The Best Diners In America

There is nothing finer than a diner. Menus as long as a CVS receipt. Endless coffee refills. The old-timey Americana vibes. The no-frills ethos and excess conviviality. If you grew up in New Jersey, Rhode Island, or another state that is a hotbed for diners, you probably spent your formative years spending hours upon hours (probably to the server's chagrin) in a mob of teens and possibly a cloud of smoke. While the indoor smoking laws have changed, the relaxed feeling and downhome cuisine haven't.

The American diner is an institution. Paste Magazine displays the many different art and cultural outputs that diners have influenced. Films like "Pulp Fiction" and "When Harry Met Sally" have vital scenes set in diners. Paintings by Edward Hopper feature lonely people at night in a 24-hour diner, and Norman Rockwell depicts less depressing diner scenes. Tom Waits made an ode to the chrome countertop with his "Nighthawks at the Diner" album and, of course, there is the TV series "Twin Peaks," famous for one Agent Cooper who often stopped into his local diner for a slice of cherry pie and a "damn fine cup of coffee." We compiled a list of some of the best diners across the country. They all have a few things in common — comfort food, affordable prices, loyal customers, and a place in American history.

Jackson Hole — Astoria, Queens

We all know a diner or burger place with a sign boasting, "World's Best Burger!" Well, if such a sign graced the outside of Jackson Hole Diner, it would be telling the truth. The Astoria, Queens diner makes a house-aged burger that has gotten them a lot of praise since opening in 1972, including Best Burger in the Drinking and Eating Awards by Time Out New York. Jackson Hole is an old-school diner with tabletop jukeboxes (25¢ per song) and house-made shakes.

This place might look familiar if you have seen the movie "Goodfellas." The famous diner scene with Ray Liota and Joe Pesci took place there three decades ago. "They made this diner popular," employee Stephanie Colon told the New York Daily News. "People come here and ask about the movie all the time ... It's a memory we're going to keep forever." Visiting Jackson Hole Diner? Here are some words of advice: Go hungry — the portions are humongous — and it is cash only, so come prepared.

Twede's Cafe — North Bend, Washington

Twede's Cafe is where you go for a slice of cherry pie and a fine cup of coffee. Operating since 1940, it has seen numerous iterations — Mar-T, Thompson's Diner, Railroad Diner, and Marty's Railroad Café — but none as crucial as the Double R Diner. Director David Lynch chose Twede's as the setting for the Double R Diner, a prominent location in his cult classic series "Twin Peaks." The success of the eerie and campy murder mystery prompted the site to become a place for Peak Geeks to visit.

Said Peaks fans were none too happy when, in July 2000, a fire was set by arson, completely gutting the building. When owner Kyle Twede rebuilt it, the only thing that still resembled the Double R was the sign. Thankfully, in September 2015, the diner's retro, moody, woodland look was restored. As part of the reboot of "Twin Peaks," the production company paid to have it brought back to its quirky glory.

Now, the only difference is the switch to more sustainable products and plant-based and vegan options. As of 2020, Rachel Bennett and Max Spears, new owners, have even developed a vegan cherry pie recipe with their head baker. So, it seems everything is as it should be in what is described as "a place both wonderful and strange, where all are welcome, and no one goes away hungry."

Blue Benn — Bennington, Vermont

At Blue Benn, a 1940s-era Silk City Diner car that has operated since 1948, "from scratch" is taken very seriously. Chef Brian Carpenter arrives at 4 a.m. each day to begin roasting a whole turkey for hot turkey sandwiches. At the same time, his baked goods waft enticing aromas from the oven, according to Vermont Public Radio. The previous owner, Sonny Monroe, came up with the falafel burgers and legendary Crunchberry pancakes that are still a massive hit. There is something for everyone at Blue Benn. The menu is a tome and boasts 20 different styles of omelet alone.

The railroad dining car, in blue and cream aluminum, was owned and operated by Monroe and his wife Mary Lou until he passed away in 2019. Mary Lou and their daughter took over until the pandemic made it too difficult to keep the doors open, but John Getchell was up for the challenge. As a fan of Blue Benn, he has tried to keep everything the same, even placing a sign outside that reads, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." So, guests can still expect hot, fresh meals to be enjoyed at the counter or in a booth — complete with tabletop jukeboxes.

Phoenicia Diner — Catskills, New York State

Whether you're a "hickster," a "citiot," or a local, the Phoenicia Diner in Phoenicia, New York, has something for everyone. Set in the middle of nowhere, you feel like you should be leaving breadcrumbs to find your way back. But, once inside, it has a shabby-chic design and a modern twist on the traditional diner. A rustic picnic area called The Lot is set next to a retro airstream trailer that is often used as a food truck for larger parties.

The cuisine is elevated diner fare. The ingredients are locally sourced from Catskills farms, and the menu changes seasonally. Regulars and visitors alike have been singing its praises for over 30 years. So much so that the diner released a cookbook that includes 85 classic Americana dishes created at the Phoenicia. Other lovely touches are the highly sought-after coffee from local Catskills roaster, Java Love; the fact that the Phoenicia has an active compost program; and the offer the diner extends for you to bring your pup!

Ladybird Diner — Lawrence, Kansas

Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, Kansas, is kitschy-cool with adorable mid-century vibes. This funky little spot is a community hang Wednesdays through Sundays, with an especially nice outdoor patio. Ladybird looks like a classic 1950s diner, though it's only been open since 2014. The decor is quirky and retro, with hanging lights made of Pyrex bowls, glittery leather booths, and bizarre salt & pepper shakers. Librarian Style claims that the waitresses sewed all of their own aprons when the shop opened. It is also said that owner Meg Heriford spins records on a turntable between coffee top-offs.

Diners flock to Ladybird for the ambiance, friendly staff, chicken-fried steak, and obviously, pies. Of course, a diner is only as good as its pies, and Ladybird does not disappoint. Everything from the pie to the breakfast and lunch food is scratch-made, with many vegetarian options included. During the pandemic, when Ladybird switched gears to make food for the needy, Heriford published a book titled "Ladybird, Collected." It is a compilation of essays with the diner being a central theme. According to Chalk, the proceeds covered the free lunches that were being offered to the community.

Frank's Diner — Kenosha, Wisconsin

In 1926, Anthony Franks saw an ad in a magazine and jumped at the chance to purchase what is now Franks Diner. The only problem was that the restaurant was constructed by a company in New Jersey, and he was in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, Franks paid $7,500 for the restaurant and additional shipping charges to have the building delivered by rail. You read that right: This classic American diner came to be because of railways — per Gastro Obscura. As Franks tells it, the building was pulled from the railroad flat car by six horses, then assembled in the place it now stands.

A favorite among Franks patrons is the Garbage Plate. The base is hash browns, green peppers, and onions mixed with eggs, then you add your choice of meats, your cheese selection, and additional toppings (if desired). All Garbage Plates are served with homemade toast (which is made with wheat bran, yogurt, and honey). Of course, with a meal like this, Franks has a food challenge. The competition plate is the largest of all menu options and also includes pancakes. There is a 45-minute time limit to finish everything. Winners earn ½ off the meal, a sweet t-shirt, and a spot on the Wall of Fame with a plaque included.

Dan's Dogs Diner — Medina, Ohio

When you think of a diner, you might think of hamburgers and breakfasts first, but Ohio takes its hotdogs very seriously. These aren't your average hotdog truck offerings, either — chili dogs are typical, but at Dan's Dogs Diner in Medina, bulky frankfurters are offered in 41 different ways. The common based is an all-beef dog on a toasted, buttered, split-top New England-style bun, and from there, it's up to you. If you are feeling adventurous, try the Deputy Dog, slathered in PB&J, or the Hula Dog, piled with juicy pineapple and baked beans. Don't fret if hotdogs are not your thing; Dan's also has a full diner menu.

Another thing this spot is known for is its milkshakes. Dan's produces homemade ice cream that is used in the milkshakes and root beer floats (topped with whipped cream and almonds). Also, if you're in the Medina area, look for Dan's mobile hot dog truck — The Weenie Wagon!

The nostalgic decor makes you feel like you're stepping back in time: black-and-white checkered floors, pastel leather booths, counter stools, and a massive jukebox. The sentimentality doesn't stop there; with dogs starting at $3, the prices are retro, too.

Bendix Diner — Hasbrook Heights, New Jersey

The Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights is recognized for many things. Its sleek blue and chrome retro façade is a "classic American diner." The 1995 movie "Boys on the Side" was filmed there, and more recently, the "The Many Saints of Newark," which is a prequel to "The Sopranos," featured the diner as a part of the set. But, the most important thing this diner is known for is John Diakakis, the blind waiter who will take your order, deliver your meal, and give you his stand-up comedy routine. Having worked in the family business for decades, he has moved up the ranks and is now the manager. According to The New Yorker, filmmaker Stephen Michael Simon was inspired by Diakakis and made a new short documentary called "Bacon 'n' Laces" about him. (The film, about 20 minutes long, is posted on YouTube). It gives an inside feel to Diakakis's story and the Bendix Diner all at once.

Opened in 1947, the Bendix Diner is more than a movie set — it's a local landmark known for its traditional diner fare. Bendix has a big rig parking lot because the restaurant is open all night on weekends (and late on weeknights), making it a comfortable spot for truckers to pop in for a hot meal. Sidle up to the counter barstool or grab a booth and enjoy a milkshake served with a side of friendly banter.

Silver Grill Cafe — Fort Collins, Colorado

The oldest restaurant in northern Colorado, Silver Grill Cafe, has been in business since 1933. As a Fort Collins staple, Silver Grill often has weekend lines of hungry Coloradans stretching around the block. The establishment is known for massive, freshly-made cinnamon rolls. The restaurant estimates it makes 10,000 of them each month. Not able to handle the demand, Russ Hamilton, a retired German hand-baker, was hired to teach the previous owner, John Alnofo, how to efficiently and perfectly craft many cinnamon rolls. You might have to be patient while being taunted by the aroma of just-out-of-the-oven rolls, but at least the servers will bring you fresh coffee while you wait!

Here are some other points to note about Silver Grill Cafe. The diner has won awards for its bloody marys, and a favorite menu item is the offer of bottomless crispy hash browns. And Silver Grill is very involved in the community — the menu has a listed section describing the local companies that the business works with. Seating ranges from counter stools to booths and tables to an outside patio area, meaning you can eat in any sort of environment you choose.

Modern Diner — Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Only a few Sterling Streamliner diners are still in existence, and Modern Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is one of only two that remain in operation, per Atlas Obscura. A Sterling Streamliner is a chrome, bullet-shaped diner built in the 1930s by the John B. Judkins Company, which usually made car bodies. The particular example of Modern Diner was built in 1941 but at some point had been left abandoned. This was until 1986, when Nick Demou purchased it with his late father. In 1978, it was the first-ever diner to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Modern Diner is lauded for its often changing specials menu, which is nearly as big as the full diner menu (which features more than 30 everyday additions). In 2015, the Food Network show "Top 5 Restaurants" named Demou's Custard French Toast as the best diner dish in the country. This epic dish was created by a happy mistake. When Demou made too much vanilla pudding one day, he decided to add it to his French toast, which was already decadently topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries, sliced kiwi, house-candied pecans, and raspberry syrup. Clearly, it was a hit (as is the rest of the menu).

DeLuca's — Pittsburgh

Impossible to miss, DeLuca's Diner is a red building with a bright sign that reads, "Best Breakfast In Town." Oh, and the building is topped with a giant chicken statue. Another giveaway is the line that might have formed outside before you arrive. Inside, DeLuca's is a classic American diner with red and white checkerboard floors, wooden booths, and a wooden counter lined with red stools. It might look familiar if you have seen the movie "Passed Away" or "Jack Reacher," which both filmed scenes there.

Everything at DeLuca's is made fresh using local and Strip District merchants. The success of this combo launched the 50-year-old diner into an additional satellite location in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. But, just how popular is DeLuca's? In addition to making our list, DeLuca's is the awarded winner of the Best Breakfast in Pittsburgh Magazine, achieved the seventh spot in Travel & Leisure Magazine's collection of best diners, holds an Urban Spoon Top Restaurant distinction, and even has a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.

A "Man Vs. Food" episode was filmed at DeLuca's and showed host Adam Richman dominating the Mixed Grill Challenge. The Mixed Grill is a massive combination of onion, peppers, eggs, home fries, cheese, vegetables, and meat. Richman followed it up with a banana split hotcake sundae to earn a photo on the wall. For the non-competitors, a local favorite is the seafood omelet, filled with garlic sautéed Langoustine lobster, lump crabmeat, and shrimp with avocado, tomato, Swiss, and Hollandaise.

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner — Marianna, Arkansas

Contrary to the unspoken diner ethos that a menu should be as thick as War and Peace, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has no menu at all. In fact, this diner only serves one thing: pork BBQ on Wonder Bread. The only decision you have to make is if you want it with or without, homemade slaw. Meat by the pound is also available for purchase. Owner-pitmaster James Jones, or "Mr. Harold," as he is known to the locals, estimates that he cooks 900 pounds of pork each week.

Jones Diner, established in 1910, is the oldest black-owned BBQ restaurant in the country and is well-deserving of the America's Classics distinction from the James Beard Foundation Awards in 2012. According to The Chicago Tribune, the organization defines America's Classics as "restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community." Mr. Harold is the only Beard award winner in Arkansas.

The menu isn't the only simple thing — there's no ordering by phone and no website. Just show up, order, get your brown bag to-go, or grab a seat in the cozy 10-seat dining room. Beyond diners, Jones is one of the best bbq restaurants in the country. 

Maine Diner — Wells, Maine

Maine Diner went from a locals-only joint that was only open in the winter (apparently because 1940s owner, Socrates Toton, hated tourists) to an iconic institution that has been featured on NBC's "The Today Show," WBZ's "Phantom Gourmet," and Guy Fieri's, "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." The current owner, Jim MacNeill, loves locals (and tourists) and keeps his diner open all year. However, he has also kept some of the charms Toton had created. For example, the old owner was a fan of gardening and planted a one-acre lot, then sold the fruits and vegetables from a farm stand in addition to using them in his meals. At the modern version of Maine Diner, the garden is well taken care of to this day.

Showcasing the bounty of Maine's cold coastal waters, Maine Diner is famous for its inspired seafood dishes. The Myles Henry Downeast Benedict is two cod cakes topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. Hot and cold lobster rolls are served all year 'round, while fried clams and clam strips are a favorite appetizer. The seafood chowder has won numerous awards over the years. Still, the diner's lobster pie is what draws the crowds. Huge chunks of lobster are topped with cracker crumbs, butter, and lemon, then baked.

Another dish celebrating local gastronomy is the Indian Pudding, a New England dessert tradition. Served warm, Indian pudding is made with cornmeal, molasses, light cream, butter, brown sugar, and topped with vanilla ice cream. After visiting, you may need a nap (or a juice cleanse).

Ruth's Diner — Salt Lake City

Ruth's Diner may be the second oldest restaurant in Utah, and may also be known for its top-notch food, but the real draw was always Ruth herself. Ruth was a character whom people flocked to see, with no regard for the law and always a story at the ready. According to company info, Ruth was a cabaret singer from 1912 to 1916 before becoming a burger-joint owner in 1930. Her restaurant, Ruth's Diner, opened in 1949 and still operates today. It is said that Ruth would feed the girls in the brothel across the way — not just hot meals, but with stories and warmth as well. As an example of her fierce independence, the diner's website shares this tidbit: "One of our waitresses visited Ruth after her shift. She sat down on the couch but felt something hard. She reached between the cushions and found a gun. She said, 'Ruth, this gun is loaded!' Ruth replied, 'Well, it wouldn't do me any good if it wasn't.' " 

Sadly, Rith passed in 1989, but new owners, Tracy and Erik Nelson have carried on her legacy by feeding anyone who needs it. Today, the diner hosts live music most nights of the week. The stage is inside a historic trolley car overlooking views of Salt Lake City's gorgeous canyons. The diner has a patio beer garden that is very popular. Ruth's famous mile-high biscuits come with every meal, and they're served with just as much hospitality as Ruth had done.

Lucky's Breakfast (aka Lucky's Golden Phoenix) — San Diego

Part diner, part supper club, Lucky's Breakfast (or Lucky's Golden Phoenix, as some know it) is a hidden breakfast nook with a UU-shaped double counter. The shape makes it so all diners can see each other and interact — per San Diego Reader. The food is classic American diner, but the decor is Chinese curio. There are four menu items to select from, each under $10. Coffee is on the house. The owner, Lucky, does it all. From taking orders (he's not going to write them down, but don't worry, he'll remember), to cooking, serving, and cleaning, he is always with a smile. Visitors are absolutely smitten with Lucky and his simple yet delicious food. It is rumored that Arnold Schwarzenegger would visit while training at Stern's Gym, which is a block away.

The once-secret spot has seen an influx of customers after one guest posted a viral TikTok. As not much has changed in 45 years in business, it's not likely that the recent attention will cause any shifts. San Diego Reader states that Lucky is easygoing regarding the check, and there's always an interesting fortune cookie to provide some funny witticisms after your meal.