend hadn’t eaten there before either. It’s the only restaurant of four in that center neither of us had tried. So, undeterred by the name, we went in.

It’s a small, but large enough. We examined the menu and selected two items.

First was chili pepper wonton ($7.50), a decent version of a favorite dish, pork dumplings in chili oil.

We also got pork stew dry noodle ($7), wisely upgrading to hand-pulled noodles ($1.50). The ground pork was lightly spiced, the noodles stretchy and chewy. This proved to be our favorite item.

Those two orders weren’t enough for two people, so after some consultation with the server, we got pork in red grain with rice ($9). (They are big on pork here, and I guess we, too, were big on pork here.) It was deep-fried, quickly, and came with cabbage and carrots, jicama (or something like it) and a hard-boiled egg, and rice with a bit more pork. We liked this as we had the others, but the noodles remained our favorites.

We also got milk tea drinks off a specials board, two-for-one.

Mimi 5 has locations in Diamond Bar and Rowland Heights. The Bulletin’s real reviewer, David Cohen, wrote in 2016 that specialties include stinky tofu, marinated pork and oyster pancakes, among other dishes not commonly available in the area.

I’ve been to Red Chilli House, Lotus Cafe and Min’s Dumpling House in that center and have enjoyed them all, with Min’s and Red being the standouts. Still haven’t ventured inside 99 Ranch, which has its own food court. And of course I need to try the new spot that is closed Wednesdays — but obviously should not do so in midweek.

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Restaurant of the Week: Chase’s

Chase’s, 2079 Bonita Ave. (at D), La Verne; open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Chase’s opened in 2011 in a converted house downtown on Third Street as a wine shop with a short menu and wine bar, if memory serves. It was a tight fit the one time I was there, for a colleague’s going-away party, but we had a good experience. And now Chase’s has moved to expanded quarters in a former bank building at the crossroads of Bonita and D.

Two friends and I met up there recently for lunch, gathering on the sunny patio, shaded by large umbrellas. It was a warm day and I’m not sure anyone was eating inside on such a pleasant afternoon.

It’s one of those menus of salads, sandwiches and pastas where you find nearly every item appealing. Do I want the wild mushroom grilled cheese, the pear and fennel arugula salad, the special burger, the roasted ragu shrimp pasta?

One friend got the No Name Salad with grilled chicken ($13.50 + $5.50). It came with kale, carrots, pecans and cranberries. Her verdict: “Mmm-mmm.” That’s your quote? Second friend added: “If you add that she shook her head emphatically, they’ll know.”

I got the Mojo Pulled Pork ($13.25). So did the second friend. But you only get one photo. This concoction came on sourdough with mustard, onion and pickle. The pork was tender and the sandwich delicious.

“Plenty big,” second friend remarked. “I’m glad I didn’t get fries.” Same here. I didn’t eat again for hours.

Chase’s has a dinner menu, and a brunch menu for Sundays.

There’s also a full bar in an island that looks like an instant classic. Chase’s seems to have successfully transitioned to its new space. The blog wishes them well. It’s a good option for downtown La Verne.

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Restaurant of the Week: D Grill Boy

D Grill Boy, 4323 Mills Circle (at Concours), Ontario; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

Formerly a Lollicup, this small eatery has a new name. Not a great name, but a new name, since June, with new owners to match. A friend and I checked it out recently for lunch.

D Grill Boy is an unassuming place, mod and with communal tables. The menu is mostly hibachi-style grilled entrees — chicken, steak, shrimp, salmon, lamb or chicken katsu — with rice and vegetables. You won’t get a floor show from the chefs, like at Benihana, but you’ll also pay a lot less.

There’s also yakisoba dishes (stir-fry noodles with chicken, shrimp or steak), which are Japanese, and loco moco (rice, gravy, eggs, with sausage or Spam), which is Hawaiian. Additionally, they make tea drinks, milk tea, slushies, smoothies and salted cheese teas.

I had steak and chicken ($11.59) with — why not? — one of the salted cheese drinks, a matcha green tea with cheese foam ($5.29). My friend went one better by getting steak, chicken and shrimp ($14.59), with an upgrade to fried rice ($1.50), plus a watermelon slush ($4).

He pointed out something about the steak and chicken that I was beginning to notice myself: They tasted, essentially, the same. Had I closed my eyes, I might not have been able to tell the difference. As a non-cook, I couldn’t tell you why they would taste the same, but maybe were both overdone. “The shrimp was the best — by far,” my friend concluded.

Our drinks were OK. (I didn’t like mine $5.29 worth, but I liked it.) You might be better off getting a beverage here than food: There are many more options, including 16 slushies and 15 smoothies.

Overall, the food might be comparable to WaBa Grill — but unlike WaBa, you can get boba. And maybe that’s enough.

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Restaurant of the Week: Borreguitas

Borreguitas, 977 S. Garey Ave. (at 10th St.), Pomona; open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; closed Sundays

This is a rarity, a vegan restaurant, and in a smaller subset, vegan Mexican. A vegan friend who lives nearby had eaten at Borreguitas several times since its July opening and invited me and two other friends to lunch.

Seating about a dozen, it’s a small place, sandwiched (possibly with sprouts) between a barbershop and La Fuente, a 24-hour Mexican restaurant. The story is that there’s an ownership connection with La Fuente, where vegan items were introduced and ignored because nobody really knew about it. Borreguitas, however, seems to be a hit. In the two hours we were there, people kept cycling through or picking up to-go orders.

The menu has tacos, burritos, quesadillas, mulitas, enchiladas, tortas, pozole and ceviche, all Mexican staples, only with soy meat, vegan nut cheese and the like.

Of our group of four, three got the “asada” burrito with either red or green salsa ($10). I photographed the green. You can imagine the red, I trust.

“This is magnificent,” one carnivore declared. “This sauce is fantastic.” (He had the red. Maybe I should have photographed it instead.) “This was the best vegan burrito I’ve ever had. Also the first,” he clarified. “But it won’t be the last. I’ll be back.”

The second carnivore also liked his burrito and said, “I will gladly take my meat-loving friends here.” He had earlier joked: “My comment is, ‘Add a little meat and: delish.’ You don’t need to put that.” I didn’t need to, but I try to go above and beyond.

Of course the vegan liked it. She’d had it before.

I had the street tacos, four of ’em ($1.25 each): two “asada,” two “al pastor.” They looked much like the real thing, dusted with cilantro and chopped onion, the asada looking steak-ish, the al pastor ruddy, with (a nice touch of authenticity) thin-sliced pineapple on top. Even though they were all from soy meat, there was no question which was which.

They did taste fairly convincingly of the meats they replicated, although the mouth feel wasn’t the same. Neither was the fat content, of course. I also had one of the aguas frescas, pineapple-spinach ($3), an unusual combination but one that worked. Someone else got a horchata ($3) and liked it.

I’d be open to returning, even if I prefer the real thing. Borreguitas is definitely a welcome addition to Pomona and the rest of the valley. As I write this, Borreguitas has 61 reviews on Yelp and a five-star ranking.

As you might expect, customers were mostly young, including a hipster with a lumberjack beard. But they also included families with young children. It was a nice scene, akin to something you might see in Silver Lake.

By the way, Borreguitas means little lamb. “Which is adorable,” one friend remarked, “but which they don’t actually serve.” Maybe over at La Fuente.

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Restaurant of the Week: Curry Up

Curry Up, 3560 W. Temple Ave. (at Pomona Blvd), Pomona; open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Sunday, closed

A Cal Poly Pomona friend wanted to meet for dinner and was willing to meet me closer to home. But I had thought of that little strip center near campus with three or four restaurants, none of which I had tried. The only one whose name I knew was Curry Up, a cleverly named Indian restaurant that’s been there some years. So we met there.

You order at the counter, with seemingly all the items already waiting on the steam table and best ordered as a two-item combo, like a modest, subcontinent version of Panda Express.

I got saag paneer and chicken tikka masala, with basmati rice, seen above. With drink and garlic naan, this came to $11.15. My friend got chicken tikka masala and allo mutter, with no drink, and paid around $8.

If I remember right, the regular naan is free — does this mean the cost is naan? — but there’s a small charge for garlic naan, which is pretty much everybody’s favorite style of naan and which therefore is worth the extra buck or whatever it was.

My friend liked his meal. Mine was all right, and the saag was spicier than expected. I have to be honest, Curry Up was nothing special. But I hadn’t had Indian food in a while and it was nice to have some again. And, while I’m prepared to be wrong, it might be the only Indian restaurant in Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: Angelo’s Burgers

Angelo’s Burgers, 902 W. Mission (at White), Pomona; open daily, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; cash only

I was surprised recently to learn that I had never written a Restaurant of the Week about Angelo’s. Not that it’s such a culinary landmark, but I’ve eaten there once or twice over the years, and it’s been in business since 1983. In the neighborhood recently for an interview at the police station, I stopped first at Angelo’s for lunch.

The sign would seem to predate Angelo’s, but what was it? Darin Kuna tells me the restaurant was a Taco Lita in the 1960s.

There’s a drive-thru, and the pickup window is, a bit comically, on the passenger side. But that’s due to the configuration of the lot; otherwise, people would be placing their orders out on Mission Boulevard.

Anyway, Angelo’s has burgers, some Mexican fare and dinner plates under $10.

I got the burger special ($6.49): a quarter-pound hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onion and Thousand Island dressing on a sesame bun, plus fries and soda. While the burger was nothing special, it was grilled and not bad at all. The fries were fat and soft, that interim size between regular and steak fries. There were probably a hundred of them, far more than I was interested in.

People on Yelp recommend the pastrami burger, chili cheese fries and chicken tenders.

The walls and support pillars held the de rigeur old timey tin signs with vintage advertisements, propaganda posters, Marilyn images and nickel Pepsi ads, plus license plates from various states lined up and wrapping around the walls near the ceiling. The restrooms are rare local examples of pay toilets, with tokens from the counter, no doubt to deter the homeless.

A notable feature of Angelo’s is that the site was the original 1888 home of Pomona College, as marked by a plaque on a stone at the corner. Imagine, Pomona College was once actually in Pomona. I ate at Angelo’s with the then-president of Pomona College in 2013 to mark the college’s 125th anniversary. The plaque, from 1937, is historic in its own right. Note: The college did not have a drive-thru.

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