I’m a sucker for retro, old school diners and there are hundreds of them dotted all around the United States. They’re the quintessential American eateries that are cheap and cheerful, serving simple and substantial comfort food classics. What the old fashioned pub is to the British, the diner is to the Americans. I was fortunate enough to spend a bit of time in LA visiting a good friend recently, so here’s a roundup of my favourite old school diners in and around LA. The great thing about Los Angeles and the surrounding area is you’re never too far from a filming location, diners included, which is great for film geeks like me.
2901 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica
This no-nonsense diner in Santa Monica oozes vintage vibes, with its bar and high stools and bright red comfy booths. It’s remained more or less the same since 1958. Rae’s serves a selection of hangover-busting breakfast favourites such as waffles, pancakes and well as eggs and bacon. Try the deliciously moreish fried potatoes. This place is definitely a breakfast or lunch destination because it’s open from 6:30am until 4pm. Make sure you take cash as Rae’s is a cash-only diner.
Rae’s was used as a filming location for the film written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance. The diner is featured in the scene where Clarence and Alabama decide to go get some late-night pie after a night at the cinema, watching Kung Fu movies. Rae’s was also used in the film Lords of Dogtown and featured on the album cover for Elton John’s album Songs from the West Coast. Be sure to check out this place if you love old school diners. See the menu here
Nicks Coffee Shop and Deli
8536 W Pico Blvd
Nick’s is a really cool place with exceptionally friendly staff and characterful decor. This old fashioned café’s walls are covered with signed ‘hall of fame’ photos. You can chill out in one of the retro booths or pull up a stool at the counter. They have an extensive menu with oodles of choice (it’s massive!) which caters well for vegetarians. Choose from diner classics with a Mexican twist or omelettes, sandwiches, pancakes, milkshakes and pretty much anything you could ever want for breakfast. The corned beef hash is particularly good. If you own a pooch, you’re in luck because they also have a dog-friendly outside area, making this the perfect place to grab breakfast, lunch or brunch.
Dinah’s Family Restaurant
6521 S Sepulveda Blvd
Dinah’s is really close to LAX, so it’s really easy to pop in for some munch if you’re heading to or from the airport. We were both jetlagged and in need of some coffee and sugary pick-me-ups so the tasty pancakes at Dinah’s was just the tonic. The diner opened in 1959 and it’s still full of old school charm.
Dinah’s was used as a filming location for cult classic The Big Lebowski. It’s the scene where the German Nihilists grab some food at a diner. If you want to be like the German Nihilists with their Lingonberry pancakes ask for the Swedish Pancakes, which do actually come with Lingonberry sauce, they’re delicious! Check out the menu here
The Original Pantry Café
877 S Figueroa St
The much-loved Original Pantry is one of the best old school diners in LA and is one of the most famous restaurants in LA too. It opened its doors in 1924 and has been serving hungry customers day and night ever since. The décor exudes old-fashioned charm. Expect attentive and friendly service from staff who have been there for years and really great food. The best thing about Original Pantry is it never closes, if you fancy a late-night snack, this is the place to go. Visit midweek or in the evenings If you want to miss the busy weekend afternoons. They do fantastic sour dough toast, amazing coleslaw and the French toast is out of this world. Learn about the history of The Original Pantry here
Pat & Lorraine’s
4720 Eagle Rock Blvd
Another one of my favourite old school diners was Pat and Lorraine’s Coffee Shop. It’s a no-frills place, an absolute retro throwback to the 70’s. Portions here are huge, so you could probably share a plate between two if your puny European stomachs are not yet accustomed to the gigantic American portions.
Grabbing some breakfast at Pat & Lorraine’s is a must for any big Tarantino fans, as it was used as the filming location for the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, when the Dogs are eating breakfast and discussing Madonna lyrics. And yes, do leave a tip! Don’t listen to Mr Pink on this occasion as not tipping in the US is a massive faux par. You’ll be shunned, chased down the streets with pitchforks and flogged to death if you don’t conform. 20% is the standard amount to tip in the US. Just move the decimal point one space left and multiply by two, easy.
Just one more …
Philippe the Original, 1001 North Alameda
Not really a diner but I had to include this sandwich place that serves the best ‘French dips’ which are meat-filled baguettes that are dipped in the juices of the cooked meat. Drool over their menu here. Go there and order the lamb with blue cheese, double dipped. Just do it.
Planning to visit Las Vegas too? Check out my previous blog here for an off-beat guide.