When my husband and I first moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1978 we quickly adopted Cal Islands as our “special occasion” restaurant.
It was a magical place with fish tanks, a water wheel, bunnies munching on the lawn outside the restaurant windows and an exceptional salad bar. I always ordered the stuffed red snapper.
Sadly, in the early 2000s, Cal Islands was closed and bulldozed. A shopping center and gas station now sit in its place.
So many of the restaurants I knew and loved, Tony Roma’s (now Mimi’s Cafe), Blue Moon (bulldozed), TimTom’s (now Burrito Factory) and Tip’s, are all gone.
Tragically Big Oaks Lodge burned to the ground Aug. 11, 2018.
However, a surprising number of “historic” SCV eateries remain. Make a date with history and sample the fare at any of these remaining landmarks.
The Original Saugus Cafe
25861 Railroad Ave., Santa Clarita
Established: Between 1888-1890
The oldest eatery in Los Angeles County makes excellent eggs benedict. The burgers and fries are pretty good, too.
The restaurant was originally named Tolfree’s Eating House, and was located across the street, next to the Saugus train depot, at the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Drayton Street.
The restaurant moved across the street in 1905 and to its current location in 1952.
President Theodore Roosevelt stopped by in May of 1903, dining on a special New York steak.
Hollywood legends who have reportedly visited the Saugus Cafe include Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Tom Mix, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Ford, D.W. Griffith, Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson and William S. Hart.
The cast of CSI, as well as Drew Barrymore and Whoopi Goldberg, have filmed there. Marlene Dietrich filmed “Seven Sinners” (1938), behind the restaurant.
For more history of the Saugus Café, visit scvhistory.com/scvhistory/hg5701.htm
The Rock Inn
17539 Elizabeth Lake Road, Lake Hughes
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner is served at the Rock Inn. The burgers are excellent, as is the live entertainment.
Built from rock quarried in the Lake Hughes area in 1929 and named the Lake Hughes Trading Post, it served as store, post office and hotel.
For more information on its history, visit scvhistory.com/scvhistory/lw2391a.htm
Halfway House Cafe
15564 Sierra Highway, Saugus
Try Halfway’s Special Chicken Salad or the Western Bacon Cheeseburger.
The Halfway House Cafe got its name from its location halfway between Los Angeles and Palmdale. It began as a trading post in 1906.
The Halfway House Café has been a popular filming location since the 1930s. Clint Eastwood filmed a scene there for “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986).
Just a few years ago, it seemed that the Halfway House Cafe was in half the commercials and television shows on the air. Among the cafe’s most famous commercial appearances are the 2014 Geico motorcycle insurance “Diner” commercial, and the iconic 1991 Pepsi commercial featuring Cindy Crawford.
Other film credits include “Heroes,” “Melrose Place,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Numbers,” “CSI,” “ER,” “The King of Queens,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Monk,” “Space Cowboys,” “Lost in America,” Waitress,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Every Which Way But Loose.”
For more history about the Halfway House Café, visit archive.signalscv.com/archives/19445
Le Chene French Cuisine
12625 Sierra Highway, Agua Dulce
While Le Chene is merely celebrating its 39th anniversary, the building that houses the charming French restaurant has a wonderful history that dates back to 1923 when the owners of The Oaks Garage (established 1917) hired a contractor (using a horse and wagon) to haul river stones from Big Rock Creek, south of Pearblossom to construct a cafe.
The trip took two days to complete in each direction. The stones gave the building a castle-like appearance. If one were to look, postcards of that time refer to it as the Castle Oaks Garage and Cafe.
In the 1950s, Le Chene was a destination for celebrities, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) and Jane Wyman. Mickey Cohan, the crime boss, was said to have conducted business while dining at The Oaks Cafe. Clark Gable would park his motorbike out front while he ate.
Current owner Juan Alonso purchased the building in 1981, and made improvements including landscaping that included a wooden waterwheel and lush foliage to create a romantic restaurant escape.
For more information on the history of Le Chene and The Oaks Garage, visit scvhistory.com/scvhistory/ja1601.htm
Chi Chi’s Pizza
23043 Soledad Canyon Road, Saugus and
27117 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country
Established: 1967 in SCV
Don’t let the name fool you. Chi Chi’s Pizza is much more than pizza. The restaurant offers pasta, sandwiches, seafood and more.
Try the restaurant’s signature “Our Famous Golden Pressure Fried Chicken,” a best-seller at the Saugus location. Order the sourdough rolls. Trust me, you won’t regret it, but you might find you have a new dining addiction.
Frank Paul Miccolis, a first-generation Italian-American, opened his first Chi Chi’s restaurant in Panorama City in 1958. In less than a decade, he opened other locations in Saugus and Simi Valley. The Canyon Country location opened in 2000.
The chain, now 61 years old, is run by the founder’s son, Paul Miccolis.
When Chi Chi’s opened in Saugus there were few homes, just onion fields. However, the master planned community of Valencia was underway and tracks of new homes, soon followed.
For more history, visit www.chichispizza.com/our-story
17846 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country
This is a wonderful, old-time steakhouse with sawdust on the floors. They are famous (locally) for their stuffed baked potato.
Jerry Woods, first opened Backwoods Inn in 1966. In 1968, Bob and Rose Ohler purchased the restaurant and the family still runs the eatery.
A fun fact is that the china at the Backwoods Inn is Strawberry Hill by Syracuse, the same china used at Musso & Frank’s Restaurant in Hollywood.
The restaurant has been used for location shoots for “Charlie’s Angels (the original), “Starsky & Hutch,” “The Profiler” and “Criminal Minds,” among others.
Famous faces dining there include Mandy Patinkin, James Garner, David Hasslehoff, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Dale Robertson, Tippie Hedren, Yvonne DeCarlo, James Earl Jones, Gene Hackman, Bella Shaw, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lorne Green, Monty Montana, Dwayne Johnson and Bob Barker.