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.
The Stand’s menu of chili dogs, burgers, and tuna melts evokes classic Americana images of diners and ball games. The eats may be casual, but the staff strives to give them modern style, earning a spot on Gayot's 2012 list of Top 10 LA Hot Dog Restaurants. Upon request, the staff will wrap burgers in whole-wheat buns or lettuce wraps instead of classic buns, and diners also have their choice of beef, turkey, or housemade veggie patties. Gourmet hot-dog and sausage toppings such as garlic mushrooms and corn salsa join traditional fixings such as mustard, sweet pickle relish, and tears from a recently defeated baseball team. To wash it all down, servers blend up 20-ounce chocolate and vanilla milkshakes and tap a rotating menu of draft beers, as well as root beer.
Red isn't the only color on Reds Restaurant's wine list, which presents bottles that speak multiple languages and come and go as they please. While sipping vinos from California, South America, and Italy, guests can peer past the black-hole-black bar straight into the open kitchen. There, the chefs will summon smoked-salmon farfalle, spam-fried rice, and duck confit into existence, and bring life to desserts such as The Brownie and pineapple upside-down cake. Dinner is the main feature at this wine-and-tapas shop, but a lunch menu attracts a midday crowd to the Encino Place Shopping Center's second floor from Tuesday to Friday every week.
For more than four decades, chef Ulrich Huegli—or Ueli, as he's often known—has been crafting Swiss-inflected cuisine in a variety of California restaurants. At his latest culinary home, Swiss Chef Restaurant, he lightly breads veal for wienerschnitzel, and grills hearty veal bratwurst, among other traditional alpine specialties. Some of his entrées range further afield: steaming bowls of Hungarian goulash brim with stewed meat, noodles and vegetables, and pastas such as gnocchi and rigatoni bolognese add Italian flair, much like nicknaming the entire kitchen staff “Flavio.” Frosty mugs of international beers—such as Erdinger and Bitburger—issue from the full-service bar, which also serves wines and cocktails.
The chefs at California Mediterranean Grill flavor Middle Eastern fare according to generations-old recipes the owners brought with them from Israel 26 years ago. After passing under crimson umbrellas into the café, patrons inhale the scent of thick laffa bread baking in a clay oven and hear the sizzle of juicy burgers and falafel balls frying atop grills. More than 14 salads fill plates with doctor-recommended amounts of vegetables, and kebabs culled from lean cuts of beef and garlic-marinated morsels of chicken supply bodies with healthy sources of vital proteins. For moderately sized meals, diners can thoughtfully share portions of tabouleh, hummus, baba ghanouj and other mezzes.
Take Ten Deli’s hardworking sandwichsmiths grace breakfast and lunch tables with satisfying dishes of deli and diner classics. Guests greet the sunrise with hearty breakfasts of eggs, bacon pancakes and breakfast burritos, or chow down on a delicious lunch of juicy burgers or cold and hot sandwiches dressed with a stunning array of deli meats, cheeses, and veggies. Triple-deckers satisfy diners with a substantial and architecturally sound stacking of a pound and half of sandwich, while a lineup of sides and salads garnish meals or deliver wholesome, fresh flavor.