Hungry for a great steak? A mean martini? Here they are
Sitting in a soulless franchise restaurant, the San Diegoold-timer grew misty-eyed.
“Yes, young food pilgrim. Once upon a time many restaurants werecalled grottoes or gardens. Once, chicken pie was our great city’shaute cuisine, and the way that first fragrant burst of steamleaped from the crust was enough to make a grown man cry. Gone. Allgone.”
No, not quite. In the San Diego region, a few time-warprestaurants still dish up the same foods, service, and decor thatfirst made them popular decades ago. We searched, we found, and weover-ate. The next time you need a shake of nostalgia to seasonyour meal, wear something with an elastic waistband and enjoy.
SAN DIEGO CHICKEN PIE SHOP. 2633 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego; (619) 295-0156.
Pie Shop proprietors state that 26 million chicken pies havepopped out of the oven since this poultry-in-pastry palace openedin 1938 (albeit at a different location). We believe ’em. Thebustling restaurant still feels decidedly retro, both in itscomplete-meal prices ($4.75!) and the way the waitstaff brings yourtasty, simple food on rolling carts–usually within five minutes oftaking your order.
Be sure to order: Oh, come on. Guess.
Best bit of nostalgia: Food carts dueling with seniorcitizens’ walkers, plus a hilarious cartoon logo on the back ofeach check.
Dress code: Cardigan sweaters, leisure suits, readingglasses, big purses.
Why it has survived: “We’ve never kept up with inflation,”says owner John Townsend.
FILIPPI’S PIZZA GROTTO. 1747 India St., San Diego; (619) 232-5095.
You want hundreds of straw-wrapped Chianti bottles hangingfrom the ceiling? Red-checkered tablecloths? Pizzas big as trucktires? You’ll find them all at the original location of theFilippi’s chain, little changed since its 1950 debut.
Be sure to order: Surprise yourself― try the linguiniwith clams, white-sauce style.
Best bit of nostalgia: The deli’s low, low prices onimported Italian foodstuffs.
Dress code: Anything with a loose waistband.
Why it has survived: Classic fare in the heart of LittleItaly.
HOB NOB HILL. 2271 First Ave., San Diego; (619) 239-8176.
Hobnobbing on the hill has been a San Diego tradition since1944, when Harold and Dorothy Hoersch opened their first 14-stoollunch counter. Today a much larger Hob Nob is the town’s pantheonof home cooking, a place still doing its own baking and slowbraising. Tudoresque decor includes crystal chandeliers attoupee-brushing height. Be sure to order: Braised lamb shank.
Best bit of nostalgia: The waitresses’ crisp blue uniformsand pro attitude.
Dress code: Lawyer power suits or shorts-casual.
Why it has survived: Plain, wholesome, honest cooking fromscratch.
THE MARINE ROOM. 2000 Spindrift Dr., La Jolla; (858) 459-7222.The food hereis wonderful: Chef Bernard Guillas’s creations are worth everyexpensive nibble. But the restaurant makes our list for thesetting. Since 1941 the Marine Room has braved the elements withits 3/4-inch-thick windows set atop a seawall/ foundation at theocean’s edge. Winter storm surf can spray the glass as you snuglysip and sup inside.
Be sure to order: Wild king salmon in apomegranate-macadamia crust.
Best bit of nostalgia: The fact that the ocean hasn’t sweptit away for good.
Dress code: Sport coat and tie; sedate or silky dresses.
Why it has survived: Unadulteratedly romantic dining. Peoplewho had a prom date here in the ’40s now return for their 50thwedding anniversaries.
TONY’S JACAL. 621 Valley Ave., Solana Beach; (858) 755-2274.
You’re greeted by Teresa Rincon when you walk in, and sherings the register on your way out. “I was born here,” she says,and she means it: this was the Rincons’ family jacal (meaning “oldhouse” or “hut”) when Tony’s started in 1946. Soon it was famousfor turkey tacos and big, steaming, classic combo plates ofenchiladas and tamales. It’s located in Eden Gardens, ahidden-in-a-valley Latino neighborhood in Solana Beach that boastsseveral popular restaurants― enough to cause gridlock atdinner hour.
Be sure to order: Turkey tacos, beans in a mini pot, and acold cerveza.
Best bit of nostalgia: The mysterious no-check systemstarted by Teresa’s mom, and the amazingly efficient waitstaff.
Dress code: Aloha shirts and shorts.
Why it has survived: “Some of our regulars haven’t opened amenu in 40 years― they know what they want,” says Ray RinconJr. of Tony’s many unchanged original dishes.
TURF SUPPER CLUB. 1116 25th St., San Diego; (619) 234-6363.
This retro bar and grill, with its horse-racing decor and oddlack of a true restaurant kitchen, dates back to 1950. Legend hasit that the first owner got mad at the cook, fired him, closed thekitchen, and moved the grill out amongst the banquettes, tellingthe customers to cook their own steaks. After a brief shuttering inthe ’90s, TSC reopened in ’98 under young new owners. Now throngedby the Young, Restless, and Pierced crowd, the grill has kept itssimple concept of offering high-quality marinated beef and chickenitems, all brought to your table uncooked― yes, it’s still upto you to carry your cut to the copper-hooded grill, where youwatch over it in a communal rite that is damn fun, especially witha strong martini in hand.
Be sure to order: Filet mignon and a cosmopolitan.
Best bit of nostalgia: Wallpaper cartoons of thoroughbredscarrying betting forms.
Dress code: Slinky tops, post-work business suits, or Dr.Martens.
Why it has survived: Original decor, cavelike darkness, andthe thrill of the grill.
Whaling Bar & Grille. 1132 Prospect St., La Jolla; (858) 454-0771.
Located in the La Valencia Hotel, the Whaling Bar can bemissed by those drawn to the hostelry’s other restaurants. Butsince 1950, this de facto La Jolla social club has engenderedfierce loyalty and more than a few clogged arteries with its famedchateaubriand and milkshake-like signature frappé.
Be sure to order: Steak tartare and “The Whaler,” an icecream-liqueur frappé.
Best bit of nostalgia: Animal-rights-incorrect whalingmurals by late artist and bon vivant Wing Howard.
Dress code: Regimental-striped ties, linen dresses,pearls.
Why it has survived: Very “old money,” old chap.