A slice of Americana in North Park
dining out
Epicurious Eating: Johnny’s R Family Restaurant
Sunday after Thanksgiving
Published Thursday, 03-Dec-2009 in issue 1145
Turkey leftovers are the rewards to those who dirty their kitchens for friends and families during the season’s holidays. Or if you’re lucky enough to snag a doggie bag from your esteemed hosts then consider yourself privileged, but please don’t rub the gravy in our yearning faces the following day.
In a year when my companion and I neither cooked nor came away with care packages from Thanksgiving dinner, we turned to Johnny’s R a few nights later to cop our leftover fix.
The 28-year-old family restaurant serves turkey dinners made from whole-roasted birds year-round along with other meals that are lifted straight from a Fannie Farmer cookbook – liver and onions, chicken-fried steak, patty melts, ham with pineapple slices, etc. Breakfast fare (served anytime) covers all bases with omelets, corned beef hash, hotcakes and waffles.
Owners Johnny and Alex Raizian also inject a touch of Greek into their menu with things like mousaka, gyro plates and kabobs. It’s the kind of diner that greets with hospitality and showers the brain with bounteous “comfort food” of the old definition.
Johnny’s R is a big place and you’ll rarely wait to be seated. Its name is grammatically quirky, as the possessive apostrophe appears on the first name rather than on the family’s surname initial “R.” According to Alex, who plays host nearly seven days a week, the mistake was realized after the restaurant first opened and “it throws everybody off.”
If you come knocking for the turkey dinner, expect a piling of mostly tender white meat pulled from the bone that is draped over standard homemade stuffing. The mashed potatoes are fake, but firm and satisfying. The gravy was pale and the corn derived from a can, which became my single disappointment.
We also tried the “golden fried chicken” – a trio of clean, crisp bone-in pieces accompanied by a steaming baked potato and normally a garden salad. We instead upgraded to an Athenian salad harboring chunks of good feta cheese, Greek olives, tomatoes, copious cucumbers and a finger-size log of stuffed grape leaves. Our only caveat was that it cried for classic oregano-spiked Greek dressing. Cruets of red wine vinegar and plain oil are the only alternative to overly strong balsamic vinaigrette.
From the menu’s small Greek section our teeth wrestled sporadically with the beef kebob – the meat chunks de-skewered and seeping their flavorful juices into a bed of rice. Some of the pieces were tender; others demanded further marinating, not to mention a full stint on the flame grill rather than being finished off on the griddle.
In past visits, I’ve come away happy from the Johnny’s Greek omelet stuffed with warm feta, as well as the generous fisherman’s plate that reminded me of Friday “fish frys” common in the Northeast. It comes with cod, shrimp and scallops. The same companion also opted previously for the liver and onions, which he wolfed down with gusto. (Unless I become anemic, I’ll pass.)
From the homemade soup selection, which changes daily, we weren’t so nuts over last week’s turkey-rice with lemon. It was plain and gummy compared to a more robust garden vegetable, chock-full of cauliflower, potatoes, carrots and cabbage in a soul-warming broth.
Pies are what you’d expect from a mom-and-pop diner, all made in-house and sliced fatly. The chocolate cream is delectable, and the lemon cream shows off sturdy custard balancing a hardy citrus flavor with the right amount of sweetness. Forget nearby Coco’s. These desserts taste a lot more like what you’d find on a Rotary Club’s holiday dessert table.
In riding out the recession, Johnny’s offers “happy hour” dinners from 3 to 7 p.m., daily, affording budget-minded customers full meals for only $6.99. Entrée choices include meatloaf, liver and onions and other specialties with soup or salad and mashed or fried potatoes.
Though whenever you come, the experience is both humbling and an escape from today’s modern culinary trends, which often leave us forgetting about the joys of hot roast beef sandwiches on dreary cool days or turkey dinners with cranberry sauce in July if that’s when the hankering strikes.

Johnny’s R Family Restaurant
2611 El Cajon Blvd., North Park; 619-291-8239; Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., daily
3.0 stars
3.0 stars
Food Quality: 
2.5 stars
4.0 stars

Price Range: 
4 stars: outstanding
3 stars: good
2 stars: fair
1 star: poor
$: inexpensive
$$: moderate
$$$: expensive

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