Dining Above the Clouds

May 18, 2023 | Food

Friends gathering at the Cliffhanger on a Sunday after church for a great meal.

By Dr. Ginger Gabriel – Special to The Alpine Mountaineer

Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger is inarguably most famous for its spectacular views.  From the structure’s beginning in 1927, this location was destined to become a historical landmark.

First it was a garage/gas station and then a café.  As word got out, it became a destination point to relax after the arduous drive up Highway 18 to enjoy the panoramic view.

Even today, the drive from San Bernardino to the Cliffhanger is a challenge for both people and their cars.  Some people who were around in the early days say that the original structure extended out over the cliff, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the restaurant was named the Cliffhanger. At that time there were numerous renovations and remodels.

When the Cliffhanger opened in 1972, it was a “special event” restaurant. You expected to order a steak and something a little more expensive and elegant. You had to book early for a table overlooking the night lights of San Bernardino. It satisfied the need for something special.

The structure, over the years, has withstood the ravages of wind, rain, snow, ice, earthquakes and wildfires.

Between the good times, there were long periods when the Cliffhanger was closed and dining there was only a pleasant memory.  And the Cliffhanger is not without her rumors, scandals and good stories.

There was quite a buzz on the mountain when in 2007, the Cliffhanger was transformed into a motel for numerous scenes for the Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore adventure movie, Next. The Cliffhanger sat empty again for several more years, until 2016, when the refurbished property opened with the name Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger.

Hortencia’s was fun. It was not unusual to be greeted by a mariachi band or a roving troubadour, moving from table to table creating a party atmosphere. When Hortencia’s opened her restaurant in the clouds, it was labeled a “casual, brick-lined eatery offering Mexican standards plus margaritas and patio seating with views.” Can one sentence say it all?

Toni Veronick choose a quesadilla with beef and cheese while Ginger ordered a Chili Relleno.

Toni Veronick choose a quesadilla with beef and cheese while Ginger ordered a Chili Relleno.

I asked various friends if they liked the atmosphere and food. Eric said, “The food is great. I go there often for breakfast to get Chicken Machaca.” My friend Toni and I have been dropping in after church on Sundays. Last Sunday, we bumped into friends. Linda was having a taco salad with shredded beef, Kim had the flauta, while Dorothy enjoyed her chili relleno and taco. Lee was digging into his chili relleno and Dennis was eating his taco salad. They all agreed, “We have enjoyed being here and the food is great.” They added without prompts, “The chips, with this avocado dip and the salsa, are fresh, plentiful and delicious.”

When I was able to go back to the restaurant after the pandemic, I fell in love with the lobster tacos. For a year, that was the only thing I ordered. I still am a fan. The lobster seems to me the same as you would get when ordering a lobster dinner.

Spectacular rope walking entertainment from a Cliffhanger window while dining.

Spectacular rope walking entertainment from a Cliffhanger window while dining.

Suzane told me her favorite is the Chile Verde, while another friend argues that the Fajitas Shrimp is the best she’s ever had.

I am working my way through the entire menu. So many of my friends enjoy having a meal at Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger, it’s not hard finding someone to go with.

Hortencia’s has a new chef. Chef Jhovany Bugarin and manager Adriana Torres are the new owners of Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger. We were able to chat with Torres, a Rim High graduate. You may recognize her from her years working at Stater’s deli. She then found work at Hortencia’s, learning restaurant management. After seven years, the owner asked her to become the manager. Torres has great ideas and ambition and understands this community.

Even after a great meal with appetizers, main course and fried ice cream, it’s hard to leave the location. Just before the blizzard, Toni and I were at Hortencia’s and were entertained not only by the great view, but also by the tightrope-walkers on a slack line, set up below Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger. The line was installed and is used by the Rim of the World Climbing Club. We have often seen them on Sundays. They are not associated with the Cliffhanger, but fun to watch while eating great Mexican food.

Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger, at an altitude of 5,174 feet, has the most spectacular restaurant views on the mountain.

Hortencia’s at the Cliffhanger, at an altitude of 5,174 feet, has the most spectacular restaurant views on the mountain.

People are seen walking to their cars and stopping once more to gaze at the view (or the tightrope walkers), stand looking out over the valley, naming locations they can identify and on a clear day shouting to each other, “I see Catalina.”  “No way,” their friend responds. Yes folks, you can see Catalina from Hortencia’s on a clear day.

Hortencia’s is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. The restaurant is located at 25187 Highway 18 in Crestline. You can dine in or takeout, but there is no delivery. Their phone number is (909) 338-4466.


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