Restaurant of the Week: Jack’s Urban Eats

Jack’s Urban Eats, 7811 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily

Victoria Gardens earlier this year gained a Jack’s Urban Eats, a self-described “urban cafeteria” with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables. It currently has 14 locations, all in California and most around Sacramento. The closest to us is Fresno.

At the mall, it’s just south of King’s Fish House along the street that got a hip makeover a year or so ago, with design-conscious pavers, benches and lights, and which has gradually focused its stores and restaurants to match the feel. I checked out the restaurant recently at lunchtime with friends.

There’s a faux brick exterior, a high ceiling with exposed duct work, tables and booths and a few outdoor tables. You take a menu and line up to order, then move down the line to pay and collect your food at the end.

They have salads, which you can build to order, sandwiches such as tri-tip, chicken, reuben, cheese steak and club, plates such as tri-tip (a specialty), chicken or turkey, and beer and wine.

I got the steak salad ($11.75), with tri-tip, mixed greens, cranberries and bleu cheese. I liked it.

Someone else was set on one item but impulsively ordered a summer special item, the Hawaiian chicken sandwich ($9.50). I would describe it, but I forgot to ask what was on it. Odds are good that pineapple and teriyaki were involved. He said: “Delicious. I want to come back and try one of their regular menu items.” His wife has had their banh mi and loved that.

Our second friend, a vegan on a repeat visit, ordered the grilled portabella sandwich ($9.75), with a mushroom, sprouts, tomato and grilled onion on a ciabatta roll, holding the provolone. “Second time I’ve had it. Still good,” she said. So noted.

Our only complaint was that at the height of the lunch rush, the restaurant was noisy with not just conversation but music. As people cleared out, talking became more comfortable. You’re too urban, Jack!

I kept thinking of Tender Greens, a similar but better cafeteria chain that hasn’t ventured east of Pasadena. Probably we’re not yet worthy. Nothing wrong with Jack’s, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Melt

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The Melt, 7870 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

The Melt is a San Francisco-based burger chain with a small number of locations in California and Colorado. I’d eaten once at the Sunset and Vine restaurant and was only barely conversant with it before one opened earlier this year at Victoria Gardens.

The menu has burgers, grilled cheese, two salads, tomato soup and mac ‘n’ cheese, plus milkshakes and all-natural sodas. The corporate ethos is to use better ingredients and no preservatives. They also serve craft beer and wine.

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On my first visit I ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo ($10) and got a black cherry soda. It was a warming, basic meal. Frankly, it was forgettable, but pleasantly so.

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I wanted to return sometime for a milkshake after trying the overdone version at The Mug Shakes. On my second visit, then, I got the swiss and shrooms burger ($7) with fries ($2.45) and a mint chocolate chip shake ($5). Other choices were vanilla bean, double chocolate, cookies and cream, snickerdoodle (!) and salted caramel.

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Very good burger, which came with grilled onions and greens, on a poppyseed bun, and the fries, sprinkled with oregano, were addictive. The shake had a crumbled cookie, like a Thin Mint, on top and I liked it too.

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A couple of small tables stand outside the restaurant, beyond which is more of a communal patio with chairs in cheerful primary colors. The restaurant is along the made-over street for youngish people with outdoor seating, stylized crosswalks and sidewalks, and overhead strings of lights. I like it.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Stackz Co.

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The Stackz Co., 9223 Archibald Ave. (at Sixth), Rancho Cucamonga

I’ve passed by Stackz, which wasn’t far from our old office, but never pulled over. The aging business center is uninspiring, and then there’s the Z in the name and on the second sign, “Subz, Saladz and Brewz,” which subtly offended me.

Then we moved our office over to Archibald, where we’re now 3/10ths of a mile from Stackz. A couple of newsroom colleagues reported how good it was, as did a random reader. So I dropped my prejudices and went in.

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Stackz has beer and wine cocktails, and also sandwiches and salads. The interior is industrial chic, with plank walls, exposed ductwork, corrugated metal trim, a barrel and some interesting art, all vintage B&W photos of early airplanes and bicycles, I think to match the old-timey design of the logo.

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You order at the bar and take a seat at a table, a picnic table or the bar. On my first visit, I got the meatball sandwich ($8) as a combo with fries and drink ($3 more). This sandwich was very good, especially the springy roll, which tasted fresh. It was a pleasant surprise. No wonder people say nice things about Stackz.

I went back another day and got the cold Italian sub as a combo with chips and drink (same price as above). While I’m not generally a fan of cold sandwiches, this was pretty good too.

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The atmosphere is somewhat male. The majority of customers are men, and on my first visit, a picnic table of them silently eyeballed the female server as she walked away. That said, the service is friendly, there are women customers and the menu even has kids items. Also, the sandwiches are quite good. I’d go back even if I had to drive a few miles.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Sand Witch

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The Sand Witch, 1208 W. 9th St. (at Mountain), Upland

I’d heard of the Sand Witch, a little shop tucked between a Chevron and an auto repair shop, but hadn’t gone in until recently, even though a friend recommended the panini sandwiches ages ago.

Despite its neighbors, it manages to be a cute place that takes the “Witch” part of its punning name seriously: The interior colors are black and shades of orange (orange is the new black, if you hadn’t heard), there’s cartoony witch-themed framed art and the menu boasts items with supernaturally punning names, such as Chicken Presto (it has pesto), Harvest Moon, Cobb Web Salad and such.

All this isn’t overbearing, which is a relief, and thankfully the ban-Harry-Potter crowd isn’t picketing. The Sand Witch sells cold sandwiches, paninis, oven-toasted sandwiches, salads and a couple of daily soups “from the cauldron.” There are four vegetarian sandwiches, a fact many will appreciate.

I got a tuna melt ($7), which some of you will recall is my baseline sandwich at places that serve them. It was a panini, and it was only average, with the tuna salad a little watery. But then it had tomato and bits of celery, a nice touch. I had a coupon for a free soda and side with sandwich purchase and got potato salad, which was fine.

Admittedly underwhelmed, I felt like I should give them a second chance. A few weeks later, I got a half-and-half combo, where you can get any two of the following: a half sandwich, half salad or half soup. I got the deviled egg salad and loaded baked potato soup ($8.38), this time using a $2 off coupon.

Decent sandwich and soup, the latter with bacon, cheddar and scallions, and better than the panini. I wouldn’t recommend driving across the valley to eat here, but it’s a local option if you’re in the area. Also, the radio was turned up way too loud. You’d think they’d have a playlist devoted to “Witchy Woman,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and Stevie Nicks, but no.

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Restaurant of the Week: Capri Deli

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Capri Deli, 713 E. San Bernardino Road (at Grand), Covina

I saw a newspaper ad for Capri Deli on a recent Saturday morning, which reminded me that I’d once clipped a newspaper ad for Capri Deli and never went there. Having nothing to do, I decided to try it for lunch. “Serving great sandwiches since 1954” is an enticing motto, after all, promising not only a good meal but history.

Capri was easy enough to find, not far west of Kellogg Hill off the 10 Freeway (and equidistant from the 210). Inside there was a line at the counter, which had multiple staffers taking orders and making sandwiches. This gave me time to look around and think over my options. I also grabbed a bottled soda from the alcove of grocery items, where sodas are sold individually.

I got a meatball sandwich, the 12-inch version ($9), which was soon delivered to my table on a garlic roll, marinara on the side. A very good sandwich. The dining room has kitschy, humorous decor.

This is a busy place, clearly still popular in the Subway era, and that made me think of Grinder Haven in Ontario, which hasn’t been able to cut it in recent years. Capri Deli proves that people are still willing to line up for a better sandwich. The menu even uses the term “grinders” for its subs.

I came back the next Saturday, this time getting the cold cut combo grinder, the 6-inch version ($7). The counterwoman listed all the toppings for me but I couldn’t remember them all: salami, ham, mortadella and a few more, with oil, lettuce and tomatoes. Another good sandwich, and this time I knew to grab my soda from the refrigerated case, where they seem to have everything. The dining room was almost full this visit.

There’s a case of desserts too (see below), which looked tempting. The menu also has pizza and lasagna, salads and specialty sandwiches.

Capri opened in 1954 nearby and moved to this location in 1979. It’s rare that I write about a restaurant that’s not within the Inland Valley, but this is close enough, and it might be of interest to sandwich fans, including those who miss Grinder Haven’s glory days.

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Restaurant of the Week: Olive Grill

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Olive Grill, 320 S. Milliken Ave. (at Airport), Ontario; open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; closed Saturdays and Sundays

I hadn’t remembered hearing of Olive Grill until it made a listicle of 10 notable Ontario eateries on The Culture Trip’s website. It made me feel out of it. Isn’t it my job to know these things? The reader who sent me the list made a reconnaissance mission and said the place was fantastic. I’ve since made a couple of visits myself.

Getting there for most people will involve taking the 10, getting off at Milliken and heading south through the truck-choked intersection near the Travel Centers of America truck stops and under the relatively new train overpass. Once past that, Olive Grill is on the west side in an industrial park between Airport and Brickell.

Don’t let all that deter you. Olive Grill is colorful and cheery, if fast-paced on a lunch hour. They have breakfast burritos, hot and cold sandwiches, salads, burgers, teriyaki, yakisoba and smoothies.

On my first visit I got the Korean BBQ sandwich ($8, pictured below), curious how it would compare to the version at the nearby Corner Deli. It’s marinated beef with grilled onions and mushrooms, mozzarella, soy, garlic, pickled red ginger and garlic aioli.

It’s quite a rendition: less drippy than the one at Corner Deli, less meat, more flavors. Call it a draw. And you get a small salad, two orange wedges and a thin apple slice. I added a bag of chips and regretted it as the meal turned out to be filling as it was.

Next visit I tried the Edo charbroiled chicken sandwich ($8, pictured at bottom), with teriyaki chicken, Asian slaw (cabbage, green onions, carrots), mozzarella, pickled red ginger and garlic aioli, and again coming with the sides. (Having wised up, I didn’t get chips.) Another very good sandwich, unusual, tasty and satisfying.

I arrived moments before 1 p.m. and the dining room was mostly full, with a half-dozen people standing up waiting for to-go orders. By 1:05, half the people had left.

Why it’s called Olive Grill, which suggests Greek food, I don’t know — there may not be an olive in any of the dishes — but under any name, this Asian-owned mom and pop shop is well worth repeat visits.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Brick Market and Deli

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The Brick Market and Deli, 105 E. Arrow Highway (at Garey), Pomona

Step inside the Brick, which opened in February, and you might not believe you’re in Pomona. It’s a convenience store stocked mostly with organic and specialty products. Quinoa, organic salt, wasabi peas, bottled root beer and Newman’s Own products fill the shelves. Paper and cleaning products are Seventh Generation brand. This might be the only place in Pomona where you can buy biscotti.

They also have beer, lottery tickets and candy bars. I mean, it is a convenience store. You can stray from the concept, but you have to have the basics. It’s also a deli, and a good one, with an array of hot and cold sandwiches, side salads, even cupcakes. (See the menu here.)

I’ve been in a couple of times. First time I had the roasted pork, which came on garlic rosemary sourdough with provolone, cole slaw and mayo, toasted, with a small Greek salad as my side ($9 as a combo with drink). Wow, what a sandwich. Delicious. The salad, recommended by the server, was basically marinated cucumbers with a little feta and didn’t do much for me. (They have a Coke Freestyle machine for those that love them.)

Next visit I got the sausage sandwich, which came on an Italian roll with monterey jalapeno cheese and grilled peppers and onions, this time with a fruit salad as my side ($8.50 as a combo with drink). Good, if not as satisfying as the pork, and the fruit cup had a nice variety.

The Brick has free wifi and they’re active on Twitter, Facebook and Yelp. They seem like a smart, sophisticated bunch, the kind of business you’d expect to find in Claremont and thus great to see in Pomona, even if the location, by fast food row, is a pleasant surprise. They seem to be making it work.

There is very limited seating inside, only one table on my first visit, with a second one added by my second. But there’s a cute patio out back, shaded by the building, with a view of the next-door drive-thru for Johnny’s Hamburgers. Nothing wrong with Johnny’s, but you’ll be glad you’re at the Brick.

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Restaurant of the Week: Charlie’s Stars and Stripes

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Charlie’s Stars and Stripes American Deli, 296 N. 2nd Ave. (at C), Upland

After a couple of high-profile failures on the southeast corner of 2nd and C, Christophe’s and Aria, the folks at JD Allison’s, a sports bar on the southwest corner, took over the spot across the street and opened it last October as bar and grill with a military theme. It’s named for a relative who died in 2012 in Iraq while serving as an Army medic.

The interior is more welcoming to the general public than might be feared. There is red, white and blue, but you don’t feel like you’re eating inside a giant flag. The decor is fascinating, actually: old recruiting posters, memorabilia, maps and framed servicemember photos. There’s a wall devoted to them, with photos brought in by customers, and the effect is respectful and participatory.

Now to the menu. It’s mostly sandwiches, including hot dogs and burgers, with some salads, stuffed baked potatoes and entrees. I had a lunch with friends in which we got pastrami sliders and corned beef sliders ($9 each; pastrami is pictured below) and a buffalo fried chicken salad ($10, below), all of which met with our approval.

I returned another day for lunch and got a Pearl Harbor burger ($10, below). (Many of the menu items have military-themed names.) This was a hand-packed burger, probably one-third of a pound, and very good, with grilled pineapple and onions, Swiss and teriyaki glaze.

There’s a full bar, and they have happy hour and dinner specials, the most notable of which may be Monday’s $5 steak night. I went back for that: You get a small salad, a smaller steak and a loaded baked potato (pictured at bottom). Service was slow and with an iced tea, tax and tip I paid $10, but it’s still an amazing deal.

Charlie’s is a decent option downtown, and you’ll feel like you gained entrance to a VFW, only with better food.

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Update August 2016: Steak night is now $7, but c’mon, it’s an amazing deal.

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Restaurant of the Week: Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches

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Mica’s Peruvian Sandwiches, 8880 Archibald Ave. (at 8th), Rancho Cucamonga

Located in the Aamco Plaza, an automotive center just below the Metrolink tracks, Mica’s is one of a handful of restaurants that seem designed to feed you while you wait for your car to be serviced. The narrow Mica’s storefront has been home to a revolving door of eateries, seemingly having a new occupant each time you drive past. Mica’s opened in March 2013, an eternity by that space’s standards, and the only reason it should leave is if it finds a better space.

Which wouldn’t be difficult. When you walk in, you’re practically in the kitchen. You order at the display case from a woman, presumably the owner, who takes your order on a tablet. Behind her, you can catch a glimpse of a small kitchen crew working away in a sort of corridor before the kitchen bends behind a wall. Seating is at an L-shaped bar around the walls or at a couple of high-top tables. (About half the dining room is visible in the photo at bottom. I’m tempted to say it’s shown actual size.)

In other words, you might want to take your food to go. I braved dining in both times. Reader Andy introduced me to Mica’s. We had lunch: He got lomo saltado in sandwich form (below), I got a chicharron sandwich ($5.79 each). Mine was pork, onions and sweet potato on focaccia bread. Wow!

The display case, by the way, has Peruvian cookies, empanadas, canned Inca sodas and mousse. The menu board is on one wall, below. Click on the photo for a larger view.

I returned another time for a late lunch. From 3 to 7 p.m. they were offering dinner plates, usually $9, with a soda for $7.07 with tax. I had the lomo saltado (below): beef, onions and tomatoes over fries. Very good, and great for the price.

During my mid-afternoon meal, when I was the only person in the restaurant, a family of five entered and filled the place. A small girl said quietly, “This is little.”

It is, but the taste is mighty. You can’t sit comfortably for long, but you gain the satisfaction at having found excellent food in exceedingly humble surroundings.

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* Update July 2014: I returned for the first time in a couple of months to find a much-improved interior (below): tables and stools that now seat 18. The wraparound bar seating was removed. A much better use of the space, I think, and I hope the investment means the restaurant is catching on. I ate a lomo saltado sandwich with fries and drink ($7.62 with tax) and thought it was great.

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant of the Week: The Hat

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The Hat, 857 N. Central Ave. (at 11th), Upland

I hadn’t been to a Hat in years, and that was at Victoria Gardens, so when a friend invited me to lunch at the one in Upland I agreed immediately. The location is funny, a somewhat desolate stretch of Central Avenue, but that may accentuate the novelty of the inviting sight of the broad windows and neon sign, especially at night. What is this doing here?

(It was worth doing this Restaurant of the Week solely for an excuse to return at night for a photo!)

They do have nine cold sandwiches, but the Hat is known for its pastrami dip, burgers, hot dogs and chili. It’s a popular spot despite (or because of) the location, with a steady stream of cars in the parking lot and the drive-through.

My friend had the cold ham and Swiss ($5.60, below), which he swears by. I got the signature pastrami dip ($8, below that). It’s a good sandwich, and there was so much loose pastrami that I could have made a half-sandwich out of it. Wonder if I could have bought half a French roll?

My friend praised the chili cheese fries, which I hadn’t had. I returned a few weeks later for that ($6.60) as an entree. Not my healthiest meal, obviously, but the chili is pretty good and ladled generously. I ate about two-thirds and took the rest home, where I got two small meals out of them.

The Hat was founded in 1951 in Alhambra. Upland’s location, which opened in May 1987, was the third and at that point was in unincorporated territory; it’s since been annexed into Upland. Jerry Cook, the general manager, opened this Hat and is still there daily, touching tables and chatting with customers. The chain now has 10 locations.

One thing I love is the guy behind the counter in Upland who calls out order numbers. He has no microphone. His lungs provide the amplification. He just bellows in what sounds like a Swedish accent, but almost certainly isn’t. “Nomber vorty-twooo-ooh!!” His volume and urgency make you hop to it — an action you would be unable to take after being weighed down by your meal.

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