Dine Like It's '59

12 California restaurants that savor dishing up the mid-century experience
Retro Dine
We combed California for a dozen eateries that take us back to yesterday. Above: In Downey, it's Johnie's Broiler getting reborn as a Bob's Big Boy.

Yes, diners today have it good.

We imbibe artisanal cocktails concocted from rare herbs and tinctures by mixologists who are as talented as any medieval alchemist. Our favorite restaurants grow their own arugula, make their own salumi—that's salumi, not salami, got it?—and some of them slaughter their own cows to ensure that we consume everything from hoof to head.

But sometimes—not all the time, but sometimes—doesn't the pretentiousness and pretence behind so many of our celebrity chefs and their Michelin-starred restaurants make you long for a simpler time?

Retro Dine

A time of spaghetti and meatballs, baked scampi, Oysters Rockefeller? A martini. A time when a place called Norms was owned by a guy named Norm?

We know the answer is "yes." So—as a public service—we have combed the great state of California to find a dozen eateries that can help you travel back in time.

We were looking for real historic restaurants, ones that were around in the mid-century era and that have retained their vibes, not modern recreations. And of course we wanted ones with good food.

But dining out is about much more than food. It's a form of theater, and it's an affirmation of self. We are both what we eat—and where we eat.

We could have chosen other restaurants that are as much about the mid-century modern experience as they are about the food.

How could we have left out Trader Vic's, our Tiki-minded readers might wonder. Or Vic's Ice Cream in Sacramento? Or any of those cool Southern California restaurants shaped like donuts? Do you have a favorite mid-century restaurant? Let us know. We just may do a sequel.