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Chips in Hawthorne

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Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.

My breakfast binge continues, this time at Chips, a classic diner in Hawthorne. The truth is, I chose this place based on looks alone. Designed in the ‘50s, it’s one of an endangered group of L.A.-area coffee shops showcasing vintage Googie architecture, with classic features like a tilted roof, lots of plate glass, and its soaring, steel-beam sign. That was enough to sell a gal like me -- who loves all things mid-century -- on a visit. Besides, I figured a diner that looks so cool had a good chance of serving decent food too.

The interior décor stays pretty true to Chips’ roots with pink vinyl booths, aqua counter stools, and the building’s original exposed stone wall. There are some fun decorative pieces around the restaurant too, like an old-fashioned cash register, a Mobil gas pump-turned gumball machine, and a ‘40s radio -- though the oldies playing in the background (a nice touch!) are actually piping through a more updated stereo system.

If we could end here, with the cool architecture and kitschy décor, Chips would pass with flying pastel colors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

My husband and I show up mid-morning on a Sunday, and find the place about two-thirds full with lots of couples and big families. By the time we leave, nearly every seat (other than those at the counter and attached outdoor patio) is full. I want to chat a bit with our friendly waitress (donning a shirt that oddly calls the restaurant “Chips ‘50s Café,” which I don’t think is its actual name) about the history of the place, but she doesn’t seem to have much information, and the owner isn’t here.

Well then, I guess it’s on to the food. The basic menu includes staples like steak and eggs, a dozen or so omelette choices, and fruit-topped waffles, along with a daily menu of Latin-inspired specials. Today there’s pozole and chilaquiles, advertised on a board by the door. Old Hollywood names abound, like in the case of the Bogart eggs benedict or the James Dean omelette, made of egg whites and veggies. Hard to believe the legendary rebel would have ever asked to forgo the yolks, but I’ll go along with it. Lunch is a similar concept -- diner fare with a bit of Mexican mixed in -- with a bunch of burgers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees like chicken fried steak and meatloaf, along with enchiladas, and carne asada.

Our server recommends the waffles, which my husband orders via the aptly named Three Stooges combo, which also comes with three eggs and three pieces of bacon. I go for the standard scrambled eggs with rye toast and hash browns. The no-nonsense potatoes are crispy, golden, and have just right level of saltiness. The toast comes already buttered, a little luxury I appreciate. But everything else is a disappointment. The lukewarm scrambled eggs are cooked well beyond fluffy, the toast itself is blah, the bacon is just serviceable. The square fluffy waffles with crisped edges look good, but when my husband takes a bite, he discovers that they’re ice cold and sends them back. The same waffles (bite missing and all) are returned to us a minute or two later, hotter, this time. Microwaved, I suppose? They’re just OK.

The bill comes to only around $13. For that low price, I got some architectural eye candy out of the deal, which means it wasn’t a complete waste of a trip ? but one I won’t be making again.

(310) 679-2947

Breakfast: $2.75 to $9.95
Lunch and Dinner: $3.95 to $10.95
— Lizbeth Scordo

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