By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News
Our monthly lunch club members decided that we had stepped back in time as we entered the time- honored Pacific Dining Car at the western edge of downtown Los Angeles.
You won’t find nouvelle cuisine or Asian-fusion on the menu at this 96-year-old L.A. steakhouse. This place is all about the meat. Vegetarians would likely starve at this old-fashioned eatery. Tofu and kale lovers need not apply.
This 24-hour landmark offers plenty of old-fashioned glory, featuring white linen tablecloths, real silverware and fine china. The waiters there even wear formal dinner jackets. Several dining rooms feature various themes, including the original Victorian-style dining car with crushed green velvet chairs, antique lamps, and overhead brass luggage racks—just in case you plan to stay for awhile. (And after eating lunch there, we wished we had brought our luggage so we could have stayed for dinner.)
Fred and Grace “Lovey” Cook opened Pacific Dining Car in 1921, and the restaurant is still owned today by a third generation of family members.
Our waiter Jaime began his career there in 1986 and is one of many servers there that are longtime employees. He gladly entertained our many questions about the history of Pacific Dining Car and his 30 years with the restaurant. You won’t find any wanna-be actors working there awaiting their big break in show business. These are professional waiters who seem to love their jobs and who take pride in their work.
Jaime rattled off the names of several A-list movie stars that frequent the place and reminded us that City Hall is not far away, and said there is a steady stream of top city officials who eat there often—including an occasional visit from Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Given the layout of the small dining areas with wood and glass partitions separating the rooms, PDC becomes a natural setting for business conferences. And if you’re on a company expense account, why wouldn’t you want to meet at this classy joint?
Their menu selection of expensive steaks looked downright tantalizing. We had already been told that steaks at PDC were the very best served in the city—and for the price— they certainly should be. A rib-eye will set you back $75.95 and a “Cowboy Steak” is all yours for $84.95. That may have been the very moment when I asked to see the breakfast menu.
They do offer a wide range of entrees other than steak, including several enticing-looking salads. Barry opted for the grilled shrimp Cobb salad, while Arnie chose the chicken Panini with vegetables. Josh took on the huge veal chop that was larger than his plate and knew the moment it was placed in front of him that he was in for an extended wrestling match. I went with the Eggs Ranchero, which turned out to be the best breakfast dish I’ve had in recent memory.
You know the Pacific Dining Car is special when you first step inside the front door. It offers a formal atmosphere, yet is comfortable and friendly, without any air of pretension.
As we were wrapping up our lunch and about to ask for the check, I glanced over at Josh who was still battling his giant veal chop which appeared to be fighting back. Just as I envisioned the match going into overtime, he suddenly threw out his white cloth napkin in surrender and called for a doggie bag.
We had recently come to the conclusion that just because a restaurant is famous and historic does not guarantee that it serves good food. But Pacific Dining Car proves that a place can have a long rich history and still offer excellence in the quality of its food and service. We agreed that our trip there ranks with the best restaurant experiences we’ve had since we began making the rounds early last year.
Now, the question becomes: What do we do for an encore next month? I have a strong suspicion that we’ll be finishing our lunch at some trendy Westside spot when our waiter will suddenly disappear during the meal. When we ask about his whereabouts, we’ll be told by another waiter that our server Chance has just been called out for an audition for a major television series.
“Hi, my name is Xander, and I’ll be taking over for Chance. Have you guys ordered yet?”
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald and a regular contributor to the Boryana Book website.