You know how every town has that restaurant that’s been around since the beginning of time? Banchero’s is that restaurant in Hayward (one of them, at least). The painted exterior boasts that this place was established in 1948, and I will not contest them on that. I’m also fairly certain that the façade, the tables and chairs, along with every fixture and most of the gracious and wise employees are from right around then as well. And, let’s face it, they’re all hanging in there.
I have to grade Banchero’s on a different scale than other establishments. This is not a place that I, of my own accord, would probably ever patronize. It’s a restaurant from a bygone era of leather booths, dim lighting, dingy tile ceilings, and uncreative food. “Modern” is not in the vocabulary of the Banchero’s crew, and they’re working with that (though, curiously, they do have a pretty nice website). In my own personal world, this place has about the ambiance of a dentist’s office, but when you enter Banchero’s, you’re no longer in your own world anymore. You’re whisked away to a bar and restaurant whose heyday was 50 years in the past.
When Banchero’s was built, there was no Cheesecake Factory. There wasn’t Applebees, or P.F. Chang’s, or even Olive Garden. Can you imagine? The very idea of “chain” restaurants may not have even existed yet (along with fire and possibly the wheel), so each local restaurant facility was left to their own devices as far as interior design, menu, and all the standard protocols of a money-making establishment. And so, you get places like Banchero’s, where they made food that people liked and functioned well enough to make a bit of cash. The thing is, there just aren’t many from that era that have made it into this century.
But Banchero’s has, which says something about the place in general. Clearly they have a loyal clientele that spans more than one generation, they offer something that people respect and desire, and they function well enough to keep offering these things without undermining their own intents. To own and operate a restaurant for sixty-some years, (assumingly) keeping much of the same decor, menu, and general appearance is a feat that few restaurants can claim to have conquered.
Now, what do I personally think of the food? I’m not the hugest fan. It’s diner style – the thick white porcelain plates with rounded edges, no garnishes, heavy with butter and sauce. The choices are steak and chicken and (thankfully) pasta and offer nothing particularly vegetarian friendly nor terribly creative. In short – it’s not my style. But that’s not to say that flocks of people don’t arrive every night salivating over the ravioli, spaghetti, and rib-eye steaks. There is something about this place that keeps the people coming back week after week, decade after decade.
One fun thing about Banchero’s (that I can’t fully enjoy as a non-meat-eater) is all the stuff that comes with a dinner entrée. You think bread sticks and all-you-can-eat salad are good at Olive Garden? Try this: if you order a main meal that isn’t pasta, you receive salad, barley soup (yummy), hors d’oeuvres (olives, pickles, peppers, cauliflower, salami), spaghetti, and ravioli all on community platters for the table to share. That’s before your meal – then you get a fillet of sole or chicken liver or whatever you ordered after all that! And also an after-dinner ice cream included as well – choice of vanilla, orange sherbet, or spumoni. And, don’t forget that you have to order the garlic bread (half or whole loaf) to help carb-up the whole meal (it’s delicious, can’t mess up garlic bread). I typically order just soup and salad, as those are the most veggie friendly/healthy options, and since I can’t seem to manage to eat those appetizers and a whole fish meal also.
The interesting thing about Banchero’s is that they are filling a niche that I didn’t really think existed anymore. There’s a reason that the diners of today don’t have off-white walls with nautical paintings from 19-hundred-and-something and lumpy leather booths. We do the mood lighting, the color matching, the professionally theme-decorated nick knacks strategically placed around the walls for a reason – it looks nicer. The art of restaurant decoration has been perfected and you and I are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how you feel about it) to be able to enjoy these seemingly elaborately decorated facilities for the price of a standard dinner. And though I’m describing chain restaurants here, I’m really just harping on the evolution of ambiance as a key role in a patron’s enjoyment of any setting. Thoughtful, classy, modern, and creative are the new decors of choice, and we now have the ability to enjoy this in almost any restaurant.
For Banchero’s to hang on to it’s old world style, it’s old fashioned menu (I ask you, where else can you order Sauteed Chicken Livers, Ground Steak, Swiss Chard, or Spumoni Ice Cream?), and the same mid-1900′s decor and still maintain a profitable, competitive business is completely amazing. Kudos to you, Banchero’s, I wish you many more years of success.
Note: To any of my family members reading this, please be neither surprised nor offended at this review. I don’t mind going to Banchero’s as it makes me happy to see you happy. And I don’t care if the food isn’t for me specifically, you probably already knew that anyway (“you’re only having soup and salad?”). We can still go there and I’ll never say a word of complaint; I just like to hang out with you. :)