Although the Malibu Cafe is intended to be a chic outdoor dining experience rooted in the rustic California cowboy lifestyle, this is more a place to go for the experience and ambiance than for the dining. The grounds are expansive, well manicured and include various amenities, booths and land features. In addition, there’s even a small lake.
Malibu Café is located about halfway between the Pacific Coast Highway and the 101 freeway at 327 Latigo Canyon Rd in Malibu.
Malibu Cafe Review
I drove out to the Malibu Cafe with my friend Kim on a fine day in September. The plan was to meet a bunch of friends at the café, explore the grounds and have a nice lunch.
Valet Parking on a Dirt Lot?
The first thing I noticed when I pulled up to the Malibu Café was the dirt parking lot. That surprised me. Then I noticed a valet parking attendant blocking the spot where I was going to park. After giving him my “you gotta be kidding” look, I told him I could park the car myself. The parking attendant said there was no self serve parking. This irritated me. But they pretty much had us over a barrel. Especially if we planned on meeting up with our friends.
We jumped out of the car and watched the attendant drive the vehicle about 25 feet to the parking space. It was like a scene from an old time comedy movie. But this valet fee was real. And hefty. It was a rocky start. But I was determined not to let it spoil the afternoon.
Malibu Café Grounds
Once inside the Malibu Cafe compound, we got our first glimpse of the sprawling outdoor complex. It was reminiscent of an old time lake resort or small town country fair. The grounds were well manicured. There were various booths, walkways, waterways, a foot bridge and even a small lake with paddle boat. Lake Love. This was more like it. We met our friends and walked around the grounds while we waited for our table.
Feeling the Malibu Café vibe
Along with the lake resort trappings, we saw a couple of Ping-Pong tables located in the courtyard. Also a Corn Hole setup, complete with instructions and a chalkboard scorecard.
Corn Hole is a lawn game similar to horse shoes except that opponents toss bean bags through a hole in a raised wood platform. It’s a lot of fun and the games can become very competitive.
Corn Hole score card
As it turned out, we didn’t play any of the games and walked around instead. It was already getting warm. So me and Kim sauntered over to a beer booth for a cold one.
The beer was nice and cold and predictably a bit pricey, despite the sign advertising great prices.
Beer stand at Malibu Café
Lunch at Malibu Café
Our group of 13 people got seated at a large square wooden table located on a patch of bare dirt, next to some trees. The wood benches were faded and peeling. Presumably a part of the rustic vibe. Almost like the picnic tables you might see at a campground.
Our server brought our menus and advised they couldn’t do separate checks. I admit, I’ve never much cared for restaurants that don’t allow groups to have separate checks. It’s always a time consuming mess at the end trying to sort out who ordered what and invariably, the money almost always comes out short. But once again, we were pretty much stuck.
Group of friends at Malibu Café
The Sixteen Dollar Burger vs the Six Dollar Burger
I’m not going to sugar coat it. The quality of the food was decent at best and severely overpriced. I ordered a $16 Rodeo Burger, one of the cheaper items on the menu. A couple friends proved even more frugal than me and ordered the Gooey Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup combo.
I’m not a big fan of Carl’s Jr. I hardly ever go there and when I do, I almost never get their Six Dollar burger. But I can say without hesitation that the Carl’s Jr. Six Dollar burger is superior in every way to the Malibu Cafe’s Sixteen Dollar burger. Not only is it bigger and at least ten bucks cheaper, but it also tastes better. Not much of a competition.
The Gooey Grilled Cheese vs the Grilled Cheese Truck
As for the Gooey Grilled Cheese and tomato soup combo my friends ordered? Both plates got sent back to the kitchen. I could see why. Both sandwiches looked more like two pieces of light toast with a thin slice of cheese in the middle. Certainly not up to par with the gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches off any gourmet Grilled Cheese Truck. And to be honest, not even close to what I can whip up on any given day.
That’s not to say of course, that all the meals at the Malibu Café are lackluster. A few friends ordered more elaborate lunches and seemed to be well satisfied.
Malibu Café Sticker Shock
And that’s when the bill arrived. Talk about sticker shock. The tab tipped the scales at a whopping $462.46! Even for a group of 13 people, that was ridiculously pricey. Especially considering the quality of the food and rustic wood table accommodations. It took us at least 45 minutes to sort out the bill due to the Malibu Cafe’s ill-advised “no separate checks” policy. The check had to be sent around the table several time before we got it figured out. Time we could have spent walking the grounds and buying more beers. Time that could have been used for other customers to get seated.
Pricey food bill
Of course, we didn’t have to get a table for lunch. There were several stands on the grounds. Some offered beer and drinks. There was even an interesting booth that incorporated a food truck, with bins of fruit set up in front. Much like you wood see at a country fruit stand.
If I ever return to the Malibu Café, you can bet I’ll grab a bite at the food truck instead of the formal dining. For one, that would allow more time to poke around the spacious grounds and admire the beauty. And it would likely be more affordable.
Food truck at Malibu Café
Malibu Cafe Summary
The Malibu Café is a picturesque place to visit for ambiance and the general experience. But the rustic outdoor dining is overpriced and the mandatory valet parking on a dirt parking lot takes away from the overall appeal. My recommendation is to rideshare with several friends and soak in the experience over a couple cold beers. Maybe grab a bite off the food truck and then roll into town for a good, hearty meal.