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: 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: Caffe Allegro, Upland

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Caffe Allegro, 186 N. 2nd Ave. (at Ninth), Upland; open daily

It can be easy to take a restaurant for granted. Downtown Upland’s fortunes ebb and flow, but Caffe Allegro has hung in there for nearly two decades. It opened in 1998, five years after the original location debuted in La Verne, and both are still operating today.

I’ve been to the Upland version perhaps a half-dozen times, both in the early days and then again the past two Decembers, visits that reminded me that it’s an unsung local restaurant.

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There’s patio seating along Second Avenue; inside, a substantial dining room adjoins a dimly lighted, popular wine bar. Near year-end, an upside-down Christmas tree near the front door is an annual sight. The dining room has high ceilings with rooms-spanning arches, inscriptions in Italian and faux sculptures.

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Entrees range from $14 to $32 and include pasta, salads, a few pizzas and more. With friends in 2014, I got tortellini a la pesto ($16); last year, it was linguini tuttomare ($25), with shrimp, scallops, tuna, squid, mussels and clams in broth. An Italian American at the table said, “That’s as Italian a dish as you can get. My parents would be proud of you.”

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Service was low-key and professional. The only problem was the wine three of my friends ordered hadn’t been chilled, and the waiter’s attempt to quick-chill it wasn’t really successful. But they didn’t mind. We also shared a tiramisu ($8).

I’m only an occasional Italian diner, but the Italian American at the table had the same conclusion as me: Allegro is among the better Italian restaurants around these parts. Give them a try if you haven’t, or try them again if it’s been a few years. It’s right where it was last time you saw it.

In the hallway leading to the restrooms: Fellini movie posters. Nice touch.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oggi’s

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Oggi’s, 1173 E. 19th Ave. (at Campus), Upland; open until 10 p.m. Sundays, 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Founded in 1991, Oggi’s (pronounced “OH-jeez,” and meaning “today” in Italian) opened in Upland’s Colonies Crossroads Center earlier in 2016. There are currently 15 locations. Oggi’s is a pizzeria and sports bar with its own line of microbrews.

I had dinner there with a friend recently. There are a lot of screens (it was a Monday, so it was all football), and a large, well-lighted square bar. A radio station was broadcasting and occasionally offering a quiz for customers with prizes. So it was a little loud.

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The menu is mostly pizza, pasta, wraps, salads and burgers. I got a medium pizza with anchovies (!) and mushrooms ($18), she got a calzone with pepperoni ($10), plus a side caesar ($3).

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Our meals were unobjectionable but unmemorable. My pizza was average: bready and bland, a half-step up from Domino’s but nothing that would make me want to return. She found the ricotta in her calzone (alongside the standard mozzarella) unnecessary and fussy. The salad was better. Overall, her meal “was a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5,” she said. We each took some of our food home.

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A friend later told me he’d been unimpressed on his visit: His wings were “ehh,” the sauce on his pizza unappealing.

Oggi’s had offered me a free meal if I made an appointment, which was unacceptable since I would have been identifying myself rather than eating anonymously, but I said I’d accept a gift card that could be presented at the end of the meal.

(That’s only the first or second time that possibility has come up, but it was nice to not be paying for one of these Restaurant of the Week meals entirely out of my own pocket.)

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The service we got as average joes was substandard in one important aspect: friendly enough, competent, but no one ever asked if we wanted refills on our iced tea or Coke. We could have asked but preferred to see how it played out. We were there nearly two hours and no one offered. Hmph.

I can’t judge the microbrews, but if you’re into that sort of thing, and like sports, Oggi’s might be your thing. If you want to watch a game with friends and eat, this would be a better spot than many, but based on what we had, the food isn’t good enough to go there for on its own.

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Restaurant of the Week: Souvlla Greek Grill

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Souvlla Greek Grill, 1945 N. Campus Ave. (at 19th), Upland; open daily

In mid-February, finding myself near the Colonies Crossroads Center and very hungry, I went looking for food. I pulled into the western half of the center with the intention of going to zPizza, and that’s when I saw Souvlla. I’d heard about it back when it opened, in 2014, and then, as sometimes happens, forgot the whole thing. Rather than go to the familiar pizza place, this was definitely worth a try.

It was past 8:30 p.m., which is about the time the Inland Valley goes to sleep, but Souvlla would be open until 9, so I went in.

The menu has gyro sandwiches, salads, plates and a list of sides, rice bowls and burritos (!). It’s not traditional Greek, clearly. I got a gyros plate ($11) with lamb, rice and a salad. As a fan of Greek food, I thought this was decent, comparable to Cafe Moderno in Montclair or Saca’s in Claremont. That said, I was nonplussed to see the option of a pork gyro instead of lamb and am not sure what to make of it.

A few minutes before 9 p.m., the music was shut off, a sign that we shouldn’t get too comfortable. It was me at one table and three people, who’d arrived after me, at another. We left at the same time about 10 minutes later. But I understood: The Inland Valley needs its beauty sleep.

Update: Before this post could be published, the restaurant closed.

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Restaurant of the Week: Juancho’s, Upland

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Juancho’s Mexican Cuisine, 2440 W. Arrow Route (at Monte Vista), Upland

There’s a Juancho’s in Ontario, which I’ve heard is good, and now there’s a larger, nicer one on the border of Upland and Claremont, i.e., Upmont, in a center by the colleges and next door to Noodle World Jr.

I’ve been there for lunch twice and had a favorable impression both times.

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There’s a main dining room and a smaller bar area with a couple of booths and a couple of tables, separated from the main room by a faux-brick archway. While the dining room is kind of a big box, there are pleasant touches: heavy wood tables and chairs, faux plaster walls, slow ceiling fans and subtle lighting, plus some interesting tile murals.

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The first visit, a friend from the colleges got shredded beef flautas (pictured above), while I had an asada torta (pictured below), both ordered off the lunch menu and both $7. We both liked our food, and my friend was impressed that my torta didn’t fall apart in my hands.

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Maybe three weeks later, I returned on my own and got the Juancho’s burrito with carnitas, again off the lunch menu and priced at $7. This was good too. There are better burritos, but you’d have to drive two, three, maybe four miles to find them. Juancho’s has fancier furnishings than many Mexican restaurants too, akin to Tio’s Tacos.

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My only regret was I forgot to eat the orange slice.

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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: Padua Pasta Makers

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Padua Pasta Makers, 300 E. Arrow Highway (at 3rd), Upland; closed Sundays

Two friends teamed up to open an Italian market in March, after more than a year of work and a failed crowd-funding campaign. But that didn’t deter them. Padua Pasta Makers took over a former dance studio, which operated as a cleaners prior to that, that now is a gleaming, tiled shrine to Italian food.

There’s a deli counter with meat and 18 kinds of pasta; refrigerator cases with pre-packaged pasta and sauces made onsite; shelves and tables of canned tomatoes, olives and olive oils; and fresh bread, baked daily. Also, a light fixture made, upon closer inspection, from utensils.

You can get hot or cold sandwiches at lunchtime, 6 inches for $6.50, 10 inches for $8.50. I met a couple of friends there for lunch recently and ordered the Padua Special, the 6-inch version, with mortadella, salami, capocolla and provolone. I got it as a box lunch for $9.50, which gets you a soda, a tiny salad (I chose pesto pasta salad) and a piece of chocolate, not to mention a box.

The sandwich was quite filling, and I ended up taking half of it home. Should they make a 3-inch version? You might be better off skipping the box, as the extras may not feel worth $3. (Although the small piece of chocolate was awfully good.) I’ve meant to go back and buy pasta or sauce to go and will have to do that.

The business is evolving: When I was there late in August, they’d just got their beer and wine license, and they’ve added more dine-in tables because people want to eat there. And I can’t blame them: It’s lovely and sparkling, almost like a tea room. Also, the bathrooms may be the nicest in all of Upland. One friend said: “It’s like a men’s room in a Manhattan hotel lobby.”

Nothing but the best for the City of Gracious Living.

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Remembering Don’s Hobby Hut

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Above, the vacant lot where Mustang Books used to stand.

In January I posted about the demolition of Mustang Books, a long-standing dirty book emporium on Upland’s Central Avenue. But that wasn’t the first business in that building. Michael Guerin, who was the subject of a 2012 post about the Grove Theatre Pal Club of his youth, emailed me about more innocent shop of the 1960s. Take it away, Michael:

“Every time I pass the site of the former adult bookstore on the west side of Central just south of Foothill I am reminded of an earlier hobby shop that occupied the building.

“It was the 1960s and the concrete block building at the front of that lot was owned by a man named Don Domes and operated under the name Don’s Hobby Hut.

“This was at the time the only decent place to buy model cars and airplanes, early remote control aircraft and other hobby stuff.

“Don was a trendsetter in that he even had discontinued Revell or Monagram plastic model kits up on the high shelf available for some exorbitant price for those that were real aficionados.

“That place may have kept me alive in my elementary school years even into early teens.

“I don’t know that anyone’s mentioned it and it certainly doesn’t show any Google searches but I thought I would reminisce about it anyway in case it comes up in other conversations about local history.

“I think it closed down in the late ’70s or early ’80s and later as we all know it became a hobby shop of a different sort before being closed down and later bulldozed.”

Thanks, Michael. Now, if someone ever Googles “Don’s Hobby Hut Upland,” they’ll get one useful result.

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