- Following a hiatus from the Seal Beach community, local favorite Finbars Italian Kitchen has returned. While the restaurant's location may have changed (now located at 1041 Pacific Coast Highway), its commitment to good food and hospitality stays as strong as ever.
Originally opening in 1996, Finbars has served its customers classic Italian cuisine with a unique Californian flair for 21 years. While traditional Italian-American menu items such as spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna remain popular, other less common dishes such as chicken tequila fusilli breathe new inspiration into the menu. “We make them the way they’re supposed to be made,” says owner Joseph Barbara, “homemade and from scratch.”
This comes as no surprise given Barbara’s background. “Our family comes from 85th street and 18th avenue in Brooklyn where there’s lots of grandmas and uncles that know how to cook,” he explains. Barbara learned homemade Italian cooking at the feet of his grandmother. “She was as traditional an Italian-American grandma as can be,” he says, “when she would squeeze my cheek to kiss me, I could smell the oregano and the garlic.”
Finbar’s name may seem a bit odd at first glance, sounding more Irish than Italian. However, according to Barbara, “it’s a not so traditional name for a not so traditional restaurant.” “We’ve lived in California for many years now, so we have little touches of what I call ‘the left coast,’” Barbara explains.
Originally, Barbara hoped to name the restaurant after his mother’s maiden name. After learning of a nearby establishment with a similar name, however, Barbara thought back to his childhood for new inspiration. “Sunday morning, we’d wake up, and I’d smell the meatballs frying and the sausage, but being Catholic, I couldn’t eat until I went to church and took communion,” Barbara explains, “well, the name of my parish church was St. Finbars.” And thus, Finbars Italian Kitchen was born.
Starting from humble beginnings in a tiny, four seat building at 550 Pacific Coast Highway, the restaurant soon expanded, moving to a larger location at 620 Pacific Coast Highway and opening additional spots in Costa Mesa and Rancho Santa Margarita. Nearly two years ago, however, these locations closed, bringing Finbars back to the place where it all started: Seal Beach.
“When I saw the opportunity to come back here and to this location, I kind of jumped,” says Barbara. “The most fabulous thing about Seal Beach, in my mind, is that it’s a very close-knit community. I find that people that live and work in Seal Beach are very kind and generous in supporting each other,” Barbara explains, “If you support the people in town, they will support you.”
Barbara describes the community’s response to Finbar’s return as “overwhelming.” “All I heard for months and months and months was ‘we’re so happy to have you back’ and ‘we missed you,’” says Barbara.
Ultimately, Barbara modestly credits the success of Finbars to the support of family members Theresa and Anthony as well as the Seal Beach community: “If you want to ask why, it’s because of Theresa, it’s because of Anthony, and it’s because of the people in town. That’s what makes Finbars.”