The Inland Empire is a massive and somewhat nebulous area, stretching all the way from the edges of the San Gabriel Valley to the San Bernardino Mountains. Within its malleable borders, there are big cities like San Bernardino, sprawling suburbs like Chino Hills, edges of desert, and hidden mountainside communities. That alone is a giant area filled with new restaurants — and new people, with a significant rise in population in the area — with an abundance of great options in this richly historic part of Southern California. This list is far from exhaustive, but does its best to cover geography, price point, and a diversity of cuisines well. Here now are 20 of the best budget-friendly restaurants to try in the Inland Empire.Read More
20 Affordable Restaurants to Try in the Inland Empire
Budget bites that are worth the drive
Billing itself as the “world’s first luxury donut company,” Painted Dough in Chino offers gourmet yeasted, cake, and mochi doughnuts that have become ever so popular on social media. There’s a variety of flavors to choose from, plus coffee drinks like the popular ube cold brew, and even breakfast burritos.
Furnos Pizza and empanadas
The sister location of Rancho Cucamonga’s Guido Deli and Pizza, Furnos is a bit closer to Los Angeles in the Mountain Village Center off the 10 freeway. The delicious empanadas and pizzas from Guido are still available here, as are the exceptional entraña and choripan sandwiches. Furnos offers more seating inside as opposed to Guido’s, which is essentially an ordering counter with a couple tables outside.
Kedai Indonesian Cafe
A few dollars can go a long way at Kedai, with its assortment of Indonesian bites (a rarity in the Inland Empire) such as savory risoles and pastels stuffed with beef or chicken, gravy, and vegetables. Get these, an iced coffee, and maybe even some oxtail soup around lunch. Kedai is an exciting, newly opened addition to the City of Upland.
Empanadas To Go
The western edge of the Inland Empire is seemingly blessed with a bevy of Argentinian fast-casual restaurants. Operating on a to-go only basis, Empanadas 2 Go offers traditional Argentinian-style empanadas including the criolla and salteña, barbecue pork, and carnitas. A delicious choripan sandwich, empanada, and drink will run customers less than $20, though it’s always a good idea to grab an empa-dog (an all beef hot dog with melted cheese, wrapped in empanada dough) too.
Taiwan's No.1 Cuisines
The Chino area is home to a bevy of Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants. This strip mall spot, located about a mile from the Mountain exit off the 60 freeway, offers a wide range of options including fried stinky tofu, fried milkfish belly, and Taiwanese sausage with sticky rice. Most combination plates run under $15.
Upland German Deli
Upland German Deli doubles both as a kitchen and a market with a variety of German pantry items to peruse while waiting for a schnitzel sandwich. The menu also has reubens, pastrami sandwiches, and other deli fare covered, though it’s always a good idea to get some knockwurst, potato salad, sauerkraut, and call it a lunch. Don’t forget the apple strudel.
Juanita’s is somewhat of a mini-chain, with locations in Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario as well as a Juanita’s Drive-In in Pomona. The Ontario location is probably the best of the bunch, selling supreme versions of Cal-Mex food on handmade flour tortillas. The chorizo breakfast burrito is the stuff of legend, and the hard-shell tacos come loaded with shredded beef and big handfuls of cheese and lettuce.
Donahoo's Golden Chicken
Donahoo’s is the Inland Empire’s equivalent to Pioneer Chicken, the local fried chicken restaurant beloved by those in the know. The original location is still in Pomona, but it’s the Ontario outlet that carries on the original recipes and menu today. The chicken is not made until it’s been ordered, so wait times can occasionally drag, but the upshot is that the chicken is dredged, breaded, and fried in full view of everyone. Potato salad and coleslaw are the most popular of the sides, and they offer French and blue cheese dressing as dipping sauces. Don’t forget the rolls, either. Calling ahead is recommended if pressed for time.
Home Pie Bakery & Cafe
Home Pie Bakery has been churning out freshly baked breads and pies from its unassuming space in an Ontario office complex since 2014. Folks catching a weekday flight out of the airport next door can score savory pot pies and meat pies for lunch, or even for an inflight snack, with flavors including beef Wellington, chicken, and leek.
Kra Z Kai's BBQ
A perennial Inland Empire food all-star, Kra Z Kai’s first rose to prominence in 2019. The Corona location has since closed, as Kra Z Kai’s has opted to open two locations inside the Rodeo food halls in Stanton and Ontario. Grilled meat is of course the star of the show here, along with marinated barbecue beef short ribs, housemade sausages, and barbecue pork ribs. Sampler platters come with one piece each of chicken, beef short rib, sausage, and a pork rib.
Baker's Dozen Donuts Deli & Delights
This eclectic doughnut shop in Corona is an institution, offering a fresh selection of daily doughnuts as well as a wide range of breakfast and lunch sandwiches including banh mi sandwiches and Cubanos. The hit of the bunch might be the banana fritters.
Cowboy Surfer Grill
A plentiful, delicious breakfast or lunch at an affordable price is always a good thing. At Cowboy Surfer Grill, a country breakfast consists of two large eggs, bacon, sausage patty, seasoned potatoes or hash browns, and a ⅓ pound biscuit covered in delicious sausage gravy — and it comes in at less than $13. Easy Rider sandwiches (the restaurant’s take on a sausage McMuffin) and the Breakfast BLT are both under $9, too. This is truly one of the better breakfast and lunch options in the IE.
North Shore Plate Lunch
An XL plate at North Shore Plate Lunch consists of deliciously tender kalbi ribs or teriyaki beef, plus BBQ chicken, kalua pork, rice, and macaroni salad. That’s a deal and a half at just $18.99, and even better when paired with some takeout musubi. Aside from mini Hawaiian chain restaurants, it’s really the only option for legit Hawaiian food in the Corona area.
Bone & Broth - Vietnamese Pho Cuisine
Located in a small strip mall adjacent to the Ontario Mills Outlets, Bone and Broth serves up some of the best Vietnamese cuisine in the Inland Empire. The Ontario Combination is the most popular option for pho and comes loaded with meatballs, brisket, tendon, and tripe for $12.95. Other popular options include the vermicelli boat special, crispy salmon, and roti chicken and rice.
Fufu's Mideast Grill
Located inside the Riverside Food Lab, Fufu’s offers a delicious selection of kebabs and shawarma, the latter served in sandwich form and loaded with savory chicken or beef, onions, pickled turnips, garlic sauce, and tahini. Get those same shawarma proteins atop some fries as well.
Rising to prominence during the pandemic and taking full advantage of Riverside County’s progressive stance on at-home restaurants under California retail code AB-626, Cali Tardka is one of the best Indian restaurants in Riverside County. The Greg Special is a sampler plate of the menu and offers smaller portions of both creamy butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, plus basmati rice, homemade garlic naan, and a samosa. Order via their website on their Instagram page.
Taquerias are plentiful in the IE, but Taqueria Mazatlan stands out as one of the best. The carne asada atop freshly made sopes is what sets these chorreadas apart from others in the area. Order a papa loca, which is essentially the insides of a baked potato topped with cheese, carne asada, salsa, and other condiments.
In many ways, the history of Mitla Cafe embodies the Inland Empire as a whole: overlooked, underappreciated, and quietly just going about its business selling hundreds of crunchy tacos, enchiladas, combo plates, and excellent handmade corn tortillas every day. Watch out for daily special announcements on social media, too.
Island Breeze Jamaican Cuisine
Combo plates are always a winner, and Island Breeze truly offers up some delicious entrants into the combo plate realm. Get Jamaica’s national dish ackee and saltfish along with rice, beans, and plantains. Not feeling fishy? Indulge with some tender stewed oxtail and some beef or curry chicken patties to go.
The burgers here have that signature crispy meat lace that customers expect with smashburgers these days, but not to the extent that it overpowers the burger. Chubzies also offers its own variations of the In n Out off-menu “animal style” and “monkey style” fries from its stand, which operates weekly Thursday through Sunday. A brick and mortar location was recently announced. Check their Instagram for more updates.