Classic San Diego Presents The Oldest Restaurants & Bars In America's Finest City

January 18, 2024

We have teamed up with Classic San Diego to present a list of the oldest restaurants and bars in America's Finest City. 

Martin S. Lindsay is an illustrator and designer by trade that has long operated his online passion project Classic San Diego, a culinary history of California's second most populated city. Below is a republishing of Classic San Diego's article entitled, "The Survivors: San Diego’s Oldest Restaurants and Bars", featuring a list of the longest running eateries and taverns in San Diego County.

Restaurants come and go, bars come and go. But some are more popular and stick around for decades. Here’s a list of local San Diego eateries and drinkeries that have been in business for at least fifty years, updated from our original article.

How many have you patronized? Cheers!

(1885-Tivoli Bar and Grill was opened by Italian immigrants Angelo and Giovanni ‘John’ Della Maggiora after they bought an old boarding house on the corner of Sixth and Island from W.T. Walker. A restaurant-bar was on the ground floor, with living quarters above. They originally called it The Tuscan House. It eventually became The Tivoli, after Carfield and Kramer’s Tivoli near Fourth was closed down.

The Tivoli had a colorful past being in the Stingeree District – an active brothel upstairs, retired Wyatt Earp hanging out. It is the oldest bar in San Diego, followed by The Waterfront, which has the oldest continuous liquor license in town. Its original wooden bar, back bar, and cash register still grace the establishment. And remember, “Tivoli” is “I lov it” backward…

East Village
505 Sixth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

(1933-Las Cuatro Milpas, homestyle Mexican cooking served continuously since 1933 by the Natividad and Petra Estudillo family.

For generations, the Estudillo family has daily prepared fresh tortillas, rice, stewed pinto beans, tacos (pork, rolled and soft-shell), tamales (chicken or beef), chorizo with eggs, and menudo on Saturdays. La Prensa San Diego newspaper proclaims Las Cuatro Milpas is ‘hands down, the most authentic Mexican restaurant in San Diego.’

Hard to argue — the perpetual line of customers patiently waiting goes down the block. Its menu is limited — but all are good. Order pork (no beef) tacos for breakfast!


Barrio Logan
1875 Logan Avenue
San Diego, CA 92113

(1933-Dock’s Cocktail Lounge, Chula Vista’s oldest continuously run bar, was opened as Dock’s Dutch Lunch in 1933 by brothers William and Vern H. “Doc” Spice. When they opened, Dock’s served free lunch with the purchase of a large glass of A.B.C. Beer — for 10 cents. Spice was an avid sport fisherman. And when he was successful, he shared free marlin fish dinners to his customers. The place is still open and run by the Chapman family. 

Chula Vista
317 3rd Avenue
Chula Vista, CA 91910

(1933-The Waterfront Bar & Grill, San Diego fishermen’s hangout and longest continually held liquor license in town, was opened immediately after the repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 1933 by Clair John Blakley and Chaffee Grant (President Ulysses S. Grant’s grandson). Because of Chaffee Grant’s family background, he was always a silent partner — anything to do with bars was frowned upon by the post-Prohibition tea-totaler set.

Clair’s wife Gladys ran their kitchen offering lunch, and soon Gladys’ sister Norma moved with her husband Clayton Fairbairn Schilling to help out. The Schillings bought the colorful waterfront establishment. San Diego journalist Max Miller wrote I Cover the Waterfront, based on his bayside reporting and regulars from the bar. Today, the Nancy Nichols family operates The Waterfront, The Aero Club, and Club Marina, among others. Breakfast dishes and wide beer selection.

2044 Kettner Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92101

(1934-Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe, Balboa Park municipal golf course clubhouse coffee shop. The restaurant concession was granted to golf pro Sterne Davis, Chester and Lois Tobey, opened on July 4, 1934, and since operated by the Tobey family — for four generations! A hidden gem, with tasty diner food and bubbly brunches. Those hash browns though…

Even though historically designated, the clubhouse was scheduled to be gutted and converted to a pro shop and offices. The City of San Diego’s Clubhouse Improvement Project dictated a new modern clubhouse and restaurant to be built adjacent to the ‘renovated’ clubhouse, at a loss of several golf holes. Litigation stalled the city’s efforts, and its project webpage has since been removed. (It is archived here.)

Golden Hill
2600 Golf Course Drive
San Diego, CA 92102

(1937-Turkey Inn, Homer D. Tucker’s longtime cafe and bar in Ramona was known for turkey dinners. As well it should — Ramona was once the epicenter of San Diego’s pre-war turkey farming industry. At one time Ramona was known as the “turkey capital of the world.” Turkey production flourished during the 1930s, and the industry was featured with popular annual Turkey Day celebrations, including exhibitions, turkey shoots, and a parade.

Today the Inn is a bar only, no turkey dinners here. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, order food from the cafe next door — they’ll deliver!

716 Main Street
Ramona, CA 92065

(1938-) George Drake’s and George Whitehead’s San Diego Chicken Pie Shop, serving inexpensive prole food — chicken-and-turkey dinners — since the Great Depression. In 1971 they moved across Robinson to the old “all-you-can-eat” Jansen’s Smorgasbord, where they were located for years. After that, they moved to their current, larger location (the old 1520 A.D. Theatre Restaurant) on El Cajon Boulevard. Visit their Walnut Creek location (yes, there is one)! Chicken pot pie dinner with whipped potatoes, vegetables, and a slice of pie for dessert.

North Park (1990-)
2633 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

Walnut Creek (2018-)
1251 Arroyo Way
Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Hillcrest (1971-1990)
Chicken Pie Shop, No 3
3801 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA

Chicken Pie Shop, No 2 (1940-1970, now Thrifty)
3799 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA

North Park
4241 30th Street (1940, now Thrift Trader)
San Diego, CA

North Park
3831 30th Street (1940, now Part-Time Lover)
San Diego, CA 92104

Chicken Pie Shop, No 1 (1938-1969, now Bank of America)
1236 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA

(1940-Café La Maze, old gambling hangout and key-club for Hollywood types, now a nostalgic steakhouse. Supposedly connected with the Hollywood location established by maître d’hôtel Marcel LaMaze, but opened by restaurateur and gambler Jimmy Thompson. Was briefly known as the Plantation Restaurant before returning as Cafe LaMaze in 1969. Get a booth and order prime rib au jus.

National City
1441 Highland Avenue
National City, CA 91950

(1940-El Indio, is a traditional Sonora-style Mexican food restaurant, opened in August 1940 on the corner of India and Grape Street as a tortilla factory by Ralph Pesqueira Sr. During World War II, so the story goes, aircraft workers from the nearby Consolidated Vultee war plant requested he sell food in addition to tortillas.

Thus, the taquito (‘little taco’ aka the rolled taco) was born. Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street in Los Angeles claims the invention in the 1930s. He moved El Indio to its present location in 1947, and built his own tortilla manufacturing machine from scratch. Go for the taquitos, stay for the chips.

3695 India Street
San Diego, CA 92103

(1941-The Chee-Chee Club is a landmark San Diego cafe and gay/dive bar established in December 1941 by brothers Joseph and James Petrone. They formally opened on January 3, 1942, offering ‘famous filet steaks and fried chicken dinners’ they’d come to be known for at Petrone’s and the Plaza Coffee Shop.But now they had entertainment and hard alcohol to boot!

The Petrones took an old fireworks store on the ground floor of an apartment building and built it out as their club. Talk about ‘distinctively different’ — how would you like to live above a shop full of fireworks?


East Village
929 Broadway Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

(1941-Clayton’s Coffee Shop, popular Coronado horseshoe-counter service coffee shop where you’ll have to wait in line for a spot. Originally opened as Gerry’s Coffee Shop, the name was changed when Clayton Rice bought the joint. Serves 1950s style maltshop fare, takeout Mexican food. Malted milkshakes rule.

979 Orange Avenue
Coronado Island, CA

(1941-The Marine Room, founded by Scotsman Captain Peter McDowall Hannay (1872-1943) as The Spindrift Inn, a four-bedroom roadside inn and restaurant overlooking Spindrift Beach, now La Jolla Shores. Now part of the La Jolla Swim and Racquet Club. High-Tide Brunch gets exciting when ocean waves hit the windows.


La Jolla
2000 Spindrift Drive
La Jolla, CA 92037

(1944-Hob Nob Hill, began in May 1944 as the 14-stool Juniper Café on the corner of 30th and Juniper Streets. Two years later Harold and Dorothy Hoersch moved the cafe to its present location on Juniper and First Avenue and renamed it Melody Grill. As times and tastes changed, the restaurant was renamed Dorothy’s Oven and finally Hob Nob Hill. Bakery. Breakfast. Almost bottomless mimosa.

Bankers Hill
Hob Nob Hill (1970-)
Dorothy’s Oven (1960-1970)
Melody Grill (1947-1960)
Juniper Cafe (1946)
2271 First Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Bankers Hill
Juniper Cafe (1945-1946)
2259 First Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Bankers Hill
Harold’s Fifth Avenue (1962-1969, previously Valle’s)
2424 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Hob Nob Coffee Shop(1956-1972)
245 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101

South Park
Juniper Cafe (1944)
3019 Juniper Street
San Diego, CA 92104

(1946) Anthony’s Fish Grotto, a San Diego family-run institution since 1946, when Mama Ghio opened her first at the ferry landing. Business was booming, so they moved to a larger location on Pacific Highway across from the airport.

Their flagship location was for decades on the Embarcadero, over the water. La Mesa location still open! Crab Louie or Mama Ghio’s Cioppino.

North Embarcadero
Anthony’s Fish Grotto (1965-2017)
1360 North Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

La Mesa
Anthony’s Fish Grotto La Mesa (1961-)
9530 Murray Drive
La Mesa, CA 91942

Anthony’s Fish Grotto (1951-1965)
2535 Pacific Highway
San Diego, CA 92101

Embarcadero Ferry Landing
Anthony’s Fish Grotto (1946-1951)
965 West Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

(1946-Pernicano’s Family Ristorante, founded by Vennero and Maria Pernicano and made famous by handlebar-mustachioed son George, this Italian-American chain is still operated by the family. Chicken Francesca or a la Baffi.

El Cajon
1588 East Main Street
El Cajon, CA 92021

Scripps Ranch
9932 Mercy Road #109
San Diego, CA 92129

La Jolla (1947-2019)
711 Turquoise Street
San Diego, CA 92109

(1946-Rainbow Oaks Restaurant was originally founded in 1946 as ‘The Oaks’ cafe. The historic eatery was bought by Jonell & Duke Maples in 2009 and remodeled using salvaged lumber from the 2007 Rice Canyon fire.

Barrett Junction Cafe may be gone, but Rainbow Oaks is here to stay as a favorite stop-off for weekend bikers. American home-style food with big portions is in order here! Sandwiches, meatloaf, barbecue, burgers, Rainbow Oak steak chili.

Old Highway 395
4815 5th Street
Rainbow, CA 92028

(1946-Tony’s Jacal, the Tony and Catalina Gonzales family’s traditional Mexican food restaurant, a Solana Beach historical landmark. Get it with turkey…

Eden Gardens
621 Valley Avenue
Solana Beach, CA 92075

(1947-Aero Club, Mariam Profits’ iconic Middletown tavern for aircraft workers, now a classic whiskey joint (with more than 1200 kinds). Recently saved from obscurity by the owners of the Waterfront Bar & Grill.

3365 India Street
San Diego, CA 91203

(1947-The Barbecue Pit was established by Joe & Lila Browning and Ed & Mella Jenson (two sisters and their husbands) on December 16, 1947 in the Maryland Hotel. Today, they are San Diego’s oldest Texas-style barbecue joints — and are still run by the families. Several locations have split off over the years as Wrangler Family Barbecue. Barbecued beef, pork ribs, chicken, hot links, and all the fixings.

Fletcher Hills
2388 Fletcher Parkway
El Cajon, CA 92020

National City
920 East Plaza Boulevard
National City, CA 91950

North Park (catering)
2888 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104

(1948-Red Tracton’s, old school steakhouse and piano bar inspired by those from founder Harold ‘Red’ Tracton’s hometown Philadelphia. Harold Tracton (1921-1999) came from the Trachtenberg restaurant family — during the 1940s, his parents Herman and Pauline owned Tracton’s Cafe in Pasadena, which Harold operated after returning from US Navy service in the Pacific.

The first place of his own was the Green Lake Cafe in Pasadena, which he bought from Ernie Gianone. He always wanted to run a fine dining place and by 1956 he’d established his original supper club near the Hollywood Park racetrack in La Cienega. At one time in the 1960s, he operated five restaurants in Los Angeles. In 1978, he moved Tracton’s (“Exceptional Cuisine”) south to Encino, and again relocated across from the Del Mar racetrack in 1988. It was a sportsman’s hangout, where many of the regulars were horse owners, trainers, and jockeys.

The family-owned and operated steakhouse is now run by Red’s daughter Tracy Tracton, and grandson Mason Meredith. Dress code: long pants for men. Colossal king crab legs, filet mignon, lobster bisque, Salad “Exceptionale,” baked potato skins.

Solana Beach
Red Tracton’s Steakhouse (1988-)
550 Via de la Valle
Solana Beach, CA 92075

Tracton’s House of Prime Rib (1978-1988)
16705 Ventura Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

La Cienega
Tracton’s (1956-1978)
3560 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90016

Tracton’s Buggy Whip (1960s)
7420 La Tijera Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Fox Hills
Fox Hills Country Club Restaurant by Tracton’s (1960s)
5800 West Slauson Avenue
Culver City, CA 90230

Los Angeles Farmers Market
Salem House Italian & Continental Cuisine (1960s)
6333 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Los Angeles Mart
Tracton’s L.A. Mart (1960s)
1933 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Norm’s Green Lake (1955, Norman Lehnert)
Red and Norm’s Green Lake (1950, Harold Tracton, Norman Lehnert)
Green Lake (1950, Harold Tracton)
Green-Lake Cafe (1949, Ernest Gianone)
Green-Lake Cafe (1947, James E. Bailey)
90 South Lake Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101

Tracton’s Cafe (1948)
590 East Colorado
Pasadena, CA 91101

(1949-Rudford’s Diner. Walter Blaine and Edna May Bickerton’s Harvey’s Eat Shop opened their second cafe at 2900 El Cajon Boulevard in 1938. The name was changed in 1947 to Walt Harvey’s Eat Place,presumably after their sons Walt Jr and Harry Harvey Bickerton. 

Their breadman from Cramer’s Bakery, John Thomas “Tommy” Rudford, purchased the restaurant in 1949. He called his place Rudford’s Eat Shop. Now known simply as Rudford’s, it’s the quintessential San Diego 24-hour diner on Old Highway 80 (The Boulevard). Get a spot at the counter and a cup o’ joe.

Like the sign says, “Always Open, Always Good.”

North Park
Harvey’s Eat Shop (1938-1947)
Walt Harvey’s Eat Shop (1947-1949)
Rudford’s Eat Shop (1949-)
2900 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

(1950-Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, Vincent and Madeline De Philippis family-owned pizzeria empire began in Little Italy in San Diego and now covers the entire county. Pizzas are great, lasagna’s a fave.

Little Italy (1950-)
1747 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Chula Vista
82 Broadway
Chula Vista, CA 91910

114 West Grand Avenue
Escondido, CA 92025

Imperial Beach
285 Palm Avenue
Imperial Beach, CA 91932

Kearny Mesa
5353 Kearny Villa Road
San Diego, CA 92123

13034 Campo Road
Jamul, CA 91935

Mission Valley
10330 Friars Road
San Diego, CA 92120

Pacific Beach
962 Garnet Avenue
San Diego, CA 92109

13000 Oak Knoll Drive
Poway, CA 92064

10767 Woodside Avenue
Santee, CA 92071

Scripps Ranch
9969 Mira Mesa Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92131

(1950-The Tower Bar was originally built in 1932 as the “Silver Tower” by David H. Ryan. It was part of his development at University and Euclid Avenues – the Euclid Center — which included his Silverado Ballroom. In addition to being a developer and contractor, Ryan was a trustee for the upcoming 1935 California Pacific Exposition.

Jack M. Shannon (famous for popularizing “chili size” in San Diego) was the first tenant, opening the Silver Tower Sandwich Shop and drive-in soda fountain. 

The Tower’s vernacular architecture has been described as Zigzag Moderne, and its shape evokes an Art Deco style obelisk in compliment with Ryan’s Egyptian Garage (1925, now Big City liquor store) next door.

By 1950, the business had become The Tower beer bar and cafe. Now run by Mick Rossler, The Tower Bar is known for its live punk/alternative rock events.

City Heights
4757 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92105

(1950-Turf Supper Club, grill-your-own steakhouse and piano bar opened by Louis Nile Obelisk Kraus (1912-2001) in 1950 as The Turf Club bar. Said to have been Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s favorite spot when visiting San Diego in the 1950s. In 1955 a grill was added and the bar was renamed the Turf Supper Club. Known as ‘Kurley’ Kraus, Lou was a baseball fan and decorated his joint with a profusion of Padres photos and memorabilia. After Kraus’s retirement, the bar was reestablished with an old-school vibe by Sam Chammas and Tim Mays. They refurbished the old bar with new-retro lighting by TK Smith. Steaks are great (if you cook ’em right), pint-sized cocktails.

Golden Hill
1116 25th Street
San Diego, CA 92102

(1951-Grant Grill, iconic restaurant in the U.S. Grant Hotel. Originally a men-only-for-lunch establishment, until stormed by a group of women attorneys in the 1970s. Look for the bronze plaque! Excellent food and beverage programs today, with live entertainment.

326 Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101

(1953-Bali Hai Restaurant, Tom F Ham Jr’s classic Shelter Island Tiki Moderne destination, was established in 1953 by Aline Hudson and Arthur La Shelle and originally called Christian’s Hut. Tom Ham started operating it in 1954, and it’s still in the family. Mai tais are very strong, ‘Goof Punch’ is just right. Buy a mug.


Shelter Island
Bali Hai (1954-)
2230 Shelter Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92106

Shelter Island
The Hut (1954)
Christian’s Hut (1953-1954)
1325 Yacht Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92106

(1954-Venice Pizza House, the LoMedico family’s pizza house, on more top-ten lists than we can count!

Corridor District
3333 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

(1955) La Bella Pizza Garden, Tony and Kitty Raso opened their pizzeria in 1955, and it’s still run by the family.

Chula Vista
373 Third Ave
Chula Vista, CA 91910

(1955) Lido’s Italian Foods, family-owned for generations, Marco and Liz Simi’s traditional Italian restaurant is well-loved, with a consistently good menu. Go for the pizza, but partake of their famous appetizer served first – the salami, cheese and Cheez-It® cracker plate.

Lemon Grove
7252 Broadway
Lemon Grove, CA 91945

(1956) Jose’s Courtroom, La Jolla’s popular hangout, was originally established in an old courthouse as ‘The Courtroom.’ The next year, John Fallis bought the place and served Mexican food, which is still its draw to this day! In 1972, the restaurant moved to its present location in the Village of La Jolla.

La Jolla (1956)
The Courtroom
7919 Herschel Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

La Jolla (1972-)
Jose’s Courtroom
1037 Prospect Avenue
La Jolla, Ca 92037

(1956-Mona Lisa Italian Foods, Brunetto family restaurant and deli in Little Italy since 1973, originally located downtown San Diego. Explore their extensive deli, the sandwiches are great!

Little Italy
2061 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101

(1958-Napoleone’s Pizza House, Crivello family restaurant on National City’s old Mile of Bars. Singer Tom Waits worked there as a youth.

National City
619 National City Boulevard
San Diego, CA 91950

(1959-Red Fox Steakhouse & Piano Bar, cherished, old-school steakhouse once attached to the Lafayette Hotel. One of the last to serve a garnish tray. Try a shrimp cocktail and steak. Not continuously operated, it closed in 2019 and moved to a new building across the street. Re-opened March 21, 2022!

North Park (2022-)
2200 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

Lafayette Hotel (1959-2019)
2223 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

(c1960-Club Marina, Point Loma’s oldest dive bar, now under ownership of the Waterfront Bar & Grill.

Point Loma
1310 Scott Street
San Diego, CA 92106

(1960-Harry’s Coffee Shop, Harry Rudolph’s classic coffee shop in the heart of La Jolla. Breakfast all day. (Surfers order the breakfast burrito.)

La Jolla
7545 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037

For the rest of the list and full article, visit Classic San Diego at