I was first introduced to Clifton’s Cafeteria in the summer of 2003 when my friend MEM invited me to a movie with the LA Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats. Then she suggested we have dinner before the show at Clifton’s Cafeteria. It may have been among my very first forays into Downtown Los Angeles since moving here in 2001. I was charmed by Clifton’s, especially after hearing my friend’s stories of dining there as a child with her family. I loved the woodland feel of the place, the different dining levels and just the whole vibe of this dining institution that opened in 1931. We never had to wait in line and never had trouble getting a table. We got turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, and a couple different desserts. Usually a piece of pie and something else. This would be our summer tradition, dinner at Clifton’s followed by a movie with Last Remaining Seats. And then all of a sudden we heard the news that Clifton’s closed in the summer of 2011. And remained closed for about four years.
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September 2015 marked the grand re-opening of Clifton’s Cafeteria after a $14 million remodel! I was out of town for the ticketed Opening Night party which benefited the LA Conservancy. And I purposely stayed home and followed the crowds and the pictures on social media on the first day the doors opened to the public, which was pushed back several times and finally happened on October 1. It seems as though a lot of visitors who never visited Clifton’s prior to their closing are now visiting. I finally made my first visit with TOURific friends Angela and Allen, who also had known and appreciated Clifton’s back in the day. They arrived before me and texted to say that they were saving me a place in line! Although it was a Saturday at prime lunch time, I was surprised to see so many people waiting to get in.
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I picked up a familiar brown Clifton’s cafeteria style tray. The set-up is still cafeteria style, but there are various stations instead of one long line. I headed straight to Clifton’s Carvery for my turkey dinner. I got a massive amount of food for $12.00. I perused the sandwich station and the salad station (snagged a cup of cucumber and tomato salad) as well as the grill where burgers, pizza and French fries were available. I spent considerable time looking at the desserts and capturing them in photos. My friends and I each chose something different to share, though none of us got either the fancy or the basic jello. We shared chocolate pudding, pumpkin pie and a key-lime cupcake. At the end of the check-out lines, which look exactly as I remember them, I reached into the kiddie treasure chest for a prize.
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Then it was time to search for a seat. And search we did. We ended up on the third floor, where a family was kind enough to consolidate seats so that we could take three seats at the end of a long picnic style table. We had a great view over Broadway, and were just settled in to dine and catch up when the live music started. It was a nice touch, but a little too loud. We all agreed that the food was good. We went exploring the other spaces, and found Gregory the Lion and the big Redwood Tree. There are bars and other seating areas, and rather than trying to see it all in one visit, I know I will be a regular diner at Clifton’s and I will enjoy each little nook and cranny on future visits. Those who are disappointed in the food must not have visited Clifton’s before the remodel. This was a big notch above what we used to get, and we liked it even then. The only thing I missed were some vegetables. I would have liked some green beans or brussels sprouts to go with my turkey dinner.
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By Trish Procetto