Top 20 Things We Learned About L.A. From Vintage Menus

Menu Design in America: Front Cover

We've been fans of Menu Design in America since it came out last autumn. It's big, beautiful and lovingly curated by Taschen editor Jim Heimann, an obsessive menu collector and self-admitted menu thief. Now that we've had time to pore over the book, which features plenty of menus from Los Angeles restaurants, we realize it's much more than a typical coffee table book. It's a socio-culinary history of Los Angeles: what we ate, where we ate and how we ate it.

Bob's Big Boy: Fat Boy Sign

20. Fat Mascots Were All the Rage

Before skinny was the order of the day, ventripotent avatars for Fat Boy, Fat Eddie's and Bob's Big Boy were powerful visual reminders that America aspired to be the land of plenty.

19. L.A. Was Hip to Health Food Long Before it Was Cool

Vegetarian cuisine was uncommon in 1902, but The Vegetarian in downtown L.A. was serving "oatmeal sticks," "dairy cream toast," "gluten mush," "fig bromose" and "protose steak." Yes, those were real items on the menu. At least the kitchen delivered what the restaurant's name promised.

18. Culver City Had the Hottest Nightlife

In the 1920s it did. It was close to the movie studios and just over the L.A. city line, so regulations and enforcement were less strict. Eager to cut a rug? Head to the Plantation Club, which was bought by comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in 1928 after a sex scandal ruined his onscreen career. He sold his interest in it a year later, after the stock market crash.

Menu Design in America: Children's Menu

17. Children's Menus Were Super Weird

And frightening.

16. Before The Oinkster There Was Pig Stand

This barbecue drive-in, originally opened in Dallas, specialized in smoked hog meat but also offered "Hamberger," "Red Hots" and "Bear (Eastside)" on its pig-shaped menu.

15. Before There Was Super Size, There Was Chili Size

Inspired in part by the Chili Bowl chain with its distinctive round buildings, the phrase "chili size" was slang for an open-faced burger slathered in chili.

Menu Design in America: Sutton's Club Lido

14. Menus Were Sexier

Where bohemian licentiousness meets Art Deco style, think fig leaves, scarves and artfully drawn, scantily clad women adorning menus.

13. Diners Were Cooler

Nearly extinct in many urban areas, the classic American diner once roamed the land like buffalo. One word, Angelenos: Ships.

12. Mexican Was More Exotic

While American and French food was readily available, Mexican food -- often rechristened as Spanish because that made it sound European and, hence, better -- was "ethnic." Casa Verdugo, a Mexican restaurant in Glendale, was a tourist attraction circa 1912.

11. Animals Exhorting You to Eat Them Are Always Freaky

At McHuron's Toed Inn, a massive, wide-eyed frog sat astride the roof just above the entryway -- at least it did on the menu. At Toad in the Hole, a filet mignon dinner with special sauce made of "only the toad knows" was served for $1. Even in 1943 that was frighteningly cheap.

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