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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Restaurant of the Week: The Chocolate Bar

The Chocolate Bar, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at Sixth), Ontario; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A dessert shop, The Chocolate Bar, opened in March in Ontario’s Gateway Center, the one just below the 10 Freeway at Mountain. I recognized the location immediately as a former comic book store, New Age Comics (RIP), that I had patronized. I guess it’s still full of pricey indulgences.

It sells parfaits, cannoli, mousse, cheesecake, gelato, sorbet and more. A friend and I met up there at his recommendation; he’d been there multiple times. We were going to have lunch, but sandwiches have been taken off the menu until after the grand opening, the server explained. So we ate at Chopsticks Wok in the same center, then returned for dessert.

(I thought I’d written about Chopsticks Wok, formerly Chopsticks House, and didn’t take photos of our lunch. Come to find out I never did. Well, it gets a mild recommendation for its decent, standard Chinese food.)

Chocolate Bar is a cavernous space, very long, with a faux brick wall, a communal table, a long sofa and more. Plenty of room to hang out or mill around, or maybe to walk off a few calories.

The server gave us free samples of macarons. I’m not a devotee, but theirs seemed like a good version.

I got a small gelato ($4) with two flavors, dulce de leche and banana dulce de leche, side by side. Very creamy, very rich, and the banana is like the basic dulce de leche, plus banana, and what’s not to like about that?

My friend got a small sorbet ($4) with two flavors, coconut and blood orange. He discerned real coconut and called his dish “refreshing.”

Incidentally, gelato flavors included two types of pistachio, one of which has chunks of pistachio, for the purists.

The Chocolate Bar seems like a nice addition to the dessert landscape (mmm, dessert landscape). I wonder a little about the name, having seen an unrelated Chocolate Bar at Hollywood and Vine last weekend, and with a search for Chocolate Bar turning up a chain with four U.S. locations chosen seemingly at random, plus one in Kuwait.

But perhaps the name will stick, just like chocolate to your fingertips.

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Restaurant of the Week: Cock-a-Doodle

Cock-a-Doodle, 12940 Central Ave. (at Riverside), Chino; open daily

This year Cock-a-Doodle, which opened in 1957, turns 60. I think it’s the second-oldest restaurant in Chino after Centro Basco down the street. It’s got a great name, with chicken and roosters a motif in the decor and the exterior window box. Devotees just call it The Doodle. Because you’re not going to shorten the name from the back end.

It’s in what’s left of downtown Chino, a wan business district. I’ve eaten there a couple of times over the years. In the last few months I’ve made a point of going back. Under the motto “family dining since 1957,” they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu of country fried steak, sandwiches, salads, prime rib and more.

For starters, I had lunch there with Al McCombs last fall. Lunch started with cabbage soup. It’s different, and I like it.

That was followed by the filet of sole ($12) with a side of steamed vegetables. Lunch on the lighter side.

I went back before a council meeting a few weeks later, but I wasn’t hungry enough for a meal, getting only a shrimp cocktail ($8). It was fine but not something to base a Restaurant of the Week post around.

Finally, I went back for a full lunch, armed with notes from a 2008 blog post here (concerning the vintage calendars on display; I’ve updated it with photos). In the comments section, an employee gave some insider details about the restaurant, including its (shades of In N Out!) secret menu, a few specialties that fell off the menu but which they’ll still make for you if you ask.

First I ordered an iced tea and they gave me a mini-pitcher. That’s not secret, that’s just unexpected.

Then I got the Tony’s Special: a chicken breast smothered with shrimp scampi, plus rice ($17). Great pairing. Soup or salad (I got the cabbage soup again) come with any entree, free.

For dessert, I ordered strawberry shortcake ($5.25), another secret item. It’s strawberry compote on warm biscuits with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The server told me it was small, but it didn’t strike me that way. Apparently nobody has ordered either item in a while, but the server knew what they were, and the owner came over to ask how I knew about them. I felt like an insider.

Most of the activity whenever I’ve eaten there is in the dimly lit bar. The cheery dining room tends to be little occupied, or even empty, although I suspect it’s busy certain nights or for weekend breakfasts. Anyway, I like it better for reading purposes, and the high-backed booths are cool.

There’s nothing trendy about the Doodle, and nothing spectacular either, but the down-home food is pretty good, the service is friendly, the owners are local and the ambience is old Chino, a quality in shorter supply every year. If that sounds appealing, do the Doodle.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Upper House

The Upper House, 352 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Arrow), Claremont; open daily until 11 p.m.

Located in Peppertree Square, the center most of us visit only for the Peruvian restaurant Kykirykithe Upper House opened in January, replacing Royal Panda, which by all accounts (I never ate there) was your typical quick-serve Chinese restaurant.

The Upper House, by contrast, is a sit-down spot, and it serves real Chinese food. I met some friends there for lunch on a recent Saturday.

Inside it’s all blond wood, light and airy, and the service was exceptionally friendly. The menu is long, typical for a Chinese restaurant, but not absurdly so. In an unusual touch, the lunch menu ($8 to $10) is good seven days a week. But we ordered off the regular menu: cumin lamb ($14), pineapple chicken ($10, below), combination noodle soup ($10) and vegetable lo mein ($8).

We all liked our food; one, in fact, even liked the water: “This water is so good. Write it down.” [I dutifully complied.] “It’s got jasmine in it.” [Note: Water not pictured.]

Speaking of his soup, one declared fulsomely: “It was a delightful combination of flavors and textures.” Once that was out of the way, he said: “It was really good.”

A second said of the chicken: “Mine was also delicious.” Chiming in about her lo mein, the third said: “Ibid.” (Yes, she really said “ibid.” The water must have gotten to her.)

I got the cumin lamb, a dish I’ve had at a couple of other restaurants, one in Chino Hills, the other in Alhambra, and this version was their equal. By my standards, then, the Upper House is among the handful of authentic Chinese restaurants in the Claremont-Pomona-La Verne area.

(That said, while the menu avoids orange chicken and cream cheese wontons, it does, confusingly, have a section labeled egg foo young, another, dated signifier of Americanized food, But who knows, maybe they put their own spin on it.)

As for the name the Upper House, we asked and were told it doesn’t really mean anything. But it’s more interesting than the generic Royal Panda.

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Restaurant of the Week: California Fish Grill

California Fish Grill, 1135 E. 19th St. (at Campus), Upland; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Located in the newest section of the Colonies Crossroads Center, California Fish Grill is next to Oggi’s, on the north side of 19th Street. I was across the street getting a new cell phone recently and thought I’d try out CFG for dinner.

The experience and menu are similar to Pacific Fish Grill, which has a location in the Shoppes at Chino Hills that I’ve visited repeatedly. There’s an array of fresh fish entrees, which you can order with various seasonings and sides, and you order at the counter.

I got a combo of salmon and swai ($11.50), with rice and zucchini as my sides. On a second visit, at lunchtime, I got the serrano lime salmon bowl ($9). I enjoyed both of these meals; they seemed light, fresh and healthy.

A few points of comparison with Pacific Fish Grill: The latter delivers to your table instead of making you pick up your food (on a giant metal tray that holds two or three plates and looks like overkill when you’re eating solo); it doesn’t charge 50 cents more for brown rice; and it offers a side of vegetables, not simply zucchini.

On the other hand, California Fish Grill has more variety in its menu; it has a salsa bar; and its soda dispenser has non-brand names, from Stubborn Soda, with no artificial sweeteners or colors and better flavors (a la The Melt); I had black cherry and vanilla cream. So between the two places, it’s kind of a draw.

The comparison may not be meaningful to you if you live closer to one or the other rather than kind of in between, but I made it anyway. Overall, I liked the Upland chain seafood restaurant slightly more than the Chino Hills chain seafood restaurant, but they’re both worth trying.

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Restaurant of the Week: Below Zero Shaved Ice

Below Zero Shaved Ice, 583 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 5th), Upland; noon to 7 p.m. daily

A friend with Upland knowledge asked if I’d been to Below Zero Shaved Ice, and I had to admit I’d never heard of it. (It opened in 2011.) So we met up on a recent hot afternoon for dessert.

It’s in a strip mall, the same one with Ashirwad vegetarian Indian restaurant. I noted approvingly that Below Zero uses Thrifty ice cream. But wait, isn’t this a shaved ice spot? It is, but it has ice cream too.

The menu board has the ice flavors, and the ice cream is in labeled tubs like at other ice cream parlors. A specials board lists pre-selected combinations. To save the fuss of choosing, which is after all why combinations exist, I went with the No. 1, a root beer float; my friend got one of her usuals, pina colada (small, $3.75).

What arrived were dishes with generous servings spilling out over the top of the bubble top. Mine had vanilla ice cream, root beer and vanilla shaved ice; hers had coconut-pineapple ice cream and pina colada-flavored shaved ice.

From above, you think it’s like a twist, where you get equal servings of two flavors. Or maybe that you would get shorted on the ice cream in favor of the less-expensive ice. But no. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of ice cream,” my friend said as I dug in. And she was right: The ice cream fills one side but also layers the bottom. Eating them equally, I ran out of shaved ice before I ran out of ice cream.

Anyway, this was a low-cost, delicious treat. After dessert, we parted, and I went out for lunch. As the saying goes, “life is short, eat dessert first.”

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Restaurant of the Week: El Pescador

El Pescador Mexican Restaurant, 636 N. Euclid Ave. (at G), Ontario

There’s a chain of El Pescador restaurants around L.A., including two in Ontario, one of which is at Mountain and the 60 Freeway. I’ve only been to the one at the edge of downtown, on Euclid at G in a former Bob’s Big Boy.

But my two visits a decade or so ago, shortly after it opened, had not been followed up, even though my impression was positive. In fact, when the state librarian was in town a couple of years ago, I directed him there for dinner, and he responded later that he had liked it. In the neighborhood recently, looking for somewhere to eat, I decided to try El Pescador again.

It’s pretty nicely appointed, with a chandelier, Tiffany-style lamps, art, pottery in wall sconces and etched glass on the partitions between booths. There are probably few Mexican restaurants in Ontario, or the rest of the Inland Valley for that matter, in a setting quite this nice.

Chips and a bowl of chunky salsa were delivered to my table as I scanned the menu, banda music playing in the background. The menu has a lot of meat and seafood entrees. I went with a standby, camarones al mojo de aja ($17.50), or shrimp in garlic sauce.

The platter came with a small green salad, rice with vegetables (ugh, peas), beans with cheese, 13 shrimp, six tortillas and an orange slice. I can’t find anything wrong with the portion, but the food struck me as very average. El Pescador was better in my memory, or maybe my tastes have changed.

Still, this was only one meal, and you could do worse when downtown. And they make margaritas and have happy hour specials, so there’s that.

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