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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Restaurant of the Week: Metro Ale House

Metro Ale House, 197 E. 2nd St. (at Gibbs), Pomona; open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Sunday

Taking over a 1925 building that originally housed a dry goods store, Metro Ale House opened in 2015 after two years of renovations and, according to its slightly bitter “our story” on its menu and website, five years of red tape. (There’s litigation.)

I had seen the interior at one point during the construction and was impressed at all the effort being expended. The brick building is three stories tall, with a basement tavern, a restaurant and bar on the main floor and an events center on the top two floors for wedding receptions, private parties and such.

I had never eaten at Metro until a few weeks ago. A friend and I were meeting for lunch on a Monday at the Rookery, which turned out to be closed Mondays; ditto with Dia de los Puercos, the next restaurant as we walked east on 2nd Street. After crossing the street, we saw Metro Ale House and figured, why not?

We sat near the bar, ordered water and perused the menu. It has appetizers (and many more than is typical, probably since they make for good bar food), salads, sandwiches, tacos, pastas, seafood, steaks and chicken. As you might suspect from the wide-ranging menu, there’s something for everyone, but probably not the best versions of anything.

My friend had the Santa Fe salad ($14), with romaine, bacon, peppers, corn, avocado and chicken, tortilla strips and pico de gallo. No foodie, he said with a shrug, “It’s a salad.”

I got the fish and chips ($12), cod fillets in a Guinness batter with seasoned fries. These were acceptable, if not as good as at O’Donovan’s a block away.

On my way back from the men’s room, I saw a number of well-dressed folks taking the stairs up to an upper floor for a post-funeral luncheon. And there were a fair number of customers on the main floor where we were. Metro Ale House likely fills a need, especially on weekends and as an event space, or as a bar.

It gets 4 stars on Yelp, for whatever that’s worth, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about the place, at least as a lunch spot. Had my friend and I kept walking east, we would have found Slummin’ Gourmet, which would have been a more satisfying choice.

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Restaurant of the Week: Menkoi-Ya Ramen

Menkoi-Ya Ramen, 333 W. Bonita Ave. (at Yale), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 11 p.m. daily except Wednesday, closed

Menkoi-Ya was the first ramen specialist in Claremont, opening in January 2018 in the former Full of Life Bakery storefront. Since then, Ramen Lounge has opened a block away. I liked Ramen Lounge fine, even if the skater decor and casual service would repel a ramen purist.

Having been there, it was time to try Menkoi-Ya, which I did during my recent staycation, walking in for lunch one early afternoon. (Note the hours above; they close between lunch and dinner.) It’s a much more traditional environment with paper lantern-like lampshades, forest green walls and a wall-length mural. The music was modern alternative pop, but not too loud, and service was noticeably calm and polite.

The menu has appetizers, rice bowls and nearly a dozen styles of ramen. Most have a pork broth, but there are a couple of vegetarian versions.

I got the house Menkoi Ramen, with pork broth, shoyu base, toro chashu (slices of housemade pork belly from a sort of loaf), takasuimen noodles, green onions, dried seaweed and bamboo shoots ($8.50), plus a soft-boiled egg ($1).

The broth was subtler than at Ramen Lounge, and the noodles, made fresh, are stretchy, chewy and crinkled. For all I know the chashu was excellent for its type, but I didn’t think the pork added much to the experience, and I’m a pork fan. Still, this was a tasty, filling bowl of ramen.

One advantage of sitting at the counter, as I did, is that you can’t be observed fumbling with your noodles or chopsticks. In fact you’re looking at a short wall, unlike at an American-style counter. I actually handled the noodles fairly well. Having been an occasional customer at Full of Life, I recognized that where I was sitting was essentially where I used to stand to place an order of breakfast granola. Ah, nostalgia.

I liked Menkoi Ya and would return, in part to try one of the rice bowls but perhaps for another bowl of ramen.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mr. Dumpling

Mr. Dumpling, 9319 Foothill Blvd. (at Hellman), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

I was predisposed to like Mr. Dumpling, a Chinese restaurant in the center across from the New Kansan Motel, based on its name alone. Courtesy titles in business names are usually a winner. I would like to see a Mr. Dumpling mascot, perhaps a pudgy anthropomorphic dumpling wearing a smile and a rice hat.

Regardless, the restaurant had been on my list to try pretty much since its 2017 opening, and an opportunity recently presented itself when I was setting up lunch in Rancho Cucamonga with two friends. Let’s try Mr. Dumpling!

The double-sided menu has appetizers, soups and, naturally, dumplings, steamed, boiled or fried. We started with cucumber ($4), pickled and with serrano chiles, which we liked, although we sometimes avoided the chiles, and house fried rice ($4), with scallions and egg.

We also got pork wonton in chile oil ($7), another table favorite.

As for the dumplings, we got xiao long bao ($9), soup-filled pork dumplings of the type you would get at Din Tai Fung. These were not to those level, but they matched my memory of the XLBs at Min’s, also in Rancho Cucamonga. We also had beef and onion panfried dumplings ($9.45), which I unaccountably did not photograph. We liked those too.

Service was efficient but not especially helpful, as seems standard for Chinese restaurants. The dining room is enlivened by a wall-length mural by the co-owner.

I enjoyed the meal, as did my friends. I’d rate it among the better Chinese restaurants in the city. “For dumplings I’d definitely come back,” said one. “They needed to have those little spoons for us,” chided the other, referring to the soup spoons that usually come with XLBs.

And then in writing this post I reread our restaurant critic’s review and learned that there is evidently a sauce station opposite the kitchen with sauces, oils, black vinegar and slivered ginger for our dumplings. I did wonder why we didn’t get black vinegar and only a, well, sliver of slivered ginger. Maybe they had soup spoons there too. But no one told us it existed.

Tsk, tsk, Mr. Dumpling, you adorable fellow, you!

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Restaurant of the Week: Take Ur Seat

Take Ur Seat, 15871 Pomona Rincon Road (at Soquel Canyon), Chino Hills; open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. except Sunday, closed

Calling itself “the American classic brunch with an Asian twist,” Take Ur Seat opened in January in a new development, Rincon Plaza, in a booming portion of Chino Hills. The restaurant motto: “You. Me. Brunch.” Note: The official name seems to be Take UR Seat, but I’m going to pretend it’s not.

It’s fairly small and apparently often packed. It certainly was at a recent Saturday lunchtime, when my friends and I put our names in and joined a dozen people waiting outside.

We made jokes about the wait, and the name, to kill time. “Take Ur Seat…Eventually,” one said. Another said, in mock belligerence about his inability to take a seat, “It’s in the name!”

But that gave us time to study the menu. It’s short and focused, with cloud pancakes, french toast, avocado toast and a couple more breakfast items, a half-dozen bowls with pork belly, spam, kimchee or tri-tip, two salads and a variety of coffee and specialty lattes. The chef cooked at Cal Poly Pomona’s international kitchen prior to this.

We were called in after 50 minutes, given a table and allowed to order at the counter, with no one in front of us. There’s lots of natural light, wood tables, pendant lamps and a modern, cheery feel. Our food was delivered in a reasonable amount of time.

In short, we liked what we got. I had the kimchee fried rice omelet ($10), with pork belly, spam, seaweed and fried rice. I actually didn’t notice the spam. Someone else got the spam rice bowl ($8) with steamed rice, fried eggs, spinach and crispy onions, plus fries ($4), which we all devoured.

Our resident vegan had the tofu mushroom bowl ($10), with steamed rice and spinach, forgoing the poached egg. “It was flavorful and satisfying,” she said. She also noted it was the only item on the menu she could have ordered. She also enjoyed a matcha latte ($5).

The fourth member of our merry quartet had the Tip Me Over rice bowl ($12), with charbroiled tri-tip, steamed rice, spinach, spinach and poached egg. “I walked in hungry and I’m walking out satisfied,” he said. For the record, he was projecting, as he was still seated at the time. He’d been here once before and had the Big 5 (eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes and home fries, $12) and said he’d go back to that on his next visit.

I would come back. Take Ur Seat reminds me of Rancho Cucamonga’s Combine Kitchen, which similarly pairs coffee with elevated takes on American and Asian dishes.

A few things worth noting: At night Take Ur Seat had just instituted a “night vibe dinner menu” with items from the owners’ native Indonesia. By 1:30, there were empty tables, so you might want to time a visit to an off-hour for quicker seating. Also: This may be the rare brunch spot that’s closed Sundays. Plan your life accordingly.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cravings Food Hall

Cravings Food Hall, 4024 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Taking over from a defunct Food 4 Less, 99 Ranch Market last October opened a warehouse-style grocery with an adjoining food hall, the first food hall to open in the Inland Valley. How about that? It’s in the Spectrum Marketplace shopping center and has nine food vendors: Cauldron, Dos Chinos, Madbun, Oi, Pinky Promise, Red Envelope, Shomi Noods, Tenori and Wingman, plus Piju, which sells international beer and wine.

They’re all Asian, sometimes fused with another cuisine. The food hall is close to Chino Hills and its growing Chinese population. Cravings’ sheer existence must bring cheer to the area’s Asians, not to mention those of us who like trying different foods.

My photographer colleagues Watchara Phomicinda and Cindy Yamanaka visited during a pre-opening event for a photo gallery and brief story. And LA Eater wrote about most of the vendors’ origins. The food hall was curated by Andy Nguyen, whose Afters Ice Cream you may know; he’s behind Cravings’ Red Envelope and Wingman.

I’ve visited twice so far. The first was in early January with a friend who had eaten there once already. We were there in the evening. You can wander among the food stalls, stroke your chin eyeing the menus, get what you like and then take a seat in a communal seating area. Each place will give you a buzzer that will alert you when your order is up.

She got an asada plate with chorizo fried rice and garlic fries from Dos Chinos ($10.75). I got a Filipino-style adobo bowl ($9) from Oi Asian Fusion, which had a soft-boiled egg, pork belly, rice and adobo sauce. We liked the food fine but each felt it was lacking somehow. I also got a pineapple express Dole whip in a Hong Kong-style puffle cone from Cauldron ($6). I was asked: “Would you like it shaped into a rose at no extra cost?” I would.

Earlier this week I went back for lunch with a second friend to try more vendors. He got black garlic ramen ($10) from Shomi Noods. Despite the garlic in the name, he thought the ramen lacked punch. We shared an order of takoyaki ($5.45), minced balls of octopus. There was no discernible octopus.

I got two bao buns from Madbun, which had a lunch special: buy one, get one half off. I got a crispy pork on a regular bun and a hoisin mushroom on a matcha bun ($7.49) and preferred the pork bun. Still peckish, I went to Dos Chinos for a single taco: Oahu shrimp ($3), with fried shrimp, red cabbage, sour cream and pineapple. Not bad.

About halfway through our lunch, a Piju employee walked over to a music speaker a few yards from us, got up on a ladder and turned the volume up about twice what it had been. That was unfortunate, but maybe the young folk were pleased.

Cravings wasn’t exactly busy either time I was there, a Friday night and a Tuesday lunch, but it was populated, mostly by Asians, and of a wide range of ages, including families.

Other vendors sell chicken wings and sandwiches (Wingman), musubi, sushi and bowls (Tenori), pho (Red Envelope) and desserts (Pinky Promise, a Taiwanese bakery). I’d had the idea of visiting another two or three times until I’d hit them all, but that’s probably carrying things too far. (Note: Which is not to say I might not do so anyway.)

“I want to like this place. I might not be picking the right things,” said my friend from the January visit. I know what she means. The food isn’t wowing me, but it’s all right, the concept is neat and it’s a fun place to meet up. You ought to try visiting once.

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