The Cuisine Scene
Brenda Hill


As a restaurant reviewer, instead of critiquing each bite, I like to give the readers an idea of what it’s like to go to a certain restaurant.

I love good food, but that’s the key. What is good? I feel it’s a matter of opinion, and just like hearts, we all have one. 

While a friend may swoon over a high-priced ounce of food with colorful swirls of sauce criss-crossing the plate, I shrug. Instead, I want to find out how the food tastes, and am I getting a good value for my dollar? Sometimes I’ll even overlook a higher price if the food is great.

In the six months I’ve been checking restaurants for the News Mirror, I’ve found some jewels—in small places where I order at the counter as well as in beautifully-decorated name restaurants. Some I love and recommend and others I avoid.

But since I don’t slam foods or a restaurant, I’ve been asked about my personal favorites. Where do I go when I go out?

That depends, I answer, on whether I want a sit-down restaurant with a full meal or whether I want fast food. Sometimes, when I’m working diligently on my third novel, I’ll forget the time and work until my empty stomach yells at me. Then, sometimes in my gown and robe, I’ll grab my keys and head for a drive-thru and hope to heaven I don’t have a breakdown or a tire doesn’t blow. 

I have my favorites in each category.

Quick drive-thru even if I’m in a robe and gown:

By then I’ve lost all sense of nutrition and simply want something I like and can grab from a car window to take home.

Taco Bell, Calimesa: I’ve enjoyed their food for over thirty years but my personal favorites are their bean burritos and nachos bellgrande.

McDonald’s, Yucaipa or Calimesa: While I used to love Big Mac’s, I find, as I grow older, I can’t comfortably eat some of the things I did when I was a young woman, so now I like the filet-o-fish sandwich and their little hamburgers with lots of mustard, onions and no ketchup. I ask for regular onions instead of the reconstituted ones. Until all the changes, I thought their fries were the best, but now I seldom order them. Instead, I get the side salad.

Baker’s, Yucaipa or Calimesa: When I moved to California about four years ago, I went to the familiar names as well as tried some regional favorites. In Baker’s, I thought the food tasted fresh and the lineup for the drive-thru moved pretty quickly. So, when I’m in the mood for a great burger, I head for Baker’s and their old-fashioned hamburger, sometimes with cheese, but more often without. Love them and I like their fries as well.

But my all-time favorite fast-food is a chili dog with onions, so high on my list is,

Wienerschnitzel, Yucaipa: Love that place. But, since I was born and raised in the South, I can’t have a simple chili dog with mustard and onions. No, I have to dress it up so that it tastes like the ones I remember as a child. A good chili dog, like a BBQ sandwich, has to have cole slaw on top. Not sauerkraut, but cold, crunchy cole slaw. The combination of the spicy chili, mustard, the bite of the onion and the cold crunch from slaw adds up to the perfect bite. At least in my opinion.

And speaking as a Southerner, I love chicken. Fried, broiled, rotisserie, BBQ, and just about any other way I can think of. But my all-time favorite is good fried chicken. So when I want good fried chicken, I head for the casino buffet.

Now we’re moving to places I love when I’m dressed.

San Manuel Casino buffet, Highland: To me, they have the best fried chicken and ribs on their weekday lunch buffet. The rest of the food is okay, they certainly have a variety, but the chicken and ribs is what I go for.

Gaby’s Mexican Food, Yucaipa: If I’m busy and want something quick, I head for Gaby’s. He has the best chile rellenos I’ve ever tasted. Now he’s added a ground beef taco and I love those as well. His fresh tortillas are crisp and crunchy, and the taco filling is great. I think he adds a little potato, but whatever he adds, the result is delicious.

Denny’s, Yucaipa: Since I shy away from sunlight and am on the move at night, I often wind up at Denny’s. I never cared for breakfast food at breakfast, but love it much later. I also enjoy their BLTs. And no matter how elaborate some dessert are at different places, no one, in my opinion, has better hot fudge.  

Tony’s Spunky Steer, Redlands: I used to order the lunch filet, which can be ordered at any time, but now I love their pepper steak. Salad and a sirloin steak covered with sautéed onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, baked potato with all the trimmings, or a dish of green beans, leaves me full and satisfied at a reasonable price.

Wing’s Garden Café, Banning: Home of freshest Chinese food. I dearly love their chow mein. Instead of a dish full of noodles with some veggies, Wing makes his full of crisp veggies. The chef's special is good as well, and the fried rice is tops.

Frijoles, Beaumont: While I could enjoy any of their food, I especially Love their fresh guacamole dip and rotisserie chicken.

Agua Caliente Casino, Rancho Mirage: Their Friday night seafood buffet is pricy, but worth it. They even have fresh oysters on the half-shell. I’ve tried other seafood buffets, but so far, I like this one the best.

Thai Chili, Calimesa: I haven’t had time to order a variety of things, but I love their appetizer plate. Their breading isn’t standard breading and it’s not exactly like the tempura I’ve had, but it’s fresh and crunchy. I especially love the onion rings, zucchini and shrimp.

Places I can order almost anything and like it:

Napoli Italian Food, Loma Linda

Changs Dragon House, Moreno Valley

Mimi’s Café, San Bernardino

Hickory Ranch, Yucaipa: My favorite place for a home-cooked meal. Real mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken-fried steak, or the roast turkey dinner, comfort food at its best. Their veggie sides are the best as well, and I love their oversized, crunchy fries with a buffalo burger.

Papaya Bay, Yucaipa: I’ve tried a variety of their dishes, and so far, I’ve loved them all, from the rich appetizer plate with their own ‘Money Bags’ to their creamy, spicy soup served in a hot pot with a flame in the middle. Maybe presentation does count after all, because I love the soup from that pot.

Until next week, Bon Appétit!