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10 Amazing, Authentic Diners

Smart Furniture Toronto offers diner-inspired kitchen and dining room furniture for individuals and commercial institutions. For over 50 years, owner Eric Menkis and his father before have supplied high-quality retro furniture to enthusiasts of the classic style. As a fan of the diner, Eric shares 10 of his favourites. (Above shows the inside of the Peterboro Diner, displaying the hallmarks of the classic diner: curved roof, single row of booths and long counter. Photo by Liz West

The diner. It’s an American institution and probably the restaurant style that appeals to the widest range of customers, from road-tripping seniors and long-haul truckers to hungover hipsters and young urban families. The mix of unpretentious service and home-cooked comfort food makes for an amazing combination and a real sense of comfortable community.

Guy Fieri and the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives have shone a spotlight on many excellent diners across North America, but there are still so many ‘undiscovered’ gems out there, that we thought it would be fun to put together a list of some of the coolest. We wanted to showcase examples of the true diner; the pre-fab, curved-roof, dining car-style diner that typically had a single row of booths and a counter. There are plenty of these originals left, but many are closing up every day. Visit as many as you can before they’re gone!

10 Authentic Diners You Haven’t See on TV

1. Summit Diner – Summit, NJ

image of the summit diner

Summit Diner – Summit, NJ. Photo by Jeff Boyce.

Some say New Jersey is the capital of the diner. Many of the classic diners were built here and indeed there are many examples of the original style still open all over the Garden State. The Summit Diner was built by the Jerry O’Mahony Company in 1938 and typifies a diner of the age. Resembling train cars but never used on rails, there were nearly 2000 O’Mahony diners built between 1917 and 1952. Today only 20 remain.

2. The Modern Diner – Pawtucket, RI

image of the modern diner in pawtucket, rhode island

Modern Diner, Pawtucket, RI. Adapted from a photo by Ken Zirkel.

One of only two Sterling Streamliner Diners still standing, Pawtucket’s Modern Diner takes the train resemblance to another level. Built in 1940 and moved to its current location in 1984, Modern Diner takes hungry patrons on a trip back through time. It’s not just a monument to the diner culture, but to Art Moderne architecture and the entire modernism movement. And they say the grits are some of the best in the country!

3. Historic Village Diner – Red Hook, NY

image of the half way diner

The Historical Village Diner – aka Half Way Diner – in Red Hook, NY. Photo by Daniel Case.

Built in a style known as the Silk City Diner, the Village Diner was built in 1925 by the Paterson Vehicle Company. Originally called the Half Way Diner, this beauty features outstanding Art Deco chrome, lines and curves. Only the 4th diner to be named to the National Historic Places Register, the Half Way Diner has everything you want in a classic.

4. Highland Park Diner – Rochester, NY

image of the highland park diner in rochester new york

Highland Park Diner – Rochester, NY. Photo by George Cheatle.

One of only 4 diners built by the Orleans company, the Highland Park Diner opened in 1948 and is the last of its kind. Briefly an off-track betting shop, the Highland Park is back to doing what it’s always done best – serve up fresh, no-nonsense food to locals young and old. Neon become inextricably linked to many classic diners and the sign at Highland Park Diner shows why it’s such a great match.

5. Frost Diner – Warrenton, VI

image of the frost diner in warrenton virginia

Frost Diner of Warrenton Virginia. Photo by Rick.

Warrenton’s famous Frost Diner is another stainless steel-covered beauty from the O’Mahony company. Built in 1955, it’s still open 24 hours a day and makes quick converts of anyone used to Denny’s and other lookalike chains. Check out how the interior looked back in day. Only the fashions have changed…

6. Miss Portland – Portland, ME

image of the miss portland diner

Miss Portland Diner – Portland, Maine. Photo by C.C. Chapman.

The Worcester Lunch Car company of Worcester, Massachusetts built many of the finest diners on the Eastern seaboard. Their trademark diners featured porcelain exteriors and hardwood interiors. The lovely Miss Portland is the most complete current example and remains like new inside and out. Note the ‘Miss’ moniker – many lunch car diners added the feminine pronoun in a bid to attract a wider clientele.

7. Mattie’s Diner – Charlotte NC

image of charlotte north carolina's mattie's diner

Mattie’s Diner – Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by Ariel Shaw.

Mattie’s Diner, in Charlotte North Carolina, is another open-24-hours monument to American history and architecture. Like its owner, Mattie’s was originally from New Jersey, built there in 1948 by the Fodero Company. Typical of their style, Mattie’s has an acre of Art Deco stainless steel on the facade. Now at home in Charlotte, it’s the only real diner in the city.

8. Mimi’s Vintage Diner – Corwall, UK

image of Mimi's Vintage Diner, Cornwall UK.

Mimi’s Vintage Diner – Cornwall, UK.

Like Mattie’s above, Mimi’s Vintage Diner was born in New Jersey and moved to her new home, but the journey was quite a bit longer. Built by the Mountain View Diner Company in 1950, Mimi’s (originally Ted’s Plaza Diner) now lives in Cornwall, UK. It’s a testament to the allure of these original diners that someone would ship it across the Atlantic and restore it to its former glory.

9. Empire Diner – Manhattan, NY

image of the empire diner in manhattan

Empire Diner – Manhattan, NY. Photo by Garrett Ziegler.

Another stunner from the Fodero Dining Car Company, the Empire Diner is still going strong after nearly 70 years of ups and downs. Currently on a waaaay up, the Empire Diner isn’t your standard lunch counter. With an haute cuisine menu and reservations required, the Empire represents the new love for the old digs, done with a distinctly downtown flavour. And it shouldn’t count here because it’s definitely been on TV – every week in the opening credits of Saturday Night Live for one.

10. Miss Albany – Albany, NY

image of the miss albany diner

Miss Albany Diner – Albany, New York. Photo by David.

The Miss Albany was another of the Silk City Diner’s built by New Jersey’s Paterson Vehicle Company in 1941. Originally called Lil’s Diner, it changed hands – and names – many times over the years. The Miss Albany was immortalized in a painting by Ralph Goings and was added to the National Historic Register in 2000. Within 10 years, however, the Miss Albany has closed. It sat unused for 2 years before being saved from demolition and turned into Sciortino’s an Italian pizzeria.

The last-minute reprieve of the Miss Albany is a happy ending, but there are hundreds of classic diners that simply disappear. Shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives have sparked the interest in a new generation of fans, so here’s hoping that as many of the old classics are saved as possible.

Is anyone else thinking road trip?