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 oldest restaurant in Chino. 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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Restaurant of the Week: Min’s Dumpling House, Rancho Cucamonga

Min’s Dumpling House, 9789 Baseline Road (at Archibald), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

There are Min’s Dumpling House locations in Chino, Corona and Rancho Cucamonga, the latter of which I tried out recently at lunchtime with two librarian friends. It’s in the 99 Ranch center, home to another Chinese restaurant, a Korean restaurant and a boba shop.

Min’s is on the small side, but brightened by sunlight, art, carved screens and other decor, and the seating is spaced apart, giving everyone some elbow room. Its menu is on the large side, with 156 items: rice dishes, dim sum, soups, seafood, hot pot and more, including 15 vegetable-only dishes. The specialty is cuisine from the Hunan province. Many dishes are spicy, but they’re marked as such on the menu and we stayed away.

We ordered six items: pork dumplings (item 1, $7); BBQ pork buns (item 5, $6); shrimp and pork dumplings (item 19, $9); sweet and pungent spare ribs (item 59, $11); Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce (item 123, $8); and vegetable fried rice (item 150, $7).

I was a big fan of the dumplings — the pork were soup dumplings, the shrimp and pork were simply filled — and the pork buns. Nothing wrong with the broccoli either. The others liked the spare ribs and rice the best.

Min’s is among Rancho Cucamonga’s best Chinese restaurants, and given that the menu has a couple of my favorite items, cumin lamb and beef roll, I’m sure I’ll be back.

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Restaurant of the Week: Thai Original BBQ

Thai Original BBQ, 2911 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Ah, the food of Thailand. With Chinese food on the rise thanks to a wave of immigrants, Thai cuisine is kind of waning, it seems to me, aside from Pok Pok and Jitlada in L.A.

Thai Original BBQ has been in the Rolling Ridge Plaza for some years, so it’s nothing new either. But a Thai-shy friend had tried it out, liked it and suggested meeting there for dinner.

There’s a fish tank as you walk in and the walls have a lot of tourist posters, not to mention portraits of the Thai royal family (RIP). You get the sense that the owners haven’t redecorated in a while, but the look is comfortable and lived-in. So was our sagging banquette.

We examined the menu closely. It has the standards in pork, chicken, beef, noodles and rice dishes, but with more emphasis on seafood than is often seen.

I got the mixed pad Thai with chicken, pork, shrimp and tofu ($10 for the basic, probably a couple of bucks more for this version), which was solid and unspectacular.

My friend had the crab cakes, which appear on the menu as “Dearest Crab” (!), two fried crab cakes the size of baseballs with crab, pork, mushrooms and onion, served atop shrimp fried rice ($13). We liked it. If you’re married and eating there, call your spouse “dearest crab” at your own risk.

Service was attentive. Overall, this was a pleasant, old-school Thai experience but an unexceptional one. The restaurant is part of a small chain founded in 1978 that has locations in LA, Fullerton and Cerritos.

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Restaurant of the Week: Wicked Cow Burgers and Brews

Wicked Cow Burgers and Brews, 131 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Euclid), Upland; open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and to midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Wicked Cow, a gastropub, opened in December 2016 in a restaurant building on the edge of the Vons Center, taking over a space briefly occupied by Mes Amis, and for years previously by Pick Up Stix.

The interior is reminiscent of both prior occupants, with the same basic layout and open kitchen as Pick Up Stix and the nicer decor of Mes Amis. There’s a lot of red, gray and black, with wood accents and a tile floor, with a bar/counter.

The menu is short but interesting, mostly burgers and other sandwiches, a couple of salads, appetizers (including poutine), two dinner entrees, a steak and pasta, and 12 beers.

My first visit, I tried the signature burger, with onion rings as my side ($12). Arriving on a brioche bun, the burger was loosely packed and very good. This was promising enough that I returned on a drenching day in January for a second lunch.

This time I got the Oink-LT ($12), basically a BLT except with pork belly rather than bacon. That was a good switch, the soft, thick slices of pork belly having more taste and meat to them than the standard bacon. The side of fries was tasty.

Service was friendly and attentive both visits. In the spirit of full disclosure, the server, who is the general manager, comped my meal, she said because she remembered my early visit. I did not introduce myself. Anyway, I formed my judgment of the meal before realizing no bill would be forthcoming.

I would suggest only more attention to vegetarians, who must content themselves with either the Hipster burger or one salad, as virtually everything else, even the mac and cheese, has pork belly or another meat, and also the addition of a soup, which would have been a comforting choice on that cold, rainy day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Imperial Sushi

Imperial Sushi, 108 W. Holt Blvd. (at Euclid), Ontario; open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday

Downtown Ontario now has a sushi restaurant — but not a Japanese restaurant. That’s because Imperial Sushi, reflecting the demographic, is Mexican-run and Mexican-focused. They have sushi, but also tacos.

I was skeptical, but when a friend proposed meeting there for lunch, I was willing. Imperial Sushi is a couple of storefronts west of the downtown epicenter of Holt and Euclid, in a former mariscos spot.

There’s no sushi bar, just a kitchen, plus booths in the fairly large dining room. To start, a server brought out a cup of tortilla chips and, for dipping, a cup of ceviche. Right off the bat, this was going to be a different experience.

The menu has sushi rolls (but no nigiri or sashimi), plus ceviche, fish tacos and cooked seafood dishes. Just to further mix up the cultures, one of the latter includes fettucine.

We got a spicy tuna roll ($10), a crunchy roll ($11) and a guamuchilito roll ($12), pictured in that order below.

Overall, this is the brownest sushi I’ve ever seen. These and all other rolls use cream cheese. The spicy tuna was close to a Japanese restaurant version, except for the spicy orange sauce squirted on it; the others appeared to have added crunch through deep-frying rather than using tempura.

There was no wasabi, although we were given a small carafe of what the server called salsa soya, or soy sauce.

At another table, a man was matter-of-factly shaking Tapatio sauce on his roll.

“For a Mexican place i’d say the sushi’s not bad,” my friend observed. “For a sushi place it’s … adequate.” We didn’t finish our rolls and I doubt I’ll be back.

Imperial Sushi would be easy to mock, but let me say something in its defense. Americans are notorious for adapting foreign cuisines to their taste. This includes Mexican food, Chinese food and Japanese food. In Japan, they do not eat California rolls, obviously, nor do they serve the kind of party rolls many Americans love.

So, Mexican-Americans have adapted Japanese food to their taste too. Good for them. Imperial Sushi isn’t to my liking, but it’s a fascinating cross-pollination of two cultures, and I wish them well.

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Restaurant of the Week: China Republic

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China Republic, 12806 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Etiwanda), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A shopping plaza in easternmost Rancho Cucamonga, on Foothill Boulevard east of the 15 Freeway, is a surprisingly happening spot. It’s got Combine Kitchen, Tilted Kilt, a Korean BBQ and an ambitious Chinese restaurant, China Republic. I’d been wanting to try the latter and jumped when a friend and his wife wanted dinner.

The parking lot was bustling early on a Friday evening and a couple of likely Kilt customers were arguing belligerently. Things were more sedate at China Republic.

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It’s got a beautiful interior, with high ceilings, wooden panels with carved cutouts, lovely lantern-like fixtures and a modernist bar. It might be the most impressive restaurant interior in Rancho Cucamonga.

To my knowledge, China Republic is one of the very, very few Inland Valley restaurants with dim sum, or small-plate luncheons, and I’m told the place is packed. But this was a weeknight dinner. We ordered, as presented below, black vinegar mushrooms ($6), braised pork belly ($15), garlic broccoli ($10), dry scallop fried rice ($14) and Singapore noodles soup ($10, not pictured).

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We enjoyed our items, although none of them knocked us out. In what must be a concession to local tastes, the menu includes orange peel chicken and cream cheese wontons, not the sort of dishes they serve in Hong Kong.

“An A for aesthetics but a B for execution,” one friend suggested.

China Republic is worth trying, especially to admire the place, and if you get the dim sum, report back, please.

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