Hector Manuel Sanchez

Great comfort food never goes out of style.

ALABAMA

Big Time Diner

Mobile
Take it as a good sign when you find cars packed tightly around a restaurant. Since 1996, hungry folks in the Port City have been meandering over to the Big Time Diner for any number of delicious blue plate specials and meat ’n’ three combos. Start off with a large bowl of gumbo or some fried green tomatoes. With its proximity to the bountiful Gulf, this local treasure has plenty of seafood options, including the popular Fried Seafood Platter filled with shrimp, oysters, fish, and tender crab claws. Be sure to try the laundry list of Southern sides like field peas, turnip greens, and cornbread dressing. Or indulge in crispy onion rings and fried okra. Save room for a slice of homemade apple pie or a bowl of peach cobbler, favorites that have been on the menu since day one. facebook.com/bigtimediner

ARKANSAS

@ The Corner

Little Rock
This perky eatery located in downtown Little Rock has the vintage style expected of a diner: red vinyl seats and a row of high-back stools lining the counter. The menu has a modern twist with items made from scratch using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. Breakfast offerings include favorites like the Dutchman Burrito, an eye-popping creation with sausage, avocado, onion, bell peppers, Cheddar, potatoes, and a dollop of sweet-spicy jalapeño mint jelly. Lighter breakfast options that don’t require a nap afterward include The Parfait: House-made granola is layered with honey yogurt and fresh fruit and then drizzled with a bit of Arkansas honey for a nice touch of sweetness. Poutine (a French-Canadian dish of house-cut fries and cheese curds doused in brown gravy) leads the lunch selections and is even occasionally seen on the brunch menu, topped with an egg cooked sunny-side up. Try the freshly ground burgers, served on locally baked brioche buns, which go way beyond basic as they spill off the bread and all over your plate. thecornerlr.com

FLORIDA

Blue Collar Cafe

Fort Walton Beach
Tucked into the end of a small shopping strip, the Blue Collar Cafe in Fort Walton Beach is like the friendly Pied Piper of breakfast, luring early risers with freshly roasted and ground coffee. Locals know to get here ASAP because the place gets packed during the busy tourist season with folks clamoring for home-baked bagels, scones, and CD-size cookies. Anything on the cafe’s menu with the maple bacon is worth the drive. 850/586-7211

11th Street Diner

Miami Beach
A South Beach landmark since 1992, the 11th Street Diner serves hungry locals and tourists wandering this Art Deco wonderland. A vintage-style diner usually stands out amid shopping malls or along roadside exits. But here, the restored 1948 dining car blends in with the surrounding architecture. Built in New Jersey, the dining car first served Pennsylvania customers for 44 years until it was moved to Miami Beach and reopened with a look faithful to its heritage. All the classic breakfast and dinner options are here: pancakes, omelets, burgers, and club sandwiches. But for a bit of Latin spice, check out the skirt steak topped with zesty chimichurri sauce or try the Tostones on a Horse, an appetizer featuring planks of plantains topped with pulled pork and a flavorful barbecue-chimichurri coleslaw. Choose from more than two dozen flavors of homemade milk shakes and floats (which you can also order spiked). eleventhstreetdiner.com

GEORGIA

Hector Manuel Sanchez

Marietta Diner

Marietta
The lights stay on and the griddle stays hot at the Marietta Diner northwest of Atlanta in Cobb County. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, a friendly staff serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tapping into his Greek heritage, owner Gus Tselios offers flavorful Mediterranean dishes like the Greek Souvlaki Platter, which includes a salad, fries, and a popular pita wrap that’s filled with seasoned chicken, tomato, and onion. For lighter fare, try Papa George’s Famous Greek Salad, an extra-large bowl of greens and fresh veggies accented with Kalamata olives and feta cheese, tossed in a dilled red wine vinaigrette, and topped with stuffed grape leaves. The diner offers an impressive array of seafood, broiled and fried. A tasty choice is the Stuffed Fillet of Flounder Florentine—tender flatfish loaded with spinach and feta. Odds are, you won’t have enough room for dessert. Still, consider checking out the extensive selection, which includes an amazing cake display—remember, you can always share! mariettadiner.com

KENTUCKY

Noosh Nosh

Louisville
This neighborhood diner, located in Brownsboro Center right off the Henry Watterson Expressway, hits a home run with Mediterranean-inspired casual comfort food served up by chef-owner Anoosh Shariat. Standing out in an otherwise unassuming shopping strip, the bright paint and colorful logo lead hungry patrons into an open, cheerful space. Shingled pizza paddles, stained in various muted hues, span the length of an entire wall, but the real centerpiece is the dazzling mosaic tile-covered oven. Curious diners seated along the curved counter can watch their food bubble and blister in the Italian stone oven and talk with the chefs while it cooks. Breakfast draws a loyal following, with popular picks including Bird in a Nest and tasty Green Eggs—eggs baked in a bed of savory spinach and onion. You can order breakfast until 2 p.m., when the oven shifts gears to cook the crisp-crusted pizzas, flatbreads, and pastas that take a ride in the rotating cooker. Even though he’s a vegetarian, Shariat ensures that carnivores are satisfied. A house-made beef brisket pastrami dials up the flavor in the Reuben sandwich, and the diner offers even heartier menu options like short ribs. nooshnosh.com

LOUISIANA

Robbie Caponetto

Strawn’s Eat Shop

Shreveport
This Shreveport institution built its reputation one slice at a time. Though the small roadside diner serves all types of home-style meals, it’s the strawberry icebox pie that really put the eatery on the map. The restaurant has changed hands over the years, but it remains a family owned business, drawing fans of the daily specials and pies—lots of pies. Strawberry is still the number-one flavor, but it’s hard to determine the pecking order of the runners-up, such as chocolate, butterscotch, banana, and coconut, not to mention any of the seasonal options (like peach). While you decide on dessert, enjoy a daily lunch or dinner special from a selection of no-frills comfort food, which includes fried catfish, meatloaf, and chicken and dumplings, all served with Southern sides like black-eyed peas, mustard greens, and green beans. strawnseatshop.com

MARYLAND

Silver Diner

Rockville
To create their ideal family-friendly diner, owners Bob Giaimo and Ype Von Hengst ate their way across the country and then developed the perfect combination of service and style. Almost three decades later, their formula still works—so well that they have 14 locations. Although the decor here is vintage, the food reflects contemporary tastes and locally sourced ingredients. A flexitarian menu changes with the seasons as fresh produce becomes available. The extensive and diverse offerings speak to their motto, “There’s something for everyone,” with gluten-free, lactose-free, vegan, and heart-healthy options, plus plenty to tempt meat eaters. The restaurant recognizes many families are eating out more often and developed 19 healthy choices aimed specifically at children. Breakfast is served all day, and one delicious dish is the Local Cremini Mushroom omelet with maple-chicken sausage. Burgers go beyond basic with flavor combos like ground beef topped with short ribs, bacon, Sriracha aïoli, and barbecue sauce. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a slice of multilayered Smith Island Carrot Cake, a delightful variation on Maryland’s official state dessert. silverdiner.com

MISSISSIPPI

Blue & White Restaurant

Tunica
Established in 1924 and still serving up Southern-style meals, Blue & White is an iconic stop along U.S. 61, also known as the Blues Highway. The bones of the architecture haven’t changed that much over time, with the building’s original purposes as a bus stop, newsstand, and service station still evident. Now, this Delta community staple offers breakfast and made-from-scratch entrées from the grill all day. Doughnuts are made fresh every morning. For lunch, try the local pond-raised catfish, coated in cornmeal and fried crisp and golden brown. The catfish, which is also served grilled or blackened, gets the Tunica treatment with a creamy Creole sauce topped with a trifecta of meats: smoked sausage, bacon, and shrimp. blueandwhiterestaurant.com

MISSOURI

Goody Goody Diner

St. Louis
The chicken-and-waffles plate at this diner draws the biggest crowd with crispy, golden brown pieces of meat—your choice of white or dark. Either way, they’re perfectly tender and moist on the inside. Put it on your must-try list, but don’t ignore the Hobo Breakfast Bowl, a tasty concoction of eggs, sausage, tomato, and onion covered with hash browns and smothered in white gravy and Cheddar cheese. goodygoodydiner.com

NORTH CAROLINA

Smith Street Diner

Greensboro
If one thing defines Smith Street Diner, it’s the country-style breakfast. Locals return for their favorites like the well-seasoned corned beef hash, a crispy, salty mix of shredded corned beef with chunky potatoes, tomatoes, onion, and peppers. Topped with two eggs and served with a softball-size biscuit, this meal will fill you up for the day. Their famously huge biscuits smeared with tasty homemade apple butter make a meal by themselves. Daily lunch and dinner specials like crispy chicken-fried steak and home-style meatloaf are great values and are served Monday through Friday. Solo diners opting for the cozy counter seating can chat with the server while watching a game or checking out the whiteboard specials. If you prefer a little bit more elbow room, turn the corner and sit in the dining area, where whimsical porcine prints decorate the walls. smithstreetdiner.com

SOUTH CAROLINA

Stax Omega Diner

Greenville
For almost 30 years, Stax Omega Diner has been a fixture in Greenville. The diner’s menu is vast, featuring breakfast all day and a wide variety of seasonal veggies and salads, along with some Southern and Mediterranean-style comfort food entrées, sandwiches, pastas, and burgers. The locals’ best advice is to come here with an empty stomach because portions are large. Hungry folks start off the day with the Greek Skillet, a filling, layered concoction of eggs cooked any style, fried potatoes, fresh spinach, tomatoes, oregano, feta cheese, and chargrilled chicken strips. staxs.net

Peter Frank Edwards

The Early Bird Diner

Charleston
Fans of this spot in the West Ashley community praise its take on a Lowcountry standby—Shrimp & Grits with large, plump local shrimp sautéed and served in a tomato gravy speckled with smoky bacon. But the menu also offers some culinary surprises, like the Pot Likker Noodle Bowl: ramen noodles, pulled pork, and veggies in a spicy collard green-and-ham broth. It’s topped with an egg cooked to your liking. earlybirddiner.com

TENNESSEE

Mel’s Classic Diner

Pigeon Forge
Step into Mel’s Classic Diner in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and you’ll be transported back in time to the 1950s. There are vintage photos, old-school signs, and antiques lining the walls of this beloved neon eatery. Guests can pop a coin in the juke box and order up American classics with just the right amount of grease. This small Tennessee diner serves breakfast all day, with dishes like biscuits and gravy and country-fried steak, but Mel’s 50s-inspired dinner offerings—like Buddy Holly Chili Cheeseburger, John Wayne’s Chicken Quesadilla, and Abbott & Costello Jumbo Wings—are top-of-the-line. There’s a reason that locals and tourists have returned to Mel’s for nearly a quarter of a century. Sometimes you’ll spot Mel himself at the diner, welcoming you in to try out the hand-spun milkshakes and reminding you to pick up a Mel’s Diner T-shirt on the way out. It’s the ultimate down-home joint, with an incredibly friendly wait staff, exceptional food, and eye-catching collectibles. melsdinerpf.com

TEXAS

Los Güeros

San Antonio
The best diners cater to local tastes, and Los Güeros in San Antonio is a great option when you’re craving a Southwestern breakfast or lunch plate. Even though the eatery is located in a bland shopping center, the food here is anything but plain. The breakfast plates are widely known, especially the stick-with-you Barbacoa Breakfast of Champions that includes shredded meat, two eggs, refried beans, potatoes, and homemade tortillas. For lunch, dishes can go from mild to wild with options ranging from chicken flautas to menudo to pork al pastor. People talk up the Trash Can Taco filled with a surprising mix of well-seasoned extras of the day. You don’t know what you’ll get, but it will be delicious. The atmosphere at Los Güeros is decidedly casual, with no table service. Join the locals at the counter (where everybody orders and pays), grab your number, and find a seat. Someone will deliver your meal. While you wait, visit the salsa bar and fill dipping cups with a variety of relishes and sauces, all flavorful and ranging from tame to lava hot. lostacosgueros.com

Wynn Myers

Vickery Cafe

Fort Worth
Early risers in the Fort Worth area don’t dawdle when they’re craving a hearty, home-cooked meal at the Vickery Cafe. Breakfast is served all day, but that isn’t all that long, as the eatery closes up shop by midafternoon seven days a week. Try the Breakfast Monte Cristo, which starts with fresh egg bread that’s dipped in a custardy French toast batter. It’s then stuffed to the point of falling apart with bacon, ham, fried eggs, and Swiss cheese. Chipotle-raspberry jam adds a bit of spicy heat and some sweetness. Other made-from-scratch hits include the whimsical Texas-shaped waffles or fluffy pancakes filled with a choice of chocolate chips, pecans, or blueberries. Be sure to check out the lunch menu for chef-owner Curtis James’ selection of Down Home Meals. Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf and Buttermilk Fried Pork Cutlets fill bellies with the best of Southern comfort food. vickerycafe.com

VIRGINIA

Thunderbird Cafe

McGaheysville
Not all diners require eye- popping primary colors with vintage art and nostalgic knickknacks on the walls. Thunderbird’s subdued color palette, slate tile, and spacious back dining room offer a nice sense of calm. Still, you’ll find swivel counter stools, cozy booths, and all-day breakfast at this casual, family-friendly eatery that’s open seven days a week. Among the comfort classics here are Mama’s Meatloaf, served with a generous portion of either creamy bacon-sage or mushroom gravy. Sweet tea is used to marinate plump bone-in chicken that’s hand breaded and fried to a crisp golden brown. Return customers clamor for The Sticky Pig, thick pieces of French toast stuffed with smoked pork and drizzled with Sriracha sauce and maple syrup. The dish’s sweet-smoky-spicy combination dazzles the taste buds. thethunderbirdcafe.com

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Ari’s Diner

Ivy City
While many diners have decades-old pedigrees, Ari’s is a newbie to the Capital’s restaurant scene. The charming dining spot, located in Ivy City, stays true to modern Art Deco style with plenty of sparkling aluminum trim, a Formica counter and tabletops with whimsical illustrations, and a sea of slick white subway tiles. Ari’s menu offerings cover the diner basics of eggs, omelets, and burgers, but they’re given a new-fashioned twist, featuring ingredients that are organic and free of any added hormones. The “half smoke”—a Washington phenomenon consisting of coarsely ground half-beef, half-pork smoked sausage—parks quietly on the menu, and it comes in the DC Omelet with onion, Cheddar, and a spicy sauce. More contemporary offerings include Avocado Toast, the Crab Cake Sandwich, and the creamy, decidedly adult Vanilla Bourbon milk shake. arisdiner.com

WATCH: The Shake Shack

WEST VIRGINIA

Olde Country Diner

Martinsburg
Though the building is seriously nondescript and easy to overlook, inside the redbrick structure, diners fill their bellies with flavorful home-style food. Breakfast is served daily from 7 to 11 a.m. If you visit at lunch or dinner, open the menu straight to the Olde Country Signature Sandwiches, and stop there. The Smoked Brisket Sandwich contains thin slices of meat griddled until crisp on the ends, topped with grilled onions, Cheddar cheese, and a sweet barbecue sauce, all nestled inside a soft brioche bun. Similarly barbecued and delicious is the Texas Style Grilled Cheese. Signature Sandwiches are paired with fries, but you can also sub in one of the Southern veggies of the day. While the diner doesn’t maintain a website, you can find frequent updates, including any announcements about the daily special, on its Facebook page. Don’t miss the pie case. A couple of times a week, a local baker comes to Olde Country Diner and makes 12 to 14 different pies, including mouthwatering chocolate cream, egg custard, banana split, and coconut. facebook.com/oldecountrydiner112