Raymond Chandler’s Taco Place

Below is a photo of the La Jolla Methodist Church on La Jolla Boulevard, located in the Lower Hermosa neighborhood. The chapel on the right was originally built in 1924 as a passenger and traction power substation for the San Diego Electric Railway. The turret-like building on the left was added a few years later, containing retail shops, professional offices, and studios.

By the time Raymond Chandler and his wife, Cissy, arrived in La Jolla, the turret had been purchased by a man named Moe Lock, who turned it into the La Plaza restaurant and El Toro bar. Albert “Al” Hernandez was hired as bartender and his wife Helen became the head waitress. A chef named Washington cooked steaks, lamb chops and other meats on an open grill near the front entrance. Various Mexican combo dinners were also on the menu.

The restaurant was a short distance from the Chandlers’ new home and Ray and Cissy became regular customers. They were always fastidiously dressed and, according to this 1982 Reader article by Jeff Smith, highly particular about the service they received (all dinner dishes must be removed before bringing the dessert menu).

As Cissy’s health declined, she found it more difficult to go out. Chandler continued to visit the bar on his own, usually late at night. He was working on his penultimate novel, The Long Goodbye, and often shared his thoughts about the work-in-progress with the bartender, Al Hernandez. The two men shared an emotional bond, as well. As. Cissy lived out the final months of her life Hernandez’s son, Albert, Jr, a promising tennis player, died of cancer. The two men grieved together and supported each other.

El tiempo no importa. Time doesn’t matter. That was the motto of the La Plaza restaurant, printed on the menus and over the entryway, clearly meant as an invitation for customers to relax and enjoy themselves. For these two men that motto may have been bittersweet, each hoping for just a little more time with their loved ones.

I don’t know if Chandler ever ordered tacos at La Plaza. I suspect he preferred the steaks and chops to the Mexican dishes, but who knows? La Plaza is also celebrated, correctly or not, as the first American restaurant to serve blended margaritas. Al Hernandez may have encouraged his writer friend to try one, but I’m guessing Chandler stuck to his regular gimlets.

Also of note, for those interested in San Diego restaurant history—Al and Helen Hernandez eventually moved their family to North County and opened the Hernandez Hideaway restaurant on the shores of Lake Hodges. It still stands today, although the family no longer owns it.

The original train station, circa 1925. Chandler’s house would be built top center where the two streets intersect at the edge of the ocean.
The front facade of the station, still part of the church today.
Map of the San Diego Electric train lines in the 1920s

4 Comments on “Raymond Chandler’s Taco Place

  1. Oh my goodness! So interesting!! I loved the pictures too. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Nice history Corey. I’ve been to both restaurants. Loved the background, and Chandler

  3. Fabulous to have the photographs along with the history. I was told about the restaurant when we moved nearby–a couple of blocks from the Chandler home–but missed the chance to actually be there. Thanks for the memories!!!

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