2017-09-01 / On The Town

Cafe serves up hearty ranch-style meals

Acorn Epicurean
Ela Lindsay


TRAILBLAZERS—At top, the Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon family includes, from left, daughter Emily Bartlett, mom and owner Dorothy Johnson, and daughter Mary Johnson. Above, a hearty rancho-style breakfast. TRAILBLAZERS—At top, the Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon family includes, from left, daughter Emily Bartlett, mom and owner Dorothy Johnson, and daughter Mary Johnson. Above, a hearty rancho-style breakfast. For the past 34 years, Dorothy Johnson has been serving hearty breakfast and lunch dishes at her restaurant, Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon Cafe, in Old Town Camarillo.

She’s not the original owner; the restaurant has changed names and owners a few times since it opened in 1946.

“But I’ve been there the longest,” the feisty Johnson says.

Although she likes to say she’s now semiretired, Johnson still runs the family-owned business with her 22-year-old daughter, Mary Johnson, who, Dorothy says, has been “cooking since she could see over the grill.”

Her other daughter, Emily Bartlett, 26, previously worked at the Chuck Wagon but now is employed at the tile store next door. Longtime staff member and friend Katherine “Kat” Watkins has been a familiar face at the cafe for more than 30 years.


ELA LINDSAY/Acorn Newspapers ELA LINDSAY/Acorn Newspapers When you first visit Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon, be prepared— there’s a lot to look at. The whole restaurant is a tribute to the past, and it’s worth going there to check out all the memorabilia on the walls and in the showcases.

“Not much has changed,” Dorothy Johnson said. Although the pinball games are no longer there, tabletops are still covered with American flag designs, clips of comics and fun sayings.

The walls are bedecked with quotes, like “Keep your kitchen clean . . . eat out more often” and “God Bless America” bumper stickers, along with license plates and a large rack of mugs in honor of beloved customers.

There are old pictures on display, too. Johnson said the local historical society has even borrowed some from her.

Oh, and in case it isn’t obvious, loyal customers keep coming back for the food, too.

Johnson said many people think the cafe is a buffet because it’s called Chuck Wagon, but that’s not the case. The name comes from the style of chow that ranchers from the olden days would expect, “such as pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage—in big piles,” she said, laughing.

At Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon, you can expect large portions of breakfast and lunch goodies, including banana bread pancakes from her great-grandmother’s recipe that make a sweet treat and hearty omelets with the works, including cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms, ham, bacon and sausage with lots of home-cooked potatoes on the side.

There’s a boatload of breakfast options—pretty much anything you can think of. And lunch during the week features comfort-food favorites like burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, and the largest selection of melts I’ve ever seen on a menu, including standard patty and tuna melts, Portuguese linguica melts, and even black bean and andouille versions.

You can order a variety of salads, burritos and milkshakes. Customer favorites include blended mochas and cocoa classics, beverages that can be hot or cold and made to taste, like amaretto, caramel, pumpkin spice and chocolate graham, to name a few.

“They tell me mine are better than Starbucks, but I’m not rich like they are,” Johnson said with a chuckle.

On the weekends, lunch options are very simple, but no matter when you come, you’ll be sure to find something that will fill your belly.

There are senior specials and discounts for military personnel.

Johnson said she hopes more new and longtime local people will drop by.

“Some people tell me, ‘I’ve driven by the place for 23 years.’” To these folks she says, “Come on in!”

Dorothy’s Chuck Wagon Cafe is at 2344 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo. It’s open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and weekends from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For information, call (805) 987-2167 or check them out on Facebook.

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