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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Restaurant of the Week: Ramen Lounge

Ramen Lounge, 238 Yale Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont; open noon to midnight Tuesday to Sunday; closed Mondays

Six or seven years ago, two friends and I went looking for ramen locally and could only find a so-so version at a Japanese restaurant in Chino. My friends, newcomers to the area, were amazed ramen essentially was unavailable around here. Now, ramen may be the poke of 2019, what with the number of ramen parlors that opened last year and are still opening in the Inland Valley.

Claremont now has two, and they’re less than a block apart in the Village. There’s Menkoi Ya, a more traditional restaurant, and the less sedate Ramen Lounge. I hadn’t been to either when a friend suggested we get ramen.

It was a Sunday and Menkoi Ya was closed, so we went to Ramen Lounge. On such points does fate turn.

Ramen Lounge‘s interior is purposely a bit stark, with a bare floor, a few tables and banquettes, a J-shaped bar and art from famous old-school hip-hop record jackets by De La Soul, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. One friend calls it skater decor. The restaurant took over last fall from Yiannis, a Greek restaurant that had occupied the space since the early 1960s, initially as the Yale Cafe.

The menu is short: ramen, rice bowls, small plates. We started with two pork belly steam buns ($8), which were garnished with pickled red onions and slaw. We liked them.

We each got a bowl of tonkatsu ramen ($13). It came with pork belly, pickled bamboo shoots, a soft-boiled egg, corn and baby bok choy. The broth was thick and milky. We both liked it. We weren’t impressed by the bacon-sized strip of pork belly, which we extracted and pulled apart into small pieces, and which my friend found too fatty.

There’s a party vibe at Ramen Lounge, not a Japanese vibe. Note the hours: noon to midnight. Servers were dressed casually (one was in a ballcap), matching the skater feel.

I haven’t had enough ramen to pass judgment, although the newfound plethora of ramen parlors will make forming opinions easier. A friend who prefers Menkoi Ya turns up her nose at Ramen Lounge. It’s probably not the best ramen. But it hit the spot on a cold, rainy day.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pola’s Mariscos

Pola’s Mariscos, 8801 Central Ave. (at Arrow), Montclair; open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I’d noticed Pola’s while driving along Central Avenue, in the aging center with Dolce Bistro, Tokyo Kitchen and more. Pola’s took over a long-vacant Quizno’s whose sign’s ghost image could be easily read even years after its departure.

While no expert on Mexican seafood, mariscos sounded appealing, and a new restaurant in Montclair is almost news in itself. So I arranged to meet a friend for lunch there. I could accurately say this took place on a cold, blustery day, even though this was in the middle of January rather than any time in the four weeks since then, which have largely been just as dismal.

It’s a simple operation with a short menu. I got the campechana ($12.50), with shrimp, octopus, tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado.

The seafood, simply prepared, tasted fresh and of the sea. Does the serving look large in the stemmed glassware? It was. It was all I could do to finish it.

My friend got Reyna’s mix ($13.50), with shrimp, octopus, crab (hence the extra $1), cucumbers and tomatoes. He pronounced himself equally satisfied and stuffed.

The menu has aguachile, shrimp cocktail, molcajete and tostadas, plus menudo on weekends, but no tacos or burritos.

We were given crisp tostadas as accompaniment, plus ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce. The staff was friendlier than the norm. Pola’s is a nice place.

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Restaurant of the Week: Slummin’ Gourmet

Slummin’ Gourmet, 224 E. 2nd St. (at Gibbs), Pomona; open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday

There’s a trend in LA of food truck operators opening traditional restaurants, and like a lot of LA trends (concert venues in old theaters, Instagram-worthy breweries, homelessness), this one has likewise come to Pomona.

Slummin’ Gourmet‘s truck used to come to the Fairplex Food Truck Thursday event, so it’s not a stranger to town. Last October, chef Tony Lu retired the truck, except for catering or special events, and opened his restaurant in a narrow storefront in downtown Pomona’s Antique Row. For you oldtimers, it occupies what used to be Kaiser Bill’s Military Emporium.

After weeks in which I waited patiently for a friend to be in town at lunchtime, she threw me over for another lunch partner. I see how it is. So when two other friends wanted to meet up for lunch in Pomona, Slummin’ was among my suggestions and that’s where they picked after a look at the intriguing menu.

Antique Row, once lined with antique stores, now is about half vacant, another line of work, like newspapering, on which the internet has taken a toll. Squeezed between a salon school and a vacant antique mart, Slummin’ is joltingly modern from its design aesthetic to its inventive fusion of Asian and American tastes.

We lined up at the counter and ordered a bunch of items to share: chipotle maple sweet potato tots ($5), Chicken Done Right sandwich ($12), honey walnut shrimp “tacos” ($14), P-Town Seoul Bowl ($14), Asian BBQ pork belly baos ($9), and cauliflower curry grain bowl ($11).

The items began arriving in paper baskets or on plates. We were also given paper baskets as plates and plastic utensils. (Slummin’s motto: “Fancy, not schmancy.”)

The tots, dusted with sesame seeds and scallions, were fun, only lightly spicy and both tastier and moister than sweet potato fries tend to be.

The honey walnut shrimp “tacos” are served in Bibb lettuce wraps rather than tortillas, befitting their Chinese, or at least Chinese American, origins. The lettuce held together surprisingly well, and the combination of lightly fried shrimp, sauce, cucumber, lettuce and crispy white vermicelli was delicious. Two of us said this was our favorite.

The Seoul bowl, with rice, pork belly, kim chi and a fried egg, was another favorite. We also liked the pork belly baos, which came open-faced like tacos.

We were less impressed by the grain bowl, where the curry and the quinoa didn’t appear on speaking terms. The Chicken Done Right sandwich, despite a nice Asian slaw, didn’t have enough crunch or spice. Chicken Almost Done Right would have been more accurate. “It’s just not memorable,” one in our party said. We also topped things off with two churros ($3.50 each), which didn’t appear to have been made onsite and which were too sugary.

Still, we were impressed by the eclectic menu, which changes every week. In fact, looking at the menu online as I write this on Tuesday, not a single item we ordered — and we ordered a lot — is on this week’s menu.

More important, then, is the general impression: It’s a clean, lively spot, the staff is really nice and they’re turning out some quality items. “They have that food-truck pedigree where they’re used to pumping things out,” one friend said admiringly.

You won’t feel like you’re slumming by eating here. Slummin’ Gourmet elevates the Pomona dining scene.

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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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