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Happy Meals: Honeybaked Hams Toluca Lake

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Happy Meals, a new semi-regular series where I, an LA native, revisit places I ate as a kid, indulge in food and nostalgia, and see what’s changed and what hasn’t.

When I was a kid, we lived near Lake Hollywood, so Honeybaked was about three minutes from our house. My earliest memories of the place was picking up sams there and heading to the beach.

I developed my beach taste on the east coast. Sub sandwich beaches, they had tiny jewel-pebbles, rivulets down to the water, jetties and tide pools alive with schools of green-gold minnows. There were crabs and clams, mussels and horseshoe crabs, tiny hermit crabs and periwinkles. Some days, the water so calm, that even as you swam, it looks like pale, pale blue glass, rippling gently out in front of you. You could ride a Sunfish (which in my memory is little better than a surfboard with a sail) way out and still look down and see the sand on the bottom, rippled by the waves and currents.

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So LA beaches were a little tame for my taste. And yet. Nothing thrilled me more than the first glimpse of the dark blue water through the Malibu tunnel. Los Angeles beaches, were full of wind, and golden sunshine, gilding massive waves as the afternoons wore on. I loved those waves, their lacey frothy demise, the strength of them pulling the sand out from under your feet, how they could lift you off your feet like flying. Feeling a little scared of being tumbled was just part of the fun.

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And those were the days of Honey Baked Ham Sammies. They were salty and moist, the ham perfect and the bread so fresh it would stick to your teeth. The tomatoes and lettuce were always fresh and the honey mustard was burning sweet. So good. There were chips and sodas, and big dill pickles wrapped in saran that inevitably leaked all over the bag. There was nothing better.

A few years ago, I worked in Burbank and dropped in sometimes (they had a bunch of head shots there then, the most recent of which was George Clooney in ER scrubs – all are now gone), and became reacquainted while doing some picketing in the area during the Writer’s Strike. Last week, I met an old friend for lunch. They’ve updated some – taken down (most of) the animal heads and replaced them with a product wall and a flat screen tv. Other than that, little has changed. They still have the same tan and green color scheme with imitation kerosene lamps, hanging from the ceiling. The tables and chairs might as well be the same (if they’re not).

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Recently, I’ve switched to smoked turkey, which I like a lot, and my friend had the “secretary’s special” (When did they come up with that? 1970?) – half a ham sandwich and macaroni salad. I found the bread a little dry that day, but it was still a great sandwich. My friend agreed about the ham, but felt that the macaroni salad was too bland to be worth eating. I also got a generous slice of lemon pound cake that I chose from a basket next to the register. It had powdered sugar on it and each piece was individually wrapped in saran. I have it on good authority (my mom) that this tiny old lady bakes it and brings it in every day.

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To be fair, I do have one beef. There was no diet coke. They had beverage refrigerators, but they only had regular. And the soda fountain behind the register doesn’t work. Also, I hadn’t noticed, cause I usually pick up, but you can see the sky through some of the slats in the ceiling. Yipes!

Honeybaked is not a place you go for fancy sandwiches. Don’t go there if you need to be surrounded by trendy architecture or beautiful people (I imagine that George just sends his assistant these days), but it is a place where you can get a great sandwich served by nice people (as well as eat in the company of many old people, but sometimes old people are wiser. And this is one of those cases.)

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My friend lives in the area, but hadn’t been recently. As we walked out, she said, “Oh, I’m so glad we went here! I feel like a kid again.” Exactly.

Honeybaked Hams: Toluca Lake
10106 Riverside Dr
Toluca Lake, CA 91602

All photos by Jacy for LAist