Trader Vic’s, Emeryville, California

Recently I heard some sad news that the Portland outpost of Trader Vic’s closed after a fire. The Portland location was the best of the “new” Trader Vic’s in the U.S. which opened in the new millennium. I know it was because I went to all the new locations, with the exception of the Las Vegas one (mainly because the consensus in the tiki community was that the Vegas one was poorly designed – too sleek and not like a classic Trader Vic’s). The closure leaves only two Trader Vic’s open in the country, in Atlanta (covered by Le Continental) and in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco.


Hinky Dink's, Oakland - image from

Hinky Dinks, Oakland – image from


In 1934 San Francisco-born Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. borrowed $500 from his aunt and opened a tavern in Oakland at San Pablo Ave. & 65th St. called Hinky Dinks. He acted as bartender and cook, serving mainly beer and sandwiches. But in 1938, after traveling to the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Hollywood, where he visited Don the Beachcomber (opened 1933), he decided to convert a portion of his modest bar into a cocktail lounge solely “for ladies and their escorts” called the Bamboo Room, where he served mixed drinks “from all around the world” such as the Mojito, “Cuban Presidente”, “Barbados Red Rum Swizzle”, “Maui Fizz”, Raffles Bar Sling, and the Pisco Punch . He also renamed his bar and restaurant Trader Vic’s around this time.


Trader Vic's, Oakland, c. 1960 via

Trader Vic’s, Oakland, c. 1960 via


Word spread about the bon vivant host with a wooden leg (he lost his leg as a child from tuberculosis) who was serving Chinese food (he learned to make by visiting Chinatown in SF) and fancy cocktails in Oakland. The new Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-40 helped business. Herb Caen wrote in 1941: “the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland”.


Trader Vic's bar, Oakland - postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr

Trader Vic’s bar, Oakland – postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr


In 1944 Victor Bergeron invented the Mai-Tai at Trader Vic’s in Oakland, where he also developed the full-blown Polynesian restaurant concept with tikis, nautical decor, flotsam from around the world, and of course bamboo. In 1948 he opened his second restaurant, The Outrigger in Seattle (changed to Trader Vic’s in 1960) and in 1951 he opened his San Francisco restaurant.


Trader Vic's, San Francisco - image via

Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – image via


The San Francisco location became very popular, frequented by celebrities, politicians, and royalty (Queen Elizabeth visited in 1983) until it closed in 1993. Today the French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial occupies the building but you can see Trader Vic Alley as a tribute to what was once there.


Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr


Garden Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Garden Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr


Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr


The Trader Vic’s restaurant chain grew worldwide through the post-war years’ massive popularity of exotic escapism via tropical drinks, Polynesian food, Hawaiian and South Pacific culture, and exotica music. In the waning years of the heyday of Polynesian Pop a new Trader Vic’s opened in the Bay Area, in Emeryville, and the Oakland location closed in 1972.


Trader Vic's newspaper advertisement, 1972

Trader Vic’s newspaper advertisement, 1972


Trader Vic's, Emeryville - postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr

Trader Vic’s, Emeryville – postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr


Some new Trader Vic’s locations opened in the Bay Area in recent years (Palo Alto, 2001-2012 & San Francisco, 2004-2007) but Emeryville has remained the flagship location of Trader Vic’s in the world. The company has its headquarters there and much of the decor from now-closed locations around the country ends up at this Trader Vic’s.


bar and lounge, Trader Vic's Emeryville via EaterSF

bar and lounge, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr


The Emeryville location has seen some remodeling since my first visit about 20 years ago. There was an unfortunate remodel of the cocktail lounge several years ago which gave it a white a-frame ceiling and a lighter nautical look. In 2010 it closed for a few months but thankfully came back looking better; a return to the classic tiki bar look with more tikis and traditional decor throughout the restaurant. And the a-frame ceiling over the lounge is looking great again! There is a lot to see so when you visit take some time to look at the items hanging on walls, above, and around you.


decor, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

decor, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr


tikis, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

tikis, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr


The dining room is wonderful, with large windows looking out on the marina and towards San Francisco. Try to reserve a table with a window view for a romantic meal without peer in the Bay Area.


Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr


The food has also gotten better since my first visit. Highly recommended are anything from the Chinese ovens (the pork chop and steaks are great). And you have to get a Mai Tai where it was invented! Tip: order an “original Mai Tai” which is made from scratch rather than from a mix.


Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)

Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)


Sadly, we lost many classic Trader Vic’s in recent years, so the remaining two are treasures to be enjoyed as often as possible. So won’t you check out Trader Vic’s in Emeryville when you visit the Bay Area? Please tell maître d’hôtel Claudette Lum that I sent you.


Of all the Trader Vic’s (besides Emeryville) I have visited the following:
Beverly Hills (1955-2007; it used to be my favorite; there is a sleek Trader Vic’s lounge now which is nothing close to the original but you probably can get a good Mai Tai there as I hear some of the veteran bartenders are still around).
Chicago (1957-2005; new location 2008-2011)
London (1963-now)
Munich (1971-now)
Atlanta (1976-now)
Palo Alto (2001-2012)
San Francisco (2004-2007)
Bellevue, WA (2006-2008)
Los Angeles (2009-2014)
Portland (2011-2016)


Trader Vic’s
9 Anchor Dr, Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 653-3400
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am – 11:00pm, Sat 5:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 5:00pm-10:00pm



Pacific Dining Car, Los Angeles, California – CLOSED

Friends have often heard me complain about the limited 24 hour eatery options in the Bay Area. New York City has a few, Chicago beats NYC by a mile, but Los Angeles is tops for 24-hour dining. There are scads of 24-hour coffee shops, hamburger and hot dog stands, taco shops, ethnic eateries, and most uniquely, even some fine dining restaurants. If you can sit down to eat a high quality meal at four o’clock in the morning on white linen with real silverware and fine china, served by professional waiters in dinner jackets and ties anywhere else in the U.S. I want to know about it!

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Pacific Dining Car opened in 1921, when Los Angeles was booming during the Roaring Twenties. Fred and Grace “Lovey” Cook moved to LA from back east and decided to open a small restaurant that was like a railroad dining car. Many people think the original restaurant is in an actual railroad car but the Cooks had the car built to their specifications so it would be large enough to accommodate a lunch counter, some tables and chairs, and the kitchen. They outfitted it with wheels so it could be moved, which came in handy in 1923 because the land it was on at 7th & Westlake was sold, so the Cooks had to move the little café to 6th & Witmer at the western edge of downtown, where it still stands to this day, wheels and all.


Lovey’s pies became a quick hit in town and soon business was booming. In the 20s Fred Cook started serving high quality steaks from USDA prime aged beef, eventually installing his own curing box so he could age the beef on-site, a practice that continues today. The Cook’s survived the Depression and opened the successful Cook’s Steak House at 645 S Olive St. in 1935 (demolished). Lovey’s son-in-law Wes Idol ran the new venture. Both restaurants attracted many celebrities of the silver screen, writers, and even the notorious Mickey Cohen.

Cook's Steakhouse

Cook’s Steak House via Pinterest

Fred passed away in 1947 and Lovey continued to run PDC 7 days a week, except when the restaurant closed for three months per year during the summer, when a sign was put at the entrance reading “Too D. hot in L.A. Gone Fishing. Why the H. don’t you go, too?”. By 1960, Lovey was over 80, so her daughter Virginia, son-in-law Wes, and grandson Wes Idol II purchased the restaurant and remodeled it during the summer closure, reopening it as a “year ’round” restaurant, adding air conditioning so it could stay open during the summertime.

Pacific Dining Car 1968 menu

menu from 1968

Pacific Dining Car vintage matchbook

via Los Angeles Magazine

When Wes senior passed away in 1970, Wes II bought the restaurant from his mother Virginia, again remodeling it close to its present appearance. Wes II expanded the menu and wine list, while retaining the PDC standards of prime aged steaks. At one time there was also a Pacific Dining Car at 501 30th St in Newport Beach (as spotted on a vintage matchbook image; since demolished). I do not know when PDC started 24-hour service. This vintage matchbook shows limited dinner hours. But at some point it went 24-hours and in 1990 a PDC was opened in Santa Monica, also open 24-hours. These days, Wes Idol III runs PDC, amazingly owned by the same family for 95 years!

Pacific Dining Car original dining room

original dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Pacific Dining Car has many dining rooms, but my favorite is the original dining car, which has been remodeled over the years to its present Victorian dining car look of varnished wood, plush high-back booths, tables with green crushed velvet chairs, windows with tasselled valances, brass luggage racks holding vintage suitcases, and classic lamps.

Past the wine room you enter the bar (with TV) and the adjacent Club Car dining room, which is decorated with many historic photos; worth a peek if you aren’t dining there.

Pacific Dining Car dining room

Club Car next to the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

At the other side of the original dining car, just past the kitchen, is the Northern Pacific Room, in a Craftsman style with green walls and ceiling, lots of wood, blue crushed velvet chairs, and chandeliers made from antlers. A very interesting room that was used as a film set. Also, there is the Astor Room, the Huntington Room, and the Wine Room. Wow! More photos of the the various dining rooms.

antler chandelier in Northern Pacific Room, Pacific Dining Car

antler chandelier in Northern Pacific Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Since this is primarily a steakhouse all the menus feature steaks from prime aged corn-fed beef , but there are many other meat, seafood, and vegetable options. Breakfast is served 24 hours a day. I love their blueberry pancakes, top sirloin steak ‘n eggs, and lyonnaise potatoes. Or you could go New Orleans style and get eggs Sardou, artichoke bottoms over creamed spinach, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

Pacific Dining Car steak 'n eggs

top sirloin steak ‘n eggs with lyonnaise potatoes -photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Lunch is served from 11am to 4pm and features salads, steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and other entrees. Afternoon tea is offered daily from 3pm to 5:30pm. The dinner menu is served 24-hours a day and offers an extensive array of steak and seafood entrees and combinations. Make no mistake, PDC is an expensive restaurant. Their famous cowboy steak, a bone-in ribeye, will set you back almost $80 à la carte and their famous baseball steak, a thick top sirloin will cost you almost $50 on the dinner menu. However you can go after 11:00pm and save a lot. Their late night menu served from 11pm to 6am offers many of their popular selections at reduced prices and some include sides while their regular dinner menu counterparts may not.

Pacific Dining Car rib steak

Cowboy Steak – via

Note on their steaks: the steaks are well seasoned and cooked over charcoal with a good dark crust (as you can see above). If you don’t like your steak that well seared you should ask if they can cook it with less of a dark crust. Also, after reading a lot of online reviews complaining about the Pacific Dining Car’s baseball cut being “dry”, I have this to say: top sirloin is a beefy but relatively lean cut with a somewhat chewy texture. I love a good top sirloin for a steak-on-a-budget. But it’s not as well marbled as say a ribeye or strip steak so it’s not as juicy and it doesn’t have the melt-in-your-mouth feel of more fatty cuts. So don’t order the baseball steak if a chewy, beefy steak doesn’t appeal to you. I found my aged top sirloin served with eggs to be very flavorful!

Pacific Dining Car

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

The service is excellent: genteel, old fashioned, refined. Which makes the entire experience from a simpler, less hectic time. The crisp white linens, the real polished silverware and the fine china remind me of dining in a railroad dining car during the streamlined train era before Amtrak (luckily I was able to experience it in the 1970s on board the Denver and Rio Grande Western’s Zephyr, a remnant of the California Zephyr that held on until 1983). There is no music playing at the restaurant; just the sound of low conversation and polite dining. If you go late at night please don’t arrive drunk and make a lot of noise.

Sure, Pacific Dining Car is pricey, but it’s also priceless.

James Ellroy at Pacific Dining Car

James Ellroy in the Astor Room at Pacific Dining Car – via the Hollywood Reporter

James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and other books, is a huge fan of Pacific Dining Car!

Pacific Dining Car
1310 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 483-6000
2700 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 453-4000
Open 24 hours with breakfast and dinner menus; lunch 11am-4pm; tea 3pm-5:30pm; late night menu 11pm-6am – at both locations

Billingsley’s, Los Angeles, California – REMODELED

Do you remember the TV show Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963)? The character June Cleaver was the mom everyone wished they had (after their own mom, of course). She was played by Barbara Billingsley, whose first husband was Glenn Billingsley Sr. Glenn’s uncle was Sherman Billingsley, founder of New York City’s famous Stork Club, and Glenn followed in his footsteps, running several Los Angeles restaurants including seven locations of Billingsley’s Golden Bull, three Outrigger Polynesian restaurants, the Billingsley’s Bocage nightclub in Hollywood, along with a Stork Club in Key West, Florida.


Billingsley's restaurant

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Billingsley’s on W. Pico Boulevard opened in 1946 as a Billingsley’s Golden Bull and it’s the last survivor of the Billingsley family’s restaurants. Glenn Sr. and Barbara had two sons, Glenn Jr. and Drew. They started working in their dad’s restaurants as teenagers, working their way up to management, eventually opening their own restaurant, Billingsley’s of Van Nuys In 1969 (closed in 2004). In 1974 they bought Billingsley’s on Pico from Glenn Sr., at which time I’m guessing it was partly remodeled into its present look. They operated the popular restaurant for decades. Last November the restaurant closed with little explanation. Thankfully, it reopened in January 2016 under new ownership but with everything unchanged, including the menu, decor, and the staff.


Billingsley's restaurant

the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Billingsley's restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Billingsley's restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Billingsley's restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Billingsley's restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Last month I was in Los Angeles on a windy, stormy day and I drove out west to get some Mexican Food at Don Antonio’s. Unfortunately, they were closed due to a power outage so I never got to dine in the “cave room”. The adjacent Mexican restaurant The Talpa was also closed.


Don Antonio's restaurant, Los Angeles

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

The Talpa restaurant, Los Angeles

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016











I thought to myself “wasn’t Billingsley’s also on Pico near here?” so decided to see if they were open. I was in luck – it wasn’t that late but they were already dead, probably due to the weather, however still open! I was seated in the bar area in a nice big booth under two nude paintings and a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign that read “Next Time Bring Your Wife”. HA! It was nice to be warmly welcomed despite the staff being probably ready to close up for the night.


Billingsley's restaurant

my booth – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


The menu is classic 1950s steakhouse fare – steaks, prime rib and bar-be-que. I don’t want to rely on an online menu for details as the menu may have changed with the new owners (though it sounds like it hasn’t). What I ate was great! A small cut of prime rib, rare, with fries (shoestring – my favorite kind) and a salad. They are famous for their cheese toast – kind of like the popular cheese bread in the San Gabriel valley, but crisper.


prime rib at Billingsley's restaurant

prime rib dinner – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


I gathered from the staff that recent light rail construction badly hurt business due to a lack of parking after some of the parking lot was closed during construction. Hopefully the restaurant under the new owners can bounce back! Please go and tell them how glad you are that they didn’t change! I think perhaps restauranteurs in Los Angeles get this more than they do most other places: don’t mess with the classics!


11326 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 477-1426
Open Sun-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm

Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein – Pico Rivera, California

What is the best metropolitan area for classic restaurants?

Le Continental claims it’s Los Angeles, hands down! My list of classic and historic restaurants (that are at least 30 years old) in the greater L.A. area (including Orange County), which I have compiled from various sources over the years including the defunct LA Time Machines web site and more recently Nikki Kruezer’s excellent Offbeat LA list, comes to a total of 276 classic restaurants!

NOTE: With a few exceptions I have left out restaurants that have been relocated recently (one exception is Lawry’s Prime Rib, which relocated a few years ago into a new building and is still definitely a classic) but counted restaurants that relocated in the classic era (pre-1985). Bars (that aren’t also restaurants) were not counted and some multiple location chains (like Tommy’s and The Hat, which still have some original locations left) were counted only once. Included are hot dog and hamburger stands, delis, coffee shops, and casual and fine dining restaurants.

Los Angeles has not been covered very extensively on Le Continental to date. One reason for this is that it seems to me that most of the classics in LA remain very popular and are pretty well known already. But lately with skyrocketing rents and rising property values in California many popular classic restaurants are closing, either because they can’t stay in business facing increased rents or they sell their business while they can get big money from developers. Now I feel a stronger sense of urgency to let people know about my favorite old restaurants so they can visit them before they’re gone and to hopefully increase the restaurants’ business.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein frontage

photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page


In the San Gabriel Valley there is a chain of restaurants called Clearman’s, which includes the following restaurants:

My experience with Clearman’s started about 15 years ago, when I ate at the original Galley and the Northwoods Inn in San Gabriel, and strolled though the vintage 1950s shopping center behind the Galley (which was later demolished for a new shopping center). Later I visited the Steak ‘n Stein and Northwoods Inn in Covina. Last weekend I returned to the Steak ‘n Stein with friends.


Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein – classic Los Angeles steakhouse


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein, 1946

c. 1946 photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page


John Clearman opened his first restaurant, the Steak ‘n Stein, in 1946 in a California-Mediterranean style. Originally the interior was a little plainer than it is now, as can be seen in the following historic photos. The fireplace lounge called the Circle Room was the most elaborate room with its round rock fire pit with copper hood, rustic furniture, brass lamps and wallpaper.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein cocktail lounge and bar, 1946

cocktail lounge and bar, 1946 – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page

Clearman's Steak 'n Stein bar, 1946

bar, 1946 – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page

Clearman's Steak 'n Stein fireplace lounge, 1946

fireplace lounge, 1946 – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page

Grill Room 1946 (from fb)

Grill Room, 1946 – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page

Clearman's Steak 'n Stein chefs, 1946

chefs at charcoal grill, 1946, with tableside metal grills, all still in use today – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page

Clearman's Steak 'n Stein staff, 1946

John Clearman (seated in center) with staff – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page


Sometime later many Victorian style decorations were added, such as Tiffany lamps and oil paintings, and the bar was rebuilt with a thick wood top with wooden branches holding up a shingled roof.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein bar before redo

bar before recent redo – photo by Clearman’s web site


Recently the bar was changed to a granite top and the wonderful wood roof supports were removed. Just why I can’t understand. Le Continental is not a fan of granite bar and counter tops. They don’t fit with vintage decor and they feel cold. But I’m glad they kept the bar stools and roof the same.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein bar now

recent bar photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


After entering the front door you pass through the small lobby into the Circle Room to check in at the hostess desk.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein entrance sign

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


While waiting for your table enjoy a drink and some complementary peanuts served in a small carafe in the fireplace lounge (unlike the peanuts served at the Northwoods Inn here they’re serve pre-shelled). In the winter a fire is lit while in the warmer months the pit becomes a fountain! Much of the Steak ‘n Stein reminds me of the Magic Lamp, also a John Clearman restaurant at one time, especially the fire pit (the Magic Lamp has a similar one).


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein fireplace lounge

fireplace lounge – photo by Clearman’s web site


There are multiple dining rooms at the Steak ‘n Stein. Here is my favorite one, complete with nude oil painting and fantastic Victorian chandelier!


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein dining room

photo by Clearman’s web site


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein chandelier

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein painting

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


Below is the small dining room closest to the front door, which to my disappointment had a large TV mounted on the wall (turned off when I was there). I love the stained glass windows in this room! A TV turned on would ruin the atmosphere. (TVs don’t belong in dining rooms, ever. I don’t even like them in bars, but I really don’t see the point of having a TV on in a place where people are dining. The atmosphere in the main front dining room at the Northwoods Inn in San Gabriel has been ruined with some huge TVs.)


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein dining room

front dining room – photo by Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein facebook page


The menus are mounted on large wood hinged boards that are placed in the center of each table. How about the food? They specialize in steaks of course, which come in six cuts, from the 9 ounce “special steak” (top sirloin?) up to a 34 ounce bone-in tomahawk rib eye. The steaks tasted like they may have been from aged beef, but they don’t state that on the menu, and are broiled over an open charcoal fire.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein charcoal pit

charcoal pit – photo by Clearman’s web site


They also have prime rib on weekends, many seafood entrees, surf & turf combinations, and chicken, all broiled over charcoal. Entrees come with a lot of food so the prices are pretty reasonable for a white tablecloth, fine dining experience (the Steak ‘n Stein is fancier than the casual Clearman’s Northwoods Inns). Dinners come with an iceberg lettuce salad with a side of red cabbage and a trio of unique homemade dressings, their famous (and delicious) cheese bread (ubiquitous in restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley), a giant baked potato with a tray of toppings including cheese sauce, and onion rings. If you want vegetables you will have to order a side. This is a meat & potatoes place.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein waiter

tableside plating – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


A wonderful feature at the Steak ‘n Stein is the tableside plating. The waiter comes to your table with the steaks on a metal grill a la flambé. He or she loads each plate with a huge baked potato and opens it up, piles on the onion rings and plates the steak to serve to the diners. The service was excellent on a busy Saturday night.


Clearman's Steak 'n Stein sign

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016


For more information on John Clearman check out Nikki Kruezer’s article on the LA Weekly web site. Thanks to Mr. Clearman’s vision and the popularity of the Clearman’s chain we still have several classic dining experiences in the San Gabriel Valley to choose from. But Clearman’s, please stop putting in TV’s in your dining rooms!

Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein
9545 E Whittier Boulevard, Pico Rivera, CA 90660
(562) 699-4716
Open Mon-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm, Sun 10:00am – 9:00pm


Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno, California – CLOSED


When I was a young man running around San Diego on my Lambretta scooter in the 1980s I loved to eat at the Chicken Pie Shop in Hillcrest, especially during cold winter days (OK, it never got very cold in San Diego, but we’re cold wimps in California). It was the ultimate homemade comfort food, served in a time machine café that first opened in 1938 at 5th and B downtown and later moved to 5th and Robinson in Hillcrest (first on the southeast corner, moving to the northeast corner in 1965). The chicken pot pie dinner was tasty, cheap, and very filling (lunch there was my meal for the day). In 1990 the shop was purchased and moved to North Park. It’s not a time warp anymore in atmosphere but the menu is still old-fashioned and the food is good, hearty, and cheap. The friendly, veteran staff stayed with the restaurant when it moved.


Storefront of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by mears on Flickr


In the cool Tower District of Fresno is an unrelated Chicken Pie Shop (aka Grandmarie’s) that is thankfully still frozen in time. In 1956 Mary Ross (“Grandmarie”) and her husband opened the original Chicken Pie Shop on Olive Street in Fresno to serve chicken pies from her own recipe. In 1966 it moved into a space on the same block previously occupied by Byde’s Hardware (the old location is now a parking lot next door). Mary Ross’ grandson Gary Ross is the current owner, so this year the restaurant has been owned by the same family for 60 years!


Dining room of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011


The dining room is probably the same as it was when it opened: two-tone green tufted-naugahyde booths, wood-grain Formica tables, original linoleum floors (a rarity these days!), chrome coat racks, and TWO horseshoe-shaped lunch counters in chartreuse Formica with bright-green swivel chairs. And there are large, colorful, rooster wall hangings!


lunch counter of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

one of two lunch counters – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011


rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 201







rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011










The baked chicken pies are excellent: a flaky pastry crust filled with chicken chunks and served with mashed potatoes, a golden gravy made from scratch from the restaurant’s chicken stock, biscuits, and cole slaw, all house made. Other options for lunch or dinner are chicken & noodles, fried chicken livers, honey ham steak, country fried steak ‘n gravy, and pot roast. An assortment of sandwiches, salads, and soups are available, including their homemade chicken barley soup served with a mini loaf of homemade bread. They also serve breakfast. An off-menu special is the berrock, a pasty-like meat pie of Volga-German (Germans from Russia) origin.


berrock at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

berrock on vintage plate – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011


chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables - photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011


As you can see, they still use vintage china. The good diner-style coffee is served in Tepco mugs, perfect with one of their house made deserts, such as the apple crumble. I had rice pudding and can say without reservations that it was THE BEST rice pudding I’ve ever had, hands down! And I love rice pudding so I’ve tried it all over the country.


rice pudding at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

rice pudding – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011


After your hearty meal why not walk it off around the Tower District, which is a hip area of independent shops, restaurants, nightlife, and a historic theater.


(Grandmarie’s) Chicken Pie Shop (no web site)
861 E Olive Ave, Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 237-5042
Open Mon-Fri 7:00am – 7:00pm, Sat 8:00am – 6:00pm (possibly 2:00pm), Sun 8:00am – 2:00pm