Inka Trails finds its way back to Claremont – podcast
by Andrew Alonzo | firstname.lastname@example.org
On March 26, visitors to Inka Trails restaurant received a warm welcome from staff and hot plates of food during the evening. The Peruvian restaurant, a city staple from 2000 to 2015, hosted a special event, “Quilla’s Dream,” which commemorated the restaurant’s recent relaunch at its familiar Claremont space.
The evening’s celebration featured long missed Peruvian classics such as lomo (beef) and camarones (shrimp) saltado, Peruvian music and a small art gallery showcasing eight distinguished local artists. The artists featured included Nate McMullen, Maudi Carlile, Stella Cruz, LApetitmort, Kirk McConnell, SoLange, Jordanna Kirschner and manager Natalie Rodriguez, whose works decorated the restaurant’s walls on Saturday.
The evening may have been short, but it was a fun and nostalgic night at the restaurant as patrons remembered their regular orders and staff greeted guests with the ever-so-comforting, “welcome back.”
“I want to thank everyone that’s here. I want to thank my family members, my friends that came, all the artists, you guys are amazing and talented. And I’m just so happy to be a part of this community,” Rodriguez said during her thank you speech.
Later, Ceasar Aguilar hosted an open mic session for attendees to express themselves, which many did through poetry and song.
While Saturday’s event at Inka Trails served as its grand reopening to the community, the family-owned restaurant has actually been operating, albeit under the radar, since January 6, 2021.
So why such a delay to the festivities?
“I asked Natalie for something [for the restaurant]. I wanted a mural,” Patty Rodriguez, the restaurant’s owner, said on Saturday. “I didn’t think it was going to take such a long time, [or that] it was going to be such a big thing.”
Unveiled as part of Saturday’s festivities, Natalie’s mural, “Quilla’s Dream,” took the manager a year to complete, she said. A vivid and colorful mural encompassing Natalie’s Peruvian heritage and upbringing, the piece sits painted on the north wall in the middle of the restaurant, noticeable as soon as you walk into the lobby.
“It was such a journey. I mean I put so much emotion and so much of my subconscious and so my intention to it. And to finally see it all done and share it with you guys is a really new experience for me,” Natalie said on Saturday.
“Today’s the day I can say my daughter’s an artist,” Patty said. “Today’s like the day that I’m always going to remember, it was her first big mural.”
In 2000, Inka Trails opened its doors to the community on Claremont’s Foothill Boulevard. Over the course of 15 years, the restaurant became a smash hit and garnered attention from all over Southern California for its take on classic Peruvian dishes.
Patty explained, however, that she began to feel burned out and that the restaurant felt more like raising a child instead the passion project it once was. After talking it over with her family, Patty sold the restaurant in 2015, and the space was taken over by Jenny’s Cafe.
For the next six years, Patty began putting her former expertise as a nurse to use full-time, volunteering for humanitarian medical missions to save lives around the world.
“I’ve done medical missions to India, Nepal, Haiti, Peru, and it was like a yearly thing,” Patty explained.
While she admitted the work fulfilled her, something tugged at her to return to Claremont; a huge financial decision. Patty retained ownership of the Foothill Blvd. space, and saw it change hands again as House of Pong took over after Jenny’s Café closed in 2018. But House of Pong over left over a rental disagreement.
With no buyers, but a newfound passion for food, Patty partnered with her former head chef Eduardo Enriquez to reopen Inka Trails.
Patty emphasized that the reopening of Inka Trails is a new chapter in the restaurant’s storied history, not just a sequel of the same name. The familiar chef Enriquez may be back in the kitchen, but the restaurant will have a new focus on art and entertainment with Natalie and her son Favian by her side.
“Everything is now in relation to art. Inka Trails is not the same Inka Trails it used to be. It was more like a fine dining [experience] before, now it’s more casual,” Patty said. “We want to maybe expose the restaurant to have more fundraiser events and events like this.”
Natalie has been showcasing her art for the past six months at the Pomona Art Walk, and Saturday’s art exhibition at Inka Trails featured many friends of the budding artist.
Rancho Cucamonga natives Richard Trejo and Mirela Patino have long awaited the return of Inka Trails. When it initially shut down in 2015, the couple searched for other Peruvian restaurants in the area but said they couldn’t find another on par with Inka Trails.
“I looked it up and I was like, “oh my God they’re back,’” Patino said. “[Inka Trails] is kind of like, part of our relationship … for us, it’s kind of like we need to go back. It just has a special place in our heart.”
The Rodriguez family confirmed that Inka Trails is here to stay for the foreseeable future — even after owner Patty retires or returns to one of her many other jobs.
“I think if I do retire, it will be Natalie or Favian, or both, running the restaurant,” Patty said, expressing her confidence that the restaurant is in good hands with son and daughter at the helm.
The brother and sister have assisted their mother at the restaurant since they were kids.
“Inka Trails is history for my kids, they were little when I first opened this restaurant,” Patty said. “It was something they always loved and [now] it’s their thing.”
Inka Trails is located at 1077 W. Foothill Blvd., around the corner from Eddie’s Italian Eatery. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. The restaurant is also open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. It remains closed on Mondays.
To view the menu, visit the restaurant’s Yelp page at yelp.com/biz/inka-trails-claremont. For takeout or general information, contact the restaurant at (909) 971-3543.
Visit Inka Trail’s Instagram page at Instagram.com/inka_trails for future updates with the restaurant.