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Depressing Places You Like

  • m

You know the kind of place. Like a loser friend whose company you enjoy but would never take into respectable society. I meet periodically with an old friend for dinner, and we like these kind of places. He describes them as "David Lynch" places, by which he means artfully bleak. Of course, this is to be distinguished from garden variety crappy places.

I solicit your suggestions. Any part of town is OK. Food doesn't need to be more than good.

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    1. El Charro in Montrose. Depressing and tight booths, so you know they haven't remodeled since humans were smaller. The kind of Mexican food best described as 'orange.' Tasty, but embarrassing in its cheesy, lardy excess. Bar full of regulars. Paper placemats have rudimentary Spanish lesson on them. Best part is it's 100% irony free.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gnarlex

        What a perfect description of El Charro!! I thought I was the only one who felt squeezed in their booths. Thankfully they have tinted windows so I can't easily be spotted eating there.

        1. re: kevin

          I disagree. What depresses you about Musso's?

          1. re: kevin

            Sure if OP hasn't been it is worth a trip. I think it could qualify as a David Lynch kind of place. Super old school. Sure to be some interesting characters about.

            1. re: kevin

              I don't get it, either. I'm always happy to go to Musso and Frank. No shame whatsoever.

              1. re: cacio e pepe

                I don't think it's about "shame." I'd call the dining room at Musso & Frank significantly and authentically depressing whereas the bar room can be downright convivial.

                1. re: JeMange

                  To each their own. I don't find it depressing in the least. I do recognize the place is polarizing, but I've had and will have too many good experiences in that dining room for it to depress me.

            2. Any low rent bar place in Long Beach and San Pedro that still serves the fishermen.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Gypsy Jan

                Likewise, lots of places in the sf valley, in particular any of those established 1949 and still going. They usually always have original interiors as well as locations. In the valley this group includes many ethnic restaurants too.

                1. re: chewbacca

                  Agreed. The Safari Room in Granada Hills is an example. I don't think the upholstery has been changed since the fifties.

                  1. re: chewbacca

                    Like Mandarin Deli? Although I imagine the place was freshened up in... the 70's or 80's....

                    1. re: chewbacca

                      Tallyrand. Love their turkey burger.

                  2. Well where have you been going?

                    I haven't been, just peeked in but how about Chez Jay in Santa Monica. Looks a bit disreputable; I'm sure they have colorful regulars. Seriously has peanut shells on the floor. Gets decent marks for steak and seafood.

                    13 Replies
                      1. re: coconutz

                        Gary Bric's Ramp in Burbank probably comes the closest to what we were looking for. Not so much depressing as noir-ish. An outpost at the end of the world.

                        1. re: coconutz

                          Disreputable? If you call RAND think tank types and astronauts disreputable, then yes. One of those peanuts has been to the moon and back. It's still there I think.

                            1. re: kevin

                              Me too. That and the Galley are classic.

                              1. re: Thor123

                                I still haven't made it to the Galley.

                                But these days I'm bidding my time at Tana's.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  I'd go to the Galley once a week, but they don't open until 5 ;(

                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    You have been ???????

                                    And it's pretty fucking goood. ?????

                                    1. re: kevin

                                      No, I just remember somebody telling me they had steamers, that were kinda like the kind on the east coast. I tried to go once for lunch, but saw they were closed until 5 pm everyday.... So I have no idea if it's any good or marginal.....

                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                        They don't have steamers in the strict, Northeast sense but they do have buckets of hardshell steamed clams which are pretty tasty.

                                        I don't find The Galley depressing at all. I do, however, find the passable food a bit expensive for what you get.

                                      2. re: kevin

                                        The steamed clams at the Galley are great. Its a Chey Jay vibe. A fun place to eat and drink. Been there forever.

                                        1. re: Thor123

                                          One of these days I'll make it there. But for some reason, currently, you probably have a clue as to what two joints are primarily on my rotation of watering holes.

                          1. Great question!
                            Which leads naturally to: "Euphoric places you dislike?"
                            But better fuggetabout it, list way too long.

                                1. re: wienermobile

                                  Well, sure. But its apotheosis is the Kibitz Room.

                                  1. re: wienermobile

                                    Plus, every Jewish deli in the world. Every Palestinian place, too.

                                    But perhaps that's off topic?

                                2. I think many of our under-50s would find the Colonial Kitchen in San Marino "depressing", since the room has received only token redecorating since the mid-1950s, the only sound track is conversation, and the clientele trends old and older. My old HS buddy and I like it because we are seldom the oldest guys in the room, the coffee keeps coming no matter how long we've parked there, and the food can be really tasty. Best tuna melt I've ever met. The only time it's depressed us is when some film crew is shooting there and we've had to default to Twohey's, though that's not an awful hardship. But Twohey's isn't at all depressing.

                                  1. Astro Burger on Santa Monica. I get a hankering for their Garden Burger and onion rings every once in a while. I love it. Families, Euro tourists, trannies, psuedo-homeless and drunk twenty-somethings coming together under one roof for a shared love of griddled greasy eats and the sound of Bay City Rollers coming from the jukebox. It's an un-updated 1980's vision of a 1950's diner, and it makes me happy.

                                    1. Great idea for a thread!

                                      I love these types of places, more for anthropological reasons than culinary ones. As a South Bay native and resident, here are my top places in the South Bay:

                                      1) San Franciscan (Torrance): South Bay provincialism at its finest. It's a steakhouse (I guess) with a full bar, live music on some nights and karaoke on others. Closes at 2am. Old school south bay crowd. Friendly middle aged waitresses. A gem like no other. They also sell lotto!

                                      2) The Castle (Manhattan Beach): On Sepulveda, a slice of a Manhattan Beach long ago forgotten. They open at 6am, supposedly have a good breakfast, and close at 2am. Drinks are cheap, the clients are depressing, and they only take cash.

                                      3) The Schooner (Manhattan Beach): Across the street from the Castle, tucked away on a side street, they actually have decent tacos and some other bar food prepared by Hector (his kitchen is called Hector's Hideaway Kitchen). They also sell lotto. Avoid Tuesday when they have cheap bud light and there is a big crowd.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: young_chower

                                        The San Franciscan came to my mind right away. We had family dinner there a couple weeks ago and I accidentally said out loud, "this prime rib is actually good!" Mom whispered to me, "try not to sound so surprised."

                                        There used to be some great ones in San Pedro -- Ante's for sure.

                                      2. Try Petrillo's pizza in San Gabriel--the tonnage of the pizza feels like a dumbell, but it's all about the people, who are well, well past their prime in life.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: cfylong

                                          Not true, there are lots of people in their 20's and 30's there....and the pizza is sublime.

                                          1. re: bringiton

                                            Uh, yes, like I said, people way past their prime... in their 20's, and the pizza is tonnage, not so much quality, but if you like it, kudos.

                                            1. El Paso Barbecue in Tarzana. It is so depressing it make us laugh!

                                              Pretty decent cue though

                                              1. Mrs. Knotts Fried Chicken

                                                1. Indoors at The Buffalo Club .

                                                  1. Just wondering what makes the places listed depressing?... Just because they are old and outdated and "stuck in time"?

                                                    I think Billingsley's at 11326 Pico in west la might qualify for this. Not too many places on the westside like this.


                                                    I haven't been to Canter's forever , but I do want to go sometime soon. Definitely something about that place.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: bophisto

                                                      lawry's = old, outdated, stuck in time, not depressing
                                                      honeybaked ham co = old, outdated, stuck in time, depressing

                                                      the "vibe" makes a place depressing more than the decor.

                                                      1. re: ns1

                                                        Honey Baked Ham does = depressing.

                                                        O.J. Simpson owned some of the franchise stores and he may still be involved or receiving revenue.

                                                        Honey Baked used to be one of corporate clients at The LA Times.

                                                        Knowing the parents of his murdered wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, I have made sure that I never have gone there again.

                                                        1. re: Gypsy Jan

                                                          I doubt OJ still owns any Honey Baked Ham stores or anything else at all like that. Be careful not to hurt any businesses with unknown facts.

                                                          1. re: wienermobile

                                                            Okey Dokey, just relating my historical knowledge and I am not claiming to have current knowledge of any facts.

                                                            I made a personal decision to not patronize Honey Baked anymore, but I am not badmouthing the product.


                                                    2. Marie Callendars. Pies...always to go. *shudders*

                                                      7 Replies
                                                      1. re: Xan7hos

                                                        Try Polly's Pies if there is one in your area.

                                                        Started by a former employee of Marie Callender's, (maybe stealing recipes), but they always have done better in the pie category and serve decent diner-ish food.


                                                        1. re: Gypsy Jan

                                                          Polly's Pies is the BEST!!! THE BEST!!!! (I grew up in Long Beach and we ate at Polly's almost weekly growing up.) The backburner soup, with their rolls and butter, is one of my favorite meals of all times. Might be my death row meal. And their pies are great--the Marionberry and Chocolate Silk are my go-to's. I almost cried when the one in Santa Monica became a Panera, even though I didn't live close, it was still nice knowing that there was one in my city.

                                                          1. re: schrutefarms

                                                            That place was way way way way way depressing, and one enter a state of perpetual despondency when going there.

                                                            1. re: kevin

                                                              I enter a state of blissful happiness when I go to a Polly's. (I actually have two quarts of backburner soup in my freezer right now.)

                                                              1. re: schrutefarms

                                                                I want to jump off an excessively short bridge when I go there. :(

                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                  Ehh, you're just bitter because they dont have a full bar :)

                                                                  1. re: schrutefarms

                                                                    YOU ARE FUNNY!

                                                                    I may have peed in my seat because I am laughing so hard.

                                                                    That is all, GJ

                                                      2. Great thread. Bulgarini Gelato on Washington Blvd. in Culver City. I think they're easily the best gelato in LA, everything is made with tremendous love and care, it's incredible, obviously well loved for their Altadena location, but that large empty room...

                                                        On the flipside, sometimes, when they're empty and near-closing, you get enormous portions of ice cream at such incredible quality it's almost dreamlike, yet heartbreaking that there aren't gelato and granita fans crowding the place...not that I really want them to...

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: cinefoodie

                                                          Both locations seem pretty popular on yelp...so it's interesting that they wouldn't have fans crowding the place.



                                                          I've never been there.

                                                          1. re: bophisto

                                                            Birria Apatzingan in Pacoima.

                                                            Mariachi band at 8am in tight quarters filled with steaming offal and goat soup....

                                                        2. El Atacor on N. Figueroa near Ave. 26. Their Mexican food is quite good but the ambiance reminds me of a labor camp.

                                                          Also the Chowder Barge at Leeward Bay Marina in Wilmington. Decent diner food, beer & wine but the surroundings are not too cheerful. A lot of the boats docked nearby in the surrounding harbor are barely one step up from being junkers. The restaurant is housed in an actual barge. It was originally used as the support vessel for filming of the 1935 movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty" with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Sam D.

                                                            I gotta agree re: El Atacor. Some of the best carnitas I've ever had anywhere but the buzzing fluorescents, the blaring, staticky Mexican soccer on outdated tube TVs, it's like something out of an existentialist short film.

                                                            1. re: JeMange

                                                              This. Now that is Lynchian, particularly the harsh flicker and buzz of bad fluorescent bulbs.

                                                          2. Oh my gods, I love this. But I don't know how I got here. L.A. board sucked me in all the way from Fargo. :P

                                                            Wow I may continue to lurk, this is just such a fabulous topic. I am loving everyone's descriptions.

                                                            1. Mongols Mongolian BBQ in Westwood Village.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: bringiton

                                                                UCLA undergrads can afford the food there, so not as depressing...

                                                                1. re: bringiton

                                                                  totally agree with this! good call! i've been going since high school (i'm 24 now) and i've always got the sense that it's JUST been scraping by...

                                                                  every time i go though, there seems to be some sort of upgrade, so maybe they are in fact doing alright--maybe even better. in any case, love that spot.

                                                                2. Kathleen's in Pasadena...

                                                                  To clarify, it is depressing, and my sister likes it.

                                                                  1. There's a place on Moorpark in Sherman Oaks called something like Ocean Grill. Very dark. People at the bar all day. Decent bar food. There was just something fun about it. (I haven't been in ages.) Kind of like Cheers....with a bit more of an edge. The owner would always come over at the end of the meal and give customers a homemade peach schnapps.....which was awful, but part of the experience somehow. Big cocktails....reasonably priced...and it seemed to be a "down low" spot for celebs. Saw Clooney there once (he sat next to us....it was in the TV days) with someone I think he would not take to an awards show. Just a fun neighborhood spot. Gee....I kind of miss it. Maybe I'll have to go back and check it out!

                                                                    11 Replies
                                                                    1. re: perk

                                                                      Wow, thanks Perk. It sounds like my kind of joint.

                                                                      So its still there ????

                                                                      You had me at awful tasting peach schnapps.

                                                                      1. re: perk

                                                                        Can you check up on the name perk ? When I googled it I couldn't find it.

                                                                          1. re: JAB

                                                                            I was hoping Sevrog would step in and do it for me.

                                                                            1. re: kevin

                                                                              I thought that perhaps he had provided you training.

                                                                          2. re: kevin

                                                                            Wow....I told you it had been a long time since I'd been there. It's called Oyster House. Moorpark near Woodman I think. Last time I was there, the smokers were bemoaning the fact they couldn't smoke inside. I think they were relegated to the patio. They used to have decent quesadillas. I've had a couple of seafood dishes....they were all fresh and pretty good. Again, don't know how it is now and or it's owned by the same guy. If you go, please report back.

                                                                            1. re: perk

                                                                              I drive by the joint all the time and the exterior looks sooooooooooo dated. They advertise something like "BEST SEAFOOD IN TOWN" in faded ass blue paint; I'm too scared to enter to try their oysters.

                                                                              I yelped the place and told myself "nah that's ok".

                                                                              1. re: ns1

                                                                                It looks dated ?????

                                                                                That's my kind of joint.

                                                                                Thanks Perk.

                                                                                1. re: kevin

                                                                                  Kevin, I have gathered from other posts that you aren't too far from Covina. Have you ever been in Hamilton's (was Blake's until 4 years ago, and The Velvet Turtle in the 70s), next to the Park Inn (it was a Radisson - also changed!) off the 10 freeway at Holt. Great oldtime vibe (built in the 1960s) with original stamped tin ceiling and HUGE mahogany bar with brass fittings.
                                                                                  As for food - go for Happy Hour (5-8 every weekday) - great sliders (3), ceviche (generous), open beef tacos with all the timings (3), spicy buffalo wings with two sauces, etc - all at half price (around $5).
                                                                                  If you want the old-style feeling, with only a few regulars about, go Mon-Thurs. Not truly depressing - it's only that you wish a few more sociable folks lived nearby.Friday and Sat are party days for the office crowds and way over the top (that's when they make their money).
                                                                                  Try it - I would be really interested in your feedback.

                                                                              2. re: perk

                                                                                Yes, it is owned by the same guy.--a very friendly guy who greets all the customers. It is a classic. It gets a very diverse crowd--old timers who have been going there for 30-40 years, hipsters and a boisterous sports crowd (usually in the patio) during playoff games when the place is packed. The bartenders are long timers and the drinks are very generous. The waitresses have been there for years and are the "what will you have hon?" types. The food is certainly not gourmet and does not compare to micro pub food of these days, but it is decent enough for a Cheers type bar. I go there about once a year for old times sake--too much of a Cheers type place (i.e., yakkity, yak, or yadda, yadda, if you will) for me to take more often and I am not really a bar type person--but for those who are, give it a try.

                                                                          3. Katella Deli in Los Alamitos. Everyone in there is 100+, the faux flowers everywhere not only make one think about a funeral but also are covered in dust that seems to be about to fall into your food at any minute. Waitresses look suicidal. Salad bar makes me want to cry.
                                                                            Food is good though.

                                                                            1. Do I like Mae's Cafe in Garden Grove just next to Brodard Chateau?

                                                                              Let's just say I enjoy the experience. I think it fits the "depressing" and "Lynchian" aspects of the OP.

                                                                              1. Yes! The 1881 Club in Pasadena is like walking into the 70s, maybe in Wyoming. I'm pretty sure beers are that cheap too.