Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Hermosa Beach | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Hermosa Beach
Before the early 1900s, Hermosa Beach (‘Beautiful’ Beach in Spanish) wasn’t much more than rolling green hills and crop fields. The iconic beach boardwalk was built in 1901 of wood, to later be filled in with concrete. The first pier was constructed a few years later in 1904, also made of wood. The incredible structure jutted out 500 feet into the ocean and stood like that, creaking in the wind until it eventually collapsed in 1913. The replacement was made of concrete and asphalt and was twice as long, reaching 1,000 feet past the beach. While there have been a few adjustments throughout the years, the same pier still stands today.
In 1907, Hermosa Beach became the 19th incorporated city of Los Angeles County. Toward the middle of the century, the Pacific Railway’s Red Car trolley began running, carting visitors and locals alike up and down the coast from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach. The trolley ran the entire length of Hermosa Avenue and was a key driver of tourism for the area. At that time, Hermosa was the quintessential beach town – the type where young dudes and dudettes would walk the main street in their swimsuits, surfboards in tow.
While an influx of young college graduates and big developers has led Hermosa to lose some of its small town charm in recent years, there is still plenty to the beach city that harkens back to the old days. And while new clubs, bars and chain restaurants have forced many of the old Hermosa haunts to shut their doors, there are still a few classics standing today.
Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen
Often celebrated as the “first authentic Italian market and deli in the South Bay,” Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen first opened its doors in 1953. Then-owner Michael Angelo “Mickey” Mance was just 22 and fresh out of the Korean War when he used his life savings of $2,000 and a small loan from his father to open his very own deli just a stone’s throw from Hermosa Beach. The Mance family’s secret pasta sauce recipe - which today they bottle and sell – quickly drew the interest of local surfers and soon Mickey’s was a Hermosa favorite. While this neighborhood joint only sold pizza back in 1953, today Mance’s son Paul and his amazing kitchen staff are serving up everything from meatball subs to beef lasagna. With a small convenience store in the take out area, this classic Italian deli is the perfect place for beach visitors to pick up a sandwich for the road with a side of SPF 30.
Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen: 101 Hermosa Avenue, (310) 376-2330
Quentin “Boots” Thelen first opened The Mermaid in 1954. For almost 60 years, the bar served as a watering hole for local businessmen and blue-collar workers. The restaurant was mainly a dive bar, but also served breakfast, lunch and dinner to hungry beachgoers. After Thelen’s death, high property taxes forced his family to sell the restaurant. It sat on the market for almost six years when Strand Pier Holding Company finally purchased it in 2013. When it was given over to the Killer Shrimp restaurant chain to run, many feared it would become another victim of the quickly developing Pier Avenue. However, the new owners felt that history should be preserved and decided to keep The Mermaid alive.
After some slight renovations, much of The Mermaid still remains the same – in fact, bartenders and servers say the main difference is that they no longer serve breakfast. Unlike most of the raging clubs and bars that line Pier Avenue, The Mermaid is a classic blue-collar dive bar. The lights are dimmed and the music low and while they serve specialty cocktails, most of the bar’s patrons can be found sipping on draft beers.
The Mermaid: 11 Pier Avenue, (310) 374-9344
Rosa and Armando Pérez immigrated to the US in 1966 from Michoacán, Mexico. Armando had spend his childhood doing odd-jobs to make money for his family, while Rosa, the daughter of a grocery store owner, spent her early years in the family kitchen. After moving together to Southern California, Rosa went to work with her sister, Celia Paloma, at El Tarasco restaurant. This was where she first learned to cope with a fast-paced restaurant kitchen and where she first began to dream of owning her own. Her sister encouraged her to follow that dream and in 1973, she found Rosa’s. She knew immediately that this little roadside shack was the perfect place as it just so happened to already be named Rosa’s after its former owner.
The restaurant wasn’t immediately a success, but Rosa persisted, going so far as to put flyers on cars parked along the Pacific Coast Highway. Eventually, with sweat and tears and delicious Mexican cuisine, the clientele grew and by the late ‘70s the Pérezes had saved enough to purchase the building that the restaurant was in and expand.
Located just off the PCH, dining at this beautiful restaurante feels like a meal at a small café in a Mexican town square. Painted arches and false ocean views on bright yellow walls give the feeling of a tropical resort. The secret to Rosa’s success is the fresh ingredients used, and of course the family recipes that they’re put into. While the Pérezes retired in 2010, the current owners are keeping the tradition alive by serving up the same recipes that have been used since 1973 – in fact, they have even kept on the same chef who has been there since the very beginning.
Rosa’s Restaurant: 322 Pacific Coast Highway, (310) 374-9094
The Lighthouse Café
The Lighthouse Café could easily be considered the most famous of all the restaurants and bars on this list. In fact, this legendary music club even has a documentary about it called Jazz on the West Coast: The Lighthouse. First opened in 1940, The Lighthouse was just a regular beach bar, serving up beer and liquor to Hermosa locals. That is until May of 1949, when a man named Howard Rumsey decided to stop in and ask then-owner John Levine if he could play some music there sometime. While Levine resisted at first, he eventually agreed to let Rumsey do a trial concert, expecting it to be a flop. Determined to prove him wrong, Rumsey went out and hired the loudest and most rambunctious jazz band he could find to play that night. The band began to play and by the end of the night, the place was packed. Levine quickly saw the potential and gave Rumsey a weekly gig.
It wasn’t long before The Lighthouse became one of the most prominent jazz clubs in all of Southern California. Among the musicians to play there during the venue’s heyday of the ‘50s and ‘60s were Gerry Mulligan and Miles Davis. Rumsey went on to establish the restaurant’s house band, the Lighthouse All-Stars. At the time, people would come from all across Los Angeles to see the All-Stars and there was a rarely a night that the Lighthouse Café wasn’t full to capacity.
As the jazz age began to die out, The Lighthouse lived on. Live music is still played there almost nightly, but now they feature all kinds of music from pop punk to reggae. If you come for the music, you will stay for the food. The classic bar menu is full of delicious tacos and burgers and unique dishes like the Tachos – tater tots topped in cheese, meat, beans and salsa.
The Lighthouse Café: 30 Pier Avenue, (310) 376-9833
Established in 1977, The Spot was one of the first vegetarian and health food restaurants in Los Angeles and is the oldest one still standing. In the ‘70s, current owner Tonya Beaudet was a frequent customer and when it went on sale in 1980, she decided to take a leap and buy it for herself. Beaudet is still serving up all natural, organic, raw, vegan and vegetarian dishes to her loyal patrons. Unlike many health food restaurants across LA, the food here isn’t dainty, but instead deliciously hearty and filling. Dishes like the Super Burrito and Tamale Combo Plate would leave any carnivore satisfied.
Perhaps the most famous dish on the menu is the Spot Burger. This veggie burger was added to the menu in 1982, just two years after the very first veggie burger was developed in London. It was this very burger that was featured on the Travel Channel in 2010.
The Spot: 110 2nd Street, (310) 376-2355
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