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REVIEW w/ pics: Clifton's Cafeteria


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REVIEW w/ pics: Clifton's Cafeteria

pleasurepalate | Dec 21, 2007 09:45 AM

If you've never visited Clifton's Cafeteria, LA's oldest cafeteria,
than you definitely should put it on your to do list, because walking
through this restaurant's portals will take you somewhere that you'd
never expect a cafeteria to take you to.

First, let's talk briefly about the Clifton Cafeteria's founder,
Clifford Clinton. The Clinton family business was a chain of Clinton
Cafeterias in San Francisco. Upon his father's retirement, Clifford
bought out the cafeterias along with two partners. Due to creative
differences, Clifford eventually sold his ownership interest to his
partners and made the move to Los Angeles, where he wanted a fresh
start. Needing a new name for his business, he combined letters from
his first and last name to come up with Clifton's (CLIF-ford and clin-

The first Clifton's Cafeteria opened in 1931 and was on Olive Street,
but 8 years later, it underwent an amazing transformation. Inspired
by a family trip to Asia and the South Pacific, Clifton transformed
his restaurant to one of tropical splendor. The facade of the
building featured artificial tropical foliage and a waterfall, while
inside there was a large tropical jungle mural, a grass hut, an
interior waterfall and even a rain hut where a mini tropical storm
would make an appearance every 20 minutes. Known as Clifton's
Pacific Seas, it remained a tourist attraction until it closed down
in 1960.

In 1935, a second cafeteria known as Clifford's Brookdale was built
on Broadway. As a child growing up, Clifford spent family vacations
in the Santa Cruz Mountains where beautiful redwood trees resided,
not far from the Brookdale Lodge. 72 years later, Clifton's
Brookdale is the only surviving Clifton's Cafeteria.

Given the description I gave you earlier about Clifford's Pacific
Seas, I'm sure you can already imagine what the inside of Clifford's
Brookedale may have looked like. But first, I want to mention the
beautiful mosaic or tile art that is on the sidewalk in front of the
restaurant. Directly outside the front door is a sun motif with the
words "Clifford's Brookdale" cutting into the sun's rays. On either
side of the sun, you'll see vignettes depicting things to see and do
in LA like the one featuring the Hollywood Bowl or a scene with
bathers about to dive into the water which represents beaches.

After you've done with your art appreciating, walk through the doors
and what you'll experience is a forest wonderland. To the right is a
large canvas of life size trees painted by renowned L.A. muralist,
Einar Petersen. Towering up to the second floor are artificial rock
facades. Above one of those rock formations is a little chapel and
upon entering its small space, you can press a button to hear a
recording of "The Parable of the Redwoods". To your left is a
waterfall that starts at the second level and cascades into a gentle
stream that eventually makes it way to the first level of the
restaurant. Even steel columns that are supporting the restaurant
have a covering of bark to give a feeling of there being actual trees
inside the main dining room.

Of course, it wouldn't be a forest without wild life, so there actual
bear statues, with one that even has a fish dinner on a plate,
standing right next to the stairwell between the 1st and 2nd levels.
By the way, there's even a much plainer third level at Clifton's.
You walk up to see red and gold tapestry-like walls with a red carpet
and hanging plants. While up there, take a look at the signage that
says that it's all you can eat for 64 cents. Amazing, huh? Along
with the signage, you can also take a peek at a portrait of founder,
Clifford Clinton himself.

My first visit to Clifton's Brookdale was 3 years ago and I've been
there a few times since then, but every time I walk in, I always feel
like I should be wearing hiking boots, pitching a tent and keeping an
eye out for Yogi Bear.

As for the food, there's definitely a lot to choose from. It's a
combination of Hispanic and American Cuisine. What I always found
interesting was once you pick up your tray, the section that comes
first showcases their desserts. I always try to make sure that I get
a piece of strawberry pie if that's available. After the desserts,
you can choose from a variety of salads like coleslaw, macaroni,
green bean as well as various veggie sides.

Following the salads, you can get rolls, garlic bread, pasta followed
by the main entrée section which can include anything from enchiladas
to pork chops. Once you've filled up your tray, you make your way
down to the cashier and pay up. I have to say that I've never had a
disappointing meal at Clifton's. The food isn't fancy, but it tastes
good, it's hearty and it's filling. For cafeteria food, I'd say
Clifton's is pretty good.

As mentioned earlier, Clifton's Brookdale is the only one left in the
chain. There were also 2 or 3 other Clifton's Cafeterias that made
it into LA suburbs that are no longer in existence. Clifton's
Greenery, which was in West Covina, finally closed its doors a few
years ago.

Clifton's Cafeteria is definitely one of downtown LA's quirkiest
landmarks and really is a must visit for any Angeleno. If you're only
going to go there once, visit around Christmas time. They really get
into the holiday spirit as you'll notice when you take a look at the
pictures I took below. On that note, I want to wish everyone Happy

To see pics, go to:

Clifton's Cafeteria
648 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 627-1673


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