Restaurant Guide

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Posted March 12, 2009 in Arts & Culture

Tasteful Creations at Twisted Gourmet

Wow! I walked in to the Twisted Gourmet looking for some take out and left with a bit of a restaurant crush, mainly due to the excellent service and overall buzz of this Corona restaurant. Owner Nick Wilson has created an amusing and creative space, one that resembles a bakery delicatessen on the inside, yet dishes up an innovative Italian menu instead. Dotting the menu are andwiches, creative pizzas like the Puerto Nuevo—which features tiger shrimp and Turkish capers—and a selection of flavorsome salads. Twisted’s tasty food is supplemented by fantastic service from the staff. I hit the hostess Alyssa with a difficult question, “What on your menu will taste good five hours from now?” This is a very hard question to answer, but Alyssa contemplatively led me through the possible options, from a pizza to Stromboli. Her eventual recommendation, upon much thoughtful deliberation, was the Love Potion Number Nine salad. This seemed an odd choice—lettuce wilts. But it held up well, the gorgonzola, beefsteak tomatoes, and razor thin slices of deliciously smoked chicken breast stayed fresh. With a nice bar and an eclectic menu, not to mention funky décor such as oversized tennis rackets and dim lighting, the Twisted Gourmet may catch your eye too. This is one of the jewels of the local casual dining scene. (Bill Gerdes)

Twisted Gourmet, 163 West Ontario Ave., Corona, (951) 736-3600; info@twisted-gourmet.com; AE, MC, V

 

Nice Folk at the Cowgirl Café

Cowgirl Café is not  one of the dime a dozen burger joints that pollute every corner of the IE, and if the unregulated dung sensation didn’t already clue you in, not exactly a touristy stop off the I-15 either. Inside is pure Americana; dining rooms packed with oversized couples perched squarely on plain black diner chairs, large families, sunglass-wearing ZZ-Toppers and biker dudes occupying prime real estate at the breakfast bar, cowboys and yuppies coexisting in one room—a genuine birdbath of the best the IE has to offer.  And the Cowgirl Café has the hearty appetite and attitude to feed this heady crowd. If the lines of ravenous diners snaking out into the parking lots hasn’t disarmed you, then the cowgirls attention to quick refreshments (literally within few minutes after you sit down), winning million dollar smiles and steadfast efficiency will, and in a good way. Oversized portions arrive piping hot and the cowgirls’ attention is never too far behind. Even at the dizzying pace of diners heading in and out, the cowgirls never lose their cool and their kindly accommodation to even the most nit-picky diners easily makes them the friendliest eats this side of town. (Nancy Powell)

 

Cowgirl Café II, 2859 Hamner Ave., Norco, (951) 371-5465; Cash only (ATM available)  

 

Friendliness is Finer at Jimmy’s Diner

While it’s a bit of a misnomer to call Jimmy’s a diner—it’s far closer to a great fast food spot—Jimmy’s Diner does resemble the classic notion in at least one way: Service. Maybe that seems obvious, but whether it’s taking orders or serving up chili fries or burgers—or the incredible sourdough chicken avocado melt, good gravy—the staff here moves, humming around and with their heads on swivels. When you’re ordering your food these role models are helpful and full of personality, making you feel like you’re in a chattier little dining nook in Poughkeepsie, not a fast food joint in Corona. Don’t get me wrong, this is quality fast food, the rapidity of the meal having nothing in common with the quality. Think Farmer Boys but with a tad more originality and care to the food. Try one of the classic sandwiches like the rib-eye steak or the pastrami and you’ll know it ain’t no number supersized four combo. There also a host of great salad options at Jimmy’s, if you’re past the chili-cheese dog stage in life. Or come for breakfast, which lasts till the hangover hour of eleven. Grab a breakfast burrito and head out to the sparse but completely chill patio. Try doing that at a diner in Poughkeepsie this time of year. (Bill Gerdes)

 

Jimmy’s Diner, 160 E. Ontario Ave., Corona, (951) 734-0800; AE, MC, V

 

Say Hello to Angelo’s 

People swear by the marinara at Angelo’s, but what gets many excited are the vegetarian options for nearly every dish available. The staff doesn’t even flinch if you ask for a meatless meatball sandwich with mizithra cheese, a true hallmark of full-on, fret-free dining. It’s service with a smile, even during the lunch rush. These people move fast. There is no table service, but you will be glad you’re helping yourself once you hit up the relish bar where you choose from pickled cucumbers, carrots, beets and more. You’ll be in and out without feeling whisked through the door, and you’ll have some yummy, buttery rolls to boot. (Arrissia Owen Turner)

Angelo’s, 11275 Mountain View Ave., Loma Linda, (909) 796-0080; Debit cards and cash only.

 

Glass Always Full at The Farm Artisan

The Farm Artisan’s quaint, unpretentious atmosphere will surprise you with its wait staff who offer all the attentiveness you’d expect at an upscale steak house with so many vegetarian options. The Redlands restaurant known for its seasonal menus and leanings toward locally grown greens is also famous for its exceptional service. Ask any of the plate-slingers and they will have vast amounts of passion and knowledge about Chef Roberto Argentina’s dishes. From the moment they walk out with a silver tray of French-pressed coffee, you know you’re in for exceptional service. By the time I finished my first visit, I was on a first-name basis with my server and coming back days later for a five-course vegan meal. You will never have an empty glass or a half-full basket of foccacia at The Farm. (Arrissia Owen Turner)

 

Farm Artisan in Redlands, 22 E. State St., Redlands, (909) 792-1162; www.farmartisanfoods.com; AE, D, MC, V

 

Travel Back in Time at Centro Basco

Centro Basco was the formal dive of Basque shepherds before mass suburbia displaced their livelihoods and the livelihoods of the bovines. Back in the ’60s, weary dairy farmers stopped at the lodge for chow and spirits before surrendering the night to nagging wives. In fact, Centro Basco appears to have resisted the passing of time, maintaining the same relaxed, comfy, rustic domesticity as in the old days and providing communal nourishment for tired souls in typical Basque fashion. Longtime French, Basque and Spanish-speaking locals hang about and chat at the bar, extending hands of friendship to total strangers who leave many hours later feeling like they’re extended members of the family. Descendents of the Berterrechte family still run the place, offering friendly service that strays occasionally into lethargy before snapping back to full attention. Lack of water never seems to be a problem, and no sooner do you finish off one course than the waitress clears your plate for the onslaught of the next. (Nancy Powell)

 

Centro Basco, 13432 Central Ave., Chino, (909) 628-9014; AE, D, MC, V

 

Rising to the Occasion at Duane’s Prime Steaks and Seafood at Mission Inn

Built in 1876, Mission Inn is home to four restaurants, but the top shelf restaurant by far is the formal, fine dining haven Duane’s. Whether your server is bringing out the New York, filet mignon or rib eye U.S.D.A. Prime steak or cracking an egg tableside to mix up your Caesar salad dressing on the fly, you can bet it will be put down with panache. The wait staff rises to the ceremony involved with being known as the Inland Empire’s only AAA Four Diamond-awarded restaurant. From the moment they roll out the cart with the night’s choices to when they ceremoniously parade the food out to the table, you’ll feel like royalty because of their loyalty. If you weren’t already absorbing decadence when you rolled up to the valet in front of the European-style block-long hotel, the high ceilings and intimate atmosphere with attentive, specialized service will make you feel like the center of the universe with steak knife in hand. And don’t worry about any chattering neighbors—the tables are just far enough apart to feel like you’re in your own private Idaho with potatoes cooked to perfection. (Arrissia Owen Turner)

 

Duane’s Prime Steaks at the Mission Inn, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 341-6767; www.missioninn.com. AE, D, MC, V

 

No More Sticky Floors at Joe’s Bar and Grill

Joe’s Bar and Grill hit’s an old-skool note that, on the Friday night I stopped by, goes down well with the drinks and bar cuisine it serves up. On a weekend night Joe’s is definitively more bar than grill, which the patrons have grown to expect, adapt to, and live by. It’s a beautiful sort of metamorphosis. Joe’s is also the kind of bar where it’s okay to holler a little and without anybody getting their wine snifter out of joint. Everyone knows one another, and if they don’t they will. This applies to and is facilitated by the staff, who serve up libations and the daily specials with genuine (read: unforced) smiles. It’s that honest down-home service, with no corporate slogans, no insincere “How are you’s?” and no signs of visible flair that make Joe’s an apt choice for a bite and/or a brew. On a recent visit, I had the French dip, a throw-back sandwich to a simpler time when sodium juice and red meat were meant for one another, and your mustaches always dripped its secrets. They make a mean French dip at Joe’s and as I sat back in my retro comma-shaped booth watching the clientele (a fabulous mix of sports fans, cougars on the prowl, and red-cheeked louts on this occasion) I realized we need more bar and grills like Joe’s. There’s a pool table, a couple of televisions, and a bar. Popcorn machine is serviceable. (Bill Gerdes)

Joe’s Bar and Grill, 10909 Magnolia Ave Riverside, (951) 637-3931; MC, V

 

Anything Goes at Mario’s 

When you walk into Mario’s for some northern Italian faire, you instantly feel like family—and for good reason. Three brothers run the place—Leone is chef, and Andrea and Arrigo run the front of the house. You will know them all by the time you finish your ginger crème brulee napoleon. The wait staff is renowned for knowing the night’s specials in and out, so if you want to glean whether the sage butter is organic, ask away! Looking for a red to complement your beef carpaccio? They are at your service. You get the high-end fuss of a metropolitan restaurant with the friendliness of a family trattoria. (Arrissia Owen Turner)

Mario’s Place, 3646 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-7755; www.mariosplace.com; AE, D, MC, V

 

Puppy Love at Molly’s Souper

It’s so easy to feel at home at this local breakfast and lunch favorite, mostly because it actually was someone’s living quarters at some point. The converted Craftsman house in the heart of Upland’s downtown makes you feel like you’re cozying up for some of grandma’s famous soup on a comfort food day. The wait staff is down-home friendly and even your dog gets the golden service on the outdoor patio, complete with choices from the restaurant’s doggie menu. So while you’re scooping up your Southern-style biscuits and gravy served on Fiestaware or sipping on a tall, cold mimosa, Fido and Fifi can chow down on Chloe’s chicken cacciatore, a heaping mound of chicken with cheese and scrambled eggs. There may even be a friendly scratch behind the ears to accompany the check. (Arrissia Owen Turner)

 

Molly’s Souper, 388 N. 1st Ave., Upland, (909) 982-1114; Debit cards accepted

 

Service is the Name of the Game—Oggi’s 

At first glance Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company comes off like your average Hollywood fare; you know what’s coming and it ain’t terribly fresh. Generic sports memorabilia? Check. Tons of widescreens? Check. But this place has something more. Just as suddenly—estimated times may vary—you feel vibe, people laughing, relaxing, chilling, with no attitude. Suddenly you notice the service and remember that there are places where they’ll ask how you’re doing. Oggi’s is one of them. What’s more they’ll even smile at you while they’re doing it. We went on a Sunday night, after the Laker game, only to find Oggi’s still humming. Here’s a place that was full of sports fans rather than the flat-out ossified drunks, but everyone having a blast. Many of them were cheerily vocalizing it. Then there’s the menu. As everyone knows, nice service with lousy food doesn’t count for much. Oggi’s, however, serves up a mean pie, along with a nice slate of brew, all designed to make the game go down nicely. With a giant screen in the middle of the main dining hall, a few generic video games in the back, some of the friendliest service in the area Oggi’s is one of the premier places to catch a game or quaff a libation or two (or both). (Bill Gerdes)

Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company, 2363 California Ave. Corona, (951) 817-0748; 

AE, MC, V

 

Comfort and Familiarity at Olivia’s

There are plenty of reasons why singer Etta James and major leaguer Troy Percival make Olivia’s Mexican Restaurant a favored haunt. First off, it’s the food. Secondly, it’s the sense of belonging and community that permeates every nook and cranny of this small, old-style café. Olivia’s is named after owner Olivia Cabral, who continues to toil behind the scenes whipping out home-style favorites daily for the last 30 years. She’s joined in the business by her husband Tony and super-friendly family, including a son who talks hoops with diners while they shovel food into their mouths. A smooth-operator, he deftly handles orders and newly arriving diners with a finesse that goes hand-in-hand with his running commentary on the NCAA. Olivia herself will walk by and politely ask how you’re doing, husband following suit a few minutes later as Cabral the younger generously provides sour candies to wandering children. The menu, filled with all the traditional favorites we expect of Mexican restaurants, holds much more—Italian-influenced gourmet oddities such as bacon-wrapped shrimp, citrus pepper salmon and steak picado. Portions arrive in unabashed abundance. Finally, there’s the warm, fuzzy feelings of comfort, where the stresses of the world stay outside just long enough for a taste of mom’s kitchen inside. (Nancy Powell)

 

Olivia’s Mexican Restaurant, 9447 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 689-2131; AE, MC, V

 

They Remember You at Ooka Japanese 

Ooka Japanese Restaurant in Riverside Plaza continually pulls off the difficult hat trick of providing fast, friendly and efficient service while serving consistently delicious food. First-time diners might be forgiven for walking into Ooka, looking out over the sea of other diners, and thinking “Oh lord, this is gonna take forever.” But then they’re quickly shown to a table and presented with food and bar menus, and then nearly as quickly find themselves presented with mouthwatering plates of Japanese delicacies. The same customers who minutes earlier fretted over the possibility of a long wait now find themselves fretting that maybe their food was prepared a bit too quickly—no one wants a bowl of cold miso soup no matter how quickly it’s served. 

But that’s the thing: In the many times this writer has visited Ooka, the food was always served to perfection, and the expertly trained food servers and cooks never got an order wrong. Not once. 

But the real magic at Ooka happens when a guest comes back for a second visit. Astonishingly for a restaurant that’s filled to the gills nearly all the time, Ooka employees will more often than not remember what you ordered the first time you visited. According to General Manager Robert Chen, caring enough to remember your customers’ eating habits goes a long way in promoting loyalty among guests.

“Everyone wants the restaurant to succeed, and there are steps we take to make sure we’re successful,” says Chen. “We like to feed guests promptly—when they come in, they’re obviously hungry and ready to eat. Also, I always encourage my employees, once they see a customer a second time, to always try to remember what they ordered the first time. The first five minutes of talking to a guest is very crucial. If you know they liked raw salmon the first time they came in, and this time you bring it to them cooked, that’s an issue now.” (David Silva)

 

Ooka Japanese Restaurant, 3525 Riverside Plaza Drive, Suite 200, Riverside, (951) 779-0099. AE, MC, V

 

Chef of the Year and a Place that Cares—Owen’s Bistro

Nestled indiscriminately between an alleyway and white plaster in historic downtown Chino is a small, 100-year-old brick building known as Owen’s Bistro, easy to miss by foot or car unless you specifically look for the wrought-iron gates. At night, the enclosed patio lights up as couples and small parties snuggle into intimate, linen-covered tables to enjoy European-inspired three-course prixe-fixe meals by Chef/Owner James Kelly, who also happened to steal California’s Chef of the Year honors for 2008. Together with his wife, Denise, they run a fairly tight shop without the typical off-putting snootiness that comes with five-star territory. As front-of-the-restaurant manager, Denise welcomes each customer with open arms and respect without regard to circumstances, values that she instills in her servers. As for the youthful and vibrant Chef Kelly—he’ll come out to chat if he’s not busy concocting another meal to remember. (Nancy Powell)

 

Owen’s Bistro, 5120 D St., Chino, (909) 628-0452; www.owensbistro.com; AE, D, MC, V

 

The Latin Vibe at Café Sevilla

Lots of people look to the pricy Mission Inn restaurants or Mario’s Place as beacons of regional culinary sophistication. But for the money, Cafe Sevilla in Riverside is the most civilized joint in all the IE. And the food’s a lot cheaper, too. It isn’t just the tapas and tapitas menu at Café Sevilla that leaves guests feeling so curiously well heeled, but the menu is a part. Where else in the IE can you order dates stuffed with Cabrales blue cheese to start, followed by grilled Spanish sausages and Pulpa a la Gallega (octopus and young potatoes)? Moreover, where in all of Southern California can you take such a gastronomic cruise and wind up paying just $18.50 (not counting tip, of course)? No, a big, big part of the Sevilla experience, the one that makes you feel so much the cosmopolitan, is its colorful staff. Walking into the elaborately painted restaurant on a typical Monday evening is like stumbling into a Buenas Aires lounge, circa 1950.  There’s the lovely hostess who will take your sangria orders as she tells you about her adventures traveling across Europe on a student visa. There, at the bar, is the dark and mysterious rope dancer, El Gaucho, friendly enough if you show the proper respect but ready and willing to roar his disapproval if you don’t. Café Sevilla is a place apart, thoroughly modern and wondrously old at once. It’s the only place in town where you can still smoke a cigarette on the balcony while listing to flamenco music and staring down at the old Riverside train depot. So unique. So Latin American. So eminently civilized. (David Silva)

 

Café Sevilla, 3252 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 778-0611; www.cafesevilla.com; AE, D, MC, V

 

Shabu Shabu Service None Too Shabby

Shabu Shabu restaurants tend to proffer up some of the friendliest crews of Asian-owned restaurants. Maybe the whole communal aspect—families and friends cooking food in shared pots—has something to do with it. At the family-owned Shabu Shabu Station, attention to details matter—the zen-like sparseness, the presentation of the food, and the method of which the food is partaken. If you’re new to the shabu shabu experience, the wait staff here will happily take the time to elaborate on its extensive menu and demonstrate the subtleties of the feast in which you are about to engage—how and what to in the dipping sauces and the order in which to cook the vegetables and the meat. Then, just as a courtier patiently waits for the word from his master, the waiter will hover at arms’ length with restrained politeness to provide further assistance should it be necessary. For the more skilled shabu shabu enthusiast, they’ll perform the simpler tasks of keeping water and drink glasses re-filled, ensuring that the temperature of the hot pot stays consistently hot, and skimming the meat residue off the top of the dashi broth. Ah, an Asian restaurant that finally allows you to live the divine life. (Nancy Powell)

 

Shabu Shabu Station, 2803 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; (909) 839-2560; www.shabushabustation.com; AE, D, MC, V

 

Cherish the Love at Relish

“Good things come to those who wait” runs the hoary cliché, a trite saying it’s true . . . yet a saying that contains more than a small nugget of truth in it. This is especially valid when it comes to food. Some yahoo had the nuts to write in to complain about my original review of Relish, suggesting the wait was too long. Let me humbly suggest if you want crappy food fast hit Arby’s. Besides, the service at Relish is actually as classy and subtle as the food itself. At times the wait can drag a bit, but it’s endured in a cool building, with a helpful, pleasant, and dedicated staff that cater to the customer, whether there are three people there (like one Saturday that I visited) or during the most hectic lunch crowd. Owner Steve Braslaw goes out of his way to meet and greet customers and talk about his restaurant and the amazing traditional Jewish Deli food Relish offers up. There’s a love of food that infects the atmosphere in the deli, a vibe that transfers to the patrons and staff. Relish is a fun place to be—and that’s before we even talk about the food (five-inch stacked corned beef, potato pancakes, blintzes, kreplach, matzo ball, beet borscht, knishes—oh dear heaven). Try the Reuben Ultimo too; try the entire menu one stop at a time. Braslaw and company will always serve you with a familiar smile.  (Bill Gerdes)

Relish Delicatessen and Catering, 3535 University Avenue Riverside, (951) 682-7011. AE, MC, V

 


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