Forget Prohibition-era speakeasies: Nothing genuinely channels the past like LA’s finest retro diners. These architectural landmarks designed in the Googie style—a retro-futuristic aesthetic inspired by car culture and the Space Age—are a place to slice into a short stack of pancakes among geometric interiors and a whole lot of neon signage. We expect a few simple things out of a diner: all-day breakfast, generous hours and a relatively cheap, no-fuss experience. These retro spots check off all of those boxes while also taking us back to a time when cheap comfort food and spacious parking lots seemed like cutting-edge technology.
How many retro diners in LA have you been to?
Food: You’ll pay a pretty penny (in diner terms) for the food at 101, but there are some definite stand-out dishes here. Breakfast is served all day, and you'd be wise to order the Mikey Fitz: two eggs, two pieces of bacon or sausage and three silver dollar pancakes or one piece of French toast; we recommend the sausage, generously spiced and not too greasy. The sandwiches have a Southern slant (po' boys and blackened catfish abound), but a solid pick is the BLT, which comes with a mix of crisp sweet potato and regular fries. Save room for the 50/50 Shake made with orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream. As we noted on a recent visit: “It almost tastes more like a creamsicle than a creamsicle.” And that’s a good thing.
As seen in: Swingers, Gilmore Girls, Entourage
Food: Breakfast is available all day at Big Boy’s, but if it’s bacon and eggs you crave, you may be disappointed. The Eggs with Bacon or Sausage (two eggs, two strips of bacon, hash browns and toast) is on the bland side, needing a healthy dose of pepper and salt. So what’s good here? The burger, which comes with a juicy medium-rare patty and just the right amount of ketchup, relish and mayo. The accompanying fries are crisp wedges that don’t get soggy over time, but the real kicker is Bob’s shake—particularly the chocolate, which comes with a sidecar of extra blended ice cream that makes one order enough for two sweet-toothed diners.
As seen in: Heat
Food: The menu at Foxy’s is a gargantuan, multi-page affair, with a photo for almost every dish and cuisine that skews toward Mexican. South-of-the-border breakfast plates seem to be the most popular items, and also happen to be the best of the bunch. Take, for instance, The Leaning Tower of Mexico: three corn tortillas layered with Spanish rice, black beans and two over easy eggs, all topped with fiery ranchero sauce, avocado and cheese. There are shakes here, too, and while they're thin and not as creamy as some other diner versions, it’s a decent note to end on.
As seen in: Nothing we’re aware of; get on it, location scouts.
Food: Sitting down at one of Norms cozy booths, you might be handed four or five different menus—a multi-page full menu, a breakfast menu, a low-cal menu and occasionally a special menu detailing the diner's baby back ribs selection, just for good measure. During the weekday, a Bigger Better Breakfast is available from 4am to 2pm at the commendable price of $6.59: two eggs, two sausage links, two pieces of bacon, two hotcakes, hash browns and grilled ham. It's a sizeable spread, but nothing particularly stands out. To give it a little oomph, upgrade the hash browns to a fully loaded version with bacon, cheddar cheese, green onions, diced tomatoes and salsa. Sweet-toothed diners may be drawn to the strawberry waffle instead, which sags under the weight of stewed berries and a generous spray of whipped cream.
As seen in: Drag Me to Hell, Ed Ruscha's "Norms, La Cienega on Fire"
Food: When it comes to Pann's menu, one item stands out above the rest: fried chicken. Take a single bite and you’ll have juice dripping down your chin; two bites and you’ll be marveling at how crispy and well-seasoned the skin is. So for breakfast, you could take a more traditional route—a classic breakfast plate comes with two eggs, nicely browned hash browns, fluffy biscuits and bacon—or you could opt for the fried chicken and waffles, regarded by many as some of the best in LA. Whatever you choose, make sure it comes with a side of fries, golden with a dusting of Cajun spice. A list of specialty milkshakes includes a chocolate banana shake—creamy, rich and enough for two people to split.
As seen in: xXx, Bewitched
Food: Rae’s has the feel of a diner that remains oblivious to the passing of time, including the shockingly low prices of its breakfast, lunch and dinner fare, which remain, for the most part, in the single digits throughout the menu. Known for their namesake, ½ pound burger, this is diner food to its core. The Denver Sandwich is an open-faced creation, with toast that holds a pepper-filled omelet and a thick, grilled slice of pineapple; your choice of potato salad or coleslaw comes on the side (get the potato salad). Fries are solid here—thick, lightly crunchy and without an excessive amount of grease, which is quite possibly the only non-retro thing about this place.
As seen in: True Romance, Lords of Dogtown, Win A Date With Tad Hamilton
Food: Nestled into those booths, you may spot a sign that reads “Special: Apple sausage omelet.” Get it—the breakfast dish is one of the best items at Rod’s. Sweet apple chunks and spicy sausage are folded into a golden omelet and topped with a massive layer of Jack cheese; put simply, it’s hangover food at its finest. A fried chicken plate is offered from noon until they run out of chicken, accompanied by fries or mashed potatoes and vegetables. The veggies aren’t memorable, the fry batter could use a little more spice, but the fries are fantastic and the chicken itself is pleasantly tender. And because you need more carbs in your life, order the twisty roll. It’s a marriage between pumpernickel and wheat, and arrives with a small carton of butter upended on top.
As seen in: Mad Men
Food: The prices on Swingers’ menu can make you feel like you’re getting away with something—it’s that much of a steal. The food here doesn’t skimp on quality, though. A short stack of pancakes is one of the diner's best breakfast plates, made an even bigger accomplishment by the fact that they’re plain and not doused in whipped cream or slivers of fruit. The French toast is a dream, too, so it’s clear that Swingers has their breakfast carbs down pat. Also a plus: the counter is a friendly spot if you’re dining alone.
As seen in: Knocked Up