Arts & Leisure

Watson’s is nostalgia and great food

WATSON’S SODA FOUNTAIN and Cafe in Orange combines nostalgia with outstanding modern fare (Orange County Tribune photo).

By Jim and Marilyn Tortolano

If you’re looking for the kind of entertaining dining experience that can appeal to just about all ages and conditions, sometimes you’ve got to go back to the future. And back to the future to the past.

In our never-ending search for eateries that are fun and tasty in the West Orange County area, we wandered just a little east of our usual stomping grounds of Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster over to the cozy historic downtown of Orange, just east of the Plaza (not circle! Only out-of-towners call it a circle!).

THE ORIGINAL Watson’s, about a hundred years ago.

Watson’s Original Soda Fountain and Café on Chapman Avenue just east of Glassell Avenue traces its origins back to 1899, but the new Watson’s is as contemporary as last Tuesday. It adroitly combines nostalgia with current styles and interests and it stands on its own as an outstanding place to eat and relax, aside from its heavy dose of history.

Started back when William McKinley was in the White House, Watson’s was for many years a pharmacy as well as a soda fountain and eatery. It remained a quaint piece of Americana until 2015, when purchased by Bill and Laurie Skeffington, who did a nifty job of modernizing the place while keeping a good bit of the “old times” feel.

THE LOLO Salad (OC Tribune photo).

There is a wide semi-circular soda fountain and bar, at attached ice creamery and a dining room decorated with relic pharmacy accoutrements and old newspaper front pages. For the contemporary connection, there are several big screen TVs scattered around, showing sports, news and reruns of “I Love Lucy.”

It’s fun just to look around, but you can’t eat history. Fortunately, you can eat well at Watson’s. What was sampled of the food was excellent, and the portions reminded us of the late, lamented Belisle’s restaurant of Garden Grove.

Watson’s serves breakfast (all day), lunch and dinner. Marilyn chose the LoLo salad, which is chopped romaine lettuce topped with cheddar cheese, grilled chicken strips, sliced almonds, egg and honey mustard dressing. Excellent, says she.

Jim, being more of a carnivore, went for the Philly cheese steak, a mountainous sandwich with sliced tri-tip, grilled onions, peppers and cheese on a French roll. It was outstanding but too big to finish in one sitting.

In the interests of research, we also ordered their strawberry shortcake, which was sweet and fresh and delicious. Everything we ate was top-of-the-line, and the selection is vast, with fare ranging from burritos to steak to pasta to soups and salads.

A FESTIVAL of a strawberry shortcake at Watson’s (OC Tribune photo).

The only ding in Watson’s perfect marks was the service. We were seated right away, but had a long wait before we caught the attention of a server. After we ordered, it seemed like a longer-than-average wait for our food.

But assuming the delays might have been uncharacteristic, Watson’s is a destination restaurant for anyone who likes the charm of the traditional with the amenities of the present day. As GG, HB and Westminster look to – pardon the pun – beef up the appeal of their downtown areas, they could do well by talking the Skeffingtons into beginning a chain with a second Watson’s in one of those towns.

Watson’s Soda Fountain and Café is located at 116 East Chapman Ave., Orange. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesdays; 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday (bar open until 10 p.m.) and 7:30 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Prices are moderate. Website: Call (714) 202-2899.


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