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Foodie Finds | AAA World
Celebrating America's Diners


They sit like beacons along dusty roadways in small towns and big cities alike, bedecked in gleaming chrome, massive windows and neon signs welcoming patrons, sometimes 24 hours a day. Inside, a whir of conversation pours from cushioned booths, and strangers chat elbow to elbow on swivel stools flanking long, shiny counters. From the kitchen, the clatter of dishes mingles with the aroma of fresh coffee and comfort foods—grilled burgers, hot roast turkey, meatloaf, pancakes, eggs and more—being paraded out by friendly servers, who know many customers by name.

This is the diner, an American institution that’s become a social gathering place, a cultural melting pot, and a darn fine spot to enjoy a homestyle meal that’s filling, affordable, regional and—may we suggest—nicely capped off with a piece of pie. 
Lunch carts in NYC 1906
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Pubilishing Company Collection


The diner hearkens back to the late 1800s when vendors rolled their lunch wagons through the streets providing light fare to workers and an on-the-go public. Walter Scott, a printer from Providence, Rhode Island, is often credited with creating the “night lunch wagon” concept when in 1872 he converted a horse-drawn wagon into a cart from which he’d offer hot, cheap meals through a walk-up window to passersby. In essence, Scott invented the earliest forms of both the diner and the food truck.


Soon thereafter, “rolling restaurants,” consisting of a few seats or booths in a dining car, fed patrons as they were transported from point A to point B. But alas, many towns and cities created restrictions on lunch wagons that made a permanent location mandatory to survive. And survive they did. In the early 1910s, businessman Jerry O’Mahony of Bayonne, New Jersey, is said to have built the first stationary diner, with thousands more to come.


By the 1920s, O’Mahony and a handful of other entrepreneurs in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts had begun mass-producing diners and delivering them whole by ship, truck and train to commercial sites across the country—thus, the early diners’ limited size and trainlike shape. Not coincidentally, they were fashioned after the fancy dining cars on trains of the day, eventually taking on the shortened name “diners.”


Some establishments were even made from abandoned train and trolley cars destined for the junkyard. It wasn’t until the 1940s that these prefabricated eateries were designed to be shipped in pieces, not only leading to larger diners but also breaking the mold of the trainlike shape.



Of course, it’s the classic railcar diner that’s become an icon of American architecture, from its sleek, narrow frame to its hallmark stamped metal panels and neon signage, to its walls of windows and colorful tile floors. In fact, more than two dozen diners have earned spots on the National Register of Historic Places, and the diner has become a fixture in popular culture, often serving as a choice setting for movies, TV shows, books and even songs (forgive us if you’re now humming “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega). And who doesn’t love the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives series starring Guy Fieri and his classic convertible cars?


It’s no surprise that diners and car culture go hand in hand. As the personal automobile became ubiquitous in the 1950s, roadside diners became an American staple, with about 6,000 operating at their peak. Today, an estimated 2,000 diners—both old and new, from mom-and-pop businesses to corporate chains—greet patrons daily, with the mother lode in New Jersey.



With some 600 diners in operation, New Jersey lays claim as the Diner Capital of the World. Yes, the Garden State’s location between Philadelphia and New York City has contributed to the popularity of diners here, as does its history as the location of big-name diner manufacturers, including the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company. Ever since the diner debuted in New Jersey circa 1913, New Jerseyans have come to love this classic style of eatery for its voluminous menus—offering everything from comfort-food standards to vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes—reasonable prices, homey atmosphere and quality food, often served with a side of nostalgia.

Summit Diner inside

Summit Diner, courtesy of Summit Diner


Beloved among New Jersey’s trove of diners, the Summit Diner in Summit ( is believed to be the state’s oldest-surviving diner, operating since the 1930s. The chrome-fringed railcar-style diner is a regional landmark, and its Taylor ham (actually pork roll), egg and cheese sandwich is a local legend.


Another favorite, open since 1948, the Art Deco-style Tick Tock Diner in Clifton ( serves up everything from all-day breakfast to late-night snacks 24/7/365. Be sure to try the Disco Fries, French fries smothered in melted cheese—usually mozzarella—and brown gravy (it’s like poutine, Jersey style).


A newer kid on the block, in business since 2004, the Clinton Station Diner in—where else?— Clinton ( bakes its bread at least twice daily, squeezes its own orange juice and hand-cuts its French fries, including those that may complement the 105-pound 8th Wonder burger, packed with some 50 pounds of meat. The Clinton also offers seating in a 1927 Blue Comet Train car, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a homemade dessert from the more than 50 selections in the dessert case on any given day.


May we suggest the banana cream pie?



Rhode Island may be recognized as birthplace of the diner, but this American icon has sprouted up all over the country. Here are a few of our favorite spots.

Mainstreet Diner in Connecticut

Main Street Diner, courtesy of Main Street Diner

Main Street Diner, Plainville, Connecticut

Built in New Jersey and then shipped into town, this 1950s diner retains many original features, from its glistening stainless-steel trim to its terrazzo tile flooring to its railroad car lighting. The food is the major draw here, of course. Big Country Breakfasts include the Main Street Diner Deluxe—two pancakes or slices of French toast and two eggs any style with bacon, ham or sausage—and daily lunch specials include Chef’s Entrées such as Salisbury steak, fried clam strips, and New England fish and chips. Be sure to save room for a Classic Diner Milkshake or a hot cup of joe as you swivel on a counter stool or relax in a comfy booth complete with a mini-jukebox.


Ponzio’s Diner, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Formerly known as the Ellisburg Diner, this family-owned and -operated South Jersey staple has been passed down through the generations since its opening in 1964. Breakfast is served morning through night, and Sunday breakfast is a tradition here, with a menu featuring a host of favorites, from eggs Benedict to chicken and waffles to bananas Foster French toast. Many dishes use ingredients sourced from nearby Springdale Farms.Baked goods are made in-house daily. Legendary among them is the cheese roll; Ponzio’s serves up more than 300,000 of them annually.


Kuppy’s Diner, Middletown, Pennsylvania

Opened in August 1933 by Percy Kupp and his son, Karl, Kuppy’s Diner not only beat the odds of a new business surviving the Great Depression but has continued to thrive to this day, serving breakfast Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon. Now helmed by the fourth generation of the Kupp family (with the fifth generation working there), this community-centric eatery—housed in a 1930s brick-clad Ward & Dickinson dining car sporting a metal-box neon sign—has become a diner darling for its classic diner breakfasts, affordable prices and inviting atmosphere. Inquire about grab-and-go lunch and dinner specials.


The Northeast may be birthplace of the diner, but this American icon has sprouted up all over the country. Here are a few of our favorite spots in the region.


Hillsville Diner, Hillsville, Virginia

This real-deal vintage diner, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest continuously operating streetcar diner in Virginia. It was built in the 1920s and moved in 1946 from Mount Airy, North Carolina, to Hillsville’s Main Street, where it has served the community with delicious comfort food and Southern hospitality ever since. (It’s said that Andy Griffith frequented the diner at its North Carolina location when he was a child.)

The house specialty is stewed beef, which is dished up daily. Other lunch favorites include the four-ounce Chuck Wagon Steak as well as the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and for breakfast, you can’t go wrong with buckwheat pancakes or sausage gravy and biscuits.

Double T
Double T Diner in Annapolis, Maryland, Courtesy of Double T Diner

Double T Diner, multiple locations in Maryland

The Double T debuted in 1959 in Catonsville, Baltimore County, taking its name from the initial letter in the two original owners’ names, Thomas and Tony, who sold it in 1989. Today, the Double T Diner is still family-owned and -operated with eight locations: Annapolis, Bel Air, Pasadena, Nottingham, White Marsh, Laurel and, of course, Catonsville. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Double T is legendary for its home-style cooking, 24-hours-a-day breakfast and scratch-made desserts.


Try the steak and eggs, with your choice of a porterhouse, T-bone or New York strip steak; Chesapeake-style eggs Benedict, served with a crab cake; or a variety of vegetarian pasta dishes (the Linguine Puttanesca receives high marks). Also be sure to ask about the daily specials—on any given day, there are more than 20 of them.


Kozy Korner, Wilmington, Delaware

The latest iteration of this well-known eatery traces its roots to 1922, when John Vouras opened a small diner in downtown Wilmington. While the original building was demolished in 1984 to make way for a high-rise hotel, John’s son Nicholas brought the business back to life in 1992, establishing a new location in the Hilltop neighborhood. Now helmed by Nicholas’ son John, the Kozy Korner continues a century-old tradition of quality food and community camaraderie.


A six-time winner of Today Media’s “Best Breakfast in Delaware” and recognized as a top diner in the Food Network’s “50 States of Diners” roundup, this family-centric diner offers American breakfast and lunch classics—think homemade chipped beef, waffles with blueberries and whipped cream, triple-decker BLTs and homemade meatloaf. Looking for a side meat to complement your award-winning breakfast? Go for a Mid-Atlantic specialty: a serving of scrapple, pan-fried slices of pork scraps mixed with cornmeal.



The Northeast may be birthplace of the diner, but this American icon has sprouted up all over the country. Here are a few of our favorite spots in the region.


Buckeye Express Diner, Bellville, Ohio

Driving along Interstate 71 near Exit 165, you can’t miss this historic train car—with the word “DINER” advertised across the side—that’s connected to an old steam locomotive and perched atop a hill. You’ll want to detour off the highway for this one. Enjoy one of the Buckeye Express’ Caboose Baskets with your choice of burgers, hot dogs, fish of chicken salad, and add some Depot Extras like deep-fried pickles or mushrooms. Cap it all off with a slice of blueberry, cherry or strawberry cheesecake.


Wagner’s Pharmacy,  Courtesy of Louisville Tourism

Wagner’s Pharmacy, Louisville, Kentucky                     

Its location neighboring Churchill Downs is not the only thing that makes this former pharmacy and now world-famous diner special. Opened in 1922, Wagner’s was a popular coffee spot for horsemen and sportswriters; today, it’s a treasured local institution serving up breakfast and lunch specialties, including the celebrated Derby Sandwich, made with hot honey glazed ham, melted Swiss cheese and mayo, as well as the Kentucky Hot Brown, a meal of toast points and sliced turkey topped with mornay sauce, bacon and tomatoes. 

Dani Bustabad

Bramwell Corner Shop & Soda Fountain photo by Dani Bustabad/Courtesy Of West Virginia Department Of Tourism


Bramwell Corner Shop & Soda Fountain, Bramwell, West Virginia

Hand-patted burgers, homemade ice cream and an atmosphere straight out of the 1950s make this corner diner a favorite. West Virginia is legendary for its pepperoni rolls, and here, the WV Mountaineer—stuffed with pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce and deep fried—doesn’t disappoint. Wash it down with an ice cream soda from the original gooseneck soda fountain. Can’t decide between lunch and dinner? Add a fried egg to any burger on the menu to enjoy both.



The Northeast may be birthplace of the diner, but this American icon has sprouted up all over the country. Here are a few of our favorite spots.


Phillips Avenue Diner, Sioux Falls, South Dakota      

When a fire in June caused damage to this vintage diner, the owners vowed to reopen as soon as possible. After all, this much-loved eatery, with an old Airstream trailer as its centerpiece, is part of the lives of many Sioux Falls locals. They might start their day with such favorites as the Elvis Waffle, with peanut butter fluff, banana, chopped pecan and powdered sugar, or the three-egg Cowboy Omelet, with bacon, tomato, jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and avocado. For lunch and dinner, locals and visitors enjoy everything from poutine and tomato bisque soup to jambalaya and beef stroganoff.

Courtesy of Doo Dah Diner

Doo-Dah Diner, Wichita, Kansas 

Scratch-made comfort food and good company—that’s how the folks at this laid-back diner, which debuted in 2012 and currently operates Wednesday through Sunday, describe its appeal. (Doo-Dah is a nickname for Wichita, perhaps echoing its easygoing attitude.) Noted for its many “best-of” awards, breakfast features such dishes as Smothered Breakfast Burrito (smothered with green chili and cheddar cheese); banana bread French toast, which—bonus—is gluten-free; and fried bologna and egg sandwich. Lunch creations include Bat Out of Hell Meatloaf, an amalgam of peppers, onions and cheddar mixed in fresh beef and topped with jalapeño bacon and chili sauce. Follow up your meal with a serving of bread pudding.


The Diner, Norman, Oklahoma                      

From its simple name to its straight-up down-home cooking, The Diner has been winning accolades—and winning over customers—since Mark Amspacher opened it in 1989. Now helmed by second-generation owner Bonnie Amspacher, The Diner is renowned for its signature chili and classic diner breakfast and lunch, served Thursday through Monday.

Besides being a chef with a talent for American home-style and Tex-Mex cooking, Bonnie Amspacher is an artist, and you’ll see many of her works—along with works by other local artists—adorning the walls. You’ll also find memorabilia from a 2009 filming of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Guy Fieri especially enjoyed the Beef & Bean Burrito, made with Diner chili, pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, cheese and ranchero sauce.


Preserving the American Diner

While you’ll find diner exhibits in a number of museums across the country, perhaps the most impressive such exhibit resides at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.


Here in the 1980s, preservationists began restoring Lamy’s Diner, a 1946 streamliner built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company that originally operated in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Today, you can take a seat at the counter to enjoy a menu inspired by 1940s New England diner classics, from clam chowder, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and chicken salad sandwiches, to homemade donuts, frappes, Toll House cookies and root-beer floats.


The Henry Ford’s diner-related collection expanded considerably in 2019. That’s when Richard Gutman, a renowned diner expert dubbed the “Diner Man,” donated his lifetime collection—about a half-century’s worth of menus, matchboxes, postcards, photographs and more—to the Henry Ford Museum, making it home to the largest collection of diner artifacts in the US and a must-see for diner aficionados.