Busy Bee Cafe engenders memories of poodle skirts and soda shops with an evocative mix of '50s décor and classic American fare. Loaded skins kick off the nostalgic menu with a selfless gesture, as potatoes shed their outer layer to be piled with jack and cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and dipping sauce ($5.99). Busy Bee Cafe's Reuben sandwich is a crowd favorite, with a mouthwatering stockpile of corned beef or pastrami, garnished with heaps of sauerkraut, coleslaw, potato salad and cheese, and doused in tangy thousand island dressing ($9.95). A Busy Bee Cafe's specialty, the chicken fried steak dons a contradictory moniker in a futile attempt to throw voracious diners off their mission to devour its mix of grilled and battered beef, topped in homemade country gravy ($12.99 for dinner). Classic ice-cream sodas deliver a velvety blow that knocks palates back to the olden days of lunch counters and Eisenhower Halloween costumes ($4.45).
Committed to providing fresh pours, the winetenders of Gather Wine Bar uncork only 25 to 35 of their carefully curated central-coast wines each week. Knowledgeable staff can recommend a bottle for customers to pair with charcuterie plates, flatbread pizzas, and gourmet pub snacks such as bacon-wrapped dates. Alternatively, themed wine flights can provide a cross section of a single varietal or eclectic tastes from an array of vines. Live music acts and singles events create an upbeat atmosphere on many nights, and catered parties can gather small groups around a fire pit or feed 100 or more people with unlimited appetizers from the bar.
In 1947, owners Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs assembled a staff of 14 carhops to serve passing motorists at the first Mel's Drive-In. For the next two decades, customers partial to automobile dining flocked to the chain’s 11 California locations, eager to wash down grass-fed half-pound burgers with thick milk shakes. As fast-food outlets outpaced the drive-in's once-speedy service, its popularity declined, and it was eventually scheduled for demolition. The building got a temporary reprieve, however, when filmmaker George Lucas decided to use the drive-in's original location on Lombard Street as the colorful backdrop for his film American Graffiti. As bulldozers destroyed the last remnants of the historic drive-in, American Graffiti opened in theaters.
A decade later, though, Mel's son Steven reopened Mel's Drive-In in an attempt to carry on his father's dream. Steven restored the drive-in's multiple locations to mirror their original motif by stocking each with midcentury must-haves such as illuminated marquees, jukeboxes, and Elvis-themed WiFi passwords. The drive-in’s menu, meanwhile, balances period-appropriate fare, such as hot dogs and burgers, with healthy options, such as the Haven’s Famous vegetarian sandwich, two slices of nine-grain bread topped with avocado, sprouts, and tomatoes.
Cafe 50's cultivates a healthy nostalgia for the era of Elvis tunes and poodle skirts with an all-American diner menu. Past a retro jukebox, a long line of round barstools awaits freshly grilled Angus beef burgers and gooey cheese melts complemented by classic soda-fountain shakes and malts. The burger joint also whips up all-day breakfasts of fruity pancakes and veggie-heavy omelets to confuse recently arrived time travelers. Free WiFi entertains munchers, and modish neon signs shine on both indoor booths and outdoor patio tables.
For 40 years, the iconic Kelly green exterior of Patrick's Roadhouse has lit up the roadside along the Pacific Coast Highway. Inside, dark wood and checkered floors join stained-glass lamps and hand-painted signs to create the look and feel of a well-worn and cozy haven for travelers. Featured on the Food Network's Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, the menu includes unique classics such as the sweet and savory Dijon plum burger, or the Rockefeller—topped with sour cream, jack cheese, mushrooms, and caviar. Fresh, organic produce acquired daily from the local farmers market piles onto stacks of fluffy pancakes, and slices of the Patrick's 'famous' banana cream pie launch into faces to round out meals.
Formica counter: check. Silvery-blue vinyl stools: check. Scrumptious eats that go from griddle to table faster than Sleeping Beauty can guzzle a pot of coffee: check, check, and check. At Rae’s Restaurant, a bona fide diner with old-school charm and fresh food, cooks are never more than a few feet away, working the grills and then slapping stacks of hotcakes, crispy strips of bacon, and fluffy omelets onto plates. For a taste of it all, try the hobo breakfast special, with ham, bacon, sausage, three eggs, buttermilk hotcakes, and a glass of chilled tomato or grapefruit juice. Another sure bet: buttermilk biscuits blanketed with country-style gravy. Rae’s also serves sandwiches and burgers, and, like any true roadside diner, bids adieu with big slices of pie, ice cream sodas, and old-fashioned banana splits.