There’s something undeniably charming about diners and greasy spoons. These timeless establishments serve up comfort food, offer a glimpse into local culture, and provide a sense of nostalgia that keeps us coming back for more.
At TravelAwaits, we value the opinions of our readers, so we asked you to nominate and vote for your favorite diners and greasy spoons across the United States for the first time as part of our annual Best Of Travel Awards. From classic drive-ins to historic soda fountains, the following diners and greasy spoons offer a taste of Americana that will satisfy both your appetite and your wanderlust.
1. Johnnie’s Drive In (Winner)
Located in the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Johnnie’s Drive In has been a beloved local institution since 1945. Sit in the same wooden booth as the King of Rock and Roll once did and enjoy mouthwatering burgers, fries, and milkshakes surrounded by memorabilia of the iconic blues and rock singer.
Pro Tip: Stop by the ATM, this joint is cash only!
What To Order At Johnnie’s Drive In
Johnnie’s dough burger (flour is added to the ground-beef patty) served on a bun with mustard, onions, and pickles with onion rings; or try the barbecue.
2. Palace Diner
Housed in a restored 1920s dining car, Palace Diner takes you back in time with its vintage ambiance. This tiny, iconic spot serves up delicious breakfast and lunch dishes, including their famous egg sandwiches and fluffy pancakes.
Fun Fact: Palace Diner claims to be the oldest diner in Maine!
What To Order At Palace Diner
Fluffy buttermilk flapjacks with a side of crispy Palace potatoes!
Kansas City, Missouri
Winstead’s is a Kansas City institution that has been dishing out tasty comfort food since 1940. Known for old-fashioned hamburgers, thick milkshakes, and crispy onion rings, this diner will leave you fully satisfied. Hit the drive-thru for convenience or dine in for the 1950s atmosphere, complete with an old-fashioned jukebox.
What To Order At Winstead’s
Get a single, double, or triple Winstead steakburger with 50/50 (that’s half onion rings and half fries) and a cherry limeade, or treat yourself to a butterscotch shake, malt, or ice cream soda.
4. Frontier Restaurant
Albuquerque, New Mexico
A staple in Albuquerque since 1971, Frontier Restaurant offers New Mexican cuisine with a diner twist. Indulge in their famous breakfast burritos or sink your teeth into a juicy green chile cheeseburger for a flavorful southwestern experience. The kitschy barn-shaped restaurant with a bright-yellow roof is decorated with paintings and photos of John Wayne and wagon-wheel chandeliers.
What To Order At Frontier Restaurant
Carne adovada (New Mexico-style pork) breakfast burrito with green chile and fluffy eggs wrapped in a hot, fresh tortilla. It all pairs well with some western-style hashbrowns, a “Frontier Sweet Roll,” and a glass of refreshing, freshly squeezed orange juice.
5. Crown Candy Kitchen
St. Louis, Missouri
Started in 1913, Crown Candy Kitchen is a hidden gem in St. Louis, Missouri. Walking into this family-owned soda fountain shop feels like stepping back in time. The city’s oldest soda fountain is a must-visit for its delectable milkshakes, but this St. Louis institution is one of the best chocolate shops in the Midwest too, and still makes all of its chocolate creations by hand!
What To Order At Crown Candy Kitchen
The massive “Heart-stopping BLT” (featuring a stack of thick-sliced bacon) is finished off with a Newport hot fudge sundae topped with plenty of whipped cream and pecans! If the candy counter tempts you, take home some Crown Candy Hash — marshmallows and chopped pecans that have been hand-dipped in rich chocolate.
6. Bob’s Big Boy
Bob’s Big Boy is an iconic California diner chain that has been delighting patrons since 1936. Step into a bygone era with the retro décor and enjoy classic diner fare, including their famous Big Boy double-decker hamburger.
What To Order At Bob’s Big Boy
Chili spaghetti (it tastes better than it sounds) and save room for Bob’s famous hot fudge cake!
7. Ruth’s Diner
Salt Lake City, Utah
Serving hungry visitors since 1930, Ruth’s Diner can be found in an old trolley car from the 1800s that lies just a short drive up Emigration Canyon. One of the oldest diners in Salt Lake City, this cozy little spot is famous for its mile-high biscuits and mouthwatering breakfast dishes. The back patio offers stunning mountain views.
What To Order At Ruth’s Diner
Anything with salmon or the pulled pork Benedict (breakfast is served all day) with a Bloody Mary and mile-high biscuits served with raspberry jam.
8. Tick Tock Diner
Clifton, New Jersey
A New Jersey landmark, Tick Tock Diner has been serving up American comfort food since 1948. With its neon-lit exterior and an extensive menu featuring everything from classic burgers to Greek specialties, this 24-hour diner is a local favorite.
What To Order At Tick Tock Diner
Breakfast is served all day, so you can always get eggs Benedict, but if you visit after a night out, you may prefer some “disco fries,” which are topped with brown gravy and mozzarella.
9. Randy’s Diner
Traverse City, Michigan
A family-owned establishment in Traverse City, Randy’s Diner captures the essence of a classic greasy spoon. This friendly hole-in-the-wall offers a wide range of affordable breakfast options, juicy burgers, and hearty sandwiches that will keep you coming back for more.
What To Order At Randy’s Diner
Get the golden malted waffle or grilled cinnamon roll if you’re in the mood for something sweet, or the stuffed hash browns with eggs, bacon, sausage, cheddar, onions, and green peppers for something on the savory side.
10. Ellen’s Stardust Diner
New York, New York
Located in the heart of Times Square, Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a one-of-a-kind experience. Known for its singing waitstaff, this retro-themed diner serves up delicious comfort food while entertaining guests with musical performances. Indulge in some fluffy pancakes, savory omelets, and juicy burgers while being serenaded by talented Broadway hopefuls.
What To Order At Ellen’s Stardust Diner
The food isn’t anything to write home about — you’re really here for the entertainment and the experience of having breakfast on Broadway, however, TravelAwaits writer Vanessa Chiasson is obsessed with the egg creme here.
11. The Blue Benn
Tucked away in Bennington, The Blue Benn is a hidden gem that exudes old-school charm. Step inside an old train car to savor this vintage diner’s famous breakfast dishes, homemade pies, and comfort-food classics.
Pro Tip: The Blue Benn deals exclusively in greenbacks, so grab some cash as well as some quarters to play the tabletop jukebox!
What To Order At The Blue Benn
Get the homemade donut grilled with a side of raspberry jam, the blueberry pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup, or eggs Benedict with home fries.
12. Livingston’s Soda Fountain & Grill
Take a step back in time at Livingston’s Soda Fountain & Grill, a nostalgic soda fountain and diner that has been serving Brownsville since 1868. Enjoy a classic phosphate soda, indulge in a banana split, or feast on southern-inspired dishes.
What To Order At Livingston’s Soda Fountain & Grill
A delicious specialty milkshake, a grilled sandwich of your choice, and some sweet potato fries.
13. Mel’s Hard Luck Diner
For traditional American fare with a side of music, look no further than this 1950s-themed diner in Branson, Missouri. At Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, the motto goes, “We sing for your supper.” Singing waiters and waitresses serenade diners while serving up burgers, shakes, fried steaks, battered cod, chicken fingers, sandwiches, wraps, soups, and salads.
What To Order At Mel’s Hard Luck Diner
Even the pickiest eaters won’t go hungry with entrées like the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Burger” and the “Boot Scootin’ Chicken Fried Steak.” But it’s the desserts like the “Build Me Up Banana Cup” old-fashioned banana split and chocolate nachos that really steal the show.
14. Paris Coffee Shop
Fort Worth, Texas
First opened in 1926, Paris Coffee Shop has been a Fort Worth institution for nearly a century. Now open for weekend brunch, this historic family-owned café serves up comfort food favorites such as chicken-fried steak and chicken and dumplings alongside breakfast dishes and blue-plate lunch specials.
What To Order At Paris Coffee Shop
Whether you come for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, save room for a slice of key lime, apple, or chocolate pie!
Representing the heart and soul of American dining, these 14 diners and greasy spoons offer not only delicious food but also a sense of nostalgia and a taste of local culture. Whether you’re in the mood for a juicy burger, a stack of pancakes, or a homemade pie, these establishments offer a truly authentic dining experience that will transport you to a bygone era. So, the next time you embark on a road trip or find yourself exploring a new city, make sure to seek out these beloved diners and greasy spoons for a taste of classic Americana.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards.