The classic diner -- Formica surfaces, greasy-good fare, sassy waitresses, and all -- has long held a special place in the restaurant culture of Los Angeles. In a city this laidback, no matter what food trends come and go, casual diner standards like burgers and shakes have enduring appeal. Plus, diners' vintage vibes tap into a nostalgia for Los Angeles of the early- to mid-20th century, a time characterized by both exuberant innocence and hardboiled noir.
Amazingly, many original diners from the period still have their doors open, while new-to-look-retro spots have spun the diner concept for the new century, offering updates on comfort food classics while capitalizing on ever-cool décor hallmarks like vinyl booths. For modern takes on the retro diner, you might head to downtown's Nickel Diner (maple bacon doughnuts-yum!), Los Feliz's Fred 62 (to-die-for patty melts), or The Standard, Hollywood hotel's 24/7 Restaurant (burgers with a side of Hollywood hotshots). But for the real deal, here are our top picks for quintessential diners that have been slinging the good stuff for decades.
The Original Pantry Café" width="52" height="52"/>
Neighborhood: Downtown Best Vintage Detail: The doors don't even have locks because the restaurant never closes. The Skinny: This landmark 24-hour diner has been a downtown fixture since 1924. It's equally good for gargantuan breakfasts of pancakes or omelettes as it is for a steak dinner with their famous sourdough bread and coleslaw. The staff is as gruff as you would expect from a hardboiled greasy spoon, but that hasn't put off the impressive roster of celebs who've gotten their fix here, from classic silver-screen stars like Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe to elder statesmen like Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr. Don't Miss: French toast, steak and eggs The Coordinates: 877 S. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA (1) 213-972-9279 www.pantrycafe.com
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Neighborhood: West Los Angeles Best Vintage Detail: Cokes are served the old-fashioned way: poured into paper cones held in heavy silver holders. The Skinny: Step back in time at this diminutive family-run diner (since 1947), where the only seating is the chrome stools ringing the wide horseshoe counter. It's a real locals kind of place, so you may be fending off old timers as you compete for a seat. Cult American classics dominate the menu, from pies to burgers and fries (many say their burger is the best in town). The sharp-tongued staff and original white-shingled exterior only add to the retro ambiance. Don't Miss: Hickory burger, banana cream pie The Coordinates: 10801 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA (1) 310-475-3585
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Neighborhood: Beverly Hills Best Vintage Detail: The original banana leaf wallpaper, curvy counter, and vinyl stools. The Skinny: This frozen-in-time diner/soda fountain tucked away in the basement of the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows still draws hung-over starlets to its marble-topped counter for a breakfast fix, just as it did back in 1949, when it opened. Snagging one of the 19 counter seats can be tricky (no tables here), so stars squeeze in next to nobodies. Griddled favorites from pancakes to hot dogs are consistently delish, as are the 1950s-style malts, floats, and shakes with homemade natural ice cream. But this being Beverly Hills, there are also slightly more upscale ways to get your dose of grease (like the sour cream caviar omelette and veal link sausage) and "Fit & Healthy" menu choices (like the egg white and veggie omelette) for starlets watching their figures. Don't Miss: Grilled Russian on rye, soda floats The Coordinates: Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows 9641 Sunset Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA (1) 310-276-2251 www.beverlyhillshotel.com
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Neighborhood: Santa Monica Best Vintage Detail: The vintage neon sign out front. The Skinny: This cute-as-can-be 1920s diner was rescued by chef Bruce Marder in 2001 and converted into a delicious gourmet brunch spot. Inside, the teeny-tiny space still features the original black-and-white tile floors and shiny chrome counter, while outside extra seating has been added in a shady, leafy terrace. In many ways, Marder has taken the grease out of the greasy spoon: You'll still find diner-ish breakfast dishes like steak and eggs or cheese omelettes, but in Marder's hands these become Wagyu "Kobe"-style culotte steak with eggs, or an egg white, feta, and arugula omelette (with organic produce sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market). The mindset may be very 21st century, but the charm is pure retro. Don't Miss: Orange-infused blueberry pancakes, burrata caprese omelette The Coordinates: 1802 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA (1) 310-451-9562 www.corascoffee.com
-- Emily C. Brands and Rachel B. Levin, www.thepurplepassport.com
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