‘A Taste of the South Bay’: All-you-can-eat spread in two grand ballrooms.

If weekends are when you normally dine out, you might want to put it off until Monday, when you can eat at 23 restaurants at once.

That’s the night of the annual “A Taste of the South Bay.” It unfolds at the Torrance Holiday Inn, where local restaurants will lay out an all-you-can-eat spread in two grand ballrooms.

The “taste,” as it is called, was started four years ago as a means of raising money for three South Bay charities. It costs $20.

“This is a fun evening, something that is not that expensive, and the variety of foods is interesting,” said Janet Muck, an organizer of the evening that offers everything from gourmet fare to fast foods.

Blarney Station will serve prime rib and chocolate mousse, and the Olive Garden will offer Fettuccine Alfredo. Texas Loosey’s Chili Parlor and Saloon is preparing 30 gallons of chili--"We won’t run out,” says general manager Dave Maus--while the Criterion is bringing in a variety of cakes.


To that, add the likes of specialties from four Asian and Mexican restaurants, seafood from Millie Riera’s, salads, vegetables, pot roasts and frozen yogurt, as well as flaming Crepes Suzette served up by Scott’s Gourmet Catering.

Pam Edwards originated the idea with help from local restaurateur David Letchworth. Edwards was looking for a way to raise money for her Cheer for Children group in Redondo Beach, a volunteer organization that puts on theme parties year-round for children in hospitals and special schools.

She needed other groups to share responsibility for selling tickets and staging the food fair, so she chose two that she was familiar with: the Volunteer Center in Torrance, which recruits volunteers for South Bay nonprofit agencies, and the Redondo Beach Salvation Army Meals on Wheels, which prepares and delivers a noon meal on weekdays to 125 house-bound people.

The three groups split about $13,500 last year, when admission was $15.

If the organizers had any trepidations about a heap of food and no one to eat it, their fears were unfounded that first year.

“We were getting everything ready and . . . the line went all around the hotel,” she recalled. “I was surprised it was so successful because we were novices who didn’t know what we were doing.”

The hotel provides the ballrooms, and restaurants donate the food and pay for booths they decorate with balloons and banners. Moonlighting--a musical duo made up of GTE South Bay district manager Kevin Peterson and Torrance attorney Jon Mercant--performs free.

While the event means hours of work for the restaurants, which spend an average of $500 on food, several say the praise they garner for helping the community--and the publicity--is worth it.

“It’s a good way to promote you and your restaurant to the community,” said Letchworth, owner of Pancho & Wongs and president of the South Bay-Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurant Assn., which sponsors the evening.

After four years, Edwards said, the event has a regular group of participants; two restaurants were turned away this year because there was no more room. Many of the diners, limited to 1,000, are regulars too.

“People sample the food, but no one samples everything,” says Edwards, adding that if they did, they’d have to end the evening with a Bromo.