Mentioning gone-but-not-forgotten restaurants of the Tacoma area is a bit like trying to remember birthday parties and summer camps from years ago. The memories come slowly at first, but each one brings another and another, with more details and smiles, as if turning pages of a mental photo album.
It certainly also helps that Pierce County has such a rich history of great eateries, as well as a roster of current cafés and watering holes that will create memories for future walks down our collective gastronomic heritage.
The first leg of this journey covered those most of us remember, while part two took us passed some more hidden gems. This section of our tastebud trail offers yet more restaurants that have disappeared from the landscape of Tacoma but still bring up great memories for those patrons who rested at their tables for meals to remember.
The first stop on this hike hiccup is The Bavarian, which sat at the corner of Tacoma’s K and Division. The restaurant and delicatessen operated by the Vierthaler family offered an old-country style and atmosphere to match its traditional German food alongside a wide selection of imported beers and wines before that was a trend. The building itself already had been a few restaurants by then. Built in 1916, it had been the Green Lantern and Viafore’s Restaurant. It switched from Italian to German food with the Bavarian, which opened in 1959 with promotions of being the first German restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. It was a hit from the start, which prompted an expansion in 1970. It even stayed open after it suffered $25,000 in damage after a car plowed into it. However, it would close for good in 1997 after it was sold to become El Toro. The address is now a medical office.
Angelo’s Italian Restaurant
Swinging over to Bridgeport Way, there was Angelo’s Italian restaurant, where Mary Aguirre was the noted chef back in the day. She was even featured in the Chef’s Column in the News Tribune in 1976 for her way with a spoon. Mary had already mastered Mexican-American cuisine from her youth. She was born in Texas to immigrant parents, who then moved the family to the Yakima valley after buying a vegetable farm there. Aguirre learned the art of Italian cooking at the Angelo’s location in Parkland and also worked in the kitchens at her brother’s restaurants, El Toro and Matador. But it was the Bridgeport Way Angelo’s where people talk about her legendary lasagna and baseball-sized meatballs they ate, particularly on Sundays.
Then there was the Turkey Inn along the 8200 block of South Hosmer Street, which opened in 1971. It was the place for grandma-style turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy or a nap-causing turkey sandwich that overlapped the plate it was served on. The much-loved restaurant fed a generation of family diners before closing in the early 1990s. The location then became the China Town Restaurant, which an arsonist damaged before becoming the Great Wall Buffet, which arsonists also targeted. It was destroyed in 2019. The site is now a self-storage business.
With full stomachs after food from all those restaurants, eaters in the know from back in the day could roll over to Frisbee’s Bakery on South 38th for a cake or pie. Fred Frisbee purchased Alexander’s Bakery and changed the name to Mrs. Frisbee’s Bakery after his mother. In 1956, it was sold to Orville Coomb, John Olson and Al Franko, who wanted to focus more on fresh bread and rolls. In 1968, the bakery changed hands again. This time Kurt Greenberger and Doug Lepinski ran it with the addition of cakes, soups and sandwiches. Their chief cake decorator, Nora Lindbo, then bought the place.
The ownership might have changed over the decades, but Frisbee’s always meant fresh, flavor and artisan until the final cake left the oven in 2000. Mass-produced bread, grocery store offerings, and construction disruptions caused by the Interstate 5 offramp changes nearby had taken their toll.
While the menus of these long-remembered restaurants might be different, they all have a few things in common.
“The atmosphere, the experience in a lot of ways, is more important than the food or service,” said Robert Stocker. “You have to be in a whole different place and a whole different time. It’s all about the experience.”
Stocker opened Shake Shake Shake with Steve Naccarato in 2012 and started the Boom Boom Room in April 2021. Both locations have distinct looks and feel. Shake Shake Shake has a 1960s California diner vibe, with its orange ceiling to pay homage to the sun and a massive EAT sign on the wall that people photograph a few dozen times a day. The Boom Boom Room is a golden-age-of-Vegas hotspot. Both spots provide very different places for hour-long vacations over a drink and a bite.
Other restaurants that provide that escapism vibes for Stocker include the Camp Bar, with its outdoorsy theme, and Top of Tacoma and 1111 for their neighborhood hangout scenes.
“You can just relax,” he said. “It’s a good vibe.”
That is what seems to make a memorable restaurant, a good vibe.