Touring the colleges with my niece and want a cool (she's 17, for God's sake) foodie place for her - she's from San Francisco, so appreciates great food. Nothing too pretentious or dressy, cause we're travelling light and fast. But fun, great food.
I highly recommend Viva Madrid, a Spanish Tapas Bar offering over 40 truly delicious small plates, including Gambas Ajillo (shrimp in garlic wine sauce), Tosta con Cabales Queso y Peras (toast with Cabrales cheese and red wine with poached pears), Calamares Con Chorizo (stuffed squid with chorizo, onions, & herbs), Calamares Fritos (Fried Calamari), and Chuletas De Cordero (broiled marinated lamb chops). Full entrees and delicious desserts as well. Great atmosphere, food and drinks in a charming part of town. Well-heeled by Claremont schools' staff and students.
225-B Yale Avenue
If you like good Italian, try La Picolletta, a quaint, somewhat rustic family style Italian trattoria. They serve only one pasta dish per night with your choice of four different sauces plus an amuse bouche. The vongole (clam) sauce, when offered, is da bomb! Several special selections are also offered, inluding an excellent Cioppino. Small but decent wine list. Great ambience and service. Dinner only, served Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. Wonderful.
114 N. Indian Hill Blvd.
Claremont, CA 91711
In addition, for Italian, I suggest Tutti Mangia. Although I prefer La Picolletta, the menu at TM is larger and they are open for lunch. Currently, a very good Winter tasting menu is being offered at dinner. Great food in a superb venue with exceptional service. Very popular as well amongst the Claremont schools' crowd.
Tutti Mangia Italian Grill
102 Harvard Ave
Claremont, CA 91711
Agree with Back Abbey (even if a 17 year old can't exactly make the most of it, it still has a fun vibe) and Viva Madrid.
Tutti Mangia is good but can be pricier than you might first expect, and I get the feeling Walter's would be better if they narrowed their focus a bit more ... the menus have been sprawling as much as the restaurant itself lately and the quality seems to have slipped.
Walter's for sunday brunch is almost a must.
310 Yale Ave, Claremont, CA 91711
One other option you may wish to consider is on-campus dining. Wait, wait … don’t hang-up until you hear me out!
Pitzer College has contracted its campus food services program at McConnell Bistro to Bon Appetit, an exceptional food services company with a very high bar for both sustainable, "gourmet" food preparation and social responsibility. All food items are prepared from scratch using authentic, locally sourced ingredients of the highest quality available. On top of that, Executive Chef Dennis Lofland was a sous chef at several four and five star New York City restaurants.
Apparently, the results have been very well received. The New Diner, a hard-hitting, pulls no punches reviewer spoke quite highly of McConnell Bistro in his recent review (I would ignore his roguish comments about “snotty little rich kids”):
Although I’ve yet to try it (I plan to soon), do consider giving it a shot, particularly for lunch, which, I hear, is the best meal. It will surely give you and your niece an enhanced flavor for campus life at Claremont.
Of the places in the village, Walter's, Harvard Square, and Tutti Mangia are all OK but imo fairly staid options.
I'm with some of the posts above, Viva Madrid is fun, I'd think a good place to take your niece. Ditto the Back Abbey, although it can be even more crowded and noisy, but good for burgers and moules frittes (and Belgian beer, although of course not for your niece). For Italian, I do like Aruffo's and recently enjoyed La Parolaccia, a newer place in the village expansion. If you have a car, I like the fish tacos at Señor Baja on Foothill in Pomona. For lunch I also like the falafel sandwich at Saca's in the village. If you like donuts, Road Runner (a stand in Upland that usually closes before noon) is good. Pastries at Some Crust are good, although a big lineup on weekend mornings. My kids like the frozen yogurt at 21 Choices in the village expansion.
But to get a feel for the village, I'd at least hit Viva Madrid for dinner (warning: it can get crowded and they don't take reservations) and Some Crust for coffee/pastries.