12 Top New England Diners

Award-winning food and travel writer Mike Urban pens an ode to New England diners, delving into the regional foods and family-owned landmarks that distinguish the region's roadside diners.

Ask anyone from a Mid-Atlantic state to describe their favorite diner, and you’re bound to hear about 24-hour shiny chrome joints and bargain hash browns.

But here in New England, a.k.a. the birthplace of the American diner, you’re more likely to get an earful about regional specialties—johnnycakes, red flannel hash, or lobster eggs Benedict—and the quirky, multigenerational family-owned environs in which they’re served.

Some of the country’s first and most distinctive diners were built locally by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, whose earlier models resembled the lunch wagons from whence they came: wheeled conveyances that were parked in front of factories and the Providence Journal, where second- and third-shift workers got hot, affordable food in the late 1800s.

Worcester Lunch Car Company began building its diners in 1906, producing some 650 units before it shut down in 1961. The several dozen that remain today—including the Rosebud in Somerville—are instantly recognizable thanks to their unique railcar exteriors and barrel-roofed, wood-paneled, and ceramic-tiled interiors. Many even continue to sport signs advertising “Booth Service,” a relic from a time when it was considered unladylike to sit at the counter.

Equipped with a gas-fired griddle, they’re tailor-made for the breakfast rush. This magical medium allows cooks to simultaneously crisp bacon, fold omelets, and manage a mound of home fries in the corner. Like the open kitchens of today, diners were often designed to prominently feature this griddle so counter-perched guests could enjoy a live culinary demonstration of spatula-wielding prowess.

So the next time you hear someone wax poetic about those New York/New Jersey diners, nod politely and take comfort in the fact that not only did we start the whole phenomenon, we perfected it. Now pass the linguiça, and maybe some of that clam hash.