Help yourself to a serving of Americana with a stop at these classic diners.
ONLY AT DINERS WILL YOU FIND WAITRESSES who call you “hon,” booths with jukeboxes and fried eggs served with a heaping side of nostalgia. Ever since Walter Scott set up a horse-drawn lunch wagon in Providence back in 1872, diners have been part of northeastern roadside culture, offering reasonably priced “home-cooked” food and non-chain charm. Diners are known for artery-assaulting comfort food—though several of the eateries here include healthy and even gourmet-leaning options on their menus. Ambiance and good food? Sidle up to the Formica counter—you can’t go wrong.
Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown
One of the most picturesque diners in the Boston area, this 1947 roadside eatery wears a jolly blue, silver and cream paint job and a jaunty neon sign that lures customers inside on cold winter nights. The lovingly restored 86-seater sports ceramic blue tiles and, on the back wall behind the counter, stainless steel pressed into a radiating fan pattern. The sizable menu holds up to the diner’s comely looks with fabulous flapjacks (you can buy the mix for $7.95). For dinner, blue plate specials such as franks and beans and meat loaf share the stage with more nouvelle items like tofu vegetable stir-fry.
Becky’s Diner, Portland
Although purists might argue that Becky’s, a simple red cinder block structure, isn’t truly a diner, this joint epitomizes what sets diners apart from other roadside eateries: It’s got soul. The vibe is relaxed and friendly; weathered fishermen rub elbows with “suits” and tourists. Diners have working-class roots, and Becky’s carries forth that tradition, serving dockworkers and bleary-eyed late-shift bartenders as soon as its doors open at 4 a.m. If you have reason to be up at 6 a.m., you’ll find the diner’s red booths already packed and coffee mugs being refilled at a steady clip. In addition to eggs in various permutations, Becky’s also serves delicious and decidedly healthy fruit bowls with granola and yogurt and, later in the day, tasty seafood such as fried Maine shrimp and lobster rolls.
Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner, Bennington
For diner pilgrims looking for authentic ambiance, this 1945 Silk City diner is the real deal. Handwritten signs along the walls announce the specials; well-worn grooves in the Formica counter are evidence of the elbows that have rested there over the years. Beyond perennial favorites such as turkey dinners, cornbread French toast and Indian pudding, the menu also serves the local earthy-crunchy set, with specials like tofu enchiladas and vegetarian shepherd’s pie,‚ which can be served without cheese for dedicated vegans. The jukeboxes at each table also mix things up, pairing crooners like Patsy Cline with pop upstarts like Pink and Avril Lavigne.
Jigger’s Diner, East Greenwich
This 1917 Worcester dining car fulfills the basic diner criteria with its fast, friendly service and typically egg-centric breakfast menu. Yet look beyond the basics, and you’ll find gingerbread-granola pancakes and French toast stuffed with sweet cream and strawberries. Not surprisingly, lines often snake out the door during brunch hours on the weekend. Each night from 5 p.m. on, the diner quietly transforms into “Jigger’s @ Nite”—setting the stage with dimmed lights, candles and place mats—to serve more “uptown” dishes such as smoked pork loin stuffed with prosciutto and Gorgonzola, shrimp-and-crab potpie with a crumb topping, and the ever-popular fish and chips. These evenings are BYOB, and the menu changes weekly.