When we first moved to L.A. we did the requisite food tour. We had a French dip at Philippe the Original. We devoured a burger at The Apple Pan. We inhaled the chili-topped delights at Pink’s Hot Dogs. We fed on the garlic bread at The Smoke House. And, most importantly, we dove into a meaty feast at the Tam O’Shanter, in what once seemed like the far off land of Atwater Village to us transplanted Valley Girls.
These days the meat and potatoes haven sits just down the street from where we live. And the neighborhood is suddenly rife with destination eateries like The Village Bakery, All’Acqua, Canelé and the go to coffee destination Proof. But for all the competition that’s sprung up nearby, there’s no better place for a steak and mashed potatoes than the iconic Tam. And the family-friendly atmosphere makes this the perfect spot for locals to come enjoy a meal with the kids.
And now that the legendary haunt has brought in new Executive Chef, Juan Escamilla, this is the place to eat in the ATV. If you’re not familiar with Chef Escamilla, his pedigree is quite impressive. The Los Angeles native is a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, who has spent time in the kitchen at Union in Pasadena, Electric City Butcher in Santa Ana, 320 Main in Seal Beach and Bouchon in Beverly Hills.
For the past few months Chef Escamilla has been giving the 90-year-old restaurant a culinary facelift. But long-time patrons will be happy to know that he isn’t going hog wild with the menu. As we were assured during a recent dinner at the Tam, there will be no foam adorning those legendary dishes. The cuisine is actually sticking to its roots, it’s just being prepared with even higher quality ingredients.
In terms of atmosphere, the Lawry family-owned eatery still embraces that cozy old school charm. This is a place that is true to its history — and its history is incredibly rich. The building itself was conceived by set designer Harry Oliver, who came in at the request of the founding families the Franks and Van de Kamps. According to General Manager John Lindquist, Oliver told the builders, “’Put away your levels. Put away your rulers. Do everything by hand.’ So it looks like an old country inn.”
If the exterior looks familiar, that’s because it inspired the design of the Seven Dwarfs house in the animated classic “Snow White.” Among the decades of visitors, the Tam counts Walt Disney as their most famous regular. And, in the hopes of getting the big boss’ attention, the studio’s animators would hang at the restaurant. “They would sit here all day long trying to get something in front of Walt Disney because they knew he’d either be in the back of the restaurant or in the bar,” explained Lindquist. “So they would sit here and doodle and sketch things and give him ideas. But they needed some inspiration for ‘Snow White’s’ house and it happened to be this building.”
Walt’s legacy at the Tam is so important that there’s a plaque commemorating his favorite table — #31. His presence can still be felt there. In fact, you can put a piece of paper on top of the original surface, rub a pencil on it and still see the Imagineers’ renderings for Disneyland. “In the Disney archives, they have a Tam O’Shanter cocktail napkin with Tomorrowland and a couple of different attractions sketched on the back of it,” noted Lindquist.
And if you want to go to the place where good food and incredible pop culture collide, get to the Tam in November and December. In addition to weekly trivia games and live music, the Tam also offers a one of a kind experience every holiday season with Dickens Dinners.
Per Lindquist, “We have an acting troupe that we’ve been working with for about 20 or so years. And they come in and they actually reenact the whole Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ for us. It’s great. It’s good for families and it’s great for just a fun night out, if you’re coming to an evening performance.”
The unique event is the perfect way to kick off the holidays — especially if you’ve never tried traditional Christmas goose and sticky toffee pudding. But it’s also quick to sell out, so make your reservations now for one of the four shows.
The matinee shows run on November 22 and 28 at 1 p.m. and cost $89 for adults and $59 for children. The evening shows start at 6:30 p.m. on November 23 and 24 and tickets cost $96 for adults and $69 for children. The Tam O’Shanter is located at 2980 Los Feliz Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039.