It’s no secret LA loves a good theme. After all, we invented the tiki bar and our most-visited attraction is a mall with fake snowstorms during the holidays. And that’s to say nothing of a little place called Disneyland. These places are ingrained into our city’s culture, and because of that, we’ve trained ourselves to believe that any place with even the slightest motif has been manufactured for our enjoyment. And for the most part, it has been.
Which is why The Old Place, a saloon/restaurant in the Santa Monica Mountains, feels so special. During the late 1800s, it was a general store and post office, so its dusty, dimly lit bar isn’t some set piece from an old Western. In the 1970s, it was a blue-collar clubhouse for local outdoorsmen and outlaw celebs like Steve McQueen, so its denim-clad clientele aren’t underpaid actors in rental costumes. Everything here is real, and when you add in the high level of food coming out of the kitchen, it’s an experience everyone really needs to have at least once.
Whatever time you plan on eating at The Old Place (it’s open for lunch and dinner on the weekends), plan to arrive at least an hour early to check out the surrounding town of Cornell. There’s an antique store selling Italian limestone fountains, a coffee shop built into the back of a farm truck, and merchant tables lining the sidewalk. Needless to say, it’s a joyously strange place. But where you’ll want to spend the majority of your time is at Cornell Winery & Tasting Room, directly next to The Old Place. Grabbing a few glasses of Malibu-grown wines inside this giant barn while you wait for your table is one of the great dinner-and-a-drink combinations in LA. When your name is finally called - with new friendships intact and chardonnay coursing through your veins - you’ll already be sold on this whole experience... and you haven’t even had dinner yet.
But hold tight, the best is still to come.
Even if the majority of The Old Place’s comfort food-laden menu was merely passable, we’d still come here simply for the escape. The fact that everything goes toe-to-toe with the best comfort food spots in LA makes this tiny roadhouse a place you escape to - and never want to return from. Whether it’s chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes, bleu cheese potato salad, or an oak-grilled 18 oz. ribeye that puts every La Cienega steakhouse to shame, this is food that sticks to your ribs and your soul. We’ve woken up several nights in a row craving their noodle and cheese bake (basically the greatest mac and cheese in existence) and have drifted off mid-conversation because mentally, we’re back at The Old Place’s wooden bar, staring at a giant cheese-covered mushroom skillet, listening to a guy play Creedence Clearwater Revival on a banjo, in a room that looks like the first level of Westworld.
That scene is the very definition of an Old Place experience, and it’s one that simply doesn’t exist in LA proper (and if it does, it’s at Universal CityWalk). But why pay for something manufactured when you can drive to the Santa Monica Mountains to experience the real thing? Authenticity is a much more enjoyable theme anyway.
This is The Old Place’s version of a mac and cheese, and frankly, it’s one of the best we’ve ever eaten. Thick egg noodles baked with a creamy mixture of goat cheese, parmesan, and mozzarella - don’t even attempt to take this down yourself. Experience it with your friends, and then again tomorrow for leftovers.
If you come to The Old Place for lunch, you’ll basically find their dinner entrees served in sandwich form. They’re all very good, but our favorite is definitely the steak. Oak-grilled sirloin topped with onions and bleu-cheese mayo on sourdough. It’s a simple, perfectly balanced sandwich, and one that’ll certainly help soak up that wine safari you just went on.
A dusty saloon in the mountains might be a spot you’re inclined to file under “skip the seafood,” but at The Old Place, that would be a mistake. Featuring fresh clams bathing in a butter and wine sauce, it’s one of the oldest dishes on the menu, and you can understand why they’ve kept it on the menu this whole time.
Do you need a giant skillet of mac and cheese and a giant skillet of mushrooms with baked cheese on top? Yes, you do.
There’s no other way to say it, this thing is an undertaking. If you’re with a big group, definitely order it, because it’s fantastic. Otherwise, hold off so you’ll better appreciate the incredible steak that’s coming your way.
LA might not be known as a steak town, but The Old Place definitely has something to say about that. Plain and simple, this is a Top 5 SoCal steak, and considering the gigantic loaded baked potato that comes with it, its $65 price tag is very fair.
Even if you’ve fully slipped into a food blackout at this point, find a way to get this dish on the table. It’s essentially an apple pie, but way better than the one you eat at Thanksgiving, and the hand-whipped cream on top is excellent.