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Cheap Eats: The Classic Steal

If there was ever a time to revisit one of the city’s original dining deals, downtown’s 75-year-old Clifton’s Cafeteria, it’s now. We talked to the third-generation owner, Robert H. Clinton, about old-school thrift

Photograph by Dustin Snipes

"People were stressed during the Depression. My grandfather, Clifford E. Clinton, wanted to create a place where people could eat good, quality, affordable food in a tranquil environment.”

arrowAverage check at Clifton’s today: $8.50. While the turkey dinner will set you back $6.89, you can fill your tray with egg foo yung for $4.19, shrimp cocktail for $2.64, and lime Jell-O for $1.49.

arrow“The key to cafeterias is to utilize your leftovers.” A whole turkey at Clifton’s becomes Thanksgiving dinner, which becomes turkey potpie, turkey chili, and turkey noodle soup.

arrow“We don’t make a lot on each customer, but we hope to have a lot of customers. If we can make 15¢ to 20¢ on each customer, we feel we’re doing OK.”

arrow“We make everything from scratch.” Clinton prizes his grandfather’s recipe cabinet, with hundreds of handwritten (and top-secret) dish instructions from the 1930s.

arrowThough only one or two customers a day invoke it, the Clifton’s credo still holds true: “Pay what you wish—dine free unless delighted.”

 

Clifton’s Cafeteria, 648 S. Broadway, downtown, 213-627-1673.