The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s

Writing 101: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you. Wow, this prompt opens up so many possibilities for me, since I feel like I have lived my whole life around food, usually not in a very good or happy way.

Fortunately, the prompt gave me leeway to talk about any (or all) aspects of a meal that has deep roots in my memory from the food I ate to a description of the place I was when I ate it.  More importantly, I get to include the people who were there AND a reminder from one of my new-found favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who wrote in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Nostalgia Photo Challenge

Warning – This post does not contain any photos, just copied evocative velvet art!

The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s

This was my family’s go-to dining-out spot. I don’t remember much about the Mexican food they served, but I gleefully recall the pats of butter that came to the table with the tortillas. I have been told that I refused to eat as a baby. Healthy eating habits were not a concern for elementary school kids in those days, so what I looked forward to the most when my family of four (Mom, Dad and little Sis) sat down at one of the tables was licking the sweet creamy butter off those little soft cardboard squares, one after the other, and bring me some more, please!

Like the food, the restaurant’s décor has not remained clear in memory, either. I’m pretty sure there were many booths, maybe some of them were round. I think the upholstery was orange pleather, the kind that leaves lines on your thighs after you have peeled them from your seat. I googled the Tijuana Inn, which I knew no longer existed, and found that the old place had gone into bankruptcy before it burned down last century. The entry also provided its location, which brought to mind a memory of a bank of plate glass windows across the front, facing dear old Gardena (or was it Redondo Beach?) Boulevard. Like many family dining establishments, they featured painted-on decorations in December, maybe even “Feliz Navidad” or “Feliz Año Nuevo.”

There is, however, one aspect of the décor that I remember made a big impression on me as a child: a couple of large, almost wall size paintings, which I think were actually the kitschy but endearing velvet kind. One featured what I imagined was an Aztec god or warrior, cradling the limp form of a beautiful Latina in a pristine white dress, and I wondered what their location and relationship were. The other one was of a bullfighter in the ring with an angry bull, and I never wondered what their relationship or location was. I didn’t really want to think about it.

The last clear memory I have of eating there, and just about anywhere else we ate as a family while we all lived under the same roof, was how my parents liked to tease my sister by saying that she placed her orders “from the right side of the menu.” This meant that her selection was always the most expensive among us. Maybe that’s why, even now as a fifty-five-year-old twice-divorced single woman, she’s still looking for a “Sugar Daddy?”

tj inn velvet artbullfighter velvet art

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11 thoughts on “The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s

  1. Tijuana Inn and the Captain’s Table in Redondo Beach were my two favorite restaurants as a kid. Both gone. I have been looking for the red enchilada recipe forever. Also loved their soup!

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  2. My favorite restaurant when I was a kid was a Chinese one by the name of Bill Wong’s in Montreal. Anytime we passed it in a car I’d ask if we could go to “my” restaurant! It was originally known for being a very upscale place in a land of fast food Chinese restaurants, and in later years fell into disrepair and fell out of favor with people.

    Thanks for the follow! I appreciate it!

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  3. Adored Tijuana Inn. My family’s favorite “let’s go out to eat” place. I’m still searching for enchiladas as good as the ones they served. Was it the cheese and the sauce combination that made them so good? Great frijoles. Hot peppers at each table in those little glass jars. Warm corn tortillas. Amazing meatball soup. Sad to hear the business went bankrupt – can’t imagine that happening as the restaurant was so popular. Sure do miss those days!

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  4. i have an ash tray from the tijuana inn cafe which used to be at 1029 redondo beach blvd in gardena where the phone # was da3-0409 ……..where it once stood is now part of (i think) the gardena memorial hospital’s parking lot… (“they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”)…it was my favorite restaurant* as a kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s…i always had 2 chicken enchaladas and beans (or rice was the choice) and soup (not salad for me back then) albondegas soup saturdays and chicken (tortilla?) on sundays….we almost always waited to eat in the “seista room”…(my mom said that they bought out the business next to them to expand years before my time)….the cafe part was just like a cafe…light and noisy….the siesta room was dark and quiet…it was where the bar was and sometimes my bro and i could get a “speedy gongalez” (probably 7up and cherry juice)…….(*along with tin sing, a chinese restaurant also gone…i think their sign still remains)…….shalom…

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  5. Pingback: Nostalgia: Train Platform | What's (in) the picture?

  6. I am now seventy years old living in Kansas City since 82. Born and raised in Gardena ca. I love Mexican food and have tried so many different Mexican restraints and have found none that campaird to the Tijuana inn. Oh my god the cheese enchiladas and rice is to die for.

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    • Since I moved from CA to TN 11 years ago, I have heard many people who made a similar move go on and on about the big differences between authentic Mexican food and I guess the less authentic or more generic food found in chain restaurants which are pretty prevalent in this part of the country. I guess the good ol TJ Inn is a prime example of that holding true even closer to the border than we live now. Even so, though, when I do find a more authentic Mom and Pop kind of operation around here, I have to agree that the dishes you’ve mentioned tasted MUCH better there than anything I’ve tried here. IDK, though, maybe it’s just our warm memories enhancing those great flavors?

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