North Woods Inn, 540 N. Azusa Ave. (at San Bernardino), Covina
A visual fantasia, this hunting lodge-themed eatery and watering hole in Covina is replete with oil paintings, dark wood, period lamps and stained glass windows, not to mention faux logs and perpetual “snow” and “icicles” on the roof.
John Clearman opened the place in 1967 and it still appears to be going strong. He opened a few other theme restaurants in the area as well, with other North Woods Inns in La Mirada and San Gabriel and a Steak ‘n Stein in Pico Rivera still under the same ownership. He was also responsible for Rancho Cucamonga’s Magic Lamp. LA Weekly wrote a nice history of them all.
Friends and I used to eat at Covina’s North Woods Inn near Christmas every year, but we stopped, after one friend, incensed that his steak and shrimp dinner didn’t have the number or size of shrimp he was envisioning, put the kibosh on returning. I’d forgotten the whole thing until inviting them all there for my birthday. (He didn’t attend.) I had the idea after revisiting Covina Bowl and realizing it was a block west of North Woods. A two-in-one birthday opportunity had presented itself.
We were there for a mid-afternoon Sunday lunch. While you wait for a table, you can sit around the center fireplace or take in the surroundings, which include a stuffed bear under glass. Soon we were seated, at a table that appeared hewn from a log, with a gas lamp on it. The staff all wear red vests. It’s charming to a high degree.
The meat-focused menu is mostly steak and seafood dinners, with a few sandwiches thrown in too, and isn’t for vegetarians or light eaters. We had a 9-ounce lumberjack steak ($32), filet mignon ($37), chicken ($23) and the North Woods Special Platter ($31), which came with fish, steak and fried chicken. All dinners are accompanied by red cabbage and caesar salads (I had some of each, below) and cheese bread, plus rice pilaf and baked potato.
We all liked our food. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was good enough. Two small criticisms: Dinners come with potato AND rice? That’s a little starchy. And the mushroom gravy, which I opted for with my potato, was disappointing rather than a treat.
If you haven’t been to North Woods, you should probably go at least once. It’s one of the most unique restaurants in the region and well worth a drive from the Inland Valley.
After our three-hour lunch, my friends felt pressed to get back home, so I went bowling on my own. I bowled one game, for a score of 174, my third-highest ever! Thanks, Covina.