Sunday, December 27, 2015

Clifton's Cafeteria

Clifton's Cafeteria first opened on Broadway (in what is now historic Downtown LA) in 1932.  It boasts being the largest cafeteria style restaurant in the world.  At one time, the Clifton Cafeterias were an 8 restaurant chain spread across Los Angeles.  Each restaurant had some sort of cheesy theme, and the one on Broadway was made to look like a wilderness lodge.  In its heyday it served 15,000 diners daily, including the likes of Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Walt Disney, and David Lynch.  My mom has fond memories of her grandmother bringing her and her cousin to Clifton's on special occasions.  She remembers how exciting it was to pick out her meal, item by item in the cafeteria line.  Even with Downtown's population decline (due to suburbanization) after World War II and the area's slow decay, the cafeteria continued to serve diners until 2011 when it was closed for renovations.  It had been sold to a nightclub owner whose goal it was to preserve the food and atmosphere of the cafeteria.  After 4 years and a reported $10 million, Clifton's reopened in October of this year.
For the last couple of months, it's received mixed reviews in both service and food quality.  So many of its visitors have memories of its past which has been the standard its being held to.  With my mom in town for the holidays, we made a visit to her old stomping grounds to check it out this weekend.
Clifton's sits right on Broadway between 6th and 7th Streets in what is considered The Jewelry District and neighboring Skid Row.
Original ceramic tile
 Vintage cafeteria trays
The restaurant is 3 stories (although there are legends about secret rooms).  The entrance, bakery, cafeteria, and small seating area are on the first floor.  The remaining two floors contain more seating, bars, and stages.
 The woodland theme allows for giant trees and wild animals scattered about the restaurant.
Carrying a tray with food and drink and silverware was a little more than I could handle with a camera in my hand, so I returned home with zero food photos.  These are from Yelp, just to give an idea of what goes down in this cafeteria...
The four of us ordered fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, green beans, a salad, and pizza for the table, so I got to try a little of everything.  After all is said and done, it's cafeteria food.  It wasn't bad by any means, but it's nothing to rave about either.  A visit to Clifton's is more about the experience than it is about the food.  


  1. What a fun looking place! I've been in some "iconic" cafeterias, but nothing to equal that!

    I've actually eaten some great cafeteria food in the past (especially desserts), but my biggest problems is narrowing down what I want. There are always way too many choices that look good!

    I'm still marveling at the décor!

    1. Yah, it's a fun place. We went at an odd time just to beat the crowds which made it easier to see everything. People have been waiting for up to an hour just to get in the door, so we were lucky to get right in and find a place up in the bar area. Once there, we spent some time checking it out. It's tag line is the "cabinet of curiosities". A lot of it is original, from when the concept was first implemented back in the 30s.

  2. Wow, that's a special spot, and in any city too. It has a beautiful history with the feeding of those victims of idiocy in the 30s.
    Of course it really needs a very deep pocket to keep it going for it will have the same problem as the old place, footfall in a city where everyone drives. Of course if ever they pedestrianize Downtown it would become a little goldmine.

    1. Yah, they have done some nice work with the less fortunate, and continue to do so. Many of the employees are (dare I say were) homeless and/or residents of Skid Row.
      It will be interesting to see how things go in the area. They are trying to revive/gentrify dt and so right now it's an odd mix of those who have gone in to make it hip and the old and run down and homeless, which is still very very prevalent. And a lot of people won't settle there because it's still not a place where a lot of people live - things close after the businesses close, so there's not a lot to do, ironically, downtown after business hours. But it is places like this that can bring the people in.