Coastside Classic: Johnny’s

Words by Elaine Wu

Photos by Paulette Phlipot

Words by Elaine Wu

In the heart of downtown Half Moon Bay, an old favorite has made a comeback. Once one of the town’s oldest and most popular restaurants, Original Johnny’s closed for good in 2006. Now, the classic diner is back in its original spot on Miramontes and Main Street, and locals have restaurateur Betsy del Fierro to thank for its return.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Betsy’s welcoming Hawaiian spirit and sense of ohana (family) is in everything she does. She and her husband, George, raised their three grown children in Half Moon Bay and have owned and operated the restaurant It’s Italia here for 26 years. “The vibe in Half Moon Bay reminds me of the people in Hawaii,” she says lovingly. “There’s a closeness. We all know each other. We stick together and support each other more than lots of other places I’ve been.” So, to honor the town she loves, Betsy decided to bring back their favorite watering hole.

The first incarnation of Original Johnny’s was opened in the 1960s by John and Fiorina Evans. They then passed the diner on to their son Steve and his wife Ilva in the 1980s. Generations of Half Moon Bay residents used to frequent the place, including Betsy and her own family. “Every time I’m alone in this restaurant, I feel the spirit of Steve and Ilva, who were the owners my kids grew up knowing when we’d come in,” she recounts. “We used to order the kids hot chocolate and Mickey Mouse pancakes all the time.”

When it came time to build and design the revamped diner, Betsy had no trouble finding help. “I didn’t have to go out and beg a designer, a contractor, an electrician or a plumber to come and work on this project,” she says. “The locals wanted to be a part of it. These people grew up here and came to Original Johnny’s.”

The del Fierros’ two daughters, Maile and Camille, serve as head chef and general manager, respectively, for the new Johnny’s. “Maile learned a lot from the cooks at It’s Italia and has studied with a lot of chefs who have taken her under their wing, so Johnny’s is a project for her,” Betsy says proudly. “She hired all of our cooks, created the menu and researched so many recipes.”

Upon entering, you’ll notice this greasy spoon feels like anything but. With the help of local award-winning interior designer Kristi Will, the restaurant’s new lemony-yellow interior evokes steady rays of sunshine in this frequently foggy town. And the teal-colored banquettes and blue ombré mosaic tiled wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the restaurant gives a subtle nod to the ocean. “We really wanted to achieve a similar vibe to what it used to be: the friendliness, the sense of community,” notes Betsy.

The menu is a mix of both classic and modern diner favorites. There are even a few dishes named for members of the del Fierro family, including “The Queen B” (named for Betsy), the vegetarian “Tweety Bowl” (Camille’s childhood nickname), the “Sisters Omelette” (for Maile and Camille) and the sauce served on the Smashburger was inspired by Betsy and George’s son, Rene.

Family has always been at the heart of Johnny’s no matter who is at the helm, and Betsy plans to keep it that way. “The community feels like this restaurant is here for them because that’s the way John and Fiorina started it and how Steve and Ilva kept it going,” she reflects. “This place has always been friendly and endearing to people. It would be a shame for me not to honor what they started.”


Though Maile developed much of the diner’s menu, this recipe was created by Betsy, which she shares with pride. She recommends serving with a few sprigs of edible flowers for an added bit of flourish.

5 egg yolks, beaten
5 egg whites
3 ¼ cups fresh ricotta cheese (homemade is best)
2 large or 3 medium lemons, zested and juiced
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 ²⁄³ cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda 
4 oz good quality butter, softened

In a large bowl, mix together egg yolks, ricotta, lemon zest and lemon juice, sugar and vanilla. Set aside. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together in a bowl. Add this dry mixture to the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the softened butter. Then fold in ¼ of the egg whites until incorporated followed by the rest of the egg whites until just combined. Heat a lightly greased frying pan or electric griddle to medium heat. Drop ¼ cup of the batter onto the pan per pancake. Cook until bubbles begin to form around the edges of each dollop, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.