Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Claro's Italian Market - Tustin

Irvine is Felix Unger to Tustin's Oscar Madison.

Irvine is the buttoned-down, double-windsor-knot kind of a city, while Tustin, it's neighbor to the North, wears Bermuda shorts and a bucket cap.

You can just tell by driving through Tustin that it's a little rougher around the edges; but it's happy being Irvine's sloppier sibling. Not being master-planned lends the city its character and its businesses a certain quaint quirkiness.

Take for example Claro's Italian Market. Its storefront is nondescript. If you didn't know any better you'd guess by the plain windows and signage that they sold drill bits or lawnmower parts. And there'd be no chance it would catch your eye as you were driving by, since it's tucked away inside a rambling small-business complex.

Once inside though, you'll be immediately impressed. You get dizzy with excitement at the unbridled unorganization of it all. Something about is so salt-of-the-earth, very anti-chain; completely un-Irvine.

Shelves upon creaking shelves of imported Italian goods on one side threaten to topple over and kill you in an avalanche of dried pasta and cans of tomato. A refrigerated section is stocked to the brim with olives packed in tubs, fresh mozzarella, and plastic bags of raw pizza dough the size of saline implants. Over at the deli counter, sausages tied in twine dangle overhead, while hunks of cheese and deli meats glisten behind a glass case.

It's here at the deli that the customers gather, taking a number from an old rusty ticket machine. Behind the counter, there's a flurry of activity, as the workers lean over shiny meat slicers and assemble cold cut sandwiches.

We order a "Large Custom Sandwich" for $4.99, but leave it up to our deli guy to put whatever he wants into it. He asks us if we'd like something Italian or American. We tell him, "One of each."

With this, he extracts a loaf of mortadella, an Italian bologna, and slices a paper-thin sample. He hands it to us to try.

"What do you think?" he smiles.

"Excellent!" we tell him, "put that stuff on the sandwich!"

With a tip of his cap, he continues to split a ten inch long roll, and layers on the mortadella, salami, and other cold cuts onto it. Then he piles on some sliced tomato, thinly sliced onion, shredded lettuce, pepperoncini and some dry aged cheese. A squirt or two of Italian dressing and mayo goes on for flavor.

The "American" sandwich gets a similar treatment. The meats are turkey, rare roast beef, and ham; a gastronomic rundown of Old McDonald's farm animal roster, wrapped in plastic.

And, with a "gobble, gobble here, and a gobble, gobble there," the sandwiches were consumed in a scarfing session back at the office. I never knew I could finish a ten inch sandwich, until that day I went to Claro's in Tustin.

Claro's Italian Market
(714) 832-3081
1095 E Main St
Tustin, CA 92780


At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo - Used to shop at Claro's in La Habra as well, just over the hill from Rowland Heights - forgot their Sandwiches were so inexpensive. Used to go to Hacienda Village meats for sandwiches too, though I thought the pasta there was terrible.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

just cid,

I saw the cannolis there too. Tempted to buy one, since it looked really good. Next time definitely!


I lived in La Habra for a while and passed by that Claro's on Whittier at the end of Euclid probably a thousand times, but I never stepped foot inside it. This was my first trip to Claro's in Tustin. What took me so long?!


This totally was a new experience for me. I'm glad I finally tried it. I did see the proscuitto! Looked amazing!

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so far the best blog i've seen, delicious u might say! got one question for you if you dont mind sharing, what kinda camera do you use, you just take incredible pictures! your food pix makes me wanna lick the screen!

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm impressed. I frequent the Claro's in Arcadia. I knew they had some other branches, but I figured they'd be pale imitations, since the Arcadia store is so elementally, soulfully funky. But it looks like they actually can duplicate the experience without going all fake and plastic about it. Bravo!

Nice writeup.

At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was similarly impressed the minute I walked in the door...one of the first things I noticed were the packages of pizzelles stacked near the entrance. Claro's had me at the pizzelles, as Renee Zelleweger might say.

I am Italian, a native of NYC, and have also lived in another Italian haunt, Philadelphia. Claro's is the real deal.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks for your comments! As to your question, I use a Sony DSC-W1. It's a run-of-the-mill digital camera. Good ambient light and the macro feature works wonders for food pictures. But when it comes out too dark (i.e. in candelit restaurants) I sometimes resort to color correction using photo editing software.


Yeah, it seems like this Claro's in Tustin is definitely not faking it. The people who work there are so friendly and accomodating. They genuinely care about you. It feels like a small-town butcher shop, where they will learn your name and remember it and what you like.


Yup...I am going to be a regular here. So much good stuff, but no pretentiousness.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

sounds like a great place--i love places like this!

btw, love the oscar and felix analogy!

At 4:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yup. It's just one of those gems that I'm glad to have in my neighborhood. Now all we need is a place like Portos!

At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know if they sell penne pasta there? Good penne is so hard to find...

At 7:22 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Unfortunately, being that it was my first trip and I wasn't looking for anything in particular (except a sandwich for my lunch), I didn't pay enough attention to see if they had penne in particular. But if I had to guess, I would say yes. It seems they've got just about anything Italian imaginable.

Give em a call though. They'd be glad to help you out.

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best Italian food since I left Trenton, N.J.

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i tried claro's sandwich and thought the bread was too dry. their desserts were great though.

there's place in orange call Mattern Sausage & Meats that has awesome sandwiches. it's a german deli place that sells all kinds of deli meats and cheeses. they have the best made-to-order sandwiches for $3.50 with sweet pickles on the side....addition $.60 for cheese. if you're ever around the area, give it a try!

4327 E Chapman Ave
Orange, CA 92869

At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Tustin! I call Irvine the plastic city because it has no chrime or history. They demolished their Irvine Ranch homestead. Tustin has character!

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Mur said...

Nice market but they refused to make me a sandwich and offered a pre-made one, which doesn't cut it, so I always drive the extra mile to Cortins's, in Anaheim, which has sandwiches to die for.

At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We get all our parmigiano reggiano cheeses from the La Habra location, and crack open their refrigerator to grab a hunkin' bag of fresh/raw sweet or spicy sausage links.

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in La Habra and Claro's is one of the real treats of the city, the smell is wonderful as you walk in, the staff extremely friendly and helpul, selection impressive, I even bought kid goat there and prices very fair.

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this posting. I LOVE a great sandwich, and after living in Irvine for 4 years without having a really great sandwich, I was thrilled to try Claro's delicious sandos. It makes me wish I wasn't moving in a month.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Valli Girl said...

i am relocating from NJ to costa mesa, CA and i'm 100% italian and someone told me that there arent really "italian markets or delis" in CA so i was so upset... but i googled and found your blog and i cannot wait to get there and get over to claro's b/c it sounds like the little local spots that i get all my pasta, cheese, meats, sandwiches, desserts, etc. from around NJ.... plus one of your blog posters said they were from trenton, NJ and that is where i was born and raised and if he/she approves this place then i'm sure its perfect for me :)


Post a Comment

<< Home