When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal. It combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile’s beefy Rocket 88.
That explains why during dinners at the famous burger joints, you’ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers—dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they’ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.
Half-moon booths and stained-glass light fixtures set the tone at Bill's Villager Coffee Shop, but it's the menu that keeps regulars coming back for more. Homestyle cooking is the best way to describe the dishes here, which rarely veer away from the expected. That's certainly not a bad thing when "the expected" includes omelets for breakfast and double-patty burgers for lunch. Even if you aren't that hungry, Bill's has plenty of appeal as a relaxing coffee shop with hot drinks aplenty.
When people say Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain has a checkered history, they?re talking about the ever-present tablecloths, which flaunt cheery red-and-white squares that whisk diners back to the 1950s. Here in the more than a century-old establishment, cooks still stack pancakes higher than the Statue of Liberty?s beehive hairdo as kids ogle retro candies such as Necco wafers, Sweethearts, and Clark bars. Come lunchtime, half-pound burgers sizzle on the grill, alongside toppings such as bacon and mushrooms.
Near a vintage Pepsi-Cola sign, soda jerks uncap bottles of root beer and scoop banana floats into glass boats en route to white leather booths or a sunny outdoor patio. The shop also summons nostalgia with its shiny jukebox, vintage postcards, and iconic storefront, which has been featured in films, commercials, and PSAs for time travelers.
The chefs at Filling Station have found success in a simple formula: comfort food plus a comfortable café in which to enjoy it. Guests bite into huge burgers or belgian waffles on the flower-lined patio and toast with beers beside the warm fireplace. This is a slice of what Filling Station's owners call "the good ol' days," and it's easy to get swept up in the atmosphere of nostalgia. A dog-friendly policy makes every meal a true family affair, especially since you can bring that cousin who doesn't go anywhere without his leash.
In 2014, Gayot hailed Ways & Means Oysters as one of Orange County's 10 Best Seafood Restaurants. It's just the latest in the heap of praise hoisted upon chefs Justin Odegard and Ben Wallenbeck. The reason for all the hubbub: craft seasonal dishes that highlight the fresh flavors of sustainably caught seafood.
Culled from the raw bar and cocktail menus, customizable towers can sport everything from prawns and crab claws to oysters from a daily-changing selection. On the cooked-seafood front, Justin and Ben specialize in everything from creamy lobster bisques to clams tossed with linguini or right into the arms of juggling patrons. Seafood aside, the duo grills 16-ounce prime ribeyes, aged for 40 days, and assemble seasonal specials for vegetarians. Regardless of what fills the plates, all meals unfold in a spacious dining room of red booths and sparkling chandeliers, and complement libations such as rum flights and international wines.
The large, red sign outside Jack's Whittier Restaurant looks like something out of the '60s or '70s. In reality, the eatery's roots formed much earlier; signs throughout the recently remodeled interior remind visitors that the it has in fact been in business since 1933. The throwback coffee shop and diner serves a medley of classic American food throughout the day, including burgers, fried chicken, and breakfast dishes such as three-egg omelets and buttermilk pancakes. To cap off the sense of Americana, servers also man an ice cream parlor where they scoop out frozen treats to make milkshakes, sundaes, and banana splits for dessert.