LA Restaurant Milestones
A time line to the delicious history of eating out in Los Angeles.
1852 La Rue’s, considered by some historians to be Los Angeles’s first restaurant, opens for business. The establishment has mud floors and six wood tables and, according to one account, serves food that is “poorly cooked but generally served.”
1908 The first French dip sandwich is said to be served, in downtown LA. By whom is a matter of dispute: two restaurants that open this year—Philippe’s and Cole’s— claim to be the sandwich’s birthplace.
1919 Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet open what will become Musso and Frank Grill. On the strength of classic dishes like flannel cakes and Welsh rarebit, it will survive as the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.
1926 Herbert Somborn and Wilson Mizner open the original Brown Derby, a restaurant shaped like a bowler hat, on Wilshire Boulevard. Three more branches open between 1929 and 1941; only the Los Feliz location, which is declared a Historic Cultural Monument by the City Council of Los Angeles, still stands. The Cobb salad, named for the restaurant’s second owner, Robert H. Cobb, is invented here in 1936.
1931 Clifford and Nelda Clifton open Clifton’s Cafeteria. Part self-serve restaurant, part amusement park, the hunting lodge-themed establishment features a waterfall, among other attractions, as well as a prayer chapel. Prayers, pies, and turkey platters are still offered there today, as are free or cut-price meals for customers in need.
1934 The bartender Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt opens Don the Beachcomber, the world’s first Polynesian-themed restaurant. It serves fruity rum cocktails with names like Cobra’s Fang and Zombie, as well as egg rolls and Chinese spareribs. Fifteen more locations will follow, as will scores of local imitators, including places like the Seven Seas, the Islander, and the Luau.
1932 Brothers Leon, Bernard, Martin, and Jack Schwab, all pharmacists, convert a failing drugstore on Sunset Boulevard into a soda fountain shop. Schwab’s Pharmacy becomes a movie industry hangout. Charlie Chaplin comes in to make his own milk shakes, Gloria Swanson buys her makeup here, and Ava Gardner works behind the soda fountain before finding fame. Schwab’s closes in 1983.
1936 Chili goes on the menu at Chasen’s, the Beverly Hills restaurant. The dish is a hit. In 1963, Elizabeth Taylor has a shipment of Chasen’s chili delivered to the set of her movie Cleopatra, in Rome.
1966 The country’s first sushi bar opens, in the Little Tokyo restaurant Kawafuku.
Late 1960s Chef Ichiro Mashita invents the California roll at the restaurant Tokyo Kaikan. The avocado in the roll is meant to evoke the creamy texture of more expensive tuna belly.
1982 California-cuisine pioneer Wolfgang Puck opens Spago, his first restaurant; his then wife, Barbara Lazaroff designs the space.
1985 Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger open the influential Border Grill in Hollywood; they find wider fame in 1995 on the Food Network show Two Hot Tamales.
2006 Celebrity chef Mario Batali makes his Los Angeles debut in conjunction with the pastry chef and restaurateur Nancy Silverton, with Hollywood’s Pizzeria Mozza; its sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza, opens next door the following year.