American’s Best Diners
In many spots across the country, you can usually find a quintessential bit of Americana: the diner. Whether they’re shaped like a UFO or are a nondescript counter tucked away in a drug store, diners have a permanent place in our culture. Here are six to sample on your next road trip.
RICK’S WHITE LIGHT DINER (Frankfort, Kentucky)
HISTORY: Built in 1943, this is the oldest restaurant in Frankfort. It’s cozy, with only a few seats at the counter and a handful of tables, and has retained the spirit of the original, though when Chef Rick Paul took over, he put his stamp on it.
COOL FACTS: Chef Paul’s Cajun and Creole twist on the diner menu has led to some unexpected favorites that give regulars and visitors a taste of New Orleans in the capital of Kentucky.
REGULARS GET: For breakfast, it’s hard to beat Rick’s famous crawfish pie and an order of beignets. At lunch it’s all about the sandwich: oyster po boys and alligator po boys lead the charge, followed closely by the New Orleans muffaletta.
TWEDE'S CAFE (North Bend, Washington)
HISTORY: Twede’s was opened by Roy Thompson in 1941 as Thompson’s Cafe and it’s still owned by his family. Director David Lynch filmed the quirky Twin Peaks here, making the diner known outside the region.
COOL FACTS: In Twin Peaks, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s all about a cup of hot black coffee, and you can treat yourself to a cup here. But the diner — on the show and in real life — prides itself on the cherry pie.
REGULARS GET: In the morning, the breakfast sandwich is king unless you decide on the scrambled eggs, hash browns and gravy; either way you can’t go wrong. Lunch means burgers, and with more than two-dozen on the menu you’ll find one you love.
BRENT'S DRUGS (Jackson, Mississippi)
HISTORY: This old-school, soda-fountain eatery has been around since 1946 and it’s a neighborhood institution. Though the pharmacy has been gone since 2009, the food, the soda fountain and the lunch counter are still there.
COOL FACTS: Brent’s Drugs appeared in the 2011 film, The Help, and was mentioned in the book. Reportedly, cast and crew showed up here even when it wasn’t a shooting day; they just wanted to get a feel for the town’s charm.
REGULARS GET: Three words: Brent’s Biscuit Sandwich. It doesn’t get much more Southern than a buttermilk biscuit topped with fried chicken and spicy honey. For lunch, go with an original recipe egg and olive sandwich, a simple grilled cheese or the surprise: a tasty veggie burger.
WHITE MANA DINER (Jersey City, New Jersey)
HISTORY: Built for the 1939 World’s Fair, White Mana was known as “the diner of the future” at the fair. It was moved from Queens to Jersey City, N.J., in 1946 where it’s a local landmark notable for its history, its burgers and its fun, funky look — like a 1950s flying saucer.
COOL FACTS: It’s considered by many to the be the birthplace of fast food and they serve upward of 3,000 burgers a week, a trick they perfected in 1939 to feed the masses at the World’s Fair.
REGULARS GET: Burgers. By the thousands. They’re simple little things garnished with dill pickles, fried onions and ketchup and they’re perfect. Get a side of disco fries — fries topped with melted cheese and brown gravy — and you have a meal to talk about.
MICKEY'S (St. Paul, Minnesota)
HISTORY: One of the first Art Deco style diners, Mickey’s is on the National Register of Historic Places. Mickey Crimmons and Bert Mattson opened the doors in 1939 and Mickey’s has been serving dishes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for almost as long.
COOL FACTS: Three generations of the same family have owned this diner, which has been in nearly a dozen films and TV shows, and Saks Fifth Avenue once honored Mickey’s by immortalizing it in a snow globe, which is fitting for a diner in Minnesota.
REGULARS GET: Breakfast at all hours of the day, patty melts and Mickey’s special (a burger, fries and baked beans), mulligan stew and, of course, an ice cream float or shake.
HARRY'S COFFEE SHOP (La Jolla, California)
HISTORY: In 1959 the Rudolph family moved from New York to California to follow the Dodgers. A year later, they opened a diner like the ones they knew back home. Now the third generation of Rudolphs runs the diner.
COOL FACTS: The East Coast take on pancakes and sandwiches meets California cuisine in an interesting way. The Reuben and bacon pancakes are distinctly east coast, but they get a California twist. It’s a match made in heaven.
REGULARS GET: The bacon oatmeal pancakes and a waffle with chicken fried steak are popular, as are the omelettes. For lunch, fish or carne asada tacos
fly out of the kitchen.
For reservations and maps, call your local AAA Travel Agent.