Sunday, October 19, 2008

los angeles food nostalgia

On a long drive recently, my partner Bruce and I were reminiscing about places we used to eat at in Los Angeles. He grew up there and has a longer list than I (maybe for another post). So many places we used to patronize as recently as the early 1990s are now gone, or, as the L.A. Time Machines site puts it, "extinct." I decided that I would try to write down the places I remember frequenting that are no longer open. Then I started semi-obsessively researching them.

  • A Chinese restaurant on Sunset Blvd or Antioch in Pacific Palisades. I don't remember the name or the food, but I do remember the old school Cantonese-American black, red, and gold dragon-decorated bar that served cocktails in tiki glasses with umbrellas. I used to order Fog Cutters or Mai Tais.
  • Blum’s in the Plaza Building at the Disneyland Hotel complex. Mom and I used to visit Disneyland every summer when we went down to L.A. to visit grandmother Johnston in Beverly Hills. Mom loved to stay in the old "Garden Rooms" section of the Disneyland Hotel (she called them the Lanai rooms). Every day we ate at least one meal at Blum's before or after a monorail trip. And on every trip we watched the "Dancing Waters" at the hotel complex.
  • Cafe Casino with locations on Gayley Ave in Westwood and on Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica. I ate a lot at the Westwood location (there was a great vintage poster store next door), and Bruce ate at the Santa Monica location.
  • Café Katsu on Sawtelle Blvd in West L.A. One of the first places Bruce and I went on a date. It was very small but the food was extraordinary. It was down the street from a Japanese restaurant that I cannot remember the name of that had fabulous grilled squid, and nearby the take-away hole-in-the-wall Tempura House that you had to visit early or they'd be out of the shrimp and sweet potatoes.
  • D.B. Levy’s sandwiches on Lindbrook Drive in Westwood. Located above what I seem to remember was a Burger King and near the now-demolished National movie theater, this place had a massive menu of sandwiches named after celebrities.
  • English Tea Room on Glendon Ave in Westwood. You walked off the street into a brick courtyard to enter this very quaint tea room. I almost always had the Welsh Rarebit and the bread and butter pudding.
  • Gianfranco restaurant and deli on Santa Monica Blvd in West L.A. This was the place a group of us ate on a very regular basis when undergraduates. I had a weakness for the gnocchi with pesto. My friend Cynthia remembers nothing but their delicate hazelnut cake.
  • Gorky’s Café at 536 East 8th Street in the downtown Garment District. Saturday mornings when I was in need of fabric or trim or beads, I'd drive to downtown L.A. to the garment district before any place was open, because the shopping day had to start with blintzes at Gorky's.
  • India's Oven on Pico Blvd in Culver City(?). The original location, with the disposable plates and cutlery.
  • Kelbo’s on Pico Blvd in west L.A. Polynesian tiki tacky like you cannot believe. Friends went there for the cheap, huge communal well drinks with lots of long straws. I went for the tiki tacky. They also sold painted faux stained glass for some reason.
  • Knoll's Black Forest Inn on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica. An unchanging decor and menu for decades.
  • Merlin McFly's on Main St. in Santa Monica. I remember it being near a great vintage clothing store. The draw was the amazing stained glass windows that featured historic magicians. The restaurant is long gone, but the windows were saved and are now at a venue called Magicopolis.
  • Mie and Mie Falafal in Westwood. I never had falafal before my freshman year of college. Our dorm was being renovated for the 1984 Olympics and had no dining hall, so I often found myself there.
  • Moise’s Mexican on Santa Monica Blvd near Federal in West L.A. I lived four blocks away and always ordered the same thing -- carne en serape, a burrito filled with beef in a sour cream sauce, covered in cheese and quickly broiled.
  • Panda Inn on Pico Blvd in West L.A. An elegant 80s room, the 2nd or 3rd location after Pasadena, before it went national. It was at the Westside Pavilion mall, an upscale mall designed by Jon Jerde.
  • The Penguin Coffee Shop at 1670 Lincoln Blvd in Santa Monica. My friend Cynthia and I loved it for its Penguin logo. The sign is partly still there (as is the Googie-style building), even though it became an orthodontic office.
  • Polly's Pies at 501 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica. Bruce loved this place.
  • R.J.s for Ribs at 252 N. Beverly Blvd in Beverly Hills. The ribs were good, but the real joy was trying to stump your waiter when he asked what animal he should fashion your foil package for leftover food into. Armadillos, bats, ...
  • Robata on Santa Monica Blvd in West L.A. near the Nuart theater. I was a very frequent attendee when the Nuart (and the Fox on Lincoln in Venice) were full-time revival houses. Robata was, as you'd expect, Japanese robata, or grilled, skewered food.
  • The Sculpture Gardens restaurant on Abbott Kinney in Venice. Bruce and I ate brunch there very frequently, but no one else seems to remember it, with its multiple little buildings surrounding a funky courtyard with sculptures. They had the best breakfast bread basket and baked apple pancakes.
  • Ship’s coffee shop at 10877 Wilshire Blvd in Westwood. A classic Googie-style coffee shop with toasters at every table. My friend Kevin ate there a lot.
  • Tampico Tilly's on Wilshire in Santa Monica. Cheap, decent Mexican in a huge faux rancho house. I think El Cholo took over the building.
  • Trader Vic’s at 9876 Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. I remember eating there every summer with my grandmother Johnston. I was always allowed to order a Shirley Temple, which feels pretty daring when you're 10 years old. Sometimes we also ate at The Velvet Turtle on Sepulveda Blvd.
  • Wildflour pizza on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica. There is still one location open, but this is the one I remember best. They had to-die for spinach salad with marinated artichoke hearts.
  • Zucky’s Deli at 431 Wilshire Blvd at 5th St in Santa Monica. I had a roommate in college who was from New York via Florida. He took me to Zucky's for my first egg cream, and introduced me to Fox's Ubet syrup. When I worked at the Getty Research Institute when it was at 4th and Wilshire, I often stopped in for the fabulous corn muffins from their bakery. Izzy's was across the street -- they had good pie but I remember really disliking their tuna melts. What an odd thing to remember.
Of course there were lots of other places that are still there ... Angeli Caffe on Melrose Ave in West Hollywood, Anna Maria's Trattoria on Wilshire in Santa Monica, The Apple Pan on Pico, the Border Grill on 4th Street in Santa Monica, the Broadway Deli on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Campanile on La Brea Ave in North Hollywood, Chaya Venice on Navy Street in Venice, Chin Chin on San Vicente Blvd in Brentwood, i Cugini on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, Dhaba Indian on Main in Santa Monica, Empress Pavilion on Hill St in Chinatown, Father's Office on Montana in Santa Monica, Marix Playa on Entrada in Pacific Palisades, Noma Sushi on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica, Stan's Donuts on Weyburn in Westwood (the best apple fritters), Robin Rose ice cream on Rose Ave. in Venice, The Rose Cafe on Rose Ave. in Venice, Snug Harbor on Wilshire in Santa Monica, Thai Dishes on Wilshire in West L.A., Versailles Cuban on Venice Blvd in Culver City, Woo Lae Oak Korean on Western at Wilshire (the best place to eat before shows at the Wiltern theater), Ye Olde King's Head on Santa Monica Blvd in Santa Monica (why do I think it was somewhere else before?) ... and likely dozens that I don't remember right now.


Amanda said...

How funny. My mother and I lived in Santa Monica for a year when I was much younger, and I remember eating at at least three of the places you mention (the English Tea Room, Polly's Pies, and Tampico Tilly's). I remember Robin Rose Ice Cream in Venice, too.

David said...

I know it's only been there since the mid-1970's, but Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles deserves at least one mention (I think the Pico and LaBrea location is the original), and possible more, depending upon how much you like waffles with your chicken. Or chicken with your waffles. Or waffles. Or chicken. So many options!

Leslie Johnston said...

You're totally right! I said there were places I patronized that I'd forgotten to list...

Amy DeZellar said...

I totally remember the Sculpture Garden, that was such a great place. There was also a place in Venice that was a restaurant in an antique store. Anyone? I used to work at Tampico Tilly's on Wilshire and LOVED Polly's Pies.

Thank you so much for this great post!

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Santa Monica most of my life, I remember so many of those places. Loved Tampico Tilly's and Carrillo's on Pico Blvd. Zucky's had wonderful sandwiches. Wish I could get a couple of recipes from Tilly's

Anonymous said...

Can anyone please tell me how long Tampico Tilly's stayed open? When did they open and when did they close? Was there really a Mercedes Benz dealership at that local, once?