America’s longstanding obsession with diners and diner culture is one that seems out of step with an era dominated by dating apps and streaming media services. The reality, however, is that we need diners now more than ever. Why? Because they symbolize simpler times, times when families, teams, colleagues, groups of friends, wayward travelers, roadside ramblers, and everyone in between would come together to share a meal, make some memories, and fall in love—not only with each other, but with everything diners represent.
They’re our homes away from home. They’re where we can go to get everything from a basket of chicken tenders to the closest thing you’ll find to your grandma’s lasagna. Burgers, fries, and pizza pies, the American diner is a culinary and cultural institution that no red-blooded American should do without.
Here are some of the nation’s best:
Asbury Park, NJ
Asbury Park, New Jersey, is having a bit of a moment right now. The once rough-and-tough shore-side city, home to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bud Abbott, is now a bourgeoning tourist destination being lumped slowly and surely into the “Jersey Shore” family—for better or worse. Frank’s Deli, located on Main Street, gained notoriety as a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. We love it because it is everything it claims to be, and none of what it isn’t. It’s a restaurant serving “savory, melt-in-your-mouth food without the bells and whistles.” They call it a deli, but the moment you walk in, you’ll see it’s one of the best examples of what diner culture is all about, and why it was a favorite of Bourdain’s. Link
New Jersey is known colloquially as The Garden State, and while we get it, it should be known as The Diner State. Though it’s not home to the first diner, few would argue New Jersey isn’t where diner culture found its roots. It seems only fair, then, that the oldest operational diner in New Jersey, The Summit Diner, in business since 1929, should make the list. This classic rail car-style diner will give you the classic diner experience, including all the retro-styled décor you can handle. There are no menus; just a board on the wall behind the counter. They specialize in all the classics, but their famous sandwich is their “Slider”—a classic pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich.
Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant might have a couple locations around Las Vegas, but they aren’t a franchise. In fact, you know a diner is going to be good when the main page of their website starts talking trash about other restaurants who call their pancakes homemade despite using a mix. Located roughly 10-15 minutes off the Las Vegas Strip, their original location at 1280 S. Decatur Blvd. is home to some of the best diner food in the country, thanks to their commitment to not using any artificial ingredients, preservatives, stabilizers, packaged mixes, watered-down juice, blended coffee, etc. Link
Brent’s Drugs has been a Jackson institution for over 70 years, and its history becomes apparent the moment you set foot inside. Retro décor, original soda fountain, and the best burger in Mississippi separate Brent’s Drugs from the competition. Oh, and its low key speakeasy-style bar, The Apothecary, in the back, is pretty awesome, too. Link
St. Francis Fountain
San Francisco, California
The West Coast, hop-style ice cream shops and diners are a sight to behold, and of them, St. Francis Fountain is the best example we can think of. A Bay Area original since 1918 (100 years!), St. Francis Fountain is known for their standard Country Breakfast (two eggs, spuds, homemade biscuits smothered in country sausage gravy), their toasted sourdough sandwiches, and their famous six-dollar ice cream sundaes. If you’re looking for some straight up, traditional-style diner eats in San Francisco (at super affordable prices!), look no further. Link
Las Vegas, Nevada
Of all the Netflix gold coming to the streaming service as of late, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is easily one of our favorite programs. In this season’s finale, Jerry Seinfeld meets up with the late Jerry Lewis, one of the legendary OG’s of Las Vegas. Aside from being one of our favorite episodes of the series, the two also spend some time at Lewis’s favorite breakfast diners, the Omelet House. As it turns out, the Omelet House is also an incredibly good diner, with the Yelp ratings to match. Link
Nick’s Coffee Shop & Deli
Los Angeles, California
When people look at what they want from a diner, it usually involves generous portions of delicious, affordable food, washed down by cup after cup of black coffee. Nick’s Coffee Shop & Deli hits all those marks and more. You’ll find classic Spam and eggs on the menu, along with the typical favorites—hash browns galore, eggs Benedict, pancakes, chicken fried steak, and everything in between. It’s West Coast old school done right.
Bob’s Big Boy
Technically considered a chain, Bob’s Big Boy is a California institution and a testament to the drive-in style diners of the 1950s and ‘60s. The location in Burbank has become the “chain’s” de facto headquarters. The food here is good, and Big Boy’s is renowned for its famous “Original” Big Boy Combo, which is a standard double cheeseburger with fresh patties, lettuce, cheese, mayo, and red relish—a standard California-style burger. They also offer a full breakfast menu, including pancakes, French toast, and Pappy Parker’s Friday Chicken N’ Waffles. Link
The Ariston Café
You’ve likely never heard of Litchfield, Illinois, and that’s fine. All you need to know is it’s the oldest-running diner along the famous Route 66. If you find yourself in Illinois or roaming along America’s Main Street, do yourself a favor and stop in. Link
The Magnolia Café
Aside from earning itself a spot on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, The Magnolia Café is known for being one of the best and oldest diners in Austin. Their history is quirky and interesting, along with their owners, and their menu includes everything from the eggs and pancakes staples, to lox bagels, vegetarian omelets, breakfast tacos, hummus black bean dip, and more. Link
Bel Aire Diner
New York City, New York
The Bel Aire has been in business since 1965, and even to this day still includes the original stainless façade, the big booths, the white ceramic coffee cups, the counter-top dining, etc. It looks like a diner; it smells like a diner; and its extensive menu, which includes everything you can think of, from Greek pastries and Belgian waffles, to country fresh 3-egg omelets and burgers, makes it taste like a diner, too. Link
We couldn’t put together a roundup of the country’s best diners without paying at least a little respect to some of the new-age diners popping up all over the country. Enter: Au Cheval. Au Cheval, in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, has the décor of an old-school hometown dive bar, but the menu of a diner—kicked up about ten notches. They don’t describe themselves as a diner, but rather, diner-style. Can you get a pint of craft beer and a good glass of Merlot here? Damn right you can. You can also get one of the best burgers in America (according to Bon Appetit, anyway). You can also get elevated takes on American classics like a fried bologna sandwich, crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy, the “Simple Breakfast” (scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast), omelets, and even foie gras and scrambled eggs. Hell, there’s even an entire section of the menu labeled, “Breakfast Beers.” If you’re going to dine new-age diner-style, this is the place to go. Link