I go down to San Diego a couple of times a year. Along the 5 freeway, driving through San Clemente, I always see a large roadside sign for Tommy's Family Restaurant. I make a note to remember to make time for it on the next trip--I never do. A few weekends ago, as Dinerwood friend Greg and I were returning from Comic-Con, I was finally able to do it--and that's only because my GPS cocked-up the directions to the place that I was actually looking for.
Tommy's has a lot going on in the concept department: "Family Restaurant," "50's Diner," and "Hollywood at Tommy's" signage is located all over the building. It had to have started out as a regular roadside restaurant and then slowly over the years shifted into a hodge-podge 50's diner.
Do note that the sign by the door says "authentic." It's a pet peeve of mine--see, words have meanings. After experiencing, just a few days earlier, a coffee shop that really did seem authentic, Tommy's had a lot to live up to.
When Greg and I pulled into a parking spot facing the building, and I saw this staring back at me--I knew something was seriously wrong.
I would like to believe that the intention there was to do an "authentic" 50's diner. It seems that at some point the owner of Tommy's said "oh, what the hell" and it became a den for pop culture hoarding.
An explosion of Hollywood and mid-century history seems to have left its debris all over everything at Tommy's. It was all too much. Every inch was covered with a photo, movie poster or checker pattern. Every surface large enough had some knick-knack or statuary reflecting an area of pop culture that existed between 1950 and 1985.
I actually did like the embroidered names on the booth seats. They all seemed to be on theme for the 50's.
For example, we sat in the Clark Gable booth. He was past his prime by then, but it still worked.
Then I looked over to my left, toward the counter, and saw something kind of horrific.
No, it wasn't the pictures on the back of the counter stools that seemed cut out of magazines and then glued on, or the Elvis bust with the real leather jacket and life-like hair and SKIN!
It was Spiderman.
Give it a moment.
If you are a real comic nerd, give it an extra moment.
Then realize that it uses the new jagged Spiderman font they created in the 90s, and not the classic original curved font. If it had been the classic, I could have been on board. He did debut in the 60s, which is almost like the 50s but...you know...later.
They had a standard diner menu with additional Mexican (of course) and Greek sections. Greek is a type of food that I always like, but am never in the mood for. Although, I was curious to try it since, like I talked about in the other Tommy's Restaurant review, if a place puts a lot of effort into a whole different genre of food, that usually means that's what they really want to be serving. That, however, burned me last time and the Mexican breakfast there sucked.
We decided to order sandwiches and then split them.
Greg, inspired by a very gorgeous photo in the menu, ordered the pastrami sandwich with an order of chili cheese fries. I would not have expected to find good pastrami at Tommy's, maybe decent at best, but this ended up being really good. Not the quality of a deli or a place like The Hat, but definitely one of the best at a regular restaurant. It wasn't too dry and it wasn't greasy wet. I actually think they mixed little bits of actual bacon into it. The chili cheese fries were very good. They had an appropriate amount of chili smothering the steak fries, so you could still pick them up with your fingers, but could use a fork if you were inclined. I would have liked more chunks of meat in the chili, though.
I ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich, which I expected to be more of a Cuban-style sandwich. And I was wrong. Nowhere on the menu did it mention that the tenderloin was breaded and fried. I'm pretty sure it was not in the "Hot" sandwich section either. This really threw me off.
To assemble my sandwich, I had to cut the tenderloin, since as you can see from the picture, it wasn't the right shape for a french roll. I took a bite and tasted...Filet o' Fish? By god, the pork sandwich did taste like the fish sandwich from McDonalds. I like Filet o' Fish, but I like it when I order one...and it isn't made with pork. Just to make sure I wasn't walking around with some crazy taste buds, I gave Greg his half and encouraged him to try it.
He took a bite and thought for a moment. "Tastes, I don't know. Not bad...but-"
"Like a Fillet o' Fish?"
"What?...well... okay, I can see that."
It must have been the batter they used. It wasn't awful, but I wouldn't recommend it. The french fries, even not covered in chili, were good.
I'm glad I was finally able to sate my curiosity with this place. Unless someone I was with really needed to main-line some aging pop-culture, I don't think I'd go back anytime soon.
Price: $9-$14. (Too much.)
Tommy's Family Restaurant
1409 S El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672
She has no hand!