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.Curry India Bistro
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; 909-895-7410.101 Café
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.Pho Hana
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.