By Kevin Leap and Steven Persitza
You gotta love a place where the hostess addresses you as "honey" 30 seconds after your arrival. And the hits just keep on coming after that. Red Tracton's is literally right across the street from the Del Mar racetrack, and if you're looking to see and be seen during racing season, head to Red's and you're off and running.
This place is the throwback of all throwbacks with its dark wood interior, gargantuan red booths and smarmy champagne-colored lighting. You can almost see the cigarette smoke wafting through the air from days gone by. Replete with the obligatory piano bar, a small dance floor and wildly partying patrons, Red Tracton's is a charming relic.
So who the heck is Red Tracton? Legend has it that along with being a "bud" to the Hollywood glitterati of yesteryear, Red was a restaurateur obsessed with impeccable food quality and outrageous portions. After running a restaurant in L.A. for more than 30 years, Red loaded up the truck and fled from Beverly to land in Del Mar. Twenty years later, the place is still going strong under the watchful eye of his daughter, Tracy.
Make sure that you bring a huge appetite for both food and cocktails as they serve up both in spades. The steaks are all USDA Prime and almost as big as the dance floor. A crowd favorite is the "Frank Sinatra" with sauteed onions, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic. (How did Frank stay so slim?) Retro dishes such as the self-acclaimed "famous" Green Goddess Salad and Calf Liver with Onions and Bacon round out a pretty delicious menu.
Don't leave without having one of the baked potatoes with your meal. These things are as big as your head, perfectly cooked and smothered with an accoutrement of delectable savory goodies. The Lobster Bisque is some of the best in town, and the crustaceans observed as entrees were surely referred to as Lobzilla at some point in their lives. Prices are pretty moderate for what you are served, and the wine list is decent and inexpensive.
The place is literally swarming with people after the track. Some come dressed in their finery and hats all season long. Others arrive with flip-flops and Bermudas. The only no-no at Red's is tank tops for men - a rule Mr. Tracton and family enforce firmly with no exceptions. Repeating why this is such a staunch rule would have you in hysterics, and it's best to ask when you get there. You'll want to keep this one under wraps for fun conversation over cocktails.
During racing season, valet parking is your only option and it is complimentary. The word on the street is that the tipping gets pretty heavy, so bring a five- or 10-spot, depending on how the ponies did for you that day. Reservations are highly recommended, and you may be seated next to one of Del Mar's infamous high rollers, or the guy who mows your lawn. Whichever it may be, you'll have a rip-roaring good time at this joint, and a joint it is.
Make sure to come in good voice so you can gather around the piano and belt out a few show tunes after your dinner.
See you at Red's!
- 550 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
- (858) 755-6600
Way big food, way big fun.
Not a place for a quiet dinner, at least during race season.