VISALIA, Calif. — Many people believe the Caesar salad was named after Julius Caesar — it’s not. The Caesar salad was invented by an Italian-American man named Caesar Cardini in about 1924. This legendary salad’s creation is generally credited to restaurateur Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego, but he was also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition. Throughout Prohibition, Tijuana was the place for many Southern California elites and celebrities to go for a drink and entertainment. The Los Angeles Times called Tijuana “the city that was Vegas before Vegas was Vegas.”
Cardini was born in 1896. As expected, it’s a little difficult tracing someone’s life so long ago. However, an advertisement from Cardini’s restaurant in 1919 suggests he moved to California in the 1910s. Early records document his first joint venture in Sacramento. There is also evidence that he worked at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Later, he opened another restaurant in San Diego. However, in 1920, Prohibition threw a wrench in his restauranteur dreams. It was shortly after this that he invented his famous salad. In her cookbook From Julia Child’s Kitchen, Child recounted traveling to Cardini’s restaurant:
My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don’t. They only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe.
Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow, John Barrymore, and Charlie Chaplin were just a few of the famous movie stars known to frequent Tijuana in the 1920s for a little drinking and gambling. It was in this atmosphere that Caesar Cardini opened his restaurant along the then-hopping Main Street, today called Avenida Revolución.
Since 1966, the Vartanian family has welcomed countless local residents, travelers, and international dignitaries to The Vintage Press, their celebrated restaurant in downtown Visalia, California. With four distinctive dining rooms and classic and creative menus that reflect the seasons, The Vintage Press is a gourmet destination. Here’s the restaurant’s signature recipe for Caesar Salad created tableside each evening by Chef David Vartanian.*