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America’s best diners can make you feel like you’re living out a Tom Waits song, with a waitress who looks like Rita Hayworth, orders of eggs and sausage and a side of toast, and strangers ‘round the coffee urn. These are not America’s swankiest joints, that’s for sure, but they put the comfort in comfort food, with a side of nostalgia, and if you’re on the road in need of home-style cooking and a friendly face, a server’s greeting of “Have a seat, Honey” will take you far. Here, listed alphabetically, are 11 American treasures that keep alive the diner traditions of good food and good value with perhaps a little extra serving of sass.
Beth’s Café: Seattle, WA
Three words: bottomless hash browns. Beth’s Café in Seattle wears its greasy-spoon heart on its sleeve, but the 65-year-old, round-the-clock diner performs a vital public service, according to shift manager Clint Drake. “There are a lot of bars in the area; you can come in in the middle of the night, hang out and sober up; that’s what we’re about,” he says. Seattle Magazine has dubbed it the city’s “Best Place to Cure a Hangover.”
Be sure to order: The 12-egg omelette, or, if you’re watching your cholesterol intake, the six-egg version. One or two eggs is not an option!
Frank’s Diner: Kenosha, WI
From the authentic rail dining car to the good-natured and cheeky staff, Frank’s Diner in Kenosha is the real deal, a flat-top grill-lover’s dream. Opened in 1926, it is said to be among the oldest continuously running diners in America. It’s the kind of place where if it’s really busy, patrons pour their own coffee. “They know their way around,” says manager Josh Fugate, an 18-year veteran.
Be sure to order: Frank’s Garbage Plate, a five-egg skillet with hash browns, green peppers and onions (jalapeños can be added for free). A three-egg, half-plate version is also available. Don’t even ask about the Carthage College Red Men Challenge.
The “Historic” Village Diner: Red Hook, NY
Arleen Harkins and her husband Sam are corporate world dropouts who learned this Red Hook institution was for sale on a Friday and bought it on Monday. Hugh Jackman and his wife were recent guests, Harkins says. Over the winter holidays, it gets tremendous traffic from the nearby cut-your-own Battenfeld’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Be sure to order: Homemade biscuits and gravy. Or the hamburger; “Fresh, hand-packed, always perfect,” Arlene proclaims.
Hut’s Hamburger’s: Austin, TX
Homer Hutson opened Hut’s Hamburgers in 1939. Mike and Kim Hutchinson—yes, really—purchased it in 1981. The recipes at this Austin spot haven’t changed much since then. “So many things are changing in this world, so we keep it simple,” Kim says. And if this isn’t true, it should be: Matthew McConaughey used to date a Hut’s waitress, which, long story short, led to him auditioning for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. “He’s always been a wonderful advocate for us,” Kim says. “He brought Sandra Bullock here.”
Be sure to order: Hamburgers, of course, and a shake. “We make incredibly good shakes,” Kim says.
Kix on 66: Tucumcari, NM
Todd Duplantis became the owner of Tucumcari‘s Kix on 66 just a few months ago. Under the previous owners, it was his favorite place for breakfast. Duplantis was born to the breed; his parents operated two diners on Route 66. A military veteran, he said that owning his own diner was “the last dream of my life.” Kix continues to “rock the classics” (Duplantis just added a from-scratch bakery), but with an added New Mexican accent. Kix is a retro diner done right, Duplantis says. “My servers are friends with everybody; whether they know them or not.”
Be sure to order: The Mainstreet Eggstravaganza, the Cuervo Huevos Rancheros and the breakfast burritos
Lester’s Diner: Fort Lauderdale, FL
This ’50s-themed, 24-hour diner in Fort Lauderdale opened in 1967. George H. W. Bush, then vice president, held a business roundtable here in 1981. This State Road 84 institution is known as the home of the 14 oz. cup of coffee. One side of its six-page menu is devoted to dishes reflecting the owners’ Greek heritage.
Be sure to order: Lester’s burger
Mickey’s Diner: St. Paul, MN
St. Paul‘s 1937 Art Deco-styled railroad diner car is always ready for its close-up. It has served up atmosphere for such films as The Mighty Ducks, Jingle All the Way and Prairie Home Companion. Opened in 1939, Mickey’s is still in its original location and is open 24/7. It was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1983. House rules: No smoking, no checks, no take-out.
Be sure to order: The homemade buttermilk pancakes
Modern Diner: Pawtucket, RI
Housed in a Sterling Streamliner diner car, Pawtucket‘s Modern Diner was the nation’s first diner to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Consistency is the watchword of owners Frank Aguiar and Nick Demou, who bought it in 1985. “Word of mouth,” Aguiar says, keeps the customers coming.
Be sure to order: The custard French toast, which the Food Network proclaimed to be the #1 diner dish in America. Also the Lobster Mozambique Benedict and the Jimmie Gimmee, a toasted English muffin with poached eggs, tomatoes, bacon and your cheese of choice. “That’s as American as you can get,” Aguiar states with a laugh.
Rae’s Restaurant: Santa Monica, CA
Jerry Seinfeld brought his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” here for the episode with Brian Regan. But Rae’s takes its diner heritage very seriously. The East Side diner opened in 1958. Ted Delgado started working there in 1967. In 1989, he became the owner. “I love the place,” he says. “It’s a landmark; even if I wanted to change it, we cannot.”
Be sure you order: The biscuits and gravy
Silver Grill Café: Ft. Collins, CO
What’s in a name? Silver Grill calls itself a café, “but most people think of it as a diner,” says Cheryl, the manager. But by any other name, it is reportedly the oldest restaurant in northern Colorado with its origins dating back to 1912. John Arnolfo has owned it since 1979. Heather Beckman (11 years at the diner) and her husband Ian (8 years) became co-owners eight year ago. Silver Grill lore has it that a sign painter came up with the name and in return for a pork chop meal, he emblazoned it on the window. The secret to Silver Grill’s longevity is simple, Cheryl states: “We take care of our customers 100 percent.”
Be sure to order: “Our famous cinnamon rolls,” Cheryl recommends. The Silver Grill bakes 10,000 each month
Strawn’s Eat Shop: Shreveport, LA
Would you like the home-style hash browns deep-fried? Just ask. Strawn’s Eat Shop is “just a down-home friendly place to eat,” says manager Angela Irwin, a 17-year veteran. “Handed-down recipes, great employees; people love it.” Opened in 1944, Strawn’s has been named “Shreveport’s #1 Most Iconic Restaurant.”
Be sure to order: The strawberry icebox pie
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