The Mission Inn in Riverside has gone through several renovations in recent years, including the addition of an onsite spa. Furthermore, perhaps the premier hotel in the Inland Empire has also sought to upgrade it restaurant choices. The first attempt, Las Campanas Mexican Restaurant, is, to be frank, awful—as in El Torrito-bad. The place is redeemed only by its margaritas and cool outside patio dining. Despite the quality of the Inn’s first new restaurant in years I resolved to try out their latest offering, Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro.
I was bracing for the worst—but, you know something . . . I was pleasantly surprised. The Mission Inn’s Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro offers a limited selection of pizzas, salads, and pastas served up on a serene patio setting complete with an attentive, knowledgeable staff. That’s three plusses. It was raining the day I went, just after tornados had threatened parts of Riverside and Moreno Valley. With all the rain having cleared out the air, the patio at the Bistro was a rather nice place to sit and enjoy a meal.
Things didn’t get off auspiciously—the breadsticks were a tad stale and greasy, and a remote fear began to materialize that I was in for a more expensive Olive Garden-esque experience. Luckily, this turned out to be something of a head fake, as everything else turned out to be amazing. Particularly, the salads at Bella Traittoria are simply excellent. I opted for the Caprese variety, a dish that always comes down to the quality of the tomatoes and the buffalo mozzarella. At the Bistro both are damn fine—in no small part due to the virgin olive oil and the Jackson Pollack-inspired droplets of balsamic vinegar that engulfs the plate. The antipasto salad is also tasty.
As for the rest of the menu, there are standouts but the selections aren’t vast. In fact, I counted only four actual entrées, along with a varied group of pasta dishes, including a section where you can build their own pasta. The pan-fried salmon looked oh-so tempting, but I opted for pizza, which turned out to be a judicious choice. While I was rather sadly and pitifully alone, the pies are inevitably made for two persons—a fact which left me basking in pizza leftovers for days. They are also yummy—not sublimely amazing, but yummy. I opted for the Mission Inn Pizza, a thin-crust affair with tender chunks of chicken, sweet onions and peppers, all underscored by a sweet (yet mellow) barbeque sauce. With a couple of Italian beers to wash it down and the pitter-patter of rain, it turned into a rather enjoyable hour.
It’d be impossible for me to overplay the fine service at Bella Trattoria—they were attentive, knowledgeable and helpful, in no way smothering. Overall, the Bistro is a fine alternative to Mario’s across the street from the Inn’s main entrance.
Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro, located inside the Mission Inn, 3649 Mission Inn Ave, Riverside, (951) 784-0300, www.missioninn.com. Open for lunch, Tues.–Sat., 11:00AM–4:00PM; Dinner, Tues.–Thurs., 4:30PM–9:00PM, Fri.-Sat, 4:30PM–10:00PM. Closed Sunday and Monday. AE, MC, V