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Café to Café


Southern California Restaurants

There is no shortage of good restaurants in Southern California, and a few short trips don't cover much. Nonetheless, we thought we'd share where we ate and why we thought it was all good fun.

Peking Dragon, Dana Point

Their website doesn't tell you how long they've been there, but my family discovered it probably some 30+ years ago. The amazing thing about this place is that it looks the same today as it did then, but still looks new. They really keep it up. And after not having been there for maybe 18 years, the dish I like best (Mandarin Prawns) tasted exactly the same. They have great lunch specials and quite a large menu, a mix of traditional and modern dishes. Plenty of appetizers, four desserts, salads and soup, fried chicken that comes with lunch specials, noodles, meins, rice. They have a full bar as well. Everyone can find something they like in this cool-feeling, relaxed spot.

34171 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, CA 949-493-9499

Houston's, Manhattan Beach

As a rule, we're not crazy about chain restaurants. But some are done really well and Houston's falls into that category. Yet another long-running family favorite, Houston's in Manhattan Beach is cool inside with lots of dark wood, booths, and friendly service. When we first started going there, it was mostly a steak house. Now they say it's "a diverse menu of American classics prepared daily from scratch." Great steaks still, prime rib, a wonderful prime rib dip, sushi (clearly an American classic), seafood, chicken, salads, burger, bread baked each morning, and wonderful cocktails using oranges and grapefruits squeezed to order.

1550-A Rosecrans Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 310-643-7211

Irassae Sushi, Huntington Beach

Nondescript outside in it's strip mall clothing, Irassae brings more to the table than you'd expect. Fresh, fresh fish; great flavors; lovely presentation; tempura; salads (salmon skin, seafood, calamari, poke, and more); rolls; sashimi, nigiri; wine, beer, sake (hot and cold); plenty of appetizers. You'll probably have to wait for a bit to get in as it's a small place, but just order a glass of wine and have a seat in the waiting area. Similar to other sushi spots you'll find, but it just has that something special.

8841 Adams Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 714-965-1904

Sugar Shack, Huntington Beach

Beach towns in Southern California have gone from scruffy cafes with a few seats to updated places with many more seats, sometimes losing their original charm. Sugar Shack has been in place since 1967 and although it has gone from 22 seats inside to 34, added 10 tables in front of the restaurant and 16 in the back area, it has retained its "beach" feel. There's almost always a line for breakfast-put your name on the list and stay nearby. They offer breakfast and lunch daily, and, like Irassae above, you can get these menu items elsewhere, but there's something about the history and the closeness to the beach that makes you want eggs and hash browns or a Chef's Salad with tuna while listening to the Beach Boys.

213-1/2 Main St, Huntington Beach, CA 714-536-0355

Basilico's Pasta e Vino, Huntington Beach

From a mother's traditional home cooking from the old country to a restaurant in Huntington Beach in 1999, Basilico's has always offered a welcoming spot where guests are like family. It closed for a while, then was reopened by family in 2017. Very appealing inside, it doesn't hurt that you smell garlic wafting from the kitchen and delicious bread is brought to each table. There's patio seating, dining room tables, the Mezzanotte bar and at Rose's kitchen counter. They offer soup, antipasti, panini, and pasta (seafood linguini, chicken marsala with penne, salmon with penne, cavatelli with broccoli and Milanesa and so much more). Friendly service, wine (Italian and Californian) and beer.

21501 Brookhurst St, Huntington Beach, CA 714-963-7980


With six locations (Manhattan Beach, Long Beach, Burbank, Venice, Huntington Beach, Lil' Simmzy's in El Segundo), you can find a great Simmzy's burger near you. Started as a spot in Manhattan Beach where you could get a good burger and quality craft beer and wine, it's grown to include share plates, soup and salads, sandwiches, and homemade desserts. They brew beer at their brewery in Burbank and have created a few of their own cocktails. Good food, friendly service, and right next to the beach in Huntington in a development with other restaurants and shops. Party!

21028 CA-1, #E-100, Huntington Beach, CA 714-831-1240

Green Street Café

Another spot along a busy street, it doesn't look like anything special from the outside, but people flock there to wait their turn for breakfast. Chocolate chip pancakes, macadamia nut and banana pancakes, chicken and waffles, four types of Benedicts, lots of variations on French Toast. Later in the day you can build your own burger or choose one of theirs, pick from over 10 sandwiches, or go for a big plate of fish and chips, meatloaf, New York steak, etc. American comfort food all the way. Milkshakes and a full bar. They close at 3 and use the space after 4 for private events.

4911 Warner Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 714-846-4949

Captain Jack's

When you want to go back in time, Captain Jack's is your place. It's "world famous" prime rib, crab legs, and seafood is much the same as it was when they opened in 1965. Seafood is fresh, delicious and portions are huge (as can be prices, which are comparable to any nice seafood/steak place). An order of King crab was $70, but it was enough for two or maybe three people. The menu is a large board with items printed on it: tough to keep it at the table, so best to know what you want when you go in and just let them know. Combos are good, plus there's Australian lobster tail, scallops, sampi, New York steak, filet mignon, teriyaki chicken, rack of lamb. Old-fashioned dark bar. It's fun and the food is good. Oddly, our server told us management doesn't let them taste wines they sell by the bottle, so you're on your own there. Sits right on the canal.

16812 Pacific Coast Hwy, Sunset Beach, CA 562-592-2514

Paul Martin's American Grill

With locations in 11 cities, they've apparently figured out what works. They believe in going high on quality to offer dishes that taste better. Their website says: "America's next revolution will be about improving the quality of our food." "…every dish we serve…is made from ingredients we trust. It's a healthier and better way to eat." We applaud. However, they don't talk about grass-fed beef or USDA organic chicken or wild seafood. In the El Segundo location, they have a large graphic on the wall of a box of organic produce. However, when asked what on the menu was organic that night, the answer was "nothing." So good marketing work, but where's the beef? Having said this, if you're not trying to eat clean and just want a tasty meal, this could be your place. They mesquite grill over a live fire, butcher meat in-house daily, create their own bases, sauces and salad dressings from scratch. Inviting interior with wood, brick, and dim lighting; comfortable surroundings.

2361 Rosecrans Ave, El Segundo, CA 310-643-9300

Bluewater Grill

Another chain, Bluewater has nine locations; we visited Redondo Beach. They started 20 years ago in Newport, California, and have grown since with their "pristine quality seafood, sustainably caught and prepared classically or with a modern twist." They have their own swordfish harpoon boat and purchase directly from fishermen. It's a nice but casual place. We sat outside (sun in November!) and enjoyed items like grilled octopus, ahi tuna, and sand dabs. They offer over 40 varieties of seafood annually, full bar, brunch, and happy hour. It's what vacation is about right? A glass of wine, some fresh seafood on an outdoor patio, and this was just lunch.

665 North Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach, CA 310-318-3474

The Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar

If you live in Seattle, this may seem familiar as we have a location on the waterfront downtown, next to the Great Wheel. It's been there a lot longer than the wheel, however. Haven't been to the Seattle location for awhile because the service was so poor. We were excited to hit the San Clemente location because it was a family favorite for a long time. Their service was quite good. Unfortunately, the food was a consistent so-so. The thing to know about these two places (there is a third in Rancho Mirage, but we haven't been there) is that their locations are fabulous. In San Clemente, it's built onto the pier; the waves crash beneath the outdoor dining area. You watch surfers and families running in the shallow water and building sand castles. The bar portion is situated across from the restaurant, but also right on the pier. Go there for drinks. And maybe you'll hit a good day on the food. We still have hope. And their feast style dinners are fun.

611 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente, CA 949-498-6390

Chart House

Another long-time favorite in a number of cities, Chart House has changed over the years in some ways. The Palm Springs location did away with their salad bar and then it went down completely. Redondo has a salad bar (extra cost even with dinner), so that's a good thing. They're known for crunchy coconut shrimp and prime rib, but all their seafood is pretty good. They like to "infuse local flavors with a touch of the exotic," so you'll find things like cedar-wrapped king salmon with arugula, roasted beets, red onions and oranges in a fig vinaigrette; or a shrimp, crab, avocado & mango stack. In Redondo, they are right on the water, with waves rolling in below the windows. This location dates back to 1969.

231 Yacht Club Way, Redondo Beach, CA 310-372-3464

True Food Kitchen

No surprise, California is FULL of chains and True Food is one, although one that makes us pretty happy because their food "…should make you feel better, not worse." Their chefs, restaurateurs and a doctor of integrative medicine (Dr. Andrew Weil) have put together dishes that are delicious and nutritious. They believe changes to your diet can counteract chronic inflammation. Like most restaurants, it's loud, which probably causes some kind of ear inflammation. Sit at the bar or outdoors and enjoy items like chilled shrimp lettuce cups with coconut, grapefruit and avocado; grass-fed steak tacos; or T.L.T. smoked tempeh, butter lettuce, tomato, avocado, vegan mayonnaise, seeded grain bread. Service can be slow, plan for it.

860 S Pacific Coast Hwy, El Segundo, CA 310-469-7725

December 2018

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