Restaurant of the Week: Old World Deli

Old World Deli, 281 S. Mountain Ave. (at 8th), Upland; open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A storefront in the Mountain Green shopping center next to a former Mervyns and Kohl’s is on the surface an incongruous spot for a restaurant named Old World Deli. It calls itself “an international delicatessen featuring Italian, German, Jewish and American food” and began as a meat market in Downey in 1969.

The Upland location began in 1973 on Foothill Boulevard, according to one of the many newspaper writeups framed on the walls. There were multiple locations at its height; today there’s Covina (126 Shoppers Lane) and Upland.

I ate here once or twice in the ’00s and had positive experiences while never feeling motivated to return. A few months ago, a soup-lovin’ friend told me the soups are top-notch, putting the restaurant back on my radar. During the holidays, an attempted visit to my go-to pizzeria, San Biagio’s, in Mountain Green was thwarted due to vacation.

So I hit up Old World Deli. After the shaded patio tables out front, you enter to a deli case, tile floor, a wall-filling mural and some Italian market items. Rather than order at the deli counter, you order at the regular counter, where the staff is friendly.

The menu has hot and cold sandwiches, a salad bar, soup, pizza, pasta dinners, hot dogs and broasted chicken. They are broad-minded sorts.

I got the tuna melt ($8), a special that day. As careful readers know, the tuna melt is my baseline sandwich, the one I will almost invariably order if it’s on a menu to get a sense of the restaurant. This was a good version with pickles, cheddar and tomatoes on sourdough.

A week later, with San Biagio’s still closed, this time for painting, I had the excuse for a repeat visit to Old World Deli. I wanted a soup and, with five choices, went with cream of mushroom, which was sold out. I opted for broccoli cheese, plus a half sandwich, roast beef (around $8.50).

The sandwich, about 4 inches, was packed with roast beef. The soup was the standout, an 8-ounce serving, creamy and, remarkably, hot all the way to the bottom of the foam cup. Both made for a decent-sized lunch.

I ought to try one of the dinners, which they serve after 4 p.m. and which include a daily special, like fish and chips on Friday. Fish and chips? Broasted chicken? Lasagna? They seem to know what they’re doing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if all these items were pretty good. Although I would advise them against branching out into sushi.

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Restaurant of the Week: Vita Italian Bar and Grill

Vita Italian Bar and Grill, 3101 W. Temple Ave. (at the 57), Pomona; 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

For many years the off-ramp from the 57 Freeway at Temple Avenue was notable for only one thing: It was home to the Inland Valley’s only Wendy’s. (The chain had evidently contracted; it’s since expanded again.) But since last March it’s also been home to a newly renovated DoubleTree, and also Vita, an ambitious hotel restaurant.

It’s mildly challenging to access. Basically, you use the driveway for Wendy’s, then take the fishhook driveway up and around to the restaurant entrance.

It’s modern Italian, served in an airy, stylish space with repurposed wood, brick and metal. That’s meant to reflect our rustic heritage but basically just reflects contemporary design. There’s expansive indoor seating and a large patio, which for obvious reasons wasn’t in use on the blustery December afternoon a friend and I visited.

The menu has small plates, soups, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizza and dinner entrees ($32-$48) like cioppino, pork chop and N.Y. steak. (You can also get, to quote the menu, a “spice rubbed baby lamb.” I’m picturing it being led to my table, where my party would ruffle its wool, lick the spices from our fingers and then send it bounding back to its mother.) There’s a full bar, happy hour and wine.

Complimentary rosemary ciabatta bread was served with olive oil.

My friend got the roasted porchetta sandwich ($17), with pork, spinach, smoked cheese from Pomona’s Di Stefano and chili aioli on a Tuscan roll. He called it the best sandwich he’d had in some time. It came with a basket of housemade potato chips.

Knowing that Vita sources its produce from Cal Poly Pomona’s farm, I ordered the farmers market vegetable lasagna ($18), with housemade pasta, local cheeses and (ooh-la-la) vodka sauce.

Lasagnas come in all forms, and this one, rather than the usual cake-like layered block, was more horizontal, heavy on the sauce and cheese. The taste was fine, and there were vegetables amid the sauce, zucchini most recognizably, but the dish wasn’t as vegetable-intensive as I had hoped for.

Service was welcoming, attentive and not overbearing. We were seated by a window, which provided natural light. The scenery below us left a little to be desired. “There’s a view of three gas stations,” my friend remarked dryly. There were, I suppose, the promised “sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains,” but with a lot of clutter in the foreground. That’s hardly Vita’s fault. The patio views of the San Jose Hills to the west are probably more inspiring.

Vita — it’s pronounced vee-tah, by the way — is one of our valley’s better dining experiences and well worth a visit. It’s almost too good for us.

I only wish the restaurant’s website were seemingly less embarrassed by its location. Taking a broad view of things, the website is vitalosangeles.com, and you have to go to the Contact Us page to learn the city and address.

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Restaurant of the Week: Broken Yolk

Broken Yolk, 2488 Foothill Blvd. (at Towne Center), La Verne; open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

A San Diego-based chain, Broken Yolk opened up in La Verne in October in the Target center. I’d never heard of it — Broken Yolk, not Target — but decided to give it a spin recently, meeting a friend for lunch.

It’s breakfast and lunch (and weekend brunch) only at the Yolk, a mid-sized coffee shop. Apparently weekend crowds are intense, but for a weekday lunch, seating was no problem.

The chain is known for big portions, like four-egg omelets and large pancakes, as well as French toast made with Hawaiian bread. The menu can be seen here.

My friend got breakfast: the Ranchero skillet ($12.45), with chorizo, serrano peppers, two (not four) eggs, avocado and potatoes. He liked it. “It’s breakfast,” he said matter-of-factly. “It can be messed up, but they didn’t.”

I got lunch: a tuna melt ($12) on sourdough with sweet potato fries. Other side options are fries, onion rings, potato salad and broccoli slaw. (Calorie counts would point to the latter as the healthiest choice at 60 calories, but my choice was second-best at 240. Also, I don’t think I could bear to order broccoli slaw.)

Careful readers of this blog may recall that the tuna melt is my baseline sandwich, the one I’m likeliest to pick at an unfamiliar restaurant if it’s on the menu. This was an above-average version, fresh and with jack cheese.

People on Yelp seem inordinately gripey about the wait times for weekend breakfast, making me wonder if they’ve ever gone out for breakfast before. Drive past BC Cafe on a weekend morning and you’ll glimpse one or two dozen would-be patrons scattered out on the lawn waiting for a table inside to open.

Anyway, Broken Yolk’s got a varied menu, service was attentive and the food is pretty good. Despite the name, I’ll bet they will give you an egg sunny side up if you ask.

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Restaurant of the Week: Hi Family

Hi Family, 944 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Regis), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Wednesday, closed; also 12732 Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga

In the small plaza across from Stater Bros., Hayato (best Japanese restaurant in Claremont) and Mediterranean mainstay Darvish are firmly lodged, while Chinese restaurants have come and gone. Hi Family, though, has hung in there for four years, according to Yelp; after a foodie friend recommended it, we made plans to eat there.

Unfortunately, that was on a Wednesday, the one day it’s closed. A few weeks later, in Claremont at lunchtime on a Monday, I gave it a spin solo.

It’s small, just eight tables, with dark wood and cobalt walls. The menu has a few standard American Chinese dishes like orange chicken, but most of the menu is real Chinese.

The first thing they bring out is a tumbler of water with slices of cucumber inside, an unusual but welcome flourish.

My friend said he’d had dan dan noodles and rattan pepper beef. Noticing that hot pots seem to be a specialty, I got the chicken, small size ($19), after they were out of short rib, my first choice. But that’s just as well, as Los Chicken, as it’s known, appears to be the most popular dish. The name is evidently a Mandarin pun, a shorthand version of Los Angeles as well as chicken, if I understand what I read correctly.

They bring out a portable stove to keep the soup hot. The soup had chicken (with bones in some cases), cabbage, chile oil and no doubt more. I ordered it medium spicy, which in my case was too spicy. I was blowing my nose into my napkin and gulping that cucumber water.

But it was tasty, generous with the chicken and with searing oil. The soup stayed hot and there were leftovers enough for two more meals. I also had an order of rice ($1), spooning the soup into a small bowl and mixing in the rice.

Once outside I noticed the sandwich board special for “crawfish rice.” Had I seen that going in I might have ordered it.

Szechuan-style Hi Family is the most authentic of the (I believe) three Chinese restaurants in Claremont, with Upper House being a middle ground (with more seating too) and Mr. You Express, which I haven’t visited, a fast-food spot. It probably goes without saying that Hi Family is for the more adventurous diner — although you could always get orange chicken.

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Restaurant of the Week: Corazon Urban Kitchen

Corazon Urban Kitchen, 1637 N. Garey Ave. (at McKinley), Pomona; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 8 p.m. Sunday

Pomona has a lot of Mexican restaurants, most of them taquerias, but places taking a more chef-driven approach are rare. There’s been some movement in that regard in the past year with the vegan Mexican spot Borreguitas, the cholo-friendly Dia de los Puercos and the modern Mexican Corazon Urban Kitchen.

Among the experimental restaurant’s experiments was where to locate. Corazon opened on East Second Street earlier this year, was raved about and then within weeks closed in a landlord-tenant dispute. This summer it surfaced on Garey Avenue above the 10 Freeway between a tire shop and a liquor store across from Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center.

I had lunch there recently with a friend who’d eaten there once before. A window seat will put you practically on the sidewalk.

Parking is either on the street or in the lot immediately to the south, which the server assured me was fine. The exterior is a muted red with a stylish metal sign, the effect somewhat offset by a banner or two. The interior is inviting with faux wood flooring, pumpkin-colored walls and portraits of such Mexican icons as Frida, Cantinflas and El Santo.

Lunch started with chips and salsa. The chips were warm, the salsa fresh tasting.

My friend and I ordered from the lunch specials, which are $8. I got a carnitas sope with rice, he got a chicken tinga torta with fries. We both thought they were great. A reader had recommended the sopes, two discs of masa with a meat (or not), queso fresco, cilantro and crema, and I was not disappointed. I should have asked my friend to cut his torta in half for a better photo, but I swear there was chicken inside. We both left full.

“I would say ‘Delicious torta,’ which is a boring thing to say,” he said. “Not only would I come back, I did come back.” While he preferred his first-visit quesadilla, he said: “The taste is prima.”

Plates cost $10 to $25. Entrees include short rib tacos, potato taquitos, chicharron tacos and a chorizo burger. Their Facebook page says they now have a vegan chile relleno. Blogger John Clifford gave a detailed account of a meal here back in June. Owner Sergio Nogueron, he said, is a Ganesha High graduate who worked in restaurants in LA before returning to his hometown. Welcome back, Sergio.

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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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