It’s Monday morning and there’s barely a seat available inside Nick’s Cafe. Located in Chinatown, just a short stroll from the Gold Line Metro station, this unassuming diner attracts a loyal following of neighborhood workers and residents. The big helpings, fast service, and no-nonsense vibe recalls the distant past of prefoodie era LA. Nick’s survives largely untouched since first opening in 1948, the original horseshoe “C” style countertop inside remains. Nick’s has 50 seats, 25 inside and 25 outside. The centerpiece, though, is inside where stools around the counter tend to fill up quickly.
Rod Davis, owner of Nick’s Cafe took over the business in 2009. After working almost every position in the hospitality industry from cafes and restaurants to hotel management, Rod’s affinity for diners and the chance to own a piece of true Americana drew him to Nick’s. With little to do in regards to renovations or restorations, the process was a smooth “turn key” transition, as Davis puts it.
Opening at 5:30am during the week, Nick’s has cultivated a consistent clientele of construction workers, office workers, and those in local government agencies such as LADWP. Given the location is a little off the beaten track, Nick’s is a true locals cafe, and thus the weekend crowds tend to be made up of destination people, first-timers traveling to try out Nick’s famous recipes for themselves.
On the menu at Nick’s, right there on the first page is “Nick’s Famous Ham & Eggs” and indeed, it is the house special, the piece de resistance. Bone-in legs of ham are cooked in-house with a brown sugar glaze and other seasonings, and then hand carved in thick slices around the bone to retain their juices. The ham is then grilled to order, caramelizing the sugars and served hot. Other house-made specialties include Jalapeno Bacon, where slabs of bacon are cooked with jalapenos and cut thick. The salsa is made in-house using Nick’s original recipe that Rod attained from the landlord. Impressively, the hamburger meat at Nick’s is ground in-house daily, using a high quality top-sirloin. The menu is true Americana with other specials including tri-tip, brisket, and BBQ. In true Southern California style, Mexican dishes are featured on the menu including Huevos Rancheros, Huevos Espanola, and Luis Chiqualitas. As for lunch items, there are burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and soups to choose from.
There’s no messing around at Nick’s — the dishes are BIG, simple, and filling — a nod to Nick’s history. In addition, Rod co-owns a Boxing gym in Alhambra and manages boxer Carlos “The Solution” Morales, who incidentally used to work at Nick’s. While his next fight is February 19 at the Belasco Theatre, the smart money says the food at Nick’s is a guaranteed knockout!