Spencer’s Restaurant – Palm Springs, California

Dean Beck: What do you have against preachers? Clay Spencer: It’s what they preach against I’m against. Dean Beck: I’m afraid I don’t understand? Clay Spencer: They’re against everything I’m for. They don’t allow drinkin’ or smokin’, card playin’, pool shootin’, dancin’, cussin’ – or huggin’, kissin’ and lovin’. And mister, I’m for all of them things. ~Spencer’s Mountain In the family-centric 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain, hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’ Clay Spencer (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda) dreamed of building his wife…

Cheeky’s – Palm Springs, California

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is widely credited with the aphorism “England and the United States are two nations divided by a common language.” My Kim and I had no idea just how different the Queen’s English is from the English spoken by the colonists until we were assigned to Royal Air Force Fairford. As part of the newcomers orientation, we were required to attend a course in which those vast differences were explained. Many of those differences were rather…

Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – Palm Springs, California

Not everyone appreciated my friend Bob’s stark honesty as much as I did. For nearly twelve years, Bob was my most trusted source for information on the Santa Fe dining scene. He was also a huge advocate for my writing, even when his reaction to one of my particularly “long way around” missives was “what?.” From a style perspective, he was a “get to the point” guy while your humble blogger sometimes (okay, okay, always) takes a circuitous, raconteur’s route…

Lulu California Bistro – Palm Springs, California

How many times have you heard a transplant to the Land of Enchantment say it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow? Some of you expats dream of a white Christmas, just like the ones you used to know back when you lived in Siberia, the North Pole, Greenland and other similarly snowed-in states that aren’t as beautifully balmy in winter as is New Mexico. It’s not enough for you that winter temperatures across the Land of Enchantment occasionally drop…

Jake’s – Palm Springs, California

“Now i lay me down to sleep And pray the Lord my soul to keep If i die before i wake, feed Jake He’s been a good dog My best friend right through it all If i die before i wake, feed Jake.” ~Pirates of the Mississippi “On one hand,” my Kim tells me, “you’d make a great politician.” “You maintain a perfect deadpan expression while telling the biggest whoppers.” She had just watched me convince a gullible millennial that…

Geoffrey’s Malibu – Malibu, California

The walls at Geoffrey’s Malibu are festooned with copies of whimsical framed “doodles” created by Hollywood celebrities and movie stars who have dined at the posh seaside restaurant. Most are tongue-in-cheek self-portraits which probably speak volumes about the glitterati themselves–and not just whether they lack or are blessed with an artistic talent beyond their particular medium. Thematically, all the portraits include a heart. That’s because Harvey Baskin, the restaurant’s previous owner asked the artists to donate originals for publication and…

La Super Rica Taqueria – Santa Barbara, California

Truly legendary restaurants, those which can legitimately be called institutions–and there are very few of them–don’t just inspire return visits; they inspire pilgrimages. Institutions have generally stood the test of time by remaining consistent over time, thriving even against the onslaught of more polished and pristine interlopers. Institutions are beloved beyond the communities they serve, their fame and acclaim growing with each satisfied visitor, many of whom make pilgrimages from hundreds of miles away. One restaurant which has earned the…

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

“I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.” ~George Costanza January 14th has been designated “National Hot Pastrami Sandwich day.” The fact that a day has been designated to honor the greatness of the “most sensual of all the salted and cured meats” is wholly unnecessary for many of us. True pastrami paramours in the mold of Dagwood Bumstead, Shaggy Rogers, Joey Tribbiani and my friend Bill Resnik, don’t need a special reason or designated day to…

Opal Restaurant and Bar – Santa Barbara, California

We’re all familiar with premise of Iron Chef America in which accomplished chefs are pitted against the veritable pantheon of culinary giants who have earned the title of Iron Chef. Can you imagine if one of the vaunted Iron Chefs, or even one of the challengers for that matter, failed to present the judges a variety of ways in which the “secret ingredient” is used? How, for example, would the oft-haughty judges react if during “battle rice” Iron Chef Morimoto…

Trattoria Mollie – Montecito, California

In its three best-selling editions–published in 2006, 2008 and 2012–National Geographic’s “Passport to the Best” has enthralled, excited and educated connoisseurs of matters of taste across the globe. With top ten lists in dozens of categories studded with savvy tips and inspiring imagery, this wayfarer’s bible invigorates investigative yearnings for exotic travel, if for nothing else to confirm or refute the opinion of the authors. Still, when the “Passport to the Best” recognized Trattoria Mollie in Montecito, California as “one…

Cafe Chloe – San Diego, California

From your seat on the sidewalk patio of Café Chloe, you can see Petco Park, the open-air home of the San Diego Padres. You’ll have a front row view of a veritable cavalcade of motorized and foot-powered conveyances—from swanky Maseratis to sleek inline skates. Passers-by on foot include some of the city’s most downtrodden as well as its captains of industry. As you take in your surroundings in the cozy, urban neighborhood café and wine bar in San Diego’s chic…

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar – La Jolla, California

My baby sister Anita paid me the ultimate compliment, not as a brother, but as a savvy restaurant essayist. When we ran into her at the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar in picturesque La Jolla, she told me “I knew you’d find this place,” acknowledgement that she recognizes my prowess in finding the very best restaurants everywhere I travel. Born nine years apart with four siblings in between, Anita and I are anomalies in our family in that we’re passionate gastronomes…

Phil’s BBQ Restaurant – San Diego, California

A few decades ago, the culinary cognoscenti anointed the best bastions of bodacious barbecue–Kansas City, Memphis, Texas and the Carolinas…and there was much rejoicing. Since then, it’s been widely accepted that this exclusive quadrumvirate is where the very best barbecue in America is to be found. Much of this acceptance is because the four regions have deployed their marketing machines to continue reenforcing the notion–some would say myth–that their barbecue is sacrosanct and evermore defines barbecue greatness. There were a…

El Agave Restaurante and Tequileria – San Diego, California

Tequila has long endured a legacy of scorn, derision and misinformation.  It’s  been a proving ground for manhood among frat boys downing shooters to show their mettle.  Urban myths and legends have long been believed of hallucinogenic worms at the bottom of the bottle.  Because of “ta-kill-ya” induced hangovers (usually the result of poor quality tequila), men with iron-cast constitutions have been known to swear off hard liquor.  With such a reputation, it’s no wonder tequila hasn’t been thought of as…

Piatti Ristorante & Bar – La Jolla, California

A tavola non si invecchia. Translation: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old. ~ Italian Proverb While this timeless Italian dictum which our friend Sandy Driscoll shared with us resounds with sagacity, a little editing might make it even more accurate for Americans.  Perhaps the proverb should read “At the table with good friends and family, you do not become thin.”  That’s especially true if you’re eating at American Italian restaurants whose profligate portions…