Though the walls at Original Mel's Diner are decked out in 1950s memorabilia, the eatery dates back to the 1940s, making its throwback aesthetic something of a natural development and not purely a put-on. The diner also owns another indelible link to the Eisenhower era: in 1973, George Lucas featured the restaurant in American Graffiti, his iconic paean to all things swell. The restaurant’s screen time didn’t end there; it would later serve as the setting for the sitcom Alice, as well as the famous breakfast laser shootout in Return of the Jedi.
True to its roots, the eatery's massive menu carries the torch for classic eats. Its bounteous American staples include steaks, third-pound burgers, sandwiches, all-day breakfast. While rocking out to '50s and '60s music from table jukeboxes, diners can sink teeth into Hawaiian burgers with teriyaki-glazed pineapple or cheesesteak hoagies, piled high with grilled sirloin steak, jalapeno, and pepperoncini. Fries come topped with gravy, garlic, cheese, or chili. An ice cream parlor-style dessert menu boasts ice cream sundaes, hand-dipped milkshakes and malts hearken back to the days when soda jerks still roamed the earth. A banquet room fit for celebrating birthdays, team gatherings, and more seats up to 50 people.
When Jim Knudson bit into his first taco during dinner at a friend's house in 1949, he knew he had tasted something special. He added the item?which many diners were pronouncing "tay-co"?to the menu at his restaurant in Grass Valley, California. Determined to introduce the food to as many people as possible, Jim and his wife, Margaret, converted a 16-foot trailer into a kitchen on wheels. They adopted the nickname Jim had earned from one of his longtime customers and drove up to Lake Tahoe, where Jimboy's Tacos found its first permanent home.
Locals, tourists, and even members of the Rat Pack flocked to the tiny taco stand for the uniquely seasoned, parmesan-dusted ground-beef taco, the anchor of a growing menu. The family eventually relocated to Roseville, California, where they set up a small taco stand and began branching out to other locations in and around Sacramento.
Today, Jim Knudson?s daughter Karen, the current president of the company, carries on the legacy of taco obsession at more than 40 locations in northern California and Nevada. Guests who arrive early for breakfast might glimpse the cooks slowly simmering beans, mashing avocados into guacamole, and preparing their signature ground beef with trans-fat-free oil. In addition to classic corn-tortilla tacos, the menu holds the mega-size flour-tortilla El Gordo, golden-fried taquitos, and even a taco burger that fuses Mexican and American culinary traditions.
At Dingus McGee's, you can play nine holes of golf, and then refuel with a half-pound burger and fries or Cajun-style crawfish etouffee. Their Creole-inspired menu offers up much more than your average club house grill. Diners can dig into alligator nuggets, house-smoked prime rib, and cedar-plank salmon imported from Vancouver Island. The vegetarian-friendly Cajun nut burger is made in-house with seasoned grains and nuts, and much of the restaurant's produce is grown in the on-site garden.
The restaurant is set in Auburn's peaceful green hills, but inside the atmosphere is always lively. Sports games play out on big screen TVs, and on select nights, live music fills the room. Diners can sip the house brewed beer or Dingus McGee's daunting Cajun Bloody Mary?which comes garnished with andouille sausage, jumbo shrimp, and a whole crawdad.
At Valencia Club, the menu—which includes everything from specialty wings to tacos and chili-mac ‘n’ cheese––serves as an added bonus to the convivial atmosphere. A sprawling patio, two bars, horseshoe pits, pool tables, and a dance floor make for memorable evenings and Odyssian trips to and from the bathroom. Local bands on Fridays, country tunes on Saturdays, and DJ-spun beats on the patio on Fridays and Saturdays underscore the lively atmosphere. Valencia Club even holds line-dancing lessons every Saturday night, hosted by a local radio DJ.
Gourmet dining meets comfort at Strings Italian Cafe, where chefs whip up an array of classic Italian dishes and serve them in an atmosphere that is always elegant, but never stuffy. Here, there are specialties to sate any Italian food craving, whether you're in the mood for a homey helping of meat and cheese lasagna or want to impress a date by hand feeding them bites of veal cutlet parmesan. Seafood and pasta specialties, pizzas, and calzones can all be found on the menu, which is served at more than 20 locations across California.
The Monkey Cat playfully claims to get its name from an exotic, cat-like jungle animal with piercing green eyes. Although the monkey cat has more in common with a unicorn than a tiger, it?s safe to assume it would enjoy the restaurant?s menu of chicken, pasta, fresh fish, and fine meats.
The chefs prepare bacon-wrapped pork loin, rack of lamb, and 16-ounce rib-eye steaks for dinner and fish tacos and burgers for lunch. Whenever possible, all of the meats arrive from sustainable farms, including hormone-free, organic hamburgers.
If the weather permits, dishes and beverages from the full bar can be eaten on the eatery?s dog-friendly patio amid tiki huts, foliage, and murals of tropical beaches. The bar?s wine list, with more than 30 wines by the glass, adds some refinement to the tropically themed restaurant. The Monkey Cat also sports a private dining room that has its own bar and can seat up to 28 people.