New restaurant specializes in unique Mediterranean flavors

You can find the essence of Cafe X2O—Claremont’s newest Mediterranean restaurant—in its name.

The name, according to owner Alex Manougian, represents a warm greeting between friends: two kisses and a hug.

“It’s kind of our take on xoxo,” Mr. Manougian said. “It’s a common Lebanese greeting, you get a kiss on each check and an embrace and a handshake.”

Link to additional video on Cafe X2O

The restaurant, located at 1 Indian Hill Boulevard in the space formerly occupied by The Junction, has been quietly open since November 2018. X2O specializes in classic and authentic Mediterranean cuisine, the food Mr. Manougian, who is of Lebanese and Armenian descent, grew up with.

“Being from Lebanon and so far away from it, you reminisce about the little memories of your parents taking you to the nice cafes, where it was all about enjoying the food and the lifestyle,” he said. “So I wanted to recreate that.”

Cafe X2O has a wide variety of options that would satisfy customers used to Mediterranean cuisine—their tabbouleh, hummus, mutabal and grape leaves are delicious and expertly crafted—while introducing newbies to a whole new world of regional food fare.

Mr. Manougian doesn’t skimp on the ingredients at X2O. They soak and boil the chickpeas every night to make the hummus, and ingredients come directly from Lebanon.

“We don’t go for second-rate ingredients, and it all shows,” he said.

Cafe X2O initially started as a side business for Mr. Manougian, who worked in the video surveillance business for 20 years. His job took him to countless restaurants in the area, and he liked the idea of having a restaurant of his own.

“I felt there was more comfort and freedom to kind of do what I want to do, as opposed to just following these guidelines,” he said.

As the surveillance business declined, Mr. Manougian decided to focus on X2O full time.

“I fell in love with the business, and somehow everything worked out for us,” he said.

Since opening his first restaurant in La Verne in 2012, the business has expanded all across the foothills, with locations open in South Pasadena, Monrovia, Glendora and now Claremont.

Mr. Manougian said he had his eye on Claremont for a while, and initially looked at the corner space at the Packing House, which was the former home of Casablanca, another Mediterranean restaurant in the Village. The space eventually went to Gus’s Barbeque.

After a little while, The Junction closed, and suddenly another large restaurant space was available. Mr. Manougian found his Claremont location.

One element missing from the Claremont location that is available at other X2O restaurants is the hookah lounge. Mr. Manougian said he wants to focus on being a restaurant, because as he says it, “no matter how many dishes you serve, you put one hookah out and you’re known as a hookah lounge.”

“I’d like to see this be the non-tobacco type option,” he added.

Mr. Manougian stressed that the cuisine at X2O is meant to bring people together.

“This food is meant to be shared by groups of people, friends and family,” he said.

This is apparent in the meze section of the menu, which offers large plates featuring a number of different menu items, which is shared with a group of people. It’s X2O’s version of tapas, Mr. Manougian said.

Cafe X2O has high-end fare as well, with ingredients such as lamb chops, quail and frog legs, but Mr. Manougian noted his main goal is to make sure customers are satisfied.

“Seeing people come and fill a table with a bunch of appetizers and skipping dinner because they’re full, to me that’s just as satisfying as people ordering the most expensive dishes we have,” he said. “Because you’ve given them the experience, not just a great meal.”

Cafe X2O is located at 1 Indian Hill Blvd., sandwiched between Paradis and The Statesman barbershop. Give them a ring at (909) 399-0990.

—Matthew Bramlett


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