Going to the Queen Mary just to eat lunch these days is a hassle. It used to be that you could park the car, walk onto the ship and sit down at your chosen eatery as if it were any restaurant in any strip mall in any town. Buying tickets to board was a chore reserved for those who wanted to pay for tours, special events or see the exhibits on the historic hunk of steel.
The powers that be, however, realized at some point in the last few years that certain scumbags (not this one) were wandering onto the moored vessel for free and not spending money, but instead raising hell, which pisses off tourists and doesn't do much good for profits.
So today, parking will run you $17 unless you get your ticket validated, in which case it's $6 (don't lose the ticket or it'll be $38). Then, in order to even get on the ship, you have to stand in a winding ticket line in the parking lot and pay $15 up front for a non-refundable voucher that can be redeemed for food or drink anywhere on the ship (this doesn't apply if you buy a tour or something).
Then, and only then–with promissory notes in hand–are you allowed to take the elevator to the upper decks and dine at the best value on the whole ship: the Promenade Cafe, a restaurant with food and a view that's thankfully worth all the inconvenience.
Lined with vintage marble tables and cushy, upholstered chairs like the first-class bistro it is, the Promenade Cafe lies in a converted portion of the starboard side's covered Promenade Deck. A stunning view of downtown Long Beach sweeps one entire side of the restaurant, providing a shoreline panorama that makes for one of the most unique dining experiences in town.
The menu is leather-bound, but filled with food options far less fancy. Comfort grub like burgers, pizzas and meatball sandwiches gets an elevated treatment at the Promenade Cafe, where fresher ingredients, more thoughtful preparation and healthy portions are delivered for only a little more money than your average diner.
A chopped Chinese chicken salad (listed under "composed salads"), for example, starts with not basic Romaine, but a bowl of mixed Asian greens and Napa cabbage. Piled atop is at least twice the amount of shredded roasted chicken as is standard for a salad, ensuring each sesame-dressing-filled bite includes savory chunks of white meat.
And what could have been a phone-in chicken sandwich became a flavor and texture buffet with a soft, flour-dusted ciabatta bun and crunchy lettuce along with chipotle-mayo and an herb-flecked chicken breast.
From the cheesy, baked flatbreads (try the BBQ chicken or prosciutto and arugula) to the loaded, nearly knife-and-fork fish tacos, the Promenade Cafe serves first-class versions of the simple stuff from a kitchen on one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. If you're already on the ship for the day, lunch here should be a no-brainer, but even with the extra steps involved to only board and eat, it merits a dedicated visit.
So take a trip (without ever leaving port) for your next mid-day meal, to an affordable restaurant exquisitely decked with pressed-shirt waiters, gourmet essential entrees and waterfront views fit for a queen.
The Promenade Cafe on the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach, (800) 437-2934, queenmary.com/dining-bars/promenade-cafe