Throw out the idea of seasonal, always evolving menus. In a world where change is constant and restaurant turnover is high, these mainstays not only bring history and longevity to San Diego, but also throwback style and hearty food that brings a bit of familiarity to the table.
94th Aero Squadron (1976)
Named after one of the first American fighter squadrons to see combat service, the 94th Aero Squadron is filled with fighter plane memorabilia, which is even more appropriate given the restaurant’s proximity to Montgomery Field Airport. Large exposed beams along the ceilings and other wood accents, including antique furniture, give this restaurant its old school feel. A Sunday champagne brunch is available for $25.95 from 9-10 a.m. or $30.95 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but the real winners of this retro restaurant include escargots in mushroom caps, French onion au gratin soup, and of course, its lineup of steaks (its sister restaurant is The Butcher Shop).
8885 Balboa Ave., Kearny Mesa, 858.560.6771, 94thsandiego.com
Chicken Pie Shop (1938)
Just about everything about the Chicken Pie Shop in North Park, is simple: Simple exterior, simple decor, simple table settings. But, you will be hard-pressed to find a better meal in San Diego for the price. Stick with the restaurant’s namesake and order the pie dinner. For just $8.99 to start, it comes with a pot pie stuffed full with chicken and turkey in gravy. Each pie is served with whipped potatoes, vegetables, coleslaw, a dinner roll and dessert. Dessert pie options include apple, cherry, blueberry, peach, rhubarb and pumpkin and a rotating cream pie menu that includes banana, coconut, lemon or chocolate. For breakfast you can even get the chicken pie topped with two eggs any style and a side hash browns and either bacon or sausage.
2633 El Cajon Blvd., North Park, 619.295.0156, chickenpieshops.com
Hob Nob Hill (1944)
There’s something about restaurants who serve up good comfort food that gets Food Network’s Guy Fieri revved up. On the episode of “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” Fieri couldn’t stop gushing over Hob Nob Hill’s fall-apart corned beef, which is cured for seven days. Inside the restaurant is an open kitchen where the menu never changes, because that’s the way the owners (and patrons) like it. The chicken and dumplings were also a hit with Fieri who called them “the definition of chicken and dumplings.”
2271 First Ave., Bankers Hill, 619.239.8176, hobnobhill.com
Imperial House (1969)
When you think of an old school restaurant, Imperial House pretty much exemplifies that image. There are red tufted, high-back booths and waiters dressed in tuxedo slacks and white button-up dress shirt with black vests and bowties that conjur up memories of old Hollywood or gangster-era New York City. In the bar area, melodies of everything from The Eagles’ “Hotel California” to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” are played by keyboardist Rick Lyon, who has been providing music for the Imperial House lounge since 2002. Try the Flambe Cafe Diablo and the Steak Diane, both of which are prepared tableside. Read our 2015 review here.
505 Kalmia St., Bankers Hill, 619.234.3525, imperialhouserestaurant.com
Old Trieste (1963)
A 1988 Los Angeles Times article said, “Old Trieste, a Gibraltar among local eateries, may not really be The Place That Time Forgot, but it does seem like an oasis of yesterday.” There couldn’t be a more true statement. It’s the most likely old school restaurant to be able to call patron’s by name (a la “Cheers”) as they enter, as nearly 90 percent of its patrons are regulars since the restaurant opened. Italian is the name of the game at Old Trieste (Trieste Province is on the northeastern-most edge of Italy as it rounds over to Slovenia). The House Special is a combination of chicken cannelloni and medaglione ramano, but another not-to-miss dish is the Miros Special with veal scallopine stuffed with fresh mozzarella chesse wrapped in thinly sliced prosciutto topped with a white wine and sherry cream sauce. For seafood lovers, check out the Scampi Trieste featuring sauteed shrimp with garlic, fresh herbs, lemon and a white wine sauce. Simple, but delectable.
2335 Morena Blvd., Bay Park, 619.276.1841
Red Fox Steakhouse & Lounge (1959)
If surf and turf is your thing, this is the place. Frid jumbo shrimp, broiled lobster tails, king crab legs, filet mignon, top sirloin steak … the list goes on and on. Located on the east end of The Lafayette hotel on El Cajon Boulevard, the Red Fox Steakhouse & Lounge has retro red tuffted leather booths, dim lighting and wood panel surroundings. Look deeper into the restaurant and lounge’s history, you’ll find that the Red Fox Room originated in Surry, England back in 1560. According to its website, “the room was dismantled in 1926 and shipped to the United States for the petite, blonde cinema actress Marion Davies.” After her property was sold in the 50s, the Red Fox Room was placed into storage, it found its way to its current space. “The bar, back bar and the trim around the doors with the interesting small-carved figures come from Charles of London. The Tudor paneling and the fireplace with its finely carved mantel bear the date of 1642.”
2223 El Cajon Blvd., North Park, 619.297.1313, redfoxsd.com
Red Tracton’s (1948)
Since the Del Mar Racetrack is synonymous with old Holywood celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Betty Grable (all of which have suites named after them “where the surf meets the turf”), it’s no wonder a throwback spot like Red Tracton’s exists nearby. The restaurant has been called the place “to be and be seen” after the races. Signature dishes here include the hearty Green Goddess salad, colossal baked potato and prime rib. Come hungry.
550 Via De La Valle, Solana Beach, 858.755.6600, redtractonssteakhouse.com
The only thing this retro 24-hour diner is missing is waitresses on roller skates. Pony up to the counter for a root beer float, or settle into a comfy booth for one of the many 24/7 breakfast offerings or entree specials. On Sundays enjoy the roast turkey dinner special, and on any day, try the Little Nick hamburger or chicken fried steak meal. Aside from the food, Rudford’s claim to fame is a picture taken of President John F. Kennedy riding down El Cajon Boulevard atop the back of a convertible during a June 6, 1962 visit on his way to a commencement ceremony at San Diego State College, just 169 days before his assassination in Dallas, Texas.
2900 El Cajon Blvd., North Park, 619.282.8423, rudfords.com
Saska’s Steakhouse (1951 with a grand re-opening Feb. 23)
This family owned old school restaurant is getting a bit of a facelift and putting “steak” back into “steakhouse.” The Patio Restaurant Group (The Patio on Goldfinch, Fireside by the Patio) is helping to provide new life into the longstanding Missoin Beach restaurant, but is making sure to rely heavily on the classic menu of the 60s and 70s. Signature cuts “The Duke” sirloin and “The Original” filet mignon, along with Saska’s storied meat program will be the pillars of the revived restaurant. As for the look, “Restoring the long-standing restaurant to its former glory is a dream come true, and a passion project brought to life,” said Patio Restaurant Group owner and CEO and long-time Saska’s customer Gina Champion-Cain. Inside you’ll find a refined interior with dim, an intimate seating area that “harkens back to the good old days.”
3768 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach, 858.488.7311, saskas.com
The Waterfront (1933)
While more a bar than a restaurant, as the oldest bar in San Diego (which happens to serve food — some extremely delicious burgers, actually), it seemed only fitting that The Waterfront be given a nod on this list. While updates have been made to this Little Italy bar (new HD TVs and an updated jukebox), the photo and sticker lined walls, the popcorn machine and the stiff drinks have not.
2044 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, 619.232.9656, waterfrontbarandgrill.com