The 12 Best Retro Diners In The South

These classic restaurants have us pining for a juicy burger, cold milkshake, and the nostalgia of the 1950s.

Diners are magical places. They’re the kind of place where the world comes together, where anything can happen, and where everything is made better by a hot cup of coffee and slice of pie. Step inside a diner anywhere in America and you’ll find folks from all walks of life—a parent treating their kid to breakfast out, a first responder unwinding after an overnight shift, a group of teens giggling over pancakes. Some of our favorite scenes in cinematic history unfolded against the familiar backdrop of a 1950s-era diner, and some of our favorite memories from growing up were made in those same red vinyl booths. In the South, we love a good diner. We love that diners are built on tradition, on tall tales, and on simple, but always delicious food. Here are 12 retro diners across the South where we’d love to sit a spell.

<p>Getty Images / Peterdj</p>

Getty Images / Peterdj

The Diner (Norman, OK)

<p>Courtesy of The Diner</p>

Courtesy of The Diner

Nostalgia (in the form of vintage fishing and chili cook-off photos and other old-school memorabilia) drips from the very walls of this Oklahoma diner. The Diner carries on the state’s longstanding tradition of chili parlors and diners. Owner Bonnie Amspacher’s father opened The Diner in 1989, but the building its housed in has been a restaurant for more than 100 years. You’ll find all the classic diner staples here, as well as Tex-Mex comfort food like Frito chili pie and The Diner’s Famous Eggarito, served seven days a week.

213 E Main Street, Norman, OK; (405) 329-6642

Howley’s Restaurant (West Palm Beach, FL)

<p>Courtesy of Howley's Restaurant</p>

Courtesy of Howley's Restaurant

With the motto, “Cooked in sight, must be right,” Howley’s is dedicated to doing diner food the right way. Established in 1950, the diner went through a renovation in 2004 to bring the menu into the modern age while restoring key historic elements like the building’s tin ceilings and terrazzo floors. Today, breakfast staples like a short stack or biscuits and gravy still grace the menu, but you can also order an acai bowl or crab hash. At lunch and dinner, you can find everything from a Thanksgiving Feast (served year-round) to shrimp scampi and honey beef short ribs.

4700 S Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach, FL; (561) 833-5691

Mel’s Diner (Pigeon Forge, TN)

Courtesy of Mel's Classic Diner
Courtesy of Mel's Classic Diner

Nothing goes better with a weekend in the mountains than hearty diner food. At Mel’s, you can have a classic 1950s diner experience from the moment you pull up to the restaurant’s stainless-steel façade and neon sign. Inside, the black-and-white checkered floors, old-school jukebox, Formica tabletops, and wraparound booths add to the atmosphere. Mel’s full menu is offered six days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, so you can have pot roast at 9 a.m. and French toast at 10 p.m.—the world is your oyster!

119 Wears Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN; (865) 429-2184

Brent’s Drugs (Jackson, MS)

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

This diner has been a staple in the Jackson community sine 1946, when it opened as a pharmacy and soda fountain. Over the years, it has served generations of Jackson families, as well as visitors from all over the country. It’s even had its five seconds of fame when the movie “The Help” shot a pivotal scene in its iconic dining room. Brent’s still boasts the same barstools and soda fountain that it did back in the 40s, and much of the menu has remained intact as well. You can order a salad sampler (chicken salad, tuna salad, pimento cheese, and egg and olive salad) and homemade limeade for a taste of nostalgia. But you can also level up with a visit to The Apothecary, a hidden speakeasy tucked in the back of the restaurant.

655 Duling Ave., Jackson, MS; (601) 366-3427

Strawn’s Eat Shop (Shreveport, LA)

Photo by Kenny Brown
Photo by Kenny Brown

Home of the icebox pie, Strawn’s got its start in 1944 with one location across from Centenary College. Today, there are three Strawn’s locations in the city and plenty of the famous strawberry icebox pie to go around (plus chocolate, coconut, butterscotch, banana, and sometimes peach). The no-frills diner does things simply. Morning brings eggs, breakfast meats, pancakes, waffles, and the like. Lunch features sandwiches and daily Southern specials ranging from meatloaf to fried chicken to beef tips to chicken fried steak.

125 E. King Hwy, Shreveport, LA; (318) 868-0634

Rick’s White Light Diner (Frankfort, KY)

<p>Courtesy of Rick's White Light Diner</p>

Courtesy of Rick's White Light Diner

Upon first glance, Rick’s may look like your run-of-the-mill diner. There are the requisite framed photos, license plates, and vintage signs covering the walls. There are red vinyl barstools, and there are Christmas lights strung from the ceiling. But one look at the menu, and you’ll see that this isn’t your average diner. Chef Rick Paul has developed a tantalizing lineup of Cajun and Creole dishes utilizing local produce and seafood caught only in the U.S. There are few other diners where you can find crawfish pie, jambalaya, and alligator po’boys intermingling with cheeseburgers and pancakes.

114 Bridge Street, Frankfort, KY; (502) 696-9104

Payne’s Sandwich Shop & Soda Fountain (Scottsboro, AL)

<p>Courtesy of Payne's Sandwich Shop & Soda Fountain</p>

Courtesy of Payne's Sandwich Shop & Soda Fountain

An absolute stalwart in its teeny tiny community, Payne’s has been in operation for 153 years and counting. Payne’s started out as a pharmacy and soda fountain famous for being the first establishment in the area to serve Coca-Cola. Today, you can find the same soda counter favorites like floats and milkshakes, as well as Payne’s signature red slaw hot dog. Claim a seat at the bar, then peruse the chalkboard menu that runs the length of the wall and features everything from turkey subs to specialty sundaes.

101 E. Laurel St., Scottsboro, AL; (256) 574-2140

The Neighborhood Diner (Harrison, AR)

<p>Courtesy of The Neighborhood Diner</p>

Courtesy of The Neighborhood Diner

Fried pies are big business in Arkansas and true to its home state, The Neighborhood Diner doesn’t mess around when it comes to the addictive treat. They offer more than 30 flavors (including out of the box options like gooseberry, pumpkin, and Andes Chocolate Mints) at the 70-year-old diner. From the classic façade to standard diner fare like chili cheese tater tots, patty melts, and hoagie subs, The Neighborhood Diner is a glimpse (and a taste!) back in time.

1112 North Main Street, Harrison, AR; (870) 743-9493

Clary’s Café (Savannah, GA)

Nick Ledford
Nick Ledford

Clary’s started out as a pharmacy in 1903, evolved into an ice cream parlor and sandwich counter in the 1950s, and has been a full-service restaurant since the mid 1980s. The Savannah staple even had brief Hollywood appearance in the 1997 Clint Eastwood film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Look for the familiar cursive marquee and the crowd waiting outside, and you’ll know you’ve arrived. Not sure what to order? Consider the Stuffed French Toast, particularly The Elvis stuffed with bananas and peanut butter, or the homemade corned beef hash for breakfast.

404 Abercorn St., Savannah, GA; (912) 233-0402

Broadway Diner (Columbia, MO)

<p>Courtesy of Broadway Diner</p>

Courtesy of Broadway Diner

This classic diner is small but mighty. The neon-lit shotgun-style diner features just six four-top tables, plus counter service for eight, but the folks that come through each day far outpace the humble dining room. For the past 60-plus years, Broadway has served the Columbia community with a classic take on traditional comfort food. Lunch brings sandwiches, burgers, salads, and soup, while breakfast runs the gamut from scrambles and omelets to homemade biscuits and gravy.

22 S. 4th St, Columbia, MO; (573) 875-1173

Original Market Diner (Dallas, TX)

<p>Courtesy of Original Market Diner</p>

Courtesy of Original Market Diner

It’s all in the family at Original Market Diner. Sam and Kathy Vergos opened a classic drive-in called The Diner in 1954. Over the years, the restaurant changed names and even owners, but now the diner is back in the family with Sam and Kathy’s son Jimmy at the helm. Open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, Original Market is big on variety. Each day of the week features three to six lunch specials ranging from cabbage rolls to Greek chicken, but there are also everyday favorites like meatloaf, chicken fried steak, chicken tenders, and fried seafood. Choose an entrée and a couple of sides from the list of 22. For dessert, there are five different cakes and countless pie varieties organized into four categories: meringue, fruit, cream, and seasonal.

4434 Harry Hines Blvd, Dallas, TX; (214) 521-0992

Dolly’s Diner (Princeton, WV)

<p>Courtesy of Dolly's Diner</p>

Courtesy of Dolly's Diner

Leonard and Dolly Lane transformed a 30-year neighborhood favorite called The Omelet Spot into Dolly’s Diner in 2018. Since then, they’ve built upon the breakfast spot’s following by creating an authentic 1950s-inspired diner serving up homemade dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even late-night meals. Popular menu items include fluffy omelets, wraps, and stuffed baked potatoes. Locals rave about their made-to-order burgers and blue plate dinner specials.

909 Oakvale Rd, Princeton, WV; (304) 425-4194

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