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28 Best Diners in America, According to Chefs

Top-notch comfort food, nostalgic vibes, and homey service are what makes these restaurants stand out.

When it comes to comfort food, Americana takes many forms and flavors. For some, nothing scratches the itch more than a burger or a plate of fried chicken. For others, it's the siren song of the ice cream truck or a frosted doughnut. Then there's the almighty diner, a beacon of all-American tradition and comfort, where all of the aforementioned classics are frequently joined by pancakes, omelets, and piled-high sandwiches.

Diners, like the food they serve, come in all manner of shapes, sizes, and styles, from mom-and-pop joints to familiar chains. To help distill the best of the best, though, we asked chefs with a penchant for nostalgia to give us their top picks for best American diners. Whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner, or some combination of all of the above, these experts picked truly standout dinners from Maine to Los Angeles.

I-84 Diner  

exterior of i-84 diner
Photo: Carlos Colon / Google

Ever since visiting I-84 Diner with his aunt and uncle over Thanksgiving break one year, Greg Garrison has been an enduring fan of the institution in Fishkill, N.Y. The chef-partner of Repeal 33 in Savannah, and Prohibition in both Charleston and Columbia, S.C., he looks forward to returning there any chance he gets. "I like the ability to get things that I usually wouldn't find together on one menu, like fried chicken wings and French toast, or fried clams and lasagna, or meatloaf and an omelet." And one more thing: "Get a slice of cake or pie from the glass case on the way out!"

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Red Line Diner  

red line diner exterior
Photo: Nicholas Yannaco / Google

Fishkill, N.Y. may just be an epicenter of classic diners, as illustrated by yet another local recommendation—this time from Rich Parente, chef and owner of Clock Tower Grill in Brewster. His pick is Red Line Diner, which he describes as a "50s-style diner that makes all their baked goods fresh on-site, and the family that runs the place always takes great pride in their food." Parente's diner go-to is breakfast, and particularly pancakes with eggs over easy, sausage patties, and white toast with butter. "The Red Line Diner does all of that well," he adds. "It's everything you're looking for in a diner."

City Cafe

city cafe exterior
Photo: Ryan Sherry / Google

"My favorite diner of all time is City Cafe in South Houston, Texas," explains Vanarin Kuch, chef/owner of Koffeteria in Houston. "It's a local cafe where the patrons and workers look like they've visited for generations! The food is solid, consistent, and best of all, inflation has never hit the menu prices." Describing City Cafe as "a gem among gems," Kuch loves their housemade pies, as well as classics like meatloaf, chicken fried steak, and spaghetti with meat sauce.

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Midnight Diner

exterior of midnight diner
Photo: Mark Smith / Google

Whenever a diner conjures Waffle House vibes, you know you're on the right track. That's the motto for Rob Masone, executive chef and owner of Kre8 Events & Xperiences Inc. in South Carolina. His favorite diner is Midnight Diner in Charlotte, N.C., which he describes as "an upscale Waffle House on steroids, and is a staple in Uptown Charlotte for many, many years."

Bob's Diner  

exterior of bob's diner
Photo: Bob's Diner / Facebook

"Classic Americana with every part of a diner that you could want," is how Emmeline Zhao describes Bob's Diner in Manchester Center, Vt. The manager partner and beverage director at Figure Eight and Silver Apricot raves about this spot, citing its neon sign, jukebox, and "uncomfortable bar stools drilled into the ground" as timeless treasures. "But first and foremost, the staff there is just fantastic, and the food reflects it," Zhao explains. "The team is jovial and goes the extra mile to make sure you have not only everything you need but also everything you never knew you needed. Bob's is what every other diner wishes it was, and their food shows that they really care. The hashbrowns get dark and crunchy, the eggs perfectly oozy, and a big shoutout to the pancakes, which are crispy on the edges and drenched in a bath of local Vermont maple syrup."

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B&H Dairy

b & h restaurant exterior
Photo: Andrew Parker / Google

For Joseph Bliffen, executive chef at Silver Apricot, it's easy to get his favorite fix because he needn't travel far to the B&H Dairy in the East Village. "It's been a mainstay since the 1930s, specializing in kosher vegetarian food, which means they serve fish but no meat," he explains. "The go-to for me is definitely the tuna melt, which is served on their super fresh housemade challah, sliced extra thick."

NoMad Diner  

interior of nomad diner
Photo: TripAdvisor

Another emerging New York City staple is NoMad Diner, which has become a fast fixture for Michael King, executive chef at Brooklyn's Sungold. He points out the menu highlights like the Hot Dog Boyfriend, with kimchi and kewpie mayo, and a parmesan-infused cocktail called Mack the Knife.

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The Pantry  

exterior of the pantry in new haven
Photo: Jon R. / Google

Son of famed New York gourmand Eli Zabar, Sasha Zabar knows a thing or two about good ol' fashioned diners. One such pick is The Pantry in New Haven, which was a weekly requisite when he lived in the Connecticut town. "The cinnamon roll pancakes are enormous, moist, and crispy at the edges where the caramelized sugar touches the griddle," he muses. "Excellent crispy potatoes, and even something as simple as a fried egg with toast was done well. Very unassuming, but worth the visit."

Palace Diner  

palace diner in converted railroad car
Photo: Palace Diner / Facebook

Another recommendation from Zabar is the old-timey Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine. "Every year we visit my godparents in Castine, Maine, and on the way we make it a practice to stop at Palace Diner," says Zabar. "Located in a converted vintage rail car, everything on the limited menu is amazing. The pancakes are incredible, the crispy potatoes are A+, and the burger is also excellent. I hate tuna fish, but it's supposedly fantastic."

And Zabar isn't alone in that endorsement. Jeremy Salamon, chef and founder of Agi's Counter in Brooklyn, and author of the upcoming cookbook Second Generation: Hungarian and Jewish Classics Reimagined for the Modern Table, cites the Maine diner as one of his favorites: "Their tuna salad sandwich is layered with crisp lettuce and fluffy bread. The French toast is one giant piece of battered bread! It's dreamy. Don't forget to get the brown butter banana bread.

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bagel works exterior
Photo: Bagel Works / Google

When in Florida, Salamon is also a big fan of BagelWorks in Boca Raton. "It's technically a bagel shop but it reads like a diner," he notes. "I grew up here, so I'm biased, but their tuna salad is the best in the world, as are their bagels. Order a Yoo-Hoo and be sure to grab smoked fish and sliced beef tongue from the case on your way out."

Fred 62

exterior of fred 62
Photo: Fred 62 / Google

According to Sammy Monsour, chef and co-owner of Joyce in Los Angeles, his local pick is Fred 62, a colorful institution that's been perfecting Americana for upwards of three decades. Breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, and desserts all get their dues, along with a unique take on Detroit-style pizza. Monsour also shouts out other diners in other parts of the country: Colorado-based Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, N.Y.

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Tick Tock Diner  

tick tock diner exterior
Photo: Tick Tock Diner

For Drew Shader, it's the late-night memories that have kept him coming back to Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, N.J. The founder of Atomic Cowboy in Denver says, "I have a soft spot for the Tick Tock Diner. I've had many great late-night meals there."

Cameo Cafe

cameo cafe exterior
Photo: TripAdvisor

American classics come with some Korean influence at Cameo Cafe in Portland, Ore.—the go-to for Quaintrelle executive chef Elijah Rivers. "Gonna have to say Cameo Cafe in the Roseway neighborhood, originally opened in 1969," notes the chef. "It retains the American classics we all love with some great Korean options sprinkled in. It feels homey the moment you walk into the place."

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perly's exterior
Photo: Konrad / Google

"My favorite diner on the planet is a place called Perly's in Richmond, Va.," raves Travis Milton, chef of Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards in Bristol, Va. "It's like a mashup of a Jewish deli and a diner, two concepts that I adore profusely." Some menu standouts, Milton says, include the pastrami sandwich, the smoked fish boards, babka French toast, and a "guilty pleasure" dish called "Schlubby Fries," featuring Russian dressing, dill havarti, pastrami, and pickled peppers. "I literally leave there every time five pounds heavier and happy, with a to-go bag of more grub since it'll typically be a couple of months before I can make it back!"

Kappy's American Grill  

kappy's exterior
Photo: Medicare Michael Friedman / Google

In Morton Grove, Ill., Kappy's American Grill hails from the Alpogianis family, which has been in the Chicagoland diner business for over a century. That's according to Art Smith, cookbook author, TV personality, and the chef behind such down-home restaurants as Reunion in Chicago, and Homecomin' at Disney Springs. "It's a favorite with the community, including Chicago politicians and local celebrities, who all find a taste of home in this bustling community spot," Smith describes. "Their delicious, huge omelets are my go-to, and they have the best French toast. Don't be surprised if current Niles' Mayor George Alpogianis seats you (he's been working at Kappy's since 1979)!"

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Neptune Diner

neptune diner exterior
Photo: Aung Thu / Google

For Gus Silivos, the chef behind Scenic 90 Cafe in Pensacola, Fla., diners are more than mere nostalgia—they're an inspiration. "The appeal with Scenic 90 Cafe, and with diners in general, is that it transcends through the generations," explains the chef. "The young think it's cool because of things like sitting at the counter with the old-school soda fountain, and the overall look that's different from today, and the older generation reminisces about their own childhood and the things they loved from back in the day."

And food-wise, guests have their pick from breakfast to fried steak and homemade pie. "Everything feels like home but is special," he adds. For those reasons, New York City's iconic Neptune Diner has been a guiding light. "At Neptune Diner in Astoria, they have a HUGE menu but their gyro plate is phenomenal, and all the portions for everything are really big," Silivos raves. "Then there's the dessert case, one of those old-school revolving ones with probably 20 different desserts in there, from cheesecake to pie, you name it. Classic, great diner!"

La Bonbonniere

la bonbonniere exterior
Photo: La Bonbonniere / Facebook

When Cody Pruitt, managing partner at New York's Libertine, craves a diner, he heads to La Bonbonniere. "It's one of the last true 'greasy spoons' in Manhattan and is run by two of the kindest humans you'll ever meet, Marina and Gus, who've both been there for well over 30 years," says Pruitt. "They're known for their challah French toast, but I opt for a breakfast sandwich: bacon, egg, cheese, hot sauce, salt and pepper, on a roll." Pruitt fondly recalls running a bar, Anfora, next door and visiting the diner every week. "During COVID, there was a regular trade of Anfora's Chartreuse Coladas in exchange for their burgers—the staff and I lived off of those while the neighborhood was a ghost town."

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Estia's Little Kitchen

estia's little kitchen sign
Photo: Estia's Little Kitchen

Out in the Hamptons, when Jeremy Blutstein isn't on executive chef duty at Mavericks Montauk, he's chowing down at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor. "Chef/owner Colin Ambrose does it better than most," he says, describing it as a "traditional egg and pancake joint with Mexican flair." Calling it the "best place on Earth," Blutstein lauds the restaurant for its housemade hot sauce, friendly service, local artwork on display, and Ambrose's consummate hospitality. "I grew up eating at his lunch counter, and now I take my four-year-old daughter there to 'the pancake store, to see Colin the Pancake Chef.'"

Bel Aire Diner  

bel aire diner exterior
Photo: Bel Aire Diner / Google

In Queens, Bel Aire Diner is the top spot for Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Cafe. "I love classic diners, and I run to Bel Aire Diner in Queens whenever the hankering comes up," she says. "It's classic, iconic, and everything you want in a diner with its vinyl booths, a bible of a menu, and friendly neighborhood service — it's just an all-around institution." A self-described "breakfast deluxe platter type of girl," Manalang's default is two eggs over easy, bacon, sausage, ham, extra well-done home fries, and dark rye toast, with a coffee, orange juice, and water.

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Washington Square Diner  

washington square diner exterior
Photo: Ruwan J. / Google

Yet another New York City institution, Washington Square Diner is the diner of choice for Billy Wang, owner of Sanuki Udon. "It reminds me of my days as an NYU student," he recalls. "Because it is located close to campus, I could grab a quick bite to eat between classes. It is also 24 hours, which was perfect for when I would be pulling all-nighters studying at Bobst Library. Service was usually fast, and the cheeseburger always hit the spot!"

Shoreline Coffee Shop  

shoreline coffee shop exterior
Photo: Joseph Gallo / Google

Award-winning fashion designer, culinary creator, and lifestyle expert Peter Som has a few recommendations for destination-worthy diners across the country, including Shoreline Coffee Shop in Mill Valley, Calif. "It's been around since the early 1960s and I've had many meals here," says Som, describing it as "a mix of classic diner fare with an upscale but laid-back California-Mexican twist." His pick? "I always get the Tennessee Valley Toast: eggs sunny side up, avocado, sautéed kale, and chili flakes on a thick slab of rustic bread."

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Empire Diner

empire diner exterior
Photo: Empire Diner

In New York City, the diner capital, Som's pick is the legendary Empire Diner. "A snazzy step back in time with this refurbished Chelsea Art Deco diner — you'd swear Fred and Ginger might tap by you at any moment." He describes the food as a modern take on diner classics, opting for deviled eggs (topped with chicken cracklings) or pigs in a blanket". For brunch, do not miss their housemade buttermilk biscuits and cacio e pepe scrambled eggs."

Liz's Cafe, Anybody's Bar  

exterior of liz's cafe / anybody's bar
Photo: Jerome Alexander / Google

Som's final favorite is Liz's Cafe, Anybody's Bar in Provincetown, Mass. "Tucked into a corner of the picturesque Cape Cod town's west end, Liz's is a Ptown brunch tradition," notes Som. "Any of their Benedicts are on point, but when in Cape Cod, I always go for the Lobster Benedict."

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Phoenicia Diner  

phoenicia diner exterior
Photo: Phoenicia Diner / Google

In the Catskills, Phoenicia Diner is another diner classic that woos the likes of Clarice Lam, pastry chef (Kimika, Bouchon Bakery), television personality, and author of the upcoming cookbook Breaking Bao. "It's an old-school diner that serves all-American comfort food with a modern twist," says the chef. "They source their ingredients from local farms in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, allowing for the freshest dishes while supporting the community."

Zeff's Coney Island  

zeff's coney island exterior
Photo: Jeffrey Rogg / Google

When Jon Kung craves a diner fix, he heads to Zeff's Coney Island in Detroit's Eastern Market. According to the chef, cookbook author, and podcast host, it's one of Detroit's many Coney Islands, aka casual eateries serving Greek-style diner fare. "When I was the 'going out' type, I could often be found there, hungover with a plate of chili cheese fries with a fried egg on top," Kung recalls. "It's a place where you can find farmers in the early morning and farmers market shoppers in the afternoon. An incredible place to see a great variety of people."

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Superiority Burger

superiority burger exterior
Photo: Justin Rogers-Cooper / Google

"At first glance, Superiority Burger in Manhattan's East Village has all the hallmarks of a classic diner: red vinyl booths, staff in soda jerk hats, big plastic-coated menus, and 'standard' fare, like burgers, twice baked potatoes, and malt shakes." So muses Nisha Vora, cookbook author behind the upcoming Big Vegan Flavor. "Look closer, though, and you'll see this isn't your typical diner at all. Their entirely vegetarian menu features innovative dishes like a slow-braised collard greens focaccia sandwich and griddled banana bread."

The Buffalo Grille

the buffalo grille exterior
Photo: The Buffalo Grille / Facebook

When Michael Horne, the director of operations at Kolache Shoppe, has a free morning, he heads to local Houston diners like The Buffalo Grille. "I don't eat breakfast that often, but I like to go out for breakfast on my days off where it's casual, with friendly service and delicious food." For "classics," he likes The Buffalo Grille, while also shouting out La Guadalupana for its Mexican fare, like chilaquiles.

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Sip 'N Soda  

sip n soda sign
Photo: Adam Bundy / Google

For Chris Barish, founder co-owner of Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, Southampton mainstay Sip 'N Soda is a tried-and-true staple. "They have a true soda fountain with all the classics like milkshakes, ice cream sodas, egg creams, and their famous Lime Rickey," says Barish. "My daughter Bee and wife Julie usually order the grilled cheese and French fries. I alternate between the tuna melt and their 3-ounce cheeseburger. If we go for breakfast, we always order the hash browns, pancakes, or French toast. The owner, Mark Parash, often comes behind the counter, greeting everyone with a warm smile. Sip' n Soda is a true gem!"

Matt Kirouac
Matt Kirouac is a travel and food writer and culinary school graduate, with a passion for national parks, all things Disney, and road trip restaurants. Read more about Matt