This restaurant, situated in the corner of a shopping mall on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City — was unrelated to the chain of Ponderosa Steak Houses that now dot the nation.  This one was a huge “all you can eat” emporium that my friends and I loved in the seventies and eighties.  It was set up cafeteria-style with a large salad bar and then a carving station where several chefs would dispense about six different entrees including prime rib, baked ham, roast turkey and corned beef, and as many side dishes.  The food was pretty decent but of course, the best part was that you could go back for more and more and more, and you could try everything.

What fascinated me about the place was that while the outside advertising emphasized how you could stuff yourself on meat for a modest price, once you were inside, all efforts were devoted to getting you to eat the cheap foods.  Servers would place baskets of very fine, thick-sliced sourdough bread on your table and tell you how yummy it was.  They were also apparently instructed to never take away a dirty plate until you’d eaten every possible scrap of edible material on it.  If you tried to get them to remove a plate with one more bite on it, they’d look at you like you couldn’t possibly be serious and ask, “But…aren’t you going to eat that?”

In the meantime, you had to pass the salad bar to get to where they carved the prime rib and if you hadn’t already put a lot of lettuce on your plate, the carvers would look at you in astonishment and mutter, “No salad?”  Like they were very concerned you get a balanced diet.  As you went back for your third or fourth helping, the slices would get thinner and they’d hurriedly toss a huge scoop of rice or mashed potatoes on your plate even before you asked for a side dish.

Once, I talked to the manager about booking a banquet there for C.A.P.S., the cartoonist group of which I was then president.  He told me they loved private parties and explained to me that private parties were not on an “all you can eat” basis.  The way it worked, when our group was ready to dine, they’d close off the serving line to everyone but us.  We could then go through and each of us could have our pick on any of their entrees, which would be carved for us in portions larger than the usual serving size for the Ponderosa.

After I left, I realized two things.  One was that our members would complain about the cost per plate, which was higher than the “all you can eat” price to eat the same food if you were dining in the next room.  Also, I realized that we’d become part of the restaurant’s efforts to get their patrons to not go back for more food.  It would take our group at least twenty minutes to go through that serving line, during which all the other folks dining in the restaurant wouldn’t be able to get seconds or thirds or ninths.  I think that was the main reason they liked private parties.

37 Responses to Ponderosa

  • Bill says:

    My friends and I used to love this place, went there as often as we could until it closed, and really miss it still. Can’t go into the Pavilion’s parking lot now, where it stood, without thinking of the Rare Prime Rib cuts that they generously served. Nothing like it around now. Never had trouble with its service or food, wouldn’t go in to stuff ourselves with repeat servings, but rather for the comfortable setting, food quality and availability, and unrushed conversation with friends. A real loss to the community!

  • GENE SHAW says:

    My family living off of Washington Blvd between the Marina and Lincoln Blvd. loved going out to eat on the weekends. Both theirs and my favorite stops were Friars (for the bacon wrapped filet mignon, twice baked bake potatoes, strawberry sundaes and home made soups), Herman’s Family restaurant (the owner was the former chef for Stern’s BBQ-best pork ribs and brisket) and the Ponderosa for prime rib. We practically lived there from the late 60’s thru the 80’s. From our family hangout, to our family and relatives gatherings, thru my additions thru dates and marriage this is where we would go to eat and be merry. I showed up twice in consecutive days for my 21’st birthday celebrations. I shocked the carver, he asked…”Did you get your stomach pumped”? 23 servings of the prime rib over two days…pure gluttony. Actually, at the time I worked, studied, wrestled, ran long distance, worked out and was heavily hitting the dating scene at night…and was living on starving wages. Just stay away from the starches. Always room for their cherry or raspberry sherbet. Great times with people you love over good food at reasonable prices. The location in an industrial area and the lack of an attractive building were the only negatives. Just have patience with their food carving policies and enjoy your conversation with your family and dates. LOL…small world! It was only four years later and the Ponderosa was now one of the businesses on my letter carrier route.

  • Larry Davis says:

    465 La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 so what restaurant was here before the SLS Hotel was it Tale of the Cock?
    thank you great site to explore…

  • G. J. P. says:

    What about the Lobster House on La Cienega Bl. in Beverly Hils?

    And Will Wright’s Ice Cream Parlor on Santa Monica Bl. in W. Hollywood?

    And Perino’s on Wilshire Boulevard?

  • G. J. P. says:

    I would go all the way to Culver City for their prime rib, which was really good. I think that I remember they had an all-you-can-eat menu(?). Is that the case?

  • mike williams says:

    These where also in Denver, I would always get the steakhouse double deluxe with cheese and fries. And carrot cake. Yum.

  • Roy M says:

    We used to go there with friends and families!
    Great food- lots of variety -prime rib and more!
    Reasonable price-$3 to $4 per person
    Clean casual dress and friendly waitress
    Great memories there!

  • Anita Godkin says:

    I remember going to The Ponderosa many times because it was so inexpensive I remember a price of $2.99 which made it very affordable for a family does anyone else remember a price of $2.99

  • Jeanell Curry says:

    I loved going to the Ponderosa with my family back in the 80’s they had one if the best all u can eat restaurants around back then. Especially the prime rib. Too bad they closed down. There’s a Roll Neal Rye Bakery in that old location now in Culver City California fun times and many great memories shared there!

  • Tammy says:

    I’ve think I read all the comments, but does anyone remember them giving out paper headbands with a feather ( like an Indian hat) to the kids?

  • John Engstrom says:

    I remember this restaurant, not because I ate there often (a couple of times at most), but because my father did the original landscaping.

  • Dyna says:

    My dad worked at this restaurant for many years.
    Lots of great memories!

  • Jerri says:

    I am 71 years old now. My 49 year old daughter remembers this place from when she was little, like maybe 7 or 8. We would go there every Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. I have no complaints about it at all. In fact I wish it was still there. I lived in Inglewood back in that day, but now even in Thousand Oaks, I would still go there. Food was great!! I also LOVED the Cherry Sherbet that they had. I have never had that since. Sure wish I could get some now. When I was divorced, my dates and I would go there to eat, and then to either the Studio drive-in movie, or the Centinella. Those were the days. There is nothing like that anywhere anymore!!

  • SueWho says:

    Do you remember the bakery in the Culver Center? They made the best meat-filled puff pastry like round empanadas. I’ve been trying to find the owners for years to get that recipe. Any hints?

  • Robert H Allen says:

    Any body aware of a similar restaurant and is it open?

  • mcfly1982 says:

    Hmmmm I wonder if this is the same all you can eat restaurant that use to be on Sepulveda/Jefferson across the street from Toys R Us in Culver City. I use to come here as kid in the 80’s with my parents. The prime rib was just as others have described. I remember the booths being red and the smoking section was near the front, you’d have to climb a step or two to sit in the area. I also remember there being a surly old woman who ran the place, or at least, ran the cash register. The pancakes were good too.

  • Tim Wells says:

    I liked the Ponderosa, but there was one issue. The place was nice, the staff friendly, the food was good and the price reasonable. However, the buffet line was usually long and slow. I went there for the prime rib, and they sliced it very thin. When I asked for a thicker slice, they said I could come back as many times as I wished for more and they were not allowed to deviate from policy. The explanation was too many patrons left too much on their plates uneaten when served large portions This makes sense, but at 6′ and 300 lbs., it was obvious anyone I never left food on my plate or anyone else’s at my table. So instead of just going back to the carving station, one had to go through the whole line again just to get another thin slice of meat. On a busy night it took too long, especially if going to a movie after dinner. I finally gave up and went to other places to avoid the aggravation.

  • LE$ says:

    My Mom & Dad and I used to go there. I remember brown ranch-style symbols around the rim of the plates.

  • Susan says:

    I agree with Steve from July 22…I just stumbled across this article while trying to find Ponderosa in San Diego where I grew up. It was unique and NOT the Ponderosa Steakhouse chain. If I remember correctly, the interior was red with red wrap-around table booths and red décor. I fondly remember their prime rib.

  • Phil A. says:

    ~ Elise ~
    I know you from your ” RJ’s for Ribs ” posting. I still smile every day about you not remembering eating as you were so hungry.
    Anyway, you must have been a patron of Woody’s SmorgasBurger.
    I worked there from July of 1964 until July of 1966. I was then promoted to manager of the El Segundo unit.

    Today I would bet my wife’s retirement that I had served you at the CC store. I would also bet you filled out a Birthday Club Card with your address on it and then handed it to the cutest guy on the line that day.
    Boy, did we have fun with that advertising promotion.

    Phil Ankofski

  • Elise says:

    Grew up in Culver City and drove past Ponderosa many times, but I never remember eating there.

  • Michael Fuhrman says:

    I remember going there and the prime rib was good but every time you went back the big server would give you the stink eye and serve you a thinner piece.

  • Sondra says:

    I remember taking my family there after church. That was the place to
    eat after church. The prime rib (end cut) was the best!

  • Bill says:

    As a kid in the late 60s early 70s our family would go there for dinner before we went across the street to see a movie at the Studio Drive-In……………remember?

  • Steve says:

    To brian trester, I think this Ponderosa was a one of a kind and not a chain. I have seen other Ponderosas, but it’s a common name and not related that I know of.

  • gary says:

    Was a kid when my grandfather work here….can remember as a teen taking my dates here to eat…good food and cheap…lol

  • brian trester says:

    is this the same ponderosa that is also know as Bonaza? we have both here still in Iowa but most are now Bonanza’s they are not bad esp the steak but have gone down hill in quality in the last years

  • Charley says:

    We had a friend who would head directly for the prime rib, skipping all the salads. We used to joke that he ate so much that he put them out of business.

  • J. says:

    I always made up names of drinks based on famous people, usually athletes, when I would be taken there as a child. It was better than ordering a Shirley Temple. Sometimes they’d take the easy way out and bring a Shirley Temple but other times they’d be creative in the bar and serve me an interesting non alcoholic concoction. The best of these was the Too Tall Jones which I came up with when I remembered Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones from the Dallas Cowboys.

  • Pam (Pitti) Turner says:

    Coming from a Cowboy movie family this place was a favorite for my family and then later some great date nights. Loved the Prime Rib. My steady boyfriend worked at Stern’s Barbeque but he took me here. We went to Stern’s too (great baked beans there!) but the Ponderosa usually was the first choice…maybe it was the all you can eat(?)…for sure…we were hungry and growing teens back then. Thanks for the memories!

  • Cindy says:

    Loved this restaurant! But I want to know if anyone might know the salad dressing from the salad bar. It was so good. It was a french dressing but it was thin, and like a vinagrette. Could never duplicate it, but would love to hear if someone might know what ingredients went into it. My favorite part of the Ponderosa!!

  • LE$ says:

    I can still remember the pictures of spurs, horseshoes, and other ranch related objects around the rim of the plates. My Mom & Dad always ordered the prime rib. Me, SPARERIBS!

  • Neill Kovrig says:

    Oh … my … gosh – I remember the Ponderosa so well. I was just a kid when we lived in Culver City (right on Overland, at the Grecian Gardens), and we would go to the Ponderosa for dinner sometimes. My uncle was friends with a bartender there, whose name was Kitty … she would ply me with cherry cokes haha :)

    Between this one, and the page on Ship’s (where we would go ALL the time), I’ve slipped back into my childhood – it’s a nice feeling. Thank you for having this nice trip down Memory Lane available.

  • Kathie says:

    I loved going there for lunch when they had a menu rather than the buffet. I would always get the prime rib bones left from the night before drenched in a really nice barbeque sauce. Those are still the beef ribs I compare others to.

  • Craig Printup says:

    Good food and happy memories. I got a Flexo mini-bike for X-mas 1970, and I went to the parking lot surrounding the Ponderosa to ride it that day. When eating there, I used to always ask for the end pieces because I like the well done crunchy crust, and no one ever wanted well done prime rib, so the would give you a huge portion, just to get rid of the ends.

  • IVANWAXMAN says:

    correction christmas parties.other gathering.our family had our parties there and the staff was great sure do miss it

  • IVANWAXMAN says:

    i wuold like to say i grew up at the pondersosa house of prime rib my father that passed last year at the age of 101 he was the headchef leon waxman.that company was a good place going in with father and eating ice cream for breakfast on saturdays. and all of the chrristmas parties all of families had lots. there are so many memories but the roll.n rye is in the place where the ponderosa.
    im sorry but thinking about my father makes me cry.thank you my father was the late leon waxman

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