America's best diners
(Photo: Jerry Huddleston)
“When the Dodgers moved to California, my grandparents moved, too, opening a New York–style diner in 1960,” says Harry Rudolph, the third-generation owner of Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla, Calif.
It’s the kind of great classic diner where you can count on affordable comfort food like steak and eggs, stacks of flapjacks and a handmade milkshake. These diner menus often list more than 50 items and may reveal Greek or Jewish heritage (a spinach pie here, a hearty Reuben sandwich there). There’s a common décor, too, of stainless steel, neon, mahogany and chrome that looked cutting-edge in the 1940s and now feels retro.
Diners certainly pluck a chord of American nostalgia. They belong to our culture and help define it. Like family recipes and apple pie. Like baseball and Elvis. In fact, you can likely find some combination of those things inside the best diners. In the end, maybe a single definition isn’t necessary. Let’s just say we know a diner when we see it.
We’ve seen these diners — and you should seek them out, too, whether in Jackson or Manhattan.
Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul, Minn.
Mickey’s is a registered landmark; countless films and TV shows have been shot inside the car built by the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Company. Saks Fifth Avenue even sold a snow globe featuring Mickey’s. In the ’50s, the joint got a couple of jukeboxes and began serving hand-dipped malts, but not much else has changed. “Our hash browns come with two ingredients: lard and chopped potatoes,” quips owner Eric Mattson’s daughter, Melissa. “You add your own salt.” You’ll also get “salt” from the waitresses, whom The New York Times once tagged as “ornery.” But the syrup on the secret-recipe pancakes sweetens the diner experience, which overall is as classic as it comes.
(Photo: Brent's Drugs)
Opened as a drugstore and soda fountain, Brent’s has been serving Jackson pimento cheese and egg and olive sandwiches since 1946. The current owner restored the classic feel of the place to such a degree — teal and white accents, Formica counters, and hanging soda fountain lights — that the producers from the recent blockbuster “The Help” filmed two scenes here. Stop in for the new Sunday brunch and a classic cherry phosphate drink.