Dining with Character: Seven Unique Restaurants in Southern California for 2014
When it comes to fine dining, Southern California is never short on options. In fact, there are so many delectable restaurants throughout the region that it can be difficult to find the best places. Because of this, it pays to do a little research before sitting down to dine. After all, almost every Southern California eatery has good food, but some of them have the right character to turn a good meal into a cherished experience.Maybe you have fallen into a rut while eating out. Maybe you are visiting Southern California and want to find the perfect restaurant to make a memorable vacation even better. Maybe you are just in the mood to try something new. Whatever the case may be, be sure to try the following restaurants.
1. El Adobe de Capistrano. El Adobe de Capistrano is a quaint Mexican eatery with much more than sizzling fajitas. In fact, the building is officially recognized as a California State Historical Landmark. In 1797, the original structure was a home. In 1812, a courthouse and jail were erected next door. Over time, these structures were sold, and construction was completed to join the two using many original walls and other features. The El Adobe restaurant was opened in 1948. Renovations were completed over the years, and menu changes were even inspired by former President Richard Nixon, turning it into the Mexican-Californian eatery that it is today.El Adobe de Capistrano is regarded as one of the more haunted eateries in Southern California. Two of the more famous ghostly visitors include a headless monk and a white lady. The wait staff often talks about unsettling chills in certain parts of the facility, and some guests have reported being tapped on the shoulder just to find that there is no one behind them. While such sightings occur throughout the year, the restaurant hosts a special Halloween dinner to get visitors up close and personal with the spirits.El Adobe de Capistrano is just a few blocks away from the Mission San Juan Capistrano. There is a lunch and dinner menu along with a special kids menu and more.
2. Patrick’s Roadhouse. This classic American eatery is one of the best kept secrets in Southern California despite the fact that it has been flourishing since 1973. Originally called Patrick’s Place, Bill Fischler opened the restaurant, painting the place bright green and adorning it with unforgettable shamrock accents. Since that time, Patrick’s has been well-regarded for its distinctive 1940s feel.
Many visitors have stopped by Patrick’s Roadhouse thanks to its proximity to the Santa Monica Canyon. Additionally, many celebrities have visited Patrick’s, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visits so often that he even has a special iron chair. Now, guests can sit in the chair for free, assuming that Arnold is not there himself!
Patrick’s Roadhouse is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its list of burgers is impressive, and there is also a wide range of sandwich and egg options. While Patrick’s is great for those who are passing through to the Santa Monica Canyon, the quality food and homey atmosphere is reason enough to make a special trip sometime soon.
(Photo courtesy Thomas Matzen)
3. Saddle Peak Lodge. With menu options like Mesquite-Grilled Filet Mignon and Idaho Rainbow Trout, the Saddle Peak Lodge is a favorite with locals. Located in the Malibu hills, the Saddle Peak Lodge first started as a general store. However, in the 1920s, the Saddle Peak Lodge attracted a more refined clientele since the surrounding area became a popular summer resort location. Hollywood soon discovered the Saddle Peak Lodge, and it was used for a location in a number of films. Since that time, the restaurant has continued to evolve until it was remodeled in 1985 with log cabin accents for an inviting, magical air.
Saddle Peak Lodge is so popular with guests that one patron is rumored to frequent the restaurant even after her death! Many guests have reported seeing a mysterious woman at table 41, even when the table is actually vacant. No one knows the official story on the ghost, but no one is surprised to think of a ghostly visitor longing to stay for just one more meal. The restaurant is in Calabasas, California, and has a business casual dress code.
4. El Fandango. Southern California is often regarded for its exquisite selections for Mexican food. While Mexican restaurants may be a dime a dozen, none stand out like El Fandango in Old Town San Diego. Located in the Old Town State Historic Park, El Fandango is steeped in history, not only offering guests the best Mexican food in the area but creating an entire atmosphere that transports people to the past. Accordingly, the food has unexpected twists to reflect older trends, bringing in some historical cooking touches that truly set the food apart. Guests can eat indoors or outdoors in a traditional adobe style building with terra-cotta floors.
With its location in Old Town San Diego, El Fandango has even more ties to the past. Although the building is relatively new, the land where it was built was the site of the Machado mansion. This opulent home was a staple of the community until it burned down in 1858. However, the memory of past residents may linger on in El Fandango. Some people have seen a woman, clad in a white Victorian dress, seated expectantly in the dining room.
El Fandango is open daily and has a menu full of Mexican favorites such as calamari, quesadillas and nachos. There are also drink specials and other decadent menu choices to consider.
5. Sweet Lady Jane. Unlike most eateries on this list, Sweet Lady Jane does not have a full menu to consider. However, the delectable desserts at Sweet Lady Jane are more than worth a visit. Each dessert at Sweet Lady Jane is prepared with the freshest ingredients, creating a feast for the tastebuds that is not quickly forgotten.
Opened by Jane Lockhart in the 1980s, Sweet Lady Jane quickly became a mainstay in Los Angeles, attracting national attention. The desserts have been featured on TV shows and magazines, including Oprah and Newsweek. Every dessert is made by hand using imported chocolate, fresh butter and ripe seasonal fruit. There are no mixes and no preservatives, ensuring that every dessert has the best quality and taste possible.
Dessert options include cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes and other treats. Specialty cakes can be ordered, and Sweet Lady Jane can even provide dessert catering for special events. Sweet Lady Jane is the perfect after dinner stop. Some people even skip dinner altogether and get their fill at Sweet Lady Jane.
6. Little Sparrow Cafe. While most of the restaurants on this list have an established history, the Little Sparrow Cafe is a newcomer. The Little Sparrow Cafe is rapidly becoming one of the best dining spots in Santa Ana. With Chef Eric Sameniego in the kitchen, guests can dine at the Little Sparrow Cafe for dinner, lunch, cocktails and brunch. The lunch menu is casual with gourmet sandwiches, but the cafe gussies up at the dinner hour for more formal service. The “New American” menu features dishes that are simple and inspired by seasonal produce. Many have a French flair, which is perfectly mixed with familiar flavors for a truly wonderful experience.
Although the Little Sparrow Cafe is relatively new, it has already made a real impact on the community. It was voted the Best New Restaurant in the 2013 OC Weekly Readers Poll, and it has been well received by critics. Many of the ingredients are made in house, including pickles, salami and even mouse. Therefore, stop by for a casual lunch or set up a dinner reservation for a night out on the town.
7. Baco Mercat. The diverse menu at Baco Mercat always comes back to the distinctive baco. The baco is a flatbread sandwich, pioneered by Josef Centeno, one of the chefs at Baco Mercat. The first baco was a crispy pork belly sandwich, but it soon evolved to be the centerpiece of the restaurant. The secret is the baco bread, which is unique to the restaurant. Additionally, baco can also be rolled out for a thin Spanish-style pizza. Beyond the baco, the menu reflects a variety of culinary influences, and the chefs turn to fresh fruit and vegetables and high quality meat.
Baco Mercat is located in Old Bank Los Angeles. Opened in 2011, Baco Mercat quickly became one of the most popular attractions for locals. Now the trendy restaurant is always bustling, open for dinner and lunch. Reservations are encouraged.
There are countless choices for fine dining in Southern California. However, for those in a dining rut, be sure to try something new with one of the seven eateries on this list. With the simple pleasures of Sweet Lady Jane or the tantalizing Mexican cuisine at El Adobe de Capistrano, anyone can fill their stomach and their soul.
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