Satisfying Since 1997
By John Bergano
Chino’s Riverside Grill is one personally owned restaurant that lies in the heart of the city as well as its inhabitants
From humble beginnings to a bustling weekend staple, Riverside Grill in Chino has survived the recession and succeeded on the strength of blue-collar work ethic and appeal. Owner Rodrigo Avila’s excitement over the Weekly’s visit could be summed up in the gesture to sit down and enjoy lunch while filling the conversation with tidbits from the influences that have created this family-owned and operated eatery.
There are multiple doors from which guests may enter. With no hostess stand, diners are directed to grab a seat at an open table by one of the team circulating in constant motion. There’s an indoor half to the restaurant: open kitchen protected by a glass divide, black banquettes, wooden tables, a bar that is set to undergo a transformation in the coming weeks (following the recent acquisition of a liquor license), and rustic touches that suggest Mediterranean bistro. The outer half is canvased overhead by a tent and hosts the line-up of local bands that add to a lively pulse on weekend nights.
While assessing the extensive lunch menu, Avila, and his amicable demeanor, approached the table and welcomed us. Conversation began with the menu, which Avila noted was a one-page flyer in the early goings. It evolved into an open testament to the people and places that helped Riverside Grill grow its roots, including Barney’s Ltd. in Pasadena, where Rodrigo and brother/co-owner Al got their start in the business as busboys who worked their way up through the ranks of the front and back of house.
Avila chose Chilaquiles, the special of the day, for his lunch. The Turkey Excellente ($10.25) is the menu’s number one seller—according to Avila—with its offering of hot turkey, avocado, bacon, lettuce, Swiss, tomato, onion, and mayo on grilled rye bread. Another standout amongst the hot sandwiches is the Beefeater ($9) with slices of tender tri-tip, cheddar, and avocado (add $1.50) set atop grilled sourdough with a side of au jus. The hot sandwiches are customizable with a litany of sides and breads as options or substitutes, respectively. The side salad with champagne vinaigrette was our choice.
A self-described pescetarian, Avila shaped the menu to what it is today by trimming portions (still satisfyingly ample) and including several salads and “healthy cravings”; a menu within a menu with portabella mushrooms, turkey patties and grilled salmon comprising of some of the main ingredients.
The menu appeals to all demographics, as seated at the tables are couples, families, young, old and police in uniforms. Avila, who is approached by guests coming and going, knows most of his clientele and makes a point to keep his head turning as he monitors the room. In running a tight ship, he and Al being owner/operators, and welcoming as many as 300 guests a day on weekends, the Avila’s have survived the sour economy and kept Riverside Grill at the forefront of Chino’s population, while several mom-and-pops have closed.
With one sip of a cup of black coffee, there’s a realization you’re drinking something special. Madison roast by Jones Coffee. Avila then went into story about his friend, Chuck Jones, who once rented the same warehouse space as he while building his coffee brand.
Avila prides himself on the fact that he, Al and his staff at Riverside Grill are self-taught in their field of hospitality. This includes the kitchen’s pastry cook/support staff member Armando, whose light and balanced Tiramisu ($6) rivals anything Pasadena could have to offer. With such a steady operation in place, the question was posed regarding expansion. While the Avila’s dabbled in a second location, they are content with the life they have with Riverside Grill at the heart of it. Suffice it to say, Riverside Grill is at the heart of Chino.
Riverside Grill, 5228 Riverside Dr., Chino, (909) 627-4144; www.riversidegrillchino.com. Mon-Tues, 8am-3pm. Wed-Sun, 8am-9pm.