When the Pacific Dining Car opened at 7th and Westlake in 1921, it was boom times in the City of LA. The Hollywood Bowl had broken ground a couple of years earlier, the Ambassador Hotel opened, and the iconic Hollywood (or "Hollywoodland") sign was a mere two years away. It was in this thriving financial period, fueled by rampant land speculation, that Fred and Grace Cook opened a steakhouse modeled after a railway dining car.
The Dining Car is still a bastion of consistency and elegance
By the mid-20s (and at its current location at 6th and Witmer, where it moved in 1923), the restaurant had become a neighborhood favorite and was doing brisk business, charging 65 cents for special sirloin and a $1.50 for filet mignon. The Depression nearly killed it, as did World War II, but it has maintained for nearly a century and managed to stay remarkably unchanged— save for a remodel in the 1970s, the Dining Car is still a bastion of consistency and elegance. It’s a peaceful place—quiet, intimate booths of muted greens and red, with accents of wood and shiny brass.
Most notably, it is the only 24-hour fine dining establishment in the city. At any time, on any day, in any state of sobriety, you can roll in and receive outstanding service, drink out of crystal, enjoy a well-prepared steak, and be treated with a certain level of decorum and regard. And that, I think, is what makes this establishment special — at 2 a.m., the clientele is a motley mish-mash of different types of LA personalities: professionals and Hollywood producers; working class folks in the morning; cops; tourists; the stiffly dressed; club kids off the street. The staff don’t care. Everyone gets treated equally.
The ambiance is solemn, but not stuffy. Ensconced in a booth, you know other patrons are in the restaurant, but you can’t really hear them. It allows for a wonderful clubbiness – a sense of privacy and safety that only enhances enjoyment of the food.
The post-11 p.m. late night menu is what makes this wonderful egalitarianism possible, giving access to the restaurant to those who don’t want to, or can’t, drop $70-80 on a steak (There’s currently a Groupon available—definitely snag it. But maybe keep it on the DL if you’re on a date). The food is still expensive by any reasonable standard, but certain items are steeply discounted.
The baseball steak (from the menu: "made famous by the film ‘Training Day’"), which is about the size of a grown man’s fist, is only $20.95 on the late night menu, and will run you more than twice that amount during the normal dinner hour. Sure, it’s not exactly prime rib— it’s a top sirloin end cut —but it’s tender, seasoned perfectly, and given a beautiful char.
Among other standouts: beautiful, thick asparagus spears with hollandaise sauce (and the accompanying lemons have those little lemon nets on them— classy!); eggs benedict with fat slices of Canadian bacon; omelettes that are as generous and immaculate as their accompanying hash browns. And one rumor about the PDC kitchen, at least according to a dining companion who says she has experienced this, is that they’ll prepare you literally anything, if they’re able. It doesn’t matter if it’s not on the menu. Deviled eggs? Why the hell not? Just ask, and they’ll make it for you.
They’ll prepare you literally anything, if they’re able
Eating at the Pacific Dining Car is the quintessential throwback restaurant experience. It’s almost been swallowed by the neighborhood. The Good Samaritan Hospital on one side, a shady gas station and U-Haul rental place on the other. But the minute you step across the threshold and are greeted by the maître d, you’re immediately back in the 1920s, back in old LA. They found oil on Signal Hill. They’re making talkies over at Warner Bros. Didja hear about the Coliseum they built by USC? And the steaks, as ever, are excellent.
The Pacific Dining Car is located at 1310 W 6th St (at Witmer) in Westlake. It is always open. There is an additional location in Santa Monica.
Photography by: Matthew Kang