Offbeat L.A.: It’s Not About the Food – Kitschy Cool & Retro Local Theme Restaurants

The Author at Pinocchio Italian Restaurant in Burbank (photo by Danielle Reierson)

The author at Pinocchio Italian Restaurant in Burbank (photo by Danielle Reierson)

Have you got a special occasion meal coming up that doesn’t necessarily call for elegance, but rather calls for celebration and fun? Are you looking for some out-of-the-ordinary, old school places with genuine character for a joyous get together?  If you’re willing to risk upsetting your foodie/no-gluten/vegan friends with a menu that’s stuck somewhere in 1972, then try one of the 5 eclectic restaurants listed below.  You’ll find that atmosphere is their main selling point, but if you’re like me you’ll find that is more than a fair trade…

The Chowder Barge (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Chowder Barge (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

If you’re looking for authentic character head down to Wilmington, near San Pedro, and the incomparable Chowder Barge. Located over some railroad tracks, down some stairs and in a somewhat hidden location, it is L.A. Harbor’s only floating restaurant. Built in 1934 as a support vessel for the film Mutiny on the Bounty, it was cemented in place and turned into a restaurant in 1974. With amazingly cheap food prices on burgers, fish & chips and of course tasty chowder, you can actually pull up on your boat, tie down your rig and have a strong drink at the bar inside while fantasizing that you are co-starring in an episode of Magnum P.I. The interior is straight out of the mid-’70s, complete with wood beamed ceilings and the prerequisite hanging cone fireplace. This is thankfully not a place to hobnob with tourists, but rather a place to experience local atmosphere and real flavor in a most intriguing setting- right on L.A.’s docks.

Interior of deklightfully mid-'70's Chowder Barge (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Chowder Barge (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)                                                                             

The Chowder Barge: 611 Henry Ford Avenue, Wilmington, CA 90744; (310) 830-7937.

The Chowder Barge

*Offbeat L.A. tip: Search directions in advance well. You will likely have trouble finding this hidden gem.


Clearman's North Woods Inn (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Clearman’s North Woods Inn (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)


How about a Yukon style dinner experience at a rustic-themed hunting lodge where the roof is bedecked with faux snow and its eaves hung with glistening faux icicles? The interior of this vintage restaurant chain gets even more interesting. Within its darkened cabin-like interior you will find wood beamed ceilings, red leather seating, stained glass as far as the eye can see and life-sized taxidermy bears. The first Clearman’s North Woods Inn was opened in San Gabriel, near the edge of Pasadena, in 1966, followed by another in Covina in 1967. A third location was added in La Mirada in 1989, which can be seen from the north-bound 5 freeway. Bowls of peanuts are placed on each table and signs encourage patrons to festively “Throw Peanut Shells on the Floor”. The menu is standard surf & turf with enormous portions, and this would be a place to come to order a steak as big as your face. A reasonably priced Happy Hour is held in the cool and woodsy bar area, with discounts on both drinks and certain appetizers. Celebrated for their cheese bread and cabbage salad, these may be the only menu items, besides a few other appetizers, that your vegetarian friends will be willing to eat.

North Woods Inn San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Clearman’s North Woods Inn, San Gabriel (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

North Woods Inn Locations:

7247 Rosemead Blvd., San Gabriel, CA 91775; (626) 286-3579.

540 N Azusa Ave., Covina, CA 91723; (626) 331-7444.

14305 Firestone Blvd., La Mirada, CA 90638; (714) 739-0331.

Clearman’s North Woods Inn

The Proud Bird (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Proud Bird (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Perhaps you are more interested in getting lessons in aviation history while having a boozy Sunday brunch? The Proud Bird, opened in 1965 and located directly under the flight path of planes arriving and departing from LAX airport, is fun for all ages. While watching the planes fly overhead you can peruse at least a dozen life-size models of historical airplanes strewn throughout the exterior grounds. Inside, display cases pay tribute to famous pilots and are jam-packed with interesting airplane memorabilia. Again you will find a typical surf & turf menu, but the all-you-can-eat Champagne Sunday Brunch, held also on holidays, is probably the way to go. The bar inside also holds a Happy Hour with discounted food and drink prices to have an easy excuse to visit this remarkable vintage restaurant.

Aviation memorabilia at The Proud Bird (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Aviation memorabilia at The Proud Bird (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Proud Bird: 11022 Aviation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045. (310) 670-3093.

The Proud Bird

*Sunday Brunch is held weekly from 9am-3pm.

*Happy Hour is held weekdays from 4-7pm.

Pinocchio Italian Restaurant in Burbank (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Pinocchio Italian Restaurant in Burbank (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Right in the heart of Burbank is a most endearing puppet-themed family restaurant opened in 1971. Old-school Italian American food, ordered from a central counter, cafeteria-style, makes this a casual, yet fun experience. Pinocchio Restaurant has red leather booths, checked table cloths, mid-century tchotchkes and Pinocchio puppets displayed throughout. The attached Monte Carlo Deli sells authentic Italian products, many of which are hard to find west of Ohio. Wine is for sale by the bottle, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. The food may not win any awards, but the fun environment and inexpensive prices are the draw.

Puppets at Pinocchio's (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Puppets at Pinocchio’s (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Pinocchio Italian Restaurant & Monte Carlo Deli: 3103 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. (818) 845-3516.

Pinocchio Italian Restaurant


The Bear Pit (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Bear Pit (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)






If you’re looking for traditional barbeque that seems to harken back to another time and place, visit The Bear Pit in Mission Hills. This vintage restaurant has been in business since the 1940s, but moved to this location from Newhall in 1954 when country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford was its original endorser in ads. With saw dust on the floors, wagon wheel-shaped light fixtures, wooden beamed ceilings and kitschy paintings of friendly bears parading across the walls, its a cozy throwback to long ago. Its menu is obviously meat-centric with the standard BBQ side options: baked beans, coleslaw, fries and their much lauded garlic bread.

The Bear Pit (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Bear Pit (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

The Bear Pit: 10825 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91345; (818) 365-2500.

The Bear Pit



Nikki Kreuzer

About Nikki Kreuzer

Nikki Kreuzer has been a Los Angeles resident for over 30 years. When not working her day job in the film & TV industry, she spends her time over many obsessions, mainly music, art and exploring & photographing the oddities of the city she adores. So far she has written 110 Offbeat L.A. articles, published at the Los Angeles Beat. As a journalist she contributes regularly to LA Weekly, Blurred Culture and has also been published by, Twist Magazine, Strobe and Not For Hire. Nikki is also a mosaic artist, radio DJ and published photographer. Her photography has been featured in exhibit at the Museum of Neon Art, in print at the LA Weekly and in exhibit at the Neutra Museum in Los Angeles. She has recorded with the band Nikki & Candy as bassist, vocalist and songwriter, directing and appearing in the 'Sunshine Sunshine Santa Claus' music video for the band. She co-hosted the monthly radio show Bubblegum & Other Delights on for over two years. Her acting credits include a recent role in the ABC-TV show 'For The People', 'Incident at Guilt Ridge', 'Two and a Half Men', the film 'Minority Report' and 'Offbeat L.A.', a web series, written and hosted by Nikki Kreuzer. Her writing, radio and video portfolio can be found at, her photography work @Lunabeat on Instagram and her music history posts @NikkiKreuzer on Twitter. Find Nikki & Candy music on iTunes or Amazon.
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5 Responses to Offbeat L.A.: It’s Not About the Food – Kitschy Cool & Retro Local Theme Restaurants

  1. The homemade tortellini and lasagne at Pinocchio’s would win my awards. I’ve always wondered about North Woods.

  2. I thought the Proud Bird had closed!

    • Rick Ewald says:

      I thought so to, but there are Yelp reviews from last week.

    • Moxie says:

      The Proud Bird is still open! 🙂 They struck a deal back in Jan. I think. (I had my birthday lunch there this year) Such an awesome place! Love it. 🙂

  3. Ivor Levene Ivor Levene says:

    The Proud Bird was packed to the gills when the Space Shuttle was flown into LAX. People had booked months in advance. Another great post Nikki!

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