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The 15 best diners in Boston

Eat yummy comfort food (think eggs, burgers, cakes) at the best diners in Boston, from greasy spoons to luncheonettes

Photograph: Courtesy South Street Diner

What’s in a diner? Throwback charm, for one, in the shape of a repurposed rail car. New England pride, for another: The very first diner opened in Rhode Island in 1872, and Worcester, Massachusetts, shortly thereafter became the lead manufacturer of the country’s early lunch wagons. But, mostly, it’s about the modesty of the experience: small confines, brusque service and solid, ample American cuisine—the kind that even the best restaurants in Boston might sometimes lack. You’ll want to head to the best diners in Boston, from greasy spoons to luncheonettes, to fuel up before visiting the best Boston attractions… or to regain your strength after a long night spent drinking at the best Irish pubs in Boston.

Best diners in Boston

1

Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar

What’s old is new—and very exciting. The Davis Square institution spent decades sobering up college students with late-night pies and pancakes. In 2014, it underwent a radical transformation, rising again as a fine-dining restaurant with a bona fide craft cocktail program. Where once there were omelettes, now there are Thai sticky ribs and seared Faroe Island salmon; classic grub like mac and cheese and fried chicken placates simpler palates. Drinks like the sidecar pay homage to the diner’s history, and there are still glorious, seasonal pies, also available to go. And, while the interior has been completely gutted, the exterior is untouched, including a completely restored 1941 Worcester lunch car with neon signage glowing above.

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Davis Square
2

Deluxe Diner

Breakfast for dinner? Lunch for breakfast? When an out-of-towner requests an authentic diner experience, you brave the crowds and take them to the Deluxe. The Watertown stalwart is an homage to classic diner fare: hash and eggs, Rhode Island johnnycakes, grilled Reubens and chili-cheese dogs—everything available all day, every day. Dinner is a slightly more upscale affair, with starters like crab cakes and entrees like chicken piccata; if you want down-home dining, stick to blue plate specials like the meatloaf dinner. The neon-lit exterior and classic interior (lunch counter, no-frills booths) speak to the space’s history: The Deluxe has been around since the 1940s, and a full restoration a few years ago brought the interior back to its original lunch counter glory.

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Watertown
3

South Street Diner

Where does the party crowd end up at 4am? South Street Diner (formerly Blue Diner), Boston’s only 24/7 hangout. This is where you go for chocolate French toast after the clubs have closed; if you’re lucky, you might spot a famous face chowing down on the $13 diner special (three eggs, two pancakes or French toast, home fries, toast, choice of bacon, corn beef hash, ham or sausage). Classicists will appreciate the lineup of frappes and egg creams, but not to fret: there’s beer and wine too, served until 1am. The car itself is another import from Worcester, having first arrived in 1947; even as the neighborhood around South Street has gone the gentrification route, the diner stands as an aesthetic beacon to yesteryear.

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Chinatown
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4

Kelly’s Diner

Kelly’s is about as prototypical as a diner gets. Originally manufactured in 1953, the two-piece car was at the time one of the largest ever built, measuring 55 feet long. After decades in Delaware, the car came north—via flatbed—in 1996 and has since become a Ball Square dining staple. Nothing tricky here, just all the oversized classics: four-egg omelettes, three-decker club sandwiches and daily dinner specials like chicken pot pie and pot roast. Another sign you’ve stumbled upon the real deal: not a single order cracks the $10 mark.

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Somerville
5

Veggie Galaxy

It’s the dream diner for the vegetarian crowd—all of the down-home classics with none of the guilt (or grease). The menu is a marvel of meatless innovation: corned-beef seitan hash, vegetarian-gravy poutine and octo-lavo takes on the BLT, Reuben and shepard’s pie. Then there’s the vegan bakery, which somehow manages to churn out Boston cream pies, chocolate layer cakes and donuts without using eggs, milk or butter. Even the carnivore crowd is too busy gorging on the delicious grub to notice what’s missing.

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Central Square
6

Victoria’s Diner

Another late-night haven, this one in the no-man’s land between the South End, Roxbury and North Dorchester. First opened in 1949, the diner is another Jerry O’Mahony special (the Jersey-based company built some 2,000 diner cars from 1917 to 1941). Through the decades, the spot has fed local politicians, EMT workers, musicians, club kids and all manner of city worker. The massive menu means everyone’s palate is satiated: eggs Benedict for brekkie fans, open-faced roast beef sandwiches for Kelley’s roast beef addicts and country fried steak for the heart-unhealthy crowd. Its current owners have expanded the weekend hours to be ‘round-the-clock, which means 5am waffles have become a Friday night reality; you can even place a takeout order online if your couch calls.

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Dorchester
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7

The Breakfast Club

A ‘50s diner with an ‘80s theme? It’s a wonder the lines aren’t even longer at this tiny Allston enclave. What was once Henry’s Diner underwent a transformation in 2001, with throwback TV and movie ephemera now dotting the modest space. This is a breakfast- and lunch-only affair, with a surprising emphasis on healthy and sustainable ingredients: cage-free eggs, gluten-free pancakes, fruit smoothies and specialty teas. Harkening to the diner’s name, dishes include The Basketcase (two eggs, home fries, toast, pancakes or French toast, and choice of meat) and The Dean’s Office (toasted bagel, smoked salmon, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, capers).

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Allston
8

Salem Diner

Sometimes, you have to venture outside your urban comfort zone to discover the bona fide New England diner experience. This tiny spot is one of only two Sterling Streamline diners left in the state, and the last one ever manufactured by the Sterling Company (thus its placement on the National Register of Historic Places). The menu is all about quantity: massive omelettes, pancakes and piles of hash browns served quickly and efficiently by the cheery staff. If you ask nicely, you might even get the recipe for the kitchen’s outstanding corned beef hash.

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9

Capitol Diner

Sometimes, you have to venture outside your urban comfort zone to discover the bona fide New England diner experience. This tiny spot is one of only two Sterling Streamline diners left in the state, and the last one ever manufactured by the Sterling Company (thus its placement on the National Register of Historic Places). The menu is all about quantity: massive omelettes, pancakes and piles of hash browns served quickly and efficiently by the cheery staff. If you ask nicely, you might even get the recipe for the kitchen’s outstanding corned beef hash.

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10

Owl Diner

First, there’s that massive sign, a menacing-looking owl belied by a cheery slogan (“Where Friends & Family Meet”). Then there’s the true vintage interior: red and black kitchen tiles, swivel stools and a built-in wall clock. The corned beef hash and whipped cream-topped waffles are two of the most popular dishes, and the chipped beef on toast will even earn grandpa’s approval. Waitresses call you “honey” almost from the get-go and never let your coffee cup get empty, and the line cook makes sure your noshes come out quickly.

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