For as long as humans have roamed the earth, they have experienced hunger. So where in Arroyoland have humans been dining the longest? We canvased the region to find some of the best of the oldest.
We all love to eat, especially at familiar places. But a restaurant with deep roots here may still not be familiar to you. So take another look at these five stalwarts, which have withstood the test of time with favorite familiar foods in a high-turnover business. After all, it’s no accident they’re still standing strong despite many passing seasons.
In 1920, Pasadena’s population was just over 45,000 people, and there were few places to eat. That year, a small tortilla shop with Mexican food — including handmade tortillas — opened its doors. Mijares was born across from present-day Huntington Hospital at Pico Street and Fair Oaks Boulevard, operated from the home of Jesucita Mijares. It was so popular by 1940 that she was able to borrow $8,000 from a local doctor and a car dealer to purchase a one-acre parcel on Palmetto Drive, its present location. And now, 97 years after it opened, Mijares is a sprawling complex with multiple outdoor patios and interior dining rooms as well as a second location on Washington Boulevard. Reminiscent of a hacienda with tiled floors, thatched overhangs and adobe-looking walls, the Pasadena locale could well be mistaken for a pueblo. Historic photos and images dot the interior walls inside, and you can’t miss the images of Jesucita, who passed in 1988.
R-Lene Mijares De Lang is the third-generation proprietor of this family-owned eatery started by Jesucita, whom she calls the “tortilla matriarch.” “We still cook the way my grandmother loved to cook,” she says. Mijares draws crowds for the family’s famous margaritas and light tamales (no lard), fajitas, ceviche and volcanic-stoneground red sauce using chiles from New Mexico. Families keep coming back for seconds, generation after generation, especially for Mijares’ wildly popular Champagne Sunday brunch.
145 Palmetto Dr., Pasadena
(626) 792-2763 / mijaresrestaurant.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Sunday
1806 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Los Angeles Airport (LAX’s precursor, known as Mines Field) began operating in 1930, the same year Russell’s opened in Old Pasadena. Russell’s turned into a chain with eight locations in the Southland, but ultimately almost all failed, with the notable exception of the original Pasadena venue — currently ranked Pasadena’s third-best restaurant on tripadvisor.com. While it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, owner Frank Gale says Russell’s is renowned for its breakfasts, which are served until 4 p.m. Gale, who started at Russell’s in 1992 as a server and ended up buying it in 2014, is proud of the diner’s upscale ambience. “There are a lot of little touches and attention to detail,” he says. Chandeliers hang above each table and reproductions of famous works of art adorn the walls. The black-clad waitstaff — some there for 20 years — scurries about efficiently, yet almost unnoticed. Gale notes that a lot of his current regulars “weren’t even born yet” when their parents started the tradition of coming here. Grab a seat at the sparkly red fabric barstools facing the open kitchen or sequester yourself in a wood-toned booth. “We serve basic comfort food,” Gale says, “and it’s all about quality.” Russell’s Belgian waffles, American omelets, croque-monsieurs and croque-mesdames and blood-orange mimosas are the standouts that keep the crowds coming back for more.
One Colorado, 30 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Saturday
Damon’s Glendale Steakhouse
The Great Ziegfield, a biopic about the theater producer renowned for his lavish theatrical revues, won the Best Picture Oscar in 1937 (the Academy Awards were just nine years old at the time). That year Damon’s opened as a straight-and-narrow steakhouse, but at the end of World War II, it morphed into its own kind of lavish production — a Tiki-themed restaurant catering to GIs returning home from the Pacific. These days the under-the-radar steakhouse is best known for filet mignon, tenderloin and Mai Tai Mondays. No need to get dressed up; just show up and get lost in the tropical vibe. There’s a mix of booths, some beneath makeshift lean-tos, and freestanding tables with plenty of rattan chairs, a canoe hanging from the ceiling, plastic palm fronds dangling off support pillars and wall murals depicting ocean scenes and long-forgotten island people. Yes, you do feel like you’re in some jungle paradise (the fish tank helps).
How have they survived so long? “It’s a three-legged stool,” says current owner Kevin Berresford. “Value, quality and consistency, that’s how we’ve maintained our appeal.” Of course, the Tiki décor is also part of that appeal, but beyond that, “our servers are old school,” with decades at Damon’s under their belts. That’s reassuring to regulars, as is Damon’s continuing reputation as a top-notch steakhouse.
317 N. Brand Ave., Glendale
(818) 507-1510 / damonsglendale.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 a.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday
In March, 1943, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma opened in New York to great fanfare and went on to run for 14 months. On the other side of the country, Twohey’s Restaurant opened its doors in Alhambra the same month. Naturally it debuted to less fanfare, but the place is still running strong.
How did Twohey’s stand out, surfing a sea of changes, for three quarters of a century? “You’ve got to be a great operator,” says co-owner Jim Christos. “That means great service, great food.” Tweaking menus to keep up with evolving tastes helps too, leading Twohey’s to expand into seafood dishes like sand dabs and lobster rolls, since it’s “near and dear” to Christos’ New England heritage. “The neighborhood has changed, Alhambra has changed, but a great institution like us, well, we change too.” But some things never change — Twohey’s menu still touts its Original Stinko Burger, so named because the eatery pioneered topping it with aromatic raw onions and pickles, something commonplace today.
With its iconic ridged roof, the place looks more like a bowling alley than a restaurant. But the interior is all retro diner with simple clean lines. “Our cornerstones are the curry clam chowder, onion rings, burgers and hot fudge sundaes,” says Christos. Twohey’s also keeps it interesting with seasonal items. But regulars typically return for the familiar faces of the loyal waitstaff, some still there after 30 years. With no major advertising, the business is driven by word of mouth — that and its strategy of keeping tempo with the times.
1224 N. Atlantic Blvd., Alhambra
(626) 284-7387 / twoheys.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday
The 1948 Rose Bowl saw a humiliating loss by USC to Michigan, 0-49. Loss could also have undone Cindy’s diner had it not been for chef-owners Paul Rosenbluh and wife Monique King, who raised money to preserve Cindy’s cool Googie sign in 2014. “Cindy’s heyday was long past and it needed a lot of love,” Rosenbluh says. In 2015, shortly after the couple took over, a car crashed into the restaurant at 1:30 a.m., when no one was there. Rebuilding offered the opportunity to redefine the eatery, but the chefs had no desire to rebrand Cindy’s as something hip and trendy; they wanted to upgrade the food while honoring the spirit of the place.
Still a diner in the best sense of the word, the new iteration is a scratch kitchen with everything made inhouse. Rosenbluh and King come with loads of restaurant experience, having run the kitchen of Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena. A completely new interior with a definite retro look and feel, not to mention a music video shot here by Justin Timberlake, helped relaunch Cindy’s. Bright orange booths and counter stools pop against the green wall facing the kitchen. The best eats? Shrimp and grits, brisket hash with black-eye peas from the smoker out back and housemade veggie burgers. The place is comfortable and casual, not pretending to be anything other than it is. “You won’t find another one,” Rosenbluh says.
1500 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock
(323) 257-7375 / cindyseaglerock.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday;
7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.