Remains of L.A.

Traces of L.A.'s past can still be found, in the kitsch of '50s diners and the decayed glamour of '40s hotspots… and sometimes the food is good, and there are nice people.


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(1953) James Restaurant, San Fernando

jamessignMy friend Ari, David (my husband), and I drove out to San Fernando and had dinner at James Restaurant.

By far the best sign yet. And underneath the sign, for no reason I can fathom, are two statues: a horse, and a lady holding what looks like a horn of plenty. There seemed to be a space for a third statue, but really, aren’t those two enough?

-the walls inside are rose stone with brown tiles making star patterns, to extremely pleasing effect. Reddish-wood tables, hanging Tiffany lamps, striped curtains,  paintings on the walls. Our U-shaped booth had a painting on either side, one of seaside scene in what we think was Greece, and one of a deer at a stream near a house. Not necessarily great art, but very nice to look at.

-as we sat down I was exclaiming over how much I loved the place, and the woman finishing her Continue reading


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(1964) Foxy’s Restaurant, Glendale


“Crystal chandeliers,” is not, it turns out, a selling point of restaurant. There’s a chandelier shop that shares the parking lot.

Sunday brunch with my friend JT. We chose Foxy’s because it’s near her house and was very obviously a place that would have great breakfast food.

I was a bit surprised, maybe confused, by Foxy’s. That might have been partly because it was crowded to the point of chaotic so I had a hard time getting a handle on it. But I expected it to be a straight-forward diner, and it seemed very determined to show that it was not that. Lots of “we’re mature now” vases of chic flowers and red cloth draped over the entrances to the kitchens and many, many tasteful art prints of wine bottles on the walls. Also a wine-bottle shaped wine rack. This is a place that wants you to know it’s old enough to drink.

-long A-frame structure with a sharply peaked Continue reading


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(1967) Dinah’s Chicken, Glendale

dinahssignI walked to Dinah’s Fried Chicken for lunch; I figured I’d need the exercise to make up for the eating I was about to do. I grew up on the edge of the South, and sometimes right in it, and Dinah’s made me feel wonderfully comfortable and happy. Everything that is charming about southern decorating is crammed into this one room.

-Red walls and wooden tables, pretty wooden chairs, ceramic chickens and pictures of chickens everywhere. Painted along the top of the wall are pictures of open windows with flowerpots, which should be corny but somehow isn’t at all.

-I got two pieces of fried chicken, dark meat, and corn on the cob. It took a good deal of effort to not get mashed potatoes, but I did it. Everything is exactly perfect, down to the Continue reading


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(1915) Watson Drugs & Soda Fountain, Orange

watsonsignDavid (my husband) and I were going to a play in Anaheim, so I looked to see what places on the list were nearby, and settled on Watson Drugs & Soda Fountain.

I love drugstore lunch counters. They were on their way out when I was a kid, but I have dim memories of them, of regular plain old drugstores where you could get grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and milkshakes. In old books they’re always such a staple, and take on a sort of romance for me in how very prosaic they are. I once told David (my husband) that my dream writing space would be a small apartment upstairs from a drugstore with a lunch counter, and he asked if the apartment would have a place for clients to sit when they came to ask me to solve crimes, because I was clearly getting being a writer confused with being a private detective in the forties.

–long counter with stools, and also lots of Continue reading


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The Idea

I have always adored old L.A. restaurants. Walking into them gives us a glimpse of what once was, as close to traveling through time as we can come. Even just driving past the crazy old signs can be, for a moment, like seeing a different world. Driving around L.A. is another thing I love; exploring new neighborhoods, tracking down hidden treasures. Being a tourist in my hometown.

So when The Los Angeles Beat posted this list of 300+ vintage L.A. restaurants, all from the last century (okay, that could be fairly recent; the oldest are from the ’70s) and all still in business, my heart leapt. I want to go to ALL of them. I want to tell you about it when I do.