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: Sanamluang Thai Cuisine, Claremont


Sanamluang Thai Cuisine, 710 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at San Jose), Claremont

It might seem baffling that Sanamluang, which has long had a popular restaurant at 1648 Indian Hill Blvd. in Pomona, only a few blocks south of the 10 Freeway, would open a second location a half-mile away. Even Starbucks tend to be placed farther apart.

But the second Sanamluang, which opened in December, seems perpetually busy, as a glance through the windows while driving past reveals at almost any hour. Any restaurant with late-night eats — it’s open until 11 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays until 1 a.m. — near a freeway exit and hungry college students is a good bet.

(It’s hard to tell if the original location is still busy as its shopping center is in the midst of a renovation and the restaurant facade and entrance are framed by scaffolding. I blogged about that Sanamluang in 2010, where one perhaps ill-advised line drew a flood of testy comments.)

I met two friends at the new location for lunch recently. The former Bakers Square, and Sambo’s, has a new exterior that with its angles and color scheme matches the look immediately south of the 10 with Norms and more. The interior has been lightened and brightened. It’s very inviting with its airy feel, photo murals of Bangkok and natural light.

One had the No. 44, duck stew noodle soup ($8, pictured below), another the No. 74, Chinese broccoli fried rice ($7, below that). I had No. 1, koo chai, steamed rice buns with vegetables ($7, next to bottom), and No. 59, chapo, which is barbecued pork, roast duck and deep-fried pork belly over rice ($9, bottom).

I’m a fan of both my dishes and liked these versions. The vegetarian said his broccoli “was very fresh,” while the soup eater, who was getting over a cold, made liberal use of the table’s condiments, especially the Sriracha-style chili sauce. He said with satisfaction, “It got my sinuses where I wanted them.”

We got there before noon and by the time we left, the place was buzzing. It’s deservedly popular and a great addition to town. As the soup eater put it, “It’s the nearest thing to soul food in Claremont.”






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Restaurant of the Week: The Bowl


The Bowl Thai Cuisine, 1105 N. Mountain Ave. (at 4th), Ontario

After a decade as Super Bowl Thai, this restaurant was bought by the people who own Mix Bowl, a Thai restaurant in Pomona. They renamed the Ontario location simply The Bowl and gave it a similarly cutesy mascot. (This one’s a woman. The Pomona mascot is vaguely boy-like.) Don’t ask me where “bowl” comes from: Other than a few soups, everything is on a plate.

A friend and I went there for dinner recently. Weird coincidence: Based on the design and roofline, both The Bowl and Mix Bowl appear to be in former Wendy’s locations. Interesting business model.

The interior is clean and bright, like Mix Bowl, with tiled floor and neon accents. Booths have purple cushions. I liked it, and there’s more elbow room than Mix Bowl, which is busy and a little cramped. The menu isn’t quite as expansive as Mix Bowl’s, where there are now upwards of 150 items. The Bowl has about 80. (Confusingly, the menu starts with No. 11.)

The server recommended the curries. We split a yellow curry with chicken ($8, bottom), which incidentally was in a bowl, and one of the specialty items, Bowl Noodles with chicken, spaghetti noodles, onions and tomatoes ($9, below), which arrived on a plate. We liked both items, neither one of which is on the Mix Bowl menu. As with Mix Bowl, this is what you might call the diner version of Thai food: It’s not fancy, and it comes out of the kitchen fast. Service was friendly and attentive and nobody chased us out when we were lingering.

You might prefer Lucky Elephant, which is exactly two blocks north on Mountain, both for its food and elaborate decor. I do. But The Bowl is a pleasant surprise, and I’ll return there too. It’s a little more casual and a little more fun.



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Restaurant of the Week: Pho N Mor

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Pho N Mor, 3233 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

The Albertsons center in Chino Hills reflects the city’s growing Asian population: There are Japanese, Chinese and Korean restaurants and a foot massage business, and now there’s Pho N Mor, which has Vietnamese food and opened in late 2011. I haven’t done a comprehensive survey, but there may be only one other Vietnamese restaurant in Chino Hills.

I had lunch at Pho N Mor recently with a friend. It’s decorated in modern style, making the most of a small space, and surrounded by windows on two sides, letting in plenty of natural light. Service was friendly and many tables were occupied.

It was a hot day and I wasn’t in the mood for a bowl of pho, the popular Vietnamese soup, so I opted for broken rice with barbecued pork ($6.75, pictured), plus a mango smoothie ($3.25). My friend opted for pad Thai with chicken ($8).

I liked my dish, but they used regular rice, not the variety known as broken rice. The mango smoothie was a mango freeze, made with crushed ice, not milk. The pad Thai looked good, but of course, that’s Thai, not Vietnamese.

So, a mixed verdict: As a sort of entry-level Vietnamese experience, this was fine, but aficionados would probably want to head to Diamond Bar, Chino or Pomona.

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Restaurant of the Week: Bright Star Thai Vegan


Bright Star Thai Vegan Cuisine, 9819 Foothill Blvd. (at Ramona), Rancho Cucamonga

A vegan restaurant in the Inland Valley? Unlikely as it seems, there is one, in an aging strip mall east of Archibald Avenue that also boasts a Korean market. Bright Star opened a few weeks ago and on a recent lunchtime was doing decent business.

Since few Thai dishes use eggs or dairy products, this is essentially a vegetarian place, but they do use soy milk rather than condensed milk in Thai iced tea, which is less sweet than what you’re used to. Bright Star has soups, salads, curries, noodle and rice dishes, and some non-Asian sandwiches.

Our table had two of the lunch specials, garlic soy chicken with mixed vegetables and sweet chili soy fish ($6.95 each), which come with miso soup, salad, steamed brown rice and two dumplings. The faux chicken was indeed chicken-like, the faux fish less so but acceptable. This isn’t precisely my sort of thing, but it wasn’t bad, and you can’t help but feel more virtuous after a vegan meal, which counts for something.

I was impressed that a niche restaurant that would seem better suited to Santa Monica appears to have found a place here, and a multi-ethnic clientele: Over the course of a lunch hour, diners included a half-dozen blacks, a few Asians, one Latino and a white couple besides yours truly. Not cutting into meat must cut across all sorts of boundaries.

(This area has just two other vegetarian restaurants, according to HappyCow’s restaurant guide: Veggie Era, 903 W Foothill Blvd. in Upland, and Veggie and Tea House, 641 Arrow Highway in San Dimas.)

* Update, February 2014: Bright Star is still around, which is even more impressive given that its strip center is largely vacant. I got the garlic soy chicken again for photo purposes. It’s gone up a mere 4 cents in price in six years, to $6.99, although you only get one dumpling now, not two. Still tasty, and the restaurant was doing a good lunch trade.


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Restaurant of the Week: Green Mango


Green Mango Thai Bistro, 11226 4th St. (at Milliken), Rancho Cucamonga

My unholy love for Mix Bowl Cafe in Pomona has been well-documented. It’s Thai fast food, essentially, not far from home and casual enough — with its bright lighting, colors and neon and its T-shirt-clad servers — that a lone diner can eat there without feeling self-conscious.

On the other end of the spectrum is Green Mango, which opened in 2007 cater-corner from Ontario Mills (but in R.C.) in a space formerly occupied by Mi Tortilla. The family owned restaurant is decorated in teak direct from Thailand, and with its straight-backed chairs, square plates and staff in traditional dress it feels slightly elegant.

The menu, too, is lighter on the noodle and rice dishes Mix Bowl favors. There’s a nice range of entrees: chicken, duck, pork, beef, curries, seafood and vegetarian.

I’ve been to Green Mango a half-dozen times in its year or so of operation, in groups of two to five, but have never written about it. So on Thursday, I went in for a solo lunch. The place was, thankfully, busier than I’ve seen it. It may, finally, be catching on.

Since my last visit, the lunch menu has expanded from nine items to 30, and prices dropped a bit, with the lowest special at $5.95, which may be helping.

I got Panang Salmon ($8.95), which was chunks of salmon in a red curry with coconut milk, mildly spicy. Quite good, and as with all the lunch specials, you also get a small salad, a wonton, a scoop of rice and a cup of soup. Candidly, these sides are smaller than before, and not as good, either. A cream cheese wonton? That’s too American for a restaurant like this. But for the money, you get a filling meal.

In past visits I’ve had Jade Curry Chicken, Pad Thai (both $7.95) and, for dinner, Pra Ram Long Soung Prawn ($15.95), which is sauteed prawns with garlic, peanut sauce and sauteed spinach. The Sweet Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango ($6.95) dessert is delicious.

There’s no special need for me to mention the amusingly named Angry Beef, Angry Chicken, Drunken Noodle and Dancing Crispy Duck entrees, but I can’t resist.

Oh, and I can attest that Green Mango is a good choice after a movie at the Mills. Boston’s, BJ’s, etc., are packed, with lines out the doors. Green Mango is quiet and you’ll be seated quickly. It’s not as popular as it deserves to be but hopefully it’ll be around a while.

While I haven’t made a comprehensive survey, it’s up there with Thai T in Rancho Cucamonga and Swasdee Thai Cuisine in Chino Hills as the nicest Thai restaurants in the Inland Valley.

Although I still love Mix Bowl best.

* Update, February 2014: I went back to Green Mango for lunch and to take photos, ordering ginger pork ($8, below), which comes with salad, soup, wonton and rice. The entree was very good, the rest acceptable. I couldn’t get a good shot of the dining room without being obtrusive, but at bottom is an abbreviated view of the large-party area, which has sunken seating, and there are photos on the restaurant’s website.



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