The strangest things will bring you out to a strip mall -- a GIGANTIC strip mall known as Diamond Hills Plaza -- in Diamond Bar. Sometimes it's a whisper, a notion that somewhere in the great abyss of low-slung restaurants and hidden eateries you can find the flavors you've been chasing. In this case, it was the pursuit of great strip mall Indian food.
Now, granted, we've seen tandoori chicken and Indian-pizza mashups before on these Strip Mall Rat escapades. But the truly transcendent lunch buffet, the heart-seizing gulab jamun continues to elude. This week, we try Curry India Bistro, some boba and a beef roll, among other things. Needless to say, with the size and scope of the Diamond Hills Plaza, we didn't even get through half of the restaurants out there.
The owners of Curry India Bistro -- with variously named outlets in Phoenix, Las Vegas and elsewhere -- have certainly nailed the bistro side of the equation. The deep space sits in a wash of maroon colors, slate floors and simple white tablecloths, with the right amount of casual-but-careful vibe. If you swing by for lunch, expect to be seated near the front windows instead of the more open dining room, but all you'd have to do is make a reservation for that night to experience a slightly higher level of opulence. If you skip lunch though, you'll be missing out on the $10 lunch buffet, a surprisingly long run of chafing dishes that vary daily with the whims of the kitchen. That's usually exactly the sort of thing you'd want, especially if you're after fresh and simple cooking. But it can also mean your favorite dish (say, the butter chicken one day or the sag paneer the next) will be unavailable at the buffet spread. Thankfully, something just as tasty probably took its place.
This isn't the most spectacular Indian food you'll find, and there are even better options if you head towards the West San Fernando Valley, but Curry India Bistro will satisfy your lunchtime cravings for all things curry and naan related. They're also open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will happily accept your credit card.2779 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; 909-895-7410.
A few storefronts away is 101 Café, a Taiwanese joint that doesn't spend much time on the frills. Instead of awing at overdone flea market paintings or a bubbly corner fountain, most diners keep an eye on the flat screen hanging on one corner, playing the most ridiculous low budget kung fu show you've ever seen. Usually, their other eye is trained on the menu, a hodgepodge of Chinese and Taiwanese dishes that come fast and often. Unless you get into the "40 gallon drum of soup" territory, nothing is over $10, which makes it easy to order around the menu. You keep picking and choosing what you're in the mood for, accumulating stacks of white dishes as you go. There's no point in describing 101 Café as a "small plates" restaurant -- they're in the "lots of plates" business.
Don't worry too much about those little chile pepper heat indicators next to some of the more ominous-sounding eats; the "Szechwan sauce" won't numb your tongue any more than the Cuttle Fish Suey Noodle. Most folks tend to grab a soup and a noodle dish to round out their lunch hour, although the flaky, dense beef roll is a popular option for sharing amongst friends. But for solo diners or those looking to get back to the office, an array of $7 lunch options (mostly soups and watery noodles) will keep you and the tables full of old businessmen happy. 101 Cafe is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and takes credit cards. 2763 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; 909-595-9100.
For strip mall pho, Diamond Bar's Pho Hana certainly likes to keep up appearances. You don't always need grime in the corners and a broken radio to reek of authenticity. In fact, sometimes all you want is a warm, wide bowl of slurpy noodles and egg rolls with a shattering golden brown wrap. Pho Hana delivers easily on both, serving brothy bowls of beef ball noodles and tripe all day long. Small sizes run around $5 apiece and are plenty satisfying, although picking a hit from the rest of the menu will fill you up right. There's the kimchi fried rice, stained yellow and served with big vegetable chunks, or the hearty vermicelli. Unremarkable banh mi sandwiches occasionally emerge from the back as well, but nearly everyone seated at one of the small wooden tables has a bowl in front of them. That should tell you something. No matter what you order, expect plenty of available onions and small boba teas to help wash it all down. Pho Hana is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and accepts credit cards. 2777 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; 909-444-3081.
There's nothing particularly remarkable about Cherry on Top, another in a never-ending stream of Southern California frozen yogurt chains. This particular outfit has branches across California (Monrovia, represent!), Colorado (Lakewood!), and Egypt (El Salam Concorde Hotel!). There's the usual toppings bar, heavy on the tree nuts and chocolate, with some lychee thrown in for good measure. If anything, the yogurt itself is a bit thick and tart, which may just be a sign that Yogurtland has taken over the regional consciousness to become what we all expect froyo to be. At least it's cheap, particularly with a midday summer time happy hour discount that will knock 15% off your total bill. Bored high schoolers, converge! Cherry on Top is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and weekends until 11 p.m. They'll also take your credit card as payment, because they're hip like that. 2761 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; 909-468-4884.
Apparently there's a city ordinance that requires every restaurant in Diamond Bar to carry a boba drink. Well, maybe it's not that official, but don't tell Tea Rush. The small storefront has built a reputation as as place to get a glass of easy sipping boba tea, particularly from their inventive 'birthstone' menu, which features unusual drink combinations. These fusion teas, named after -- you guessed it -- various birth stones, run the gamut from masala chai and soy creamer to coffee, black tea and honey. Each comes with your choice of chewy black pearl boba or konjac, which offers a fibrous, gelatinous texture. For anyone who doesn't like to chew their drinks, there are straightforward mattes, lattes, frappes and loose leaf teas to choose from, along with a rotating selection of daily tea specials.
If you're the sort of person who wants to order food at a tea house, go nuts. Tea Rush offers simple noodle and rice bowls, some questionable dumpling options and veggies -- lots of veggies. There are healthful salads, steamed greens and more to go along with the surprisingly hippy-ish au naturale vibe. Of course, this is still strip mall dining, with bland tile floors and hard wooden chairs, so maybe being healthy isn't the first thing on your mind. In that case, push for the slightly spicy popcorn chicken. If you find yourself needing a beverage to wash it all down, grab something with boba in it. It's practically the law. Tea Rush is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and accepts credit cards. 2759 Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar; 909-598-5190.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Follow the author on twitter @farlizzle.