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An Hommage to the Absurd at Clifton's Kitschy Cafeteria

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We've always been intrigued by the mythic allure of Downtown LA's Clifton's Cafeteria. "Cafeteria?" our friends ask, incredulous at the suggestion. "But it's kitschy!" we insist. "It's done up like a forest, with running streams, and woodland creatures!" But that never seems to get them to want to come along. So finally we did what any self-respecting fan of tiny cups of jello served with a drop of whipped cream would do: We took ourselves to Clifton's Cafeteria.

The downtown location, known as Clifton's Brookdale, is the first of the themed Clifton's that brightened up the food-service landscape, but also the only one that remains open. The over-the-top tropical-themed "Pacific Seas" location closed down in the 1960s, leaving the little woodland creatures on South Broadway to fend for themselves. But it's not just history or artificial grass that makes Clifton's unique--the food is actually quite good. Yes, we know that the word "cafeteria" conjures up painful memories of adolescence. Our own junior high cafeteria served something called "Meat Pie" that was neither meat nor pie. Clifton's must have something right, though, since they've been heaping helpings onto eager trays since 1935.