There are many characteristics that define a city’s uniqueness. From schools and parks to housing and shopping, perhaps the most important characteristic is where to dine. Many cities may have chain restaurants, fast-food restaurants, but few have a restaurant or two that is unique only to that city. It’s not part of a franchise, yet it’s well known in restaurant circles. Pico Rivera is home to such a restaurant, the Dal Rae.
Driving along Washington Boulevard, near the cross street of Rosemead Boulevard, you will find one of the finest restaurants in all of Southern California. It all started in the late 1940s with a restaurant located on Western Avenue in Inglewood. It was named after Ed Dalton and Rae Harris, the original owners and founders of the Dal Rae. In 1951, the restaurant was sold to brothers Ben and Bill Smith. According to current co-owner and son of Ben Smith, Kevin Smith, they kept the name, Dal Rae, for financial reasons. Soon after buying the restaurant from Dalton and Harris, brothers Ben and Bill wanted to change the restaurant name to reflect their family name, Smith. When a sign company quoted an amount that was not feasible, the brothers decided on keeping Dal Rae. By 1958, a second restaurant was opened, in a new city that was starting fresh from incorporation.
The Pico Rivera restaurant opened in May of 1958. Originally, a restaurant named Sequoyah Dining was here previously. It laid the architectural foundation that the Dal Rae adopted. The brothers took owning and operating a restaurant to a higher level by providing customers with a unique dining experience and creating a personal bond with each of their customers. Today, that same service is carried on through the sons of Ben Smith, Kevin and Lorin Smith.
Stepping inside this restaurant is like stepping into a time machine. The restaurant is dimly lit, offering a retro atmosphere. It’s often referred to as a throwback to the 1950s style of dining. The food selection is timeless and award-winning and has been offered for close to six decades. It is a recipe for success that has had little or no altering. In fact, the restaurant was recently awarded the Diners Choice from opentable.com, and is one of the 50 best restaurants in Los Angeles according to Zagat.
What makes this restaurant award-winning? There are several factors, one of them being the food that is served at the Dal Rae. Regulars to the Dal Rae can tell you their own personal selections from the over 100 choices on the menu. Most would agree that ordering a tableside prepared dish such as the Steak Diane, Chateaubriand, or the Roast Rack of Lamb is not only a unique dining experience, but a pleasant one. Perhaps one of the most popular dishes on the menu according to Kevin is the Chilean Seabass ala Ben. The dish was named after Kevin’s father, as it was his favorite dish. Another popular dish is the pepper steak. What makes this meat so unique is that it is flown in from Chicago on a weekly basis, prepared right in the Dal Rae kitchen. Finally, the famous Dal Rae Prime Rib is a customer favorite. So much so, that it made LA Magazine’s “Best in LA” list. There is a feature of the Dal Rae that is a rarity. It’s something that many restaurants have shied from, but the Dal Rae has kept it alive. That is tableside service. It’s an art in its simplest form, and it’s an art that keeps customers coming back. From the tableside Caesar Salad to the desserts, it’s something that catches the corner of the customer's eye at the next table. And it’s that curiosity that brings people back.
The menu is consistent. It hasn’t seen much change in over five decades. The recipes too have remained consistent. According to Kevin, because of the size of the menu, one could come in every day for a month and try completely different items, all of which are great selections.
Behind the food are great chefs who work in the kitchen. One of those dedicated chefs has been with Dal Rae for over 43 years now. That is chef Ben Kase, who thus far is the longest tenured employee. Longevity has been the key to keeping the service consistent at Dal Rae. The Dal Rae currently has several employees that have been employed there for two and three decades. For instance, Julie Naylor who runs the floor, has been at the restaurant for 31 years, Diane Cicero has been serving food at the restaurant for 23 years, Angel Sarkesian has been bookkeeping for 20 years and Mary Jane Heath has been serving food for 18 years.
That is just a taste of the dedication and commitment of the employees at Dal Rae. Food and Service bring people back. The clientele here is consistent. It’s a mixture of business professionals, and those who are out to celebrate according to Kevin. And then there are those who are a little more familiar. According to Kevin, the Dal Rae has had the pleasure of serving celebrities such as Jane Seymour, Kathy Ireland and Dodger legends, Orel Hershiser and Tommy Lasorda. In the past, celebrities such as Jack Klugman, Brad Garrett, Fred Dwyer, Edward James Olmos and John Travolta have made their way onto Washington Boulevard through the doors of the Dal Rae; Kevin mentioned that there are just too many to remember.
With a steady clientele and a menu that many restaurants would envy, you would think that this would just be the recipe for success. It’s not just the menu and steady clientele. There’s more to it says Kevin. The key to our success is that either Lorin or I are almost always there. The Dal Rae has been around for generations of families who have come to the restaurant. We now have 4th generation families coming in and enjoying the same great food that their grandparents or great-grandparents enjoyed.
Also, much is owed to the employees said Kevin. They work hard, work long hours, and they know our customers by name. Just like any other company, we are only as good as our staff. Finally, our customers… our customers are like family. We have such loyal support from them, no matter what event has been hosted over the years, wine dinners, day at the races, or even remodeling and the use of portable restrooms, our customers have been supportive. Like family, they would do anything for us. And we are incredibly appreciative of that.
As the City celebrates its 60th Anniversary, so does the Dal Rae. While other incarnations of the Dal Rae have come and gone in the cities of Inglewood and Fullerton, the Pico Rivera location has remained a constant for nearly six decades. With the amount of community support it receives, and its ideal location between Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the Dal Rae expects to be around for another 60 years or more. Perhaps joining in on every milestone celebration with the City of Pico Rivera.
The Dal Rae is located at 9023 E. Washington Boulevard. For menu and reservations, go to dalrae.com or call 562.949.2444.