11 Iconic American Diners

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11 Iconic American Diners
There’s something new and trendy every day in the food world. Today it’s pink pitaya bowls covered in vegan granola and banana slices. Yesterday it was perfectly sliced avocados on house-made bread. Tomorrow it will probably be cricket flour pancakes and spirulina chocolate bars. In the midst of all that newness, it’s easy to forget about the oldies. But over the years of political, social, and culinary change, one American eating experience has remained the same: the diner. Sure, some places are serving meatless “beef” burgers and Gruyère grilled cheeses, but many are the same greasy spoons as they always were and always will be. So take a break from all of the trendy stuff, grab some cash, and head to one these 11 iconic American diners that have stood the test of time.
By Alina Polishuk, AFAR Contributor
Courtesy of Rainbow Drive In/Facebook
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    Rainbow Drive-In
    At the Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu, Hawaii, burgers and fries are replaced by fried pork cutlets and macaroni salad, Hawaii-style. It’s called a plate lunch and has been the quick-and-easy comfort food of choice on the islands since the 1950s. Locals and tourists alike can attest that few places are more iconic than the flag-adorned Rainbow Drive-In, which has been around since 1961.
    Courtesy of Rainbow Drive In/Facebook
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    Conjure up an image of the classic all-American diner, and chances are you’re picturing something like Pann’s in Los Angeles. From the neon-lettered sign to the faux-futuristic architecture that was oh-so-popular in the late 1950s (called Googie, if you’re curious), the looks of this eatery on La Cienega encompass everything that an old-school diner has to offer. So much so, in fact, that it has made several silver screen cameos. Pann’s, which has been family-owned and operated since it opened in 1958, serves up a mean all-day breakfast, but the real draw here is the consistently fabulous fried chicken—some say it’s the best in Los Angeles. Order it on a waffle, or with a side of creamy mac and cheese.
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    Original Hotcake House
    Few things are better than hitting a good greasy spoon after a night on the town, and in Portland, that greasy spoon is usually the Original Hotcake House. Not to be confused with the International House of Pancakes (God forbid), this institution has been slinging out piles of pancakes and other diner classics 24/7 for over half a century. It’s recognizable by its blazing sign and yellow-and-turquoise exterior.
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    Ruth’s Diner
    Ruth’s, one of the oldest eateries in Salt Lake City, is atypical of most diners. The restaurant lacks the usual grunge that’s expected of a place that serves all-day breakfast, but instead has an airy, pastel-colored charm. In other words, it’s a place to bring grandma on a Sunday, not that crew from the pool hall on a Saturday. But whether it’s after church at noon or before the bar at 7 (Ruth’s closes at 9 p.m. most days), everyone enjoys this diner’s irresistibly fluffy Mile High Biscuits.
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    The Pantry Restaurant
    The Pantry Restaurant’s tagline is “Santa Fe’s Meeting Place” for several reasons. It’s been around since 1948 and remains an icon for its unique look—imagine classic Southwestern adobe-style architecture combined with classic American diner accoutrements. And, like its look, the cuisine is an ideal combination of classic New Mexican and American dishes and flavors. One diner can dig into cornflake-crusted stuffed French Toast with grits on the side, while another puts away a cheese-smothered breakfast burrito with a side of beans.
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    Frank’s Diner
    Diners haven’t always been associated with red vinyl seats and teens on rollerskates. Before the 1950s, diners were usually prefabricated in factories, attached to trains as railway cars, then dropped off at their ordered destinations to be installed as quick lunch and dinner counters for locals. Places like this popped up all around the country from the late 19th century until the 1940s. Frank’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is one such place. It first opened its doors in 1926 under the ownership of Anthony Frank’s, who bought the place and had it shipped to Kenosha for $7,500 after seeing a magazine ad for prefab restaurants. Now, nearly a century later, Frank’s is a proud local favorite (voted Best Diner and Best Breakfast in Kenosha for the past six years, folks), and has garnered national attention for more than just its history. The restaurant’s infamous Garbage Plates are a hangover absorbent mash of 3 to 5 eggs, hash browns, onions, peppers, and customer’s choice of meats, cheeses, and toast.
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    Lou Mitchell’s
    There are hundreds of diners in Chicago that serve up classic, filling fare, but few are more iconic than Lou Mitchell’s. Opened in 1923, the restaurant represents a little slice of American history—it’s located at the beginning of Route 66, one of the country’s original highways. Guests have been greeted with Milk Duds and fresh donut holes since 1958, but with Lou’s reasonably priced and consistently tasty baked goods (all made in-house), pancakes, and omelets, saving room for more is never a problem.
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    Brent’s Drugs
    You might recognize the teal interior of this Jackson, Mississippi, establishment from The Help, but Brent’s was a local celebrity long before Emma Stone sat at its counter. The place has been updated and undergone some hip and happening changes over the past decade or so, but at its core, Brent’s stays true to the soda fountain and pharmacy that first opened its doors in 1946. The menu features a menu of standards, like the locally loved biscuit sandwich, and a fish and olive salad that dates back to Brent’s opening days.
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    Boulevard Diner
    If history is what you crave, then history is what you get at Boulevard Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts, which was built in 1936 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company. On the National Register of Historic Places, this narrow railcar diner is distinguishable by its barreled roof and neon clock. The inside has a salt-of-the-earth kind of charm, which is part of the reasons why locals love the place. That, and the college scrambles, which are fluffy, filling, and less than $10.
    Photo by @reesjoana
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    White Mana
    There are a lot of things on the menu at White Mana, Jersey City’s late-night, no-frills standby. But ask anyone and you’ll learn that the main attraction is, and always has been, the burgers. This round, grungy place made its debut at the 1929 World’s Fair in Queens, and has remained virtually unchanged since (besides picking up and moving to Jersey City in the ’40s), menu and all. The thin-patty burgers reminiscent of White Castle sliders are handmade from fresh ground beef and cooked with onions on a flat-top grill. Adorned with cheese and a few pickles on the side, a single burger sets you back a whopping $1.22.
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    Mike’s Coffee Shop
    Mike’s Coffee Shop doesn’t technically call itself a diner, but with a menu that features steak and eggs and cheese-covered fries, how could it be anything else? It’s more of an early morning than a late night spot (open at 7 a.m. every day and closing by 6 p.m. on weekends), but Mike’s has the long united Brooklyn’s various and ever-changing residential makeup with one thing: chicken and waffles. Ownership has changed over the years, but Pratt students, old-school Brooklynites, and celebs alike have waited in line outside this inconspicuous restaurant for hours since the 1960s.
    Photo by @avreeland
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