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.
Cool cats and hip chicks are kept well fed in this 1950s-inspired car-hop restaurant that boasts weekly live entertainment and an extensive menu of traditional diner cuisine dutifully delivered by servers on roller skates. Sustenance-seekers can cozy up in the brightly colored booths made from classic cruisers and nibble on far-out fare such as the Frisco bacon avocado burger on sourdough, soulfully stacked with jack cheese, thousand island dressing, and a side of french fries ($9.95). Frisco's also features a variety of Greek, Mexican, and salad-centric dishes. Slurp up a classic root-beer float (up to $3.95) and watch squares, hexagons, and squiggly lines shake a tail feather to the sounds of Tony and the Carhops during weekly performances of timeless 1950s tunes.
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.
Serving broiled burgers and zestful french fries within a large, '50s-designed time capsule, Bob's Big Boy Broiler cooks all-American eats that pledge allegiance to filling unfilled stomachs. Those sniffing around the menu for spicy stews can send tongues swimming through Big Boy's famous chili ($4.29). Erase painful memories of living a single-stacked life by equipping yourself with Big Boy's original double-decker hamburger ($6.99), two patties of juicy ground beef, seasoned with a tangy special sauce. Other classic entrees include the bacon, lettuce, and tomato supreme ($7.99), unexpectedly topped with avocado, and the chicken parmigiana ($9.99), an Italian-seasoned chicken breast partnered with melted mozzarella. Remind yourself how good "I Like Ike" buttons used to taste by capping the meal with an old-fashioned dessert such as a thick ice-cream shake ($3.99) or a banana split ($4.59).
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.