Claremont’s International Dining Scene

By Joshua Lurie, FoodGPS.com

Claremont has the area’s most diverse dining scene, no doubt fueled in part by an international student body at The Claremont Colleges. Asia, Italy, Mexico, the Middle East, Peru, and Spain, all play key roles in the city’s restaurant landscape. Learn about 10 of Claremont’s most inspired global food destinations.

Al Amir

A crown signals your arrival at Al Amir, a Lebanese flatbread bakery in an Auto Center Drive strip mall that spun off from Abdallah Soueidan’s Little Arabia original. Soujouk is a particular standout, a crisp-edged disc sporting ground beef seasoned with crushed pepper and a seven-spice blend from Lebanon. Add egg and savory cow’s milk Akkawi cheese, which six-year Al Amir vet Charif rightly called “the bomb” Other interesting options include za’atar with dried thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, olive & vegetable oil; lahm-bajeen with ground beef, tomatoes, and onions; and tangy keshek with dried yogurt, onion, tomato, olive oil, spices, and chilies. 426 Auto Center Dr., 909.625.0500, www.alamirbakery.com

Elvira’s Grill

Oscar Torres has been in the restaurant business for 36 years and now runs Elvira’s Grill with wife Sandra in Claremont’s Old School House complex after expanding from Upland. They follow in the footsteps of his mom Elvira and father Fermin, who ran restaurants for years in the San Fernando Valley. Elvira’s Grill in Claremont features a peaked roof with exposed wood rafters, elaborate chandeliers, and patio with strings of lights and a water fountain. The menu cover promises the “finest foods of Mexico,” and you’ll find pan-regional crowd pleasers like chicken mole enchiladas, grilled red snapper a la Veracruzana, and silky house-made flan. Camarones a la diabla are a great introduction to their cuisine, with six large shrimp slathered in spicy salsa and served with seasoned rice, pinto beans topped with molten Monterey Jack, and flour or corn tortillas. 415 W. Foothill Blvd., 909.399.3300

Hi Family

Four students joined forces on their dream restaurant, a Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant called Hi Family in a northwest Claremont strip mall. The tiny space features grey blue walls lined with small planters, framed photo collages, and paintings of the owners: Liang, Lin, Jinghao, and Yang Wang. Los Chicken is their most popular hot pot, with other bubbling bowls starring beef brisket or duck stewed in beer. Some of their more adventurous dishes include beef lungs in chile sauce and griddled cooked ox tripe. Hot-N-Spicy Pot is a great way to sample a number of different ingredients of your choosing in a single bowl. We opted for shell-on shrimp and sliced pork chops with caramelized cauliflower, king oyster mushrooms, and lotus root slices. Specify mild, medium, or hot. If you choose a dish listed on the menu with a chile pepper, keep steamed white rice and ice water handy. 944 W. Foothill Blvd., 909.625.7494, www.hifamilyca.com

Il Mattone

Italy native David Carteni used to own La Parolaccia Osteria (“the bad language”) here and in Long Beach, but when he sold this location two years ago, he changed the name to Il Mattone (“the brick”). A brick oven pizza burns walnut wood to cook pizze and panini. Ligure is a crispy 12-inch pizza topped with goat cheese and mozzarella, artichokes, sliced tomatoes, basil, and charred red pepper puree. Top pastas include spaghetti Amatriciana made with local-cured guanciale, farm tomatoes, basil, and Pecorino cheese in a fresh tomato sauce; and penne Norcina with house-made Italian sausage and braised mushrooms in a light truffle cream sauce. One particularly noteworthy panino co-stars salmon, capers, tomatoes, onions, and basil pesto. Entrees include veal scalloppine sautéed with tangy Marsala wine and earthy braised mushrooms. If you have more time, a two-course, $14.95 prix fixe lunch is available weekdays from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. with a choice of starter, entree, and beverage. 201 N. Indian Hill Blvd., 909.624.1516, www.ilmattoneusa.com

Pollos Kikiryki

Enrique Roman Kina originally hails from Lima and opened his Peruvian restaurant in Peppertree Square in 1999. The name refers to the sound a chicken makes, and they do roast some stupendous birds in a wood-burning rotisserie. Kikiryki’s focused menu also includes comfort foods like lomo saltado, beef stir-fried with French fries, onions, and tomatoes; and chaufa, fluffy Chinese-Peruvian fried rice that’s especially good with shrimp. Anticuchos, perhaps Peru’s signature dish, are for more adventurous eaters. Grilled beef hearts are marinated in chilies, cumin, sugar, salt, and pepper and served with starchy choclo, potato, and the spicy green hot sauce, aji. Treats reside by the register, including cookie sandwiches alfajores filled with dulce de leche and dusted with powdered sugar, and vanilla custard cups called goloso. 344 S. Indian Hill Blvd., 909.624.1114

Sanamluang Thai Cuisine

A Thai Town classic called Sanamluang, one of L.A.’s longest running Thai restaurants, spawned this Claremont spinoff. They’re no longer connected, but this modern, standalone restaurant is still vital, and not just because of the sharp black and white murals of Thailand or elaborate wheel-in-wheel designs. Sanamluang serves several noodle dishes with lofty names, including heaven noodles, emperor’s noodles, and general’s noodles. Emperor’s Noodles are flat rice noodles scrambled with egg, squid, chicken, and shrimp, all blanketed with gravy. General’s noodles – egg noodles served dry or with soup – come piled with shrimp, BBQ pork, ground pork, and roast duck. Humble noodles like pad Thai and pad see iew are also well prepared. No matter what, ratchet up the pungency by spoon on chile flakes, chile sauce, or jalapeño infused vinegar. 710 S. Indian Hill Blvd., 909.621.0904, www.sanamluangclaremont.com

Tutti Mangia Italian Grill

Tutti Mangia is a high-end Italian restaurant on a Claremont Village corner with split-level dining room, floral carpet, and convex chandeliers. The family also owns Spaghetti Eddie’s and Eddie’s Eatery in town and has run this place since 1996. Pasta is a mix of imports and house-made pastas, with ravioli and sheet pastas like linguini and tagliatelle made in-house. Specialties from the grill include bistecca alla grigliata, marinated Prime skirt steak drizzled with Castelvetrano olive and pine nut chimichurri and plated with seasonal vegetable farro, which during our visit meant Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, and onions. No matter what, each check comes with almond chocolate biscotti. 102 Harvard Ave., 909.625.4669, 909.625.4669, www.tuttimangia.com

Uno Tre Otto

John Solana and Brad Owen, who also own The Back Abbey, replaced longtime Italian standby La Piccoletta with Uno Tre Otto. They raised the stakes by sourcing produce from Amy’s Farm in Ontario, buying sustainable meat and eggs, and using fresh-milled grain from Grist & Toll in Pasadena. “The little place in the alley” is patterned after a rustic Italian country abode, with a fresco on one side, ivy-lined wall on the other side, small covered patio, and homey stone and wood interior. The seasonal menu may include lentils de Puy strewn with crumbled house-made Italian sausage, tangy brightness, and spicy mizuna. During our visit, bucatini with good bite came dressed with a single diver scallop, sweet shrimp, brown butter, finely shredded butternut squash, and chive oil. Secondi include pollo al mattone, chicken cooked under a brick, and bistecca with seasonal veggies. Dessert is another moving target, but could involve chunks of brown butter roasted persimmon sweetened with honey, tart buttermilk ice cream, and shortbread crumble. 114 N. Indian Hill Blvd., 909.624.1373, www.onotreotto.com

The Upper House

The Upper House is a Chinese café in Peppertree Square strip mall. Students and locals alike fill 12 light wood tables beneath a word cloud on the white wall that shouts out key dishes, plus beverages like “Coffee” and “Affogato.” The menu combines Sichuan, Taiwanese and Singaporean dishes, but doesn’t practice fusion. Noteworthy cumin lamb comes tossed with scallions, green and red bell peppers. House-made wontons contain with shrimp and pork fillings and come garnished with spicy slurry, cilantro, and scallions and submerged in chile oil. Curry-stained Singapore-style rice vermicelli hosts an array of vegetables and proteins. For dessert, The Upper House sells boba milk tea and milk snow ice topped with red beans, green beans, custard, taro, and fruit. 352 S. Indian Hill Blvd., 909.621.1855

Viva Madrid!

Viva Madrid! is a Claremont Village classic that dates to 1998 and serves “Spanish small plates with big flavors.” Find the entrance down the hallway past a jewelry store and three wooden bull statues. The Madrid-inspired design includes a decorative tile bar, wood tables, high ceiling painted with a sky, and large chandelier. Popular dishes are marked with a sunburst, and staff favorites marked with a cross. Choose from more than 50 different tapas, plus paella and larger plates (entradas). Highlights include flaky halibut chunks simmered in herbed carrot sauce with white wine, garlic, and onion. They submerge a whole artichoke in a tangy sherry reduction with olive oil, garlic, and onion that’s thickened with breadcrumbs and sprinkled with crushed chili. They also serve slices of tortilla Española, a layered Spanish frittata baked with eggs, potatoes, onions, and parsley. To drink, Spanish wines from regions like Rioja and Tempranillo are popular. So is house-made sangria. 225 Yale Ave., 909.624.5500, www.vivamadrid.com