Culinary Classics in LA

On a recent vacation to Southern California, my wife and two children and I explored Los Angeles. I’m not impartial when it comes to “LA.” While many think of the City of Angles as just an endless spider web of gridlocked freeways, I love everything about it: the arts, the culture and, especially, the food. Los Angeles is a true melting pot of the world’s cultures. Where else can you find such neighborhoods as “Little Ethiopia,” “Little Armenia,” “Koreatown,” and “Little Tokyo?” This recent trip included visits to two new favorites: Canter’s Delicatessen and Clifton’s Cafeteria.

Canter’s is located on Fairfax Avenue near Hollywood and is one of several “24-hour” deli’s spread among the neighborhoods of LA. Opened in 1931, Canter’s is one of the only delis in the US that brines its own pickles in house every morning. It’s most famous for its signature sandwich “The Fairfax,” piled high with pastrami and corned beef. During a late dinner, we dove into sandwiches, matzo ball soup, and fresh made desserts. Next door in the lounge, the sounds of a jazz trio wafted into the restaurant and complemented the already friendly atmosphere. Really, jazz and corned beef…what could be better than that? Look for a stop at Canter’s on an upcoming Sports Leisure Vacations tour.

Clifton’s Cafeteria is located on Broadway, just east of the core of downtown LA. Long before Rainforest Cafes, Hard Rock Cafes, and other themed-based restaurants, there were Clifton’s Cafeterias, each with its own theme. Clifton’s coincidentally also opened in 1931. Downstairs there are a few tables surrounded by a mountain atmosphere including a moose, redwood trees that cover the steel columns of the dining room, and a 20-foot waterfall that becomes a meandering stream on the main floor. Tiered seating leads you to the second level including a bridge over that waterfall. On the third level, a large dining room holds the display cases containing many pieces of history including mementoes of a sister restaurant, Clifton’s Pacific Seas, which had a tropical setting, and closed in 1960.

One of the unique items I saw in a showcase upstairs was a small personal-sized pewter teapot next to a letter recently written by a woman who had passed through LA on her honeymoon in 1945. The woman described eating at Clifton’s as her husband was preparing to return to the Pacific Theater during the war. She told him how much she loved the teapot. After they left the restaurant he pulled out the teapot, which he swiped when no one was looking, from underneath his coat and presented it to his wife as a wedding gift. Years passed and the teapot from Clifton’s remained a cherished part of the couple’s teapot collection. After her husband passed away about a year ago, she decided to return the teapot to Clifton’s. She closed the letter with a final sentence asking if her husband was forgiven!

Clifton’s is indeed a true “cafeteria-style” restaurant that requires you to take a tray through the selection of 100 items available daily. Might be a fun lunch stop while on tour in LA someday soon, or a place to take friends next time you are in southern California.

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