Restaurant of the Week: Clyde’s Hot Chicken

Clyde’s Hot Chicken, 8790 Central Ave. (at Richton), Montclair; open daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Clyde’s opened in a former Fatburger just above the Metrolink tracks in Montclair in October 2019 and almost immediately was doing more business in a day than Fatburger was likely to have done in a month. (I like Fatburger but it just has not been able to get its act together in the 909.) This is the second Clyde’s; the first is in Fullerton.

My first visit was at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, when there were a surprising number of customers for the middle of an afternoon. Several groups entered after me. Employees shouted “Welcome!” at each of us.

The menu has chicken sandwiches, fried or grilled, chicken strips and hot wings, all in the Nashville hot chicken style. Heat levels are Naked (no spice), Original (hot and sweet), Hot as Cluck (hot) and 1930 (ghost pepper and cayenne).

I got the Clyde’s Original combo ($9) with the Original heat level, which is very mildly spiced. The chicken comes on a brioche bun with slaw and pickles, just how I like it, and the combo has crinkle-cut fries, nice and crisp, and a soda. Darned good. There’s a cup of completely unnecessary sauce, although I do dip my fries in it.

On two subsequent visits, I got the Skinny Chick combo (same price), with the chicken grilled, not fried. Also tasty, and better for you, but without the satisfying crunch. I also tried the mac salad as my side once, and that was fine too. Other sides are waffles and slaw, and they make a breakfast sandwich, the Early Bird. I should try the Hot as Cluck spice level, just to try it, but I’m no spice fiend.

(Subsequent to writing this post, I ordered a Skinny Chick and asked for the Hot spice level, but that sandwich is only available as Naked or Original.)

Being on the border of Montclair and Upland, but definitely within Montclair, there’s decor for each city using historic photos. Montclair is, alas, relegated to the back, by the restrooms and kitchen entrance. Vintage photos include two drive-ins, the interior of Montclair Plaza and an ad urging then-Monte Vista residents to vote for the name change to Montclair. Spoiler alert: It did.

Upland images are in the dining room and include the depot, the trolley and the old Upland College. Clyde’s also has a patio and a drive-thru.

Clyde’s is a nice addition to Montclair and I’m pleased they were able to clean the stink of failure from that building. Maybe they had it ritually cleansed with sage. Or cayenne.

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Restaurant of the Week: Paulie’s Pizza Pub

Paulie’s Pizza Pub, 247 N. 2nd Ave. (at 9th), Upland; open 11 a.m. daily until midnight Monday to Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday

Paulie’s took the place of the all-ages music venue The Wire in the heart of downtown Upland after a protracted renovation in early 2016. Needing dinner before a recent council meeting, I headed there to check it out. And there’s a lot to check out.

There’s exposed brick, hardwood floors, vintage signs for such products as Quaker State Motor Oil, a Vote Against Prohibition mural, a miniature fire escape against one brick wall for urban ambiance and B&W framed photos of rock singers, among other things to marvel at.

The front is a bar, with small solo tables facing the bar; after a narrow space with two-person tables and an unused upright piano, there’s a dining room with tables for small groups. You get the impression Paulie’s has been there forever, not four years (albeit in an early 20th century building).

I got a Don Vito sandwich ($11), meatball and sausage with mozzarella, romano and marinara on French bread. It’s all kind of baked inside the bread. That was a good but unusual knife-and-fork sandwich, and big enough that I took some of it home. It fortified me for the council meeting.

I’ve been back twice since, splitting a medium vegetarian pizza ($25) with a friend on one visit. It had tomatoes, onions, peppers and mushrooms. The crust was thick and crispy. As my friend put it: “I’m not usually one of those people who say ‘I like the crust.’ But the crust was really good.” The pizza was large enough (as a medium) that there was some to take home.

Third visit, I got the Knuckles Chicken Parm sandwich ($11), with chicken, marinara, provolone and garlic bread. You won’t be surprised to hear that I took some home. A different friend got the Mad Dog hot sub, with ham, turkey, roast beef, provolone and au jus. “It’s really good,” she said, “if you like meat dipped in meat juice.” That was a compliment.

Also, if you go, check out the restrooms. The men’s has celebrity police-booking photos.

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Restaurant of the Week: Haven City Market

Haven City Market, 8443 Haven Ave. (at Arrow), Rancho Cucamonga; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

After a couple of years of construction, the former J.C. Penney Outlet store opened in October as Haven City Market, a food hall. It’s like a mall food court without the mall, with (at this writing) 25 vendors selling entrees, desserts and beverages, and no retail or services.

It’s only the second food hall in the Inland Valley, after Cravings by 99 Ranch in Chino, putting us as usual far behind LA and Orange counties. Haven City isn’t far from our newsroom and so I’ve made a point of going multiple times. As with Cravings, it makes more sense to write about the food hall as a whole rather than individual spots.

The developers have done a nice job in making the hall inviting. There’s varied styles of seating throughout rather than the monotony of everything looking alike. One area has two ping-pong tables. Some spaces are Instagram-friendly, because that’s almost a requirement now.

Salted caramel cone from Cauldron with Instagram-friendly background

And there’s a sprawling patio area for warm days with shaded umbrellas and fake turf. I found that a welcome place to eat in October and November.

Most of the food stands are not recognizable names, which is good. Burgerim stands out as a “what is this doing here” chain, but their slider concept at least works from the small-bites angle. The majority of the offerings are Asian, primarily Korean and Japanese, but other cultures are represented too.

Shrimp roll and cajun fries from Shrimp Shack

I’ve enjoyed a shrimp roll ($10) and cajun fries ($4) at Shrimp Shack, a Japanese pancake ($8) at Oko Yummy, the yellowtail and white tuna sushi ($13 combined) at Shokunin, the adobo elote cup ($6.50) at Ibasa, the pork belly grilled cheese ($14 with fries and soda) at Belly & Snout and a shrimp, pork and kimchi rice bowl ($7.40) at On + On. A friend joined me at Ibasa and liked his al pastor, carnitas and tri-tip tacos.

For dessert, I’ve had a nitrogen ice cream salted caramel cone ($6.75) at Cauldron, a blood orange popsicle ($4) at Popbar and a Reese’s churro with ice cream ($9) at Churro Bar.

Reese’s churro and ice cream from Churro Bar

And I’ve had a strawberry fruit tea with boba ($4.50) at It’s Boba Time, which also sells macarons. My friend got a beer at Native Son Alehouse (price not noted) and said it was quite good, “aside from being served in plastic,” like at a ballpark.

It’s possible to combine foods or drinks from three or four places in one meal, besides sharing with friends.

My favorites of the above would be Shrimp Shack, Ibasa and On + On. The other meals were fine to greater or lesser degrees but perhaps not enough to draw me back. Overall the offerings are a little hit or miss, but that’s probably to be expected. The only meal I didn’t like was an under-grilled chicken kabob meal ($11) at Baba K, which came with no tahini and no fork. I was reduced to pulling the chicken apart with my fork and fingers. But to make up for some confusion on their part at the register, they gave me a free falafel, which was better than the meal I’d paid for.

On + On mini-sized bowl

I’d had the idea of eating at every spot, but that proved too ambitious as well as a little nutty. Plus I don’t need Fire Wings or Oke Poke. But I’ve been to 11 vendors out of 25, a fair sampling.

Haven City was packed from Day One, and I’ve been told it’s especially so on weekends. It’s been great to see so many cars in the parking lot of what had been a dead business and so many people of all ages inside. Will the all-food concept sustain itself? We’ll see. Out here in the suburbs, we don’t have enough buzzy hangout spots.

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Favorite restaurants of 2019

Looking back at 2019, I wrote 36, an even three dozen, Restaurant of the Week posts. It may not quite have lived up to the weekly billing, but two of every three weeks were covered, with the usual complications — vacations, holidays, illness and the press of column deadlines — accounting for the other weeks.

I ate at restaurants in all the Daily Bulletin cities: Chino, Chino Hills, Claremont, La Verne, Montclair, Ontario, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga and Upland, with at least two restaurants per city, plus a stray venture to Moreno Valley (for Portillo’s Hot Dogs).

Most of the 36 were pretty good, and if you want to look back with me, search for “Restaurant of the Week” in the search bar and they should all come up in reverse chronological order.

Memorable places (in a good way) include Vita Italian, Slummin’ Gourmet and Luchador Urban Taqueria in Pomona; Old World Deli and Daddy O’s in Upland; Fourth Street Mill in La Verne; Creme Bakery and Pepo Melo in Claremont; House of Fortune in Chino; Take Ur Seat in Chino Hills; Pola’s Mariscos in Montclair; and Mr. Dumpling and Fat Burrito in Rancho Cucamonga.

For what it’s worth, the places I’ve returned to at least once, and sometimes regularly, are Slummin’, Luchador, Old World, Daddy O’s, Creme, Pepo Melo and Fat Burrito. Although in some cases that’s a function of geography as much as interest. If I lived in Chino Hills I’d be at Take Ur Seat all the time.

As always on these visits, I did not announce myself, was virtually never recognized, to my knowledge anyway, and paid my own way. Also, I’m not a professional reviewer. Doing this is more of a hobby than anything else, not even really part of my official duties or workday, although I try to write them on a Wednesday at work if able. (The columns occupy more of my time and mind, including anxious thoughts, sometimes in the middle of the night, than might be obvious.)

In some ways my interest in the ol’ Restaurant of the Week has slackened. But I keep going. I’ve gotta eat anyway, and it’s useful for me personally to get out of my comfort zone by trying new places. And I know readers rely on me for these, or at least enjoy them or identify me with them. So it’s useful for me professionally to do these, even if it’s a pain some weeks and I often feel like I’m letting people down for one reason or another.

That sense only increased in 2019. Some years I’ve produced this best-of list (which I’m writing at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Day, by the way) as a long item for my column. This year I don’t feel quite right about that.

That’s because in mid-year my columns began appearing in the Sun as well as the Bulletin, and I didn’t manage to venture even to Fontana for a meal, much less Rialto or San Bernardino. I’m a little sheepish about that. (Sun territory is, essentially, east of the 15 Freeway.) In fact, a year ago this list appeared in the Bulletin, and perhaps also in the Sun; either way, a Rialto reader emailed in disappointment that I hadn’t been to her city, and I understood.

In my defense, many of my Restaurant of the Week meals are consumed on a lunch break from our office in Rancho Cucamonga, or on a weekend venture from my home in Claremont. Rialto, Fontana or San Bernardino are a little far for a lunch hour and haven’t figured into my evening or weekend plans. It’s not meant as a slight to anyone there or any restaurants there.

Still, no point in parading the lack of restaurants in Sun territory in front of my Sun readers via my column. I’ll just keep things low-key in this space and vow to do better in 2020.

In the meantime, bon appetit, and where did you enjoy dining in 2019?

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Restaurant of the Week: Raising Cane’s, Upland

Raising Cane’s, 183 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 2nd), Upland; open 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and until 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Founded in 1996 and based in New Orleans, Raising Cane’s is a rapidly expanding quick-service chain of chicken finger restaurants. Ontario has two and Fontana, San Bernardino and Upland have one each. Upland’s opened back in January and, after months of meaning to go and forgetting, I went there on my lunch break recently.

When I got there after 1 p.m., there was a line out the door (thankfully it wasn’t raining), and a majority of the seating was taken. However, the first register is angled toward the entry, close enough to the door that it takes only five or six people to make a line out the door. Very canny.

The menu is of course flat against the wall and begins a little beyond the first register. You can’t really see it in its entirety unless you’re ordering from the second register.

(I’m a little put off by their chirpy “One Love” motto, seen above. Bob Marley’s shade must be shaking his dreadlocked head at his song being used by a corporation. On the other hand, maybe the expression of unity and inclusion is a subtle jab at the Chick-fil-A founder’s retrograde social views, in which case, carry on.)

I got the three-finger combo with fries, toast and drink ($7.42). A four-finger combo that also had slaw was a little under a buck more, but I didn’t see it on the distant menu board until picking up my order directly under it. Oh well.

The chicken was fine, perhaps more heavily battered than is strictly necessary. The skinny crinkle-cut fries were crisp. It was a decent cheap meal.

The music was cranked up too loud for comfort for my tastes. Employees were hustling. It’s a high-energy place. As when Lou Grant told Mary Richards that she had spunk, and he hates spunk, I’m not really a fan of high-energy places. There’s an expansive patio outside that was quieter, but also colder. That would be my preferred seating on a warm day.

As must be obvious, after all the hype about Cane’s, the experience was a slight letdown. Expectations adjusted, perhaps a second visit will be more to my liking. Food-wise and ambience-wise, I’d prefer to eat at Chick-fil-A. Although Cane’s is better on Sunday (rim shot).

One neat local touch on the wall inside the entry: a framed 1978 issue of Skateboard World magazine. The cover promotes not only a feature on the Cal Jam II concert in Ontario, but one on the “Upland finale” of a skating event, presumably at the old Pipeline skate park.

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Restaurant of the Week: Don Baja Grill

Don Baja Grill, 1524 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

In La Verne recently at lunchtime, I sought out the new Mexican spot in the Vons center. Don Baja Grill replaced El Patron II, a sitdown place that I liked (although the one in Rancho Cucamonga, not far from our office, is the one I patronize). Don Baja is fast casual, where you order at the counter.

Their specialty is fish tacos and burritos, shrimp, cocktails and ceviche, while also offering four types of meat: beef, pork, chicken and beef tongue. I have to wonder if La Verne has any other restaurants that sell tongue. (Note that I’m only wondering, not stating that as fact, which means I won’t be wrong if you name one or two other places in city limits that do. But there can’t be many.)

For vegetarians, they sell tacos with potatoes and burritos with beans and cheese and with (unspecified) veggies.

I got the two fish taco combo ($8.50). These were good, double-tortilla tacos with the requisite cabbage, cream and diced tomatoes. The rice was fluffy, the beans creamy. It’s 50 cents extra if you want your fish grilled rather than fried. I washed it all down with a watermelon agua fresca, which was among the drink choices that come with the combo, a good bargain.

I would eat at Don Baja again and wish them luck in a storefront that’s seen some turnover.

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Restaurant of the Week: Fourth Street Mill

Fourth Street Mill, 2124 Bonita Ave. (at D), La Verne; open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily, and open at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Fourth Street Mill opened in downtown La Verne in 2015. I remember when the exterior murals were being painted, because I was writing about the antique-y clock a few yards away. My one attempt to eat there failed when the friend to whom I pitched it, who has rather basic tastes, kind of pooh-poohed the place. But a few weeks ago, Fourth Street Mill was on my mind when another La Verne friend wanted to get together for lunch. My suggestion was agreed to, and a few days later, there we were.

The Mill has an expansive, shaded patio that looks to have more seating than the interior. It was a hot day in mid-October, perfect weather for outdoor dining.

The menu has sandwiches, burgers, salads and entrees, but it’s not large. A more limited menu can give you the sense that every item is probably good rather than being pulled out of the depths of the freezer when someone finally orders it.

My friend got the French dip po’boy ($16.50): sliced prime rib, mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese, with a cup of au jus. He’d told me that the honey ginger tartine was his go-to order, but now he had a new favorite item. What he called the “thick, Texas toast bread” was particularly good. He got a salad as his side.

Tuna melts being my own go-to order when I’m trying a restaurant that has them, I got the Fourth Street Mill version ($12): albacore tuna, tomato, Swiss and green onions. This was a knife and fork dish, very good, with fresh tuna, and without mayo.

There’s a bar in the rustic interior with beer, wine and cocktails, and they have brunch on weekends. And, as seen above and below, they have murals. What’s not to like?

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Restaurant of the Week: Portillo’s Hot Dogs

Portillo’s Hot Dogs, 12480 Day St. (at Gateway), Moreno Valley; open daily, 10:30 a.m. to midnight

I’d never heard of Portillo’s until a reader, and then my editor, both brought it up to me as a place that sells Chicago-style hot dogs. They were referring to the Portillo’s in Riverside County; there’s another in SoCal in Buena Park. Buena Park is slightly closer to my home, but showing a little Inland Empire pride, I ventured to the one in Moreno Valley.

The exterior looks like an old brick building on three sides and like a chrome diner on the fourth. Those are Chicago-ish scenes in the murals. An employee at the door greeted me, asked if I’d been there before, explained where to order and handed me a menu. That’s unusual in my experience, but welcome.

The interior is pretty large and has lots of Chicago-ish tin signs, maps, photos, etc. Jazz and pop from the prewar period played. Apparently only old Chicago is iconic.

The menu has hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, beef and sausage sandwiches, salads and baby back ribs. There were promotional signs for an apple walnut salad. Fine if you’re a regular, but not what you’d order as a first-timer.

Faced with a choice of two iconic items, the Chicago hot dog and the Italian beef sandwich, I decided to go big and get both. After all, I’d made a 45-minute drive, and who knew if I would ever return.

So: hot dog ($3), Italian beef sandwich ($6), fries ($2.09) and chocolate cake shake ($4.19), small size. That’s about 2,000 calories, by the way.

Frankly, haha, Chicago dogs have never been my thing, laden as they are with a veritable salad of pickle slice, tomato slices, onions, relish and sport peppers, but this was a good version of something I’m not a fan of.

I’ve had Italian beef only once or twice, at the former Nancy’s Pizza in La Verne, which was served on garlic bread. The Portillo’s version, on french bread, is probably more traditional. You can get mozzarella and sweet or hot peppers, or get it dipped, but I just got it as it comes. The roast beef was very soft, as gravy is involved, and so was the bread. It was like a softer version of a Philippe french dip. I liked it, although I could see how mozzarella and/or peppers could spice it up. (The photo on the website looks good.)

The crinkle cut fries, an afterthought (I’d decided not to order them, but found myself ordering them) were crispy and very good. Portillo’s sells chocolate cake, but seeing chocolate cake shake on the menu was intriguing. At first, as I was eating it with a spoon, it was simply a chocolate cake with flecks. Then, suddenly, here was a chunk of cake. And there were more where that came from. That was fun.

This Illinois (but not Chicago) expat enjoyed the experience. And having gone big, I went home. And napped.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tasty Pot, Rancho Cucamonga

Tasty Pot, 11540 4th St. (at Richmond Place), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

The influx of Asian Americans into Rancho Cucamonga continues to pay benefits, probably in somewhat invisible cultural ways, but visibly in more dining choices. A friend and I tried out the fairly new (open since May) Tasty Pot, a Taiwanese hot pot restaurant across from Ontario Mills.

Tasty Pot is a national chain, sort of, with 15 locations, most in California but with a few random states, like Ohio, having one lone locale. (Trivia note: There’s one in Ontario, Canada.) Ours is in the Signature Center, a few steps from a Panera and in what I believe used to be a bridal shop.

Inside, there’s a wall-length photo mural of what is presumably the Taipei skyline. The place was about two-thirds full when we arrived. We were the only white people, a good sign.

Soup is the thing to get. Each soup had around a dozen ingredients listed, many of them duplicated from one to the next. You could probably spend a lunch hour reading them all and trying to differentiate one from the next. They all appeared to have at least one type of seafood, if not several.

We just went with ones with appealing main ingredients: kimchi dumpling ($13, above) and lamb with noodle ($13, below), sharing them. We got the small size and mild spice level.

The pots arrived and were placed on a portable stovetop, burners turned on to keep the soup hot. A pitcher of broth would be brought by now and then for a refill.

We liked our soups, with the dumplings being a nice addition. The kitchen was generous with the ingredients, whether noodles, tofu, shrimp, cabbage, mussels, mushrooms or more.

One welcome touch was that our lunches came with complimentary iced tea. When have you ever seen that? We also got milk tea ($5-$5.50).

Neither of us is really a hot pot enthusiast, but sharing two made for a light, filling lunch.

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Restaurant of the Week: Tokyo Joe’s

CLOSED

Tokyo Joe’s, 10877 Foothill Blvd. (at Spruce), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Tokyo Joe’s is a small chain of fast-casual Japanese(-ish) restaurants with California locations only in Riverside and Rancho Cucamonga. The latter opened in 2017 in a strip of restaurants near the office buildings east of Haven Avenue that has Luna Mediterranean Grill, The Habit, Cafe Rio and Jersey Mike’s.

I ate at Joe’s recently for the first time, meeting a friend for lunch on a weekday. Their main items are bowls, although they also have salads, poke bowls and some made-to-order sushi. See their menu here.

I got the MoJoe Bowl ($9, above), with chicken, pineapple, carrots, egg, onion, green and red peppers and rice, substituting brown for white at no extra charge, which was welcome. My friend got the Mahi-Mahi Bowl ($11.25, below), with wild mahi-mahi, tropical salsa, lemongrass aioli, teriyaki sauce, macadamia nuts and cilantro.

“It was a bowlish bowl,” my friend said with an implied shrug, “with a nice piece of mahi-mahi.”

I wasn’t dissatisfied with my bowl either, but neither of us walked away with any particular enthusiasm. You can order a larger bowl for $2 more, which would be good only if you want to take some home. We could barely finish ours as it was and before mine was done I was tired of eating it.

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