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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Happy… Anniversary? Birthday? Whatever… Happy!!!

One year ago today, I blogged my first restaurant. I’ve now posted about 55 restaurants (and have three more in the hopper!). Doing this blog has made me so happy, has led to so many adventures and places I never would have gone.
Thought I’d list some of my favorites so far, in no particular order:

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(1928) La Golondrina Mexican Cafe, downtown L.A.
A beautiful old Mexican restaurant on Olvera St. La Golandrina has been there since 1928, but the building was built in the 1850s.  Amazing stone fireplace and colored hanging lamps and artwork everywhere.

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(1953) James Restaurant, San Fernando
A perfectly cozy coffee shop way out in the suburbs, full of nice people and comfort food. Hard to put my finger on why it’s one of my favorite places ever, except that I love coffee shops and this has everything I love in a coffee shop.

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(1952) Tony’s on the Pier, aka “Old Tony’s,” Redondo Beach
The best bar I’ve ever been in, stuck on top of the restaurant like an octagonal hat, with windows on all sides looking out over the ocean. Back in the ’50s, a monkey escaped from the circus and lived at Tony’s, stealing sugar cubes from the tables.

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(1946) Nick’s Coffee Shop, Los Angeles
Perfectly wonderful greasy spoon diner, cramped and marvelous. It makes me want to be a private eye just so I could sit at the counter and growl for coffee in between solving crimes.

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(1908) Cole’s, downtown L.A. 

and
(1908) Philipe the Original, downtown L.A.
These places are connected in everyone’s minds because they both claim to have invented the french dip, and I love them both so much I don’t want to play favorites. In fact they are so different it’s impossible to compare; Cole’s is a sit-down place that let’s you dip your own sandwich and Mickey Cohen used to eat there, while Philipe’s has a busy counter where the sandwiches come pre-dipped, with sawdust on the floor and a line of old wooden phone booths. They both say wonderful things about what life was like in L.A. in the early 20th century, and it thrills me that they’re both still open for business.

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(1935) Clifton’s Cafeteria, downtown L.A.

sYCliftonssignI’d heard about Clifton’s Cafeteria for years, and always meant to go, but then it closed for renovations, and stayed closed for years. When this blog first started, Clifton’s was still being worked on. It re-opened last fall, and after meaning to go for months, David (my husband) and I finally headed downtown. Clifton’s is tremendous, so tremendous I’m a little overwhelmed at the idea of describing it. I counted how many pictures I took later, and it was more than 200. It is easy to imagine how it influenced Walt Disney when he was thinking about his theme park. I tried
for about two seconds to be cynical and jaded but it didn’t work out. It is probably my favorite place on earth. It is truly, breathtakingly, wonderful.

sYCCfirstfloorcliftons190-The first floor has a large eating area, lots of long tables and chairs, with rock walls, pillars like tree trunks, rock archways and a big rock fireplace, a meandering waterfall coming down from the second floor, and forest murals on the walls that aren’t rock. Also lots of flowers. In one corner, almost at the level of the second floor, is what looks like a castle tower carved out of the rock. It is immense and amazing. The cafeteria, which you get to by walking through a gift shop section full of mugs and books and old postcards, is behind the first floor eating area. It’s like a combination of a school cafeteria and a Vegas buffet, with salads and sushi and pizza and meats.
The second floor has a redwood tree with a fireplace in it. There is a grand piano and a bar near the redwood, and sitting areas with chairs and sofas in semi-circles, and lots of tables and chairs like on the first floor. Some of the tables appear to be large slices of redwood tree. The third floor is all old Hollywood glamour, with another bar and a large room with a bandstand. All over the place are stuffed animals on display in dioramas, and all sorts of awesome things to look at. I felt like I could have spent days there and not Continue reading


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(1924) Original Pantry Cafe, downtown L.A.

pantrysignLast night I headed downtown and met my friend Nikki for dinner at the Original Pantry Cafe. I’ve been told that on the weekends there are lines out the door and even around the block, which is why we cleverly went on a Monday night. It wasn’t empty, but we didn’t have to wait for a table.

-White walls with blonde wood paneling, black and white square tiles on the floor, orange and red menus all over the walls with chalkboards for the specials, photos of the old days wherever Continue reading


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(1928) La Golondrina Mexican Cafe, downtown L.A.

 

lagon sign3David (my husband) and I were in the mood for Mexican, so we decided on La Golondrina Mexican Cafe on Olvera street downtown. The restaurant has been there since 1928, but it’s in the oldest brick building in L.A., built in 1855.

We were going to sit on the lovely outdoor patio, where the tables had vibrant colored tablecloths and the air smelled like the best air possible, but I wanted to see the inside of the place, and it turned out to be even lovelier than outside.

-brick walls, mostly but not entirely painted white, bright paintings everywhere, a large stone Continue reading


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(1908) Cole’s, downtown L.A.

coles signI went to Philippe’s yesterday, so it seemed only right today to go to Cole’s— the other downtown restaurant opened in 1908 that claims to have invented the french dip sandwich.
I took the bus, partly because parking’s a pain and gas is expensive, and mostly because it’s fun to sit and read and look out the window at neighborhoods I don’t often see. I got off the bus a little early and went to see the mural commemorating Biddy Mason, a former slave who became a midwife and wealthy landowner in 19th century Los Angeles.
Cole’s could not be more different than Philippe’s, with its waiters and wallpaper, and yet it manages to look exactly as ancient-without-being-decrepit. Lovely and cozy and Continue reading


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(1908) Philipe the Original, downtown L.A.

philippessignPhilippe the Original, which is always just called “Philippe’s,” claims to have created the french dip sandwich. I say “claims” because Cole’s, which is also downtown and opened the same year, claims the same thing. I’m planning on going there soon. I don’t think it matters a lot who did it first, as long as they’re both delicious. David (my husband) and I got to Philippe’s around noon, wanting to see it during the lunch rush. It was bustling but not overwhelming; he says he’s seen it with lines out the door.
-Everything about this place screams “been here forever” but not like it’s falling apart. It’s all very clean and well kept, just reeking of old-fashioned goodness. Strong wooden booths, long communal tables, sawdust on the floor.
-The counter where customers order food is long and shiny and, for me, almost nose-high. There isn’t really Continue reading