The diner is a uniquely American institution. Historians trace its origins back to the horse-drawn lunch wagons that began appearing on the East Coast in the 1870s. These evolved into restaurants on wheels, complete with counters and bathrooms, and by the 1910s into permanent structures.
Soon entrepreneurs were manufacturing prefab structures, characterized by stainless steel siding and brightly colored booths, that could be shipped around the country and set up almost anywhere. At their peak in the 1950s, there were about 6,000 diners across America. Today there are more like 2,000, some 600 of them in New Jersey, the nation’s undisputed diner capital.
Diner historian Richard Gutman once defined the diner as “[A] friendly place, usually mom-and-pop with a sole proprietor, that serves basic, home-cooked, fresh food, for good value.” Establishments that fit that definition still exist in every state today, and 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of the best of these.
Some of the places on this list are genuine old historic diners, opened in the 1940s or ’50s or before. Others are modern recreations. They come in various sizes and in different architectural styles — though stainless steel and the Art Deco flourishes of earlier diners are often present.
Almost all of the places on this list serve breakfast, often considered the quintessential diner meal, and some serve it all day — with ample choices of pancakes, waffles, omelettes and other egg dishes, and of course breakfast sandwiches. (Here’s 24/7 Tempo’s list of the best breakfast sandwich in every state.)
While some menus are more creative and/or health-conscious, and some reflect local culinary traditions, almost all of these places serve such diner standards as pancakes, omelettes, burgers, meatloaf, and fried seafood, as well as pies and milkshakes. (Milkshake lovers will want to see the best place in every state to get a shake.)
Whatever’s on their menus, though, diners offer the flavor of America.
In order to determine the best diner in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed numerous existing best diners lists from a variety of sites. Most of the diners on this list were ranked as the best in their respective states multiple times, but chain units and establishments whose size, menus, and/or style took them out of the diner category were passed over in favor of other diners ranked as best.