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
1095 E Main St
Tustin, CA 92780