#104 Any restaurant where old ladies are doing the cooking

What’s your favorite local diner?

Mine has gotta be California Sandwiches, a tiny hole-in-the-wall wedged between rusting clapboard houses in the middle of downtown Toronto. Sure, the word “sandwiches” is spelled wrong on the sign, the floor is always greasy, and the bathrooms may or may not have hot water, soap, and paper towels, but the sandwiches are always delicious, let me tell you that.

Old ladies wearing frilly aprons and dark black glasses deep-fry pancake-sized breaded chicken breasts till they’re brown, crisping, and dripping with hot oil. Then they place them neatly on big doughy buns the size of cabbages, pour ladles of fresh steaming tomato sauce on top, toss some cheese and mushrooms on there, and wrap the sandwich in a mirrory foil before handing it to you with fifty thin paper napkins and a grunt.

Last time we ate there a droopy-eyed guy wearing a backwards cap slowly walked through the seating area dragging two black garbage bags. But Leslie and I barely noticed because we were chowing down like starved pigs over a fresh trough full of slop. Twenty minutes later, with our faces smeared in sauce, bellies bursting, and belts unbuckled, we left with tired eyes and satisfied smiles.

I love California Sandwiches but then again I love any restaurant with old ladies doing the cooking in the back. After all, old ladies have been here longer than anybody and chances are they’ve been cooking a lot longer too. Sure, I could probably order a pizza online faster, but I’m no match when it comes to caramelizing onions, frying fish, or building a sandwich with fresh bread, sliced cheese, and extra TLC.

So next time you bite into Granny’s date squares from the bakery, chomp meatballs from her pizza place, or slurp soup from her sandwich shop, just remember to say thanks for the homemade meal that taste’s like mom’s, thanks for the love, and thanks for the


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23 thoughts on “#104 Any restaurant where old ladies are doing the cooking

  1. Ohhhhh, so true! So true!

    There’s a place in the town where I went to college where I’m pretty sure someone just put a roof over the area that once was an alley between two downtown buildings. You can literally (if you’re tall / long-armed) touch both sides of the restaurant if you stand in the middle and reach out. There are three bar stools and the smallest counter EVER (if you didn’t gather, this is more of an order-and-leave establishment). Anyway, it’s owned by this completely ancient couple; the man runs the register and takes care of all customer socialization while people wait for their food, and his wife is in the back, makin’ cheesesteak sandwiches all the livelong day. They’re amazing. I want one now.

    Also, one of the teachers who works with me used to teach in Nashville and tells wonderful tales of the old lunch ladies who cooked delicious treats for the staff and students. They created gourmet-esque meals for everyone, everyday … and poor Sarah just stares in sadness when she gets a school lunch from our current school. Old ladies = cooking geniuses (EXCEPT my grandma. She’s very much an exception to that rule.)

  2. What??? It’s 9:13 AM and only 2 responses? Is everybody cyber-shopping (whis is kind of aswsome in itself)?

    We have a restaurant like that here in Keene, NH that serves great home cooking, including their own bread for rolls and such. It is a great favorite for lunch orders.

  3. My husband introduced me to California Sandwiches earlier this summer. They are simply amazing, and while the portions are huge you can’t help but eat the entire thing… then fall into a food coma for a few hours. Awesome indeed!

  4. Hubby took me to a little diner on a back road that I never knew existed a few months ago and I fell in love with the place. You get a lot of food for the prices they charge and its better than my own grandma’s cooking.

  5. I bet those cook’n old ladies and grandmas all over the world are smiling to read this. It’s well written, clever and positive. That’s beautiful.

  6. Ahhhh California ‘Gweech. Yes, I love how it’s spelled wrong, how it’s just ‘so’ and that it’s just not the same as the California up in Woodbridge. This did bring a smile to my face and how I want a veal ‘sangwich’ complete with the provolone, hot peppers and a Brio. :)

  7. Favorite meal growing up was at a little diner run by a little old lady with the grumpiest personality ever. She ran it accompanied by one teenaged waitress who changed regularly due to the owner’s sour disposition. The place was greasy and the atmosphere was less than cheery, but the buttered, toasted rolls…grilled to perfection burger and fries…real fountain sodas…mmmmmmm! I sure do miss Mrs. Hoffman’s diner!

  8. Dude, what’s with the sexism? Old guys can also be excellent cooks. I am sending you to Vesta Lunch at the corner of Bathurst & Dupont. One older guy does it all – takes your order, cooks it, serves it to you, clears up after you and takes your money.

  9. George’s Food Bar in the Comox Valley. Burgers, fries, shakes and chinese food. Owned and run by this old chinese couple. Here’s the kicker. its a Drive in, see, you drive up, walk up to the window, and place your order. Don’t bother leaving your name, don’t ask for confirmation. Doesn’t matter if it’s just you or a crowd waiting. 10-15 minutes or less later, they nod to you and give you your food and you pay. They don’t write anything down and never get your order wrong. Looks like they are handing the reighns down to the next generation, and he’s running it the same way. But you still see them working the kitchen in the back.
    Best Chinese food and burgers in town!

  10. Aww cute old ladies…well you know they are the only REAL cooks nowadays. Did i anyone have a awesome thanksgiving, i did!

  11. Grande Forks Hotel- authenitc Russian food Restaurant- gauranteed to be cooked with lots of love and lots of butter!!!

  12. Penrose Fish and Chips at Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton is perfect for this…I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember and the same old lady has been manning the fryer since I was a kid…

  13. In 2004 I went to a restaurant in Serbia, there was an old lady that turned her kitchen into a small restaurant at night. Inviting tourists and locals to sit together and have warm Serbian experience. Her theme was kindness and the food was delicious and authentic. When I asked for the bill, she simply said in broken English “no… you are guest in my kitchen and my country, you don’t pay for food.” I just thought she was the sweetest lady ever.

  14. I LOVE California sandwiches. Haven’t been back since last summer but I’m still dreaming of their veal sandwiches. Simply delicious, glad someone else shares my love!

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