Call them meat-and-threes, cafeterias, mom-and-pops, or diners. Whatever the name, these local spots keep it delicious by serving great Southern food. Here are our favorites―and their signature dishes―from Maryland to Texas.
Opened in 1964 near the Baltimore Beltway-Loch Raven Boulevard interchange (hence its hyphenated name), the Bel-Loc served
as one of the inspirations for Baltimore native Barry Levinson’s movie Diner. With its neon signs, chrome stools, and “what’ll
ya have, hon?” waitresses, the Bel-Loc still inspires old-school diner fans. “We’ve been around so long that people who came
in when they were little are now coming in with their kids,” owner Bill Doxanas says. “We’ve also had three generations of
one family working here together.”
Don’t miss: Breakfast. Order the blueberry pancakes or raisin bread French toast, and they’ll think you’re a Charm City native.
1700 East Joppa Road; 410-668-2525
(given by owner Bill Doxanas)
Combine 2 ½ quarts milk, 1 ½ quarts water, and 3 cups sugar; cook until boiling. Add ¾ pound of very starchy rice (such as River Rice). Lower heat and cook about an hour or until mixture looks syrupy. Add a pint of milk, 5 beaten eggs, and a dash of vanilla extract. Mix well, and cook for 1 more minute.
Diner Secret: Short-grain rice has more starch and is best for this recipe.
Mildred Edna Cotten Council grew up watching her mother use the “dump cooking” method that measures ingredients by sight and
taste instead of by recipe. Luckily Mildred, also known as Mama Dip, later wrote down her recipes. Otherwise, the family members
who helped her open Mama Dip’s Kitchen in 1976 near the University of North Carolina campus wouldn’t be able to make dishes
such as Mildred’s succulent pork chops and fried chicken. She also keeps vegetarians satisfied with house specialties like
a savory okra-and-tomatoes combination.
Don’t Miss: Community Nurse Macaroni and Cheese (named for the traveling public health nurses who once showed young mothers how to make nutritious meals)
408 West Rosemary Street; mamadips.com or 919-942-5837
(from Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook)
Owners Jack and Rose Arnold have been serving country music stars, downtown workers, and ordinary folk in their little red
restaurant for 27 years. You’ll usually find Jack and several of his children in the kitchen, turning out some of the city’s
best fried chicken, roast beef, and fried green tomatoes. Lunch and dinner also come with your choice of baked or grilled
Don’t miss: The creamiest banana pudding you’ll ever eat. It’s one of Arnold’s down-home dishes that helped the restaurant earn a James Beard Foundation “America’s Classics” award this year.
605 8th Avenue South; 615-256-4455
(given by Jack’s son, Kahlil Arnold)
These days, Dallas’s West Lovers Lane area is better known for upscale boutiques than down-home cooking. But long-time residents
know some of the city’s tastiest pot roast and freshest vegetables wait down the road at Celebration. Since 1971, the laid-back
eatery has served classic Southern cuisine with a Texas flair. Diners sitting inside the fieldstone restaurant or outside
on the patio dig into plates of spiced-just-right meatloaf and squash casserole topped with garlic and Cheddar cheese. Best
of all, there’s no charge for second helpings.
Don’t Miss: The slightly lumpy (so you know they’re definitely homemade) mashed potatoes
4503 West Lovers Lane; celebrationrestaurant.com or 214-351-5681
(given by owner Ed Lowe)
Owner Buddy Gauthier’s must-stop spot is known for its colorful murals (such as George Washington eating Strawn’s pie and
a Roman coliseum) and its decadent icebox pies (strawberry is our flat-out favorite). Buddy has passed down his diner secrets
to his daughters who now operate two more eateries―Strawn’s Eat Shop Too and Strawn’s Eat Shop Also.
Don’t miss: The low-fat omelet (served for breakfast and lunch). Made with thin slices of turkey and jalapeño peppers, this delicate dish helps you get over the guilt of eating two slices of strawberry pie.
125 Kings Highway; strawnstoo.com or 318-868-0634
(given by owner Buddy Gauthier)