Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes

The first inhabitants of the Palos Verdes peninsula were the Tongva-Gabrieliño Native American people. It is believed that they settled the land there almost 8,000 years ago. While they first made contact with Europeans in 1542, The Tongva people continued to reside on the peninsula until the 1800s when they were forced from their land and relocated to nearby missions.  Rancho de los Palos Verdes, or “ranch of the green sticks,” was subsequently passed between Spanish, Mexican and American owners until it was finally sold to Jotham Bixby in the early 1880s.

In 1913, a group of wealthy investors led by Frank Vanderlip purchased 25 square miles of Rancho Palos Verdes from Bixby for $1.5 million. Vanderlip then brought on the Olmsted Brothers — sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, most famous for his landscape design of Central Park in New York City — to design his new coastal paradise into a subdivision. Within 10 years, Palos Verdes Estates was opened to the public. In their planning, the Olmsted Brothers made sure to dedicate a quarter of the land to permanent open space, which is just part of what makes Palos Verdes such an ideal and beautiful place to live today. Nearby Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates were also formed with the intention of conserving as much natural landscape as possible.

Because of the large open spaces throughout Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes, there are few businesses that have made their home here. Those that have, though, have quite the stories to tell.

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The Original Red Onion Restaurant

The food at the Original Red Onion in Palos Verdes is based on the recipes of owner Jeff Earle’s great grandmother, Catalina Castillo. She started the family’s tradition in the restaurant business over 100 years ago when she would make meals for mine workers in her hometown of Sonora, Mexico. Some of her signature dishes still on the menu today include the Carne Ortega, Chicken Mole and Shrimp La Paz.

Jeff Earle’s grandfather, Harry Earle, and his two sons, Bart (Jeff’s father) and Don Earle, opened the first Original Red Onion in Inglewood in 1949. This first location had only 19 seats and soon the restaurant’s popularity forced the Earles to expand. Indeed, the craze caught on and throughout the next few decades, Red Onion locations were sprouting up all across Southern California. Today there are still a few other Red Onion restaurants scattered about the Southland, but only the Palos Verdes location, opened in August of 1963, still exists under the ownership of the Earles. When all the other locations were sold to Host International Company in 1973, Bart Earle decided to keep the one in Palos Verdes as it was his favorite. Today, the walls at the restaurant are lined with mementos and photographs from the old slew of restaurants.

The Original Red Onion Restaurant: 736 Silver Spur Rd., (310) 377-5660


Admiral Risty

Ralph Wood Jr. and his wife Risty opened The Admiral Risty in 1966. The Woods were not new to the restaurant business by any means. When they opened Admiral Risty, their burger chain, Woody’s Smorgasburger, was at the height of its popularity. Admiral Risty, however, was their first foray into fine dining. The design of the new restaurant was inspired by other popular steak houses that were opening across the country at this time.

Current owner Wayne Judah started working at the Risty in 1969. At the time he was an Army sergeant stationed at nearby Fort MacArthur.  He was set to be discharged in just two days and was desperate to find a job. After sending out applications all across the South Bay, he finally got a call that night from the Admiral Risty asking him to come down that very evening. He worked that night as a bartender and by the end of his first shift he was hired full-time. Throughout the years, he worked his way up to become the restaurant’s manager and years later when Wood was looking to sell, Judah jumped at the chance.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Admiral Risty and they are celebrating with $50 gift certificate giveaways every week. Judah for one has no plans to close the restaurant anytime soon and hopes to see the Risty reach its 75th and perhaps 100th anniversary someday.

Admiral Risty31250 Palos Verdes Dr., (310) 377-0050

Admiral Risty

Photo: Cristina Abellana

Nelson’s at Terranea Oceanfront Resort

In 1954, Marineland of the Pacific opened in Palos Verdes. It was a popular theme park and at the time, the largest oceanarium in the world. Marineland boasted massive aquariums, new and exciting attractions and high tech research facilities. While the more famous Disneyland opened a year later in Anaheim, Marineland is considered by many to be California’s first major theme park. Unfortunately, with the stiff competition of Disneyland, the park closed in 1987.

Just about ten years later, in 1998, Lowe Enterprises purchased the land and began a ten-year development project to build Terranea Resort. Terranea is now a staple of Rancho Palos Verdes — not only due to its size, but also because of the array of fabulous restaurants that attract visitors and locals alike. In total, there are eight restaurants at Terranea, perhaps one of the most popular of which is Nelson’s. Fittingly, the restaurant got its name from Mike Nelson, a character in the 1950s TV series Sea Hunt, which was filmed almost exclusively at Marineland. The food at Nelson’s is classic California seafood cuisine, but more than the delicious dishes, visitors come to Nelson’s for the view. Request a seat on the patio and you can enjoy brunch, lunch and dinner while taking in the majestic view of nearby Catalina Island.

Nelson’s at Terranea Oceanfront Resort100 Terranea Way, (310) 265-2702

Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant

Carlos Borrelli migrated to Los Angeles in 1962 from the small island of Ischia, Italy near the city of Naples. He soon began working in the kitchen of Borelli’s, a small Italian restaurant in Torrance owned by his brother. In 1999, Carlos was inspired by his experience to open his own restaurant with his eldest son Giorgio. He opened it in Palos Verdes and so as not to be confused with Borelli’s, he called it Giorgio’s.

Giorgio started working with his father at his uncle’s restaurant at a very young age, doing small jobs like washing dishes and bussing tables. His father’s passion for the restaurant business inspired his own and when he turned 18 he decided to go to culinary school at Orange Coast College. He and his father together opened Giorgio’s in 1999. The food at Giorgio’s was inspired by the small island of Ischia and featured classic Southern Italian dishes, homemade with love. Giorgio and Carlo ran the restaurant together successfully for just over 11 years until a kitchen fire burned the restaurant down in 2010.

Today, Giorgio Borelli runs the new location of Giorgio’s in Palos Verdes, which he opened in 2013 just a few blocks from the original restaurant. Unlike the old Giorgio’s, which was big and boisterous, the new Giorgio’s is small and intimate, the perfect place to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and even proposals. It is so romantic in fact that Giorgio himself met his wife at the restaurant when she came in to celebrate her birthday.

Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant777 Deep Valley Dr., (310) 541-2600

Giorgios Italian Restaurant

Photo: Julie Lee, Garden Grove

Café Pacific at Trump National Golf Course

Before Donald Trump ran for president, he was perhaps best known for his many business ventures. One of those happens to be the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes. And while Trump has owned and run the club since 2006, the venue itself has a rich and tumultuous history that spans over 60 years.

In the 1950s, the property along the Pacific coast was mainly used as farmlands, however with its spectacular views and beautiful weather, it wasn’t going to remain as such for long. In 1953, a man by the name of Edward Zuckerman bought up 150 acres of land along the Palos Verdes Peninsula with plans to develop it into a residential neighborhood. However, twenty years later, his plans fell to the wayside due to continuous community opposition. The next man to try his hand at developing the land was Bryan Hon, a land developer by trade who partnered with the Zuckerman family in 1989. This time they planned to build a golf course, which would include a residential area. After a few revisions, the new Ocean Trails Golf Club was approved and in March of 1999, the club was opened and introduced to a nationally televised audience via the Celebrity Golf Tournament. In another bout of bad luck, less than three months later, on the exact date that the 18-hole course was set to be opened, a landslide demolished the 18th hole. Nevertheless, the course re-opened in 2000.

Two years later, the Ocean Trails Golf Club was purchased by Donald Trump who immediately closed the course and commenced his renovations. In 2006, the Trump National Golf Club was officially opened. Today, there are two restaurants at the Trump Golf Club. The more well known of the two is Café Pacific, which is run by Executive Chef Jean Pierre-Vincent.  At Café Pacific, Vincent brings upscale Mediterranean-influenced cuisine to the Palos Verdes coast. Signature dishes like Trump’s Famous Calamari are best enjoyed with a window seat, where you can enjoy lovely views of the Pacific Ocean. As the website proclaims, the restaurant offers “world-class dining, breathtaking ocean views, an exceptional wine list, and service you would expect with a name like Trump.”

Café Pacific at Trump National Golf Course: 1 Ocean Trails Dr., (310) 303-3260

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