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IN MEMORY OF ARNOLD’S RESTAURANT, MY 2006 OC WEEKLY REVIEW, TITLED: ‘DID YOU TAKE YOUR PILL?’

May 12, 2010 3 comments

ARNOLD'S RESTAURANT (1951-2010)

PUBLISHED DEC. 7, 2006 / OC WEEKLY

Kids 12 and under eat free—one with each paying adult—on Mondays at Arnold’s Buffet Restaurant in Long Beach. It’s a marketing strategy intended to whet young appetites for the dying experience known as cafeteria dining. But today is Wednesday, and the customers sliding their trays along the rail for the daily early bird special—20 percent off between 4 and 5 p.m.—are all old coots.

Somehow, that feels right, like another element of authentic ambiance in a restaurant as saturated with unintended kitsch as your still-alive-and-kickin’ great-grandmother’s house. It’s been 55 years since Miles Arnold opened this cafeteria in the country-club-adjacent Bixby Knolls district—in those days, an event about as startling as the arrival of a new sushi bar, taco joint or Olive Garden restaurant is today . . . cafeterias were that popular. All these years later, the place is still in the family, now run by Arnold’s nephew, Mike Johnson.

If you don’t like marking that march of time in the wrinkling faces of the clientele, then check out the florally papered walls, which are hung with an ever-extending collection of blue Franklin Mint plates honoring U.S. presidents. Or how about the building itself? From the outside it’s as charmingly cliched as a Thomas Kincaid, and obviously meticulously maintained over the years. Inside, however, its various updates and remodels are obvious, too, and each expansion and redecoration is a reminder of the many changes in taste over the years. The overarching intent is colonial, but within that framework exist tucked-and-rolled red leather booths, Tiffany lamps, a collection of lighthouse paintings and figurines, earth-toned tile in the men’s restroom . . . it goes on and on, eventually circling back to one of the customers, an old, off-duty Elvis impersonator, who this evening was wearing a Dallas Cowboys sweat suit—and who never drew a second look. READ THE ENTIRE REVIEW AT OCWEEKLY.COM