The Best Classic Diners In Los Angeles

When you need coffee, hash browns, and the comfort of a worn-in booth.
The Best Classic Diners In Los Angeles image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

A great diner is a sanctuary. Where else can you find that soothing mix of bottomless coffee, worn-in booths, and eggs cooked in approximately 37 different ways? Sure, you might be able to flip pancakes at home, but in a famously complicated city like LA, the classic diner offers something for everyone, whether that's a hangover-curing patty melt, gently fading Googie architecture, or just a waitress who calls you “hon." Here's where to head when you're looking for a quintessential LA diner experience.


photo credit: Jakob Layman



$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastBrunchLunch
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To the untrained eye (or out-of-towner), Clark Street Diner doesn’t look like a revival. This all-day Hollywood spot was the iconic 101 Coffee Shop in a previous life before it was brought back from the dead by the Clark Street Bakery people. The good news is old-timey charm remains—from the tan leather booths to the sticky carafes of maple syrup—and the food is better than ever. Juicy, beefy patty melts are made with griddled rye, avocado toast comes on inch-thick seeded sourdough, and the beautiful pastry case is full of croissants and sugar-dusted cardamom buns. Weekends are particularly busy at Clark Street Diner (expect to wait 20ish minutes for a booth), but weekday walk-ins are a breeze. 

The Serving Spoon could technically double as a soul food spot, but the diner-esque menu leans towards breakfast more than lunch or dinner. You'll find families, big groups of friends, and solo diners who have been coming every week for decades for fried catfish and eggs. Waiting for a table is the norm any time of week, but on the other side are tremendous shrimp and grits, fried chicken drumettes, and our favorite thin, chewy-crisp waffles in town. If you can, snag a seat at the counter, where you’ll be treated to pleasant conversation with the waitstaff.

When you first step inside Lancers, you might think you accidentally popped into a Denny’s. This Burbank time capsule has the same generic entryway set-up, complete with a glass pie case, a Lotto machine, and a claw-machine game next to the host stand. Things get more interesting, however, once you notice the number of people chatting in vinyl booths with dirty martinis in hand. Equipped with a full bar, this old-school diner offers the novelty of pairing a Bloody Mary with your tuna melt or washing down a banana split with an Irish Coffee. Drinks aside, Lancer’s is a quiet, charming spot usually filled with retired couples eating omelets for lunch (and a great place for people-watching, too).

Olympic Cafe is small—so small you’ll probably have to stand outside if all the seats are taken. It’s also only open from 7am to 12:30pm. And they only take cash. Got all that? Now, onto the charm: this 50-year-old spot in Mid-City is the quintessential diner where regulars tell you they’ve been eating at since they were kids. The counter is lined with chunky mugs full of mediocre coffee, the place smells like bacon fat, and the menu plays the hits. Pancakes, hash browns, and eggs, any way you like them, are all fine, but we gravitate toward their Hawaiian-leaning dishes like spicy Portuguese sausage and grilled teriyaki short ribs.

Jongewaard's has been supplying Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood with blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs since 1965. Aside from the huge menu of diner staples, focus your attention on their famous pies. There’s a flaky chicken pot pie that comes with your choice of soup or salad (get the cheese-topped french onion) then move on to dessert with key lime pie and a slice of coconut cream to-go, which will inevitably be eaten within minutes of returning to your car.

Gardena Bowl is a decades-old coffee shop and South Bay landmark where you can bowl a full game before or after your meal (if the name didn’t tip you off, it’s attached to a bowling alley). The menu here is a mix of Japanese, Hawaiian, and American breakfast dishes, with items like loco moco, banana pecan pancakes, kimchi bacon fried rice, and meat-filled freeform scrambles called "royales" living in perfect harmony. The food is comforting and generous, but it’s little details here we savor the most: the handwritten specials above the counter, the blue faux-leather swivel chairs, and the $5 bags of boiled peanuts they sometimes sell by the cash register.

If you know—or are—a person who grew up on the Westside, John O’Groat’s is more than just a diner. It’s a place where you might have lost your first tooth or went every Saturday after soccer practice and ate buttermilk pancakes until your parents cut you off. That homey, small-town charm remains. Everyone inside this classic American diner on Pico is either reading the newspaper, swapping hot neighborhood gossip, or eating Biscuits From Heaven until they’re ready to nap. Yes, they’re actually called Biscuits From Heaven and yes, that’s an accurate description.

You could count the number of bonafide diners left on the Westside on one hand, and Maxine’s has the best feel-good story among them. For decades, this corner spot on the Culver City-Venice-MDR border was Maxwell’s Cafe, before Maxwell retired, sold the place, and moved to Costa Rica. Now it’s run by a local woman who changed the name to Maxine’s (and added good coffee) but blessedly kept everything else: the cooks, the recipes, the prices, and the vintage cabin-like decor. The food is simple, but a notch above the diner average. Get the signature Garbage Omelet smothered in "Spanish sauce," the giant chilaquiles plate with black beans, or the waffle deluxe decorated with pecans, bananas, and strawberries.

Sadly, Du-Par’s “always open” operating schedule came to an end a few years back (it now closes promptly at 9pm on weekdays, and at 10pm on weekends), but this long-running diner at the Original Farmers Market is still a great place to take out-of-towners (or yourself) when granola for breakfast won’t cut it. An order of their fluffy, buttery hotcakes is the standard here—they’ve been making them since 1938, after all—but if it’s close to lunchtime, the patty melt is the move. Served on well-griddled bread with caramelized onions and swiss cheese, it’s a burger that’s as simple as it is spectacular.

If you can’t get a hold of us on a Sunday morning, it’s because we’re sitting at the U-shaped counter inside Nick’s with our phones turned off. This legendary blue-collar diner just north of Chinatown has been open since the Truman administration and is where you go to eat a giant chorizo scramble and pretend you’re someone else for a few hours. The menu has everything from oatmeal fruit bowls to avocado salads, but you’re sitting next to three octogenarians who survived Woodstock. This isn’t the place to get cute. Snag an egg combo, the ham steak, or a big bowl of chili and be on your way.

When it comes to old-school diners, Santa Monica is as sparse and barren as our mini-fridge in college. Options are limited, but at least there’s Rae’s. Eating at this neighborhood treasure feels like a brain massage at 9am. Your butt sinks into a comfy leather booth that probably hasn’t been reupholstered since the ‘60s, they’re quick with coffee refills, and the cooks behind the counter flip pancakes in paper hats. Rae’s menu is big, as are the portions of hearty diner staples, like soft, housemade biscuits covered in hearty gravy, giant fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, and a simple fried egg sandwich on sourdough that doesn’t skimp on mayo.

In LA, it’s not uncommon to find yourself eating meals inside gas stations, convenience stores, or someone’s backyard. But a Van Nuys car dealership? That’s a new one, or more accurately, an old one. Horseless Carriage has been around since 1966, serving as an on-site diner at Galpin Motors, presumably for people who need to kill time during an oil change. The crowd has more or less remained the same, and the food is much better than you’d expect. Slide into one of the aqua-colored bar seats, order scrambled eggs with chunks of sweet lobster, and let the guy next to you explain how they don’t make engines like they used to.

Pann’s is a space age-style diner in Ladera Heights where long-time regulars who brag about their grandchildren can be found eating waffles on a Wednesday morning. The 64-year-old landmark of Googie glory is filled with red leather booths, a long line of bar stools overlooking the kitchen, and families sharing plates of golden fried chicken. The breakfast and lunch items are equally great here, so drop in anytime before 3pm daily for a stack of hotcakes, biscuits and gravy, or a tuna melt with housemade onion rings. But the main draw here is the charming atmosphere—you’ll instantly feel like you’ve stepped onto a mid-century movie set.

When it comes to old-school diners in Eagle Rock, Cindy’s might win in the ambiance department, but Armon’s wins on food. This classic diner dates back to 1962 and still looks the part, with brown vinyl stools wrapping a long bar and a handful of booths along the walls. Service is warm and efficient, and the crispy corned beef hash, cheeseburger club, or french toast are all solid bets. But our heart always goes to the handful of homey Thai dishes on the menu, including an outstanding Thai-style fried rice with bacon. Make sure to ask for a jar of their bright, chile-laced house salsa, which you’ll see every table smothering their plates with like it was ketchup.

To get to Pacific Diner, drive to San Pedro and keep heading south until you’re about to drive off the bluffs into the ocean. Two blocks up from Sunken City is where you’ll find this squat roadhouse of a diner, which has been serving fill-you-up breakfasts to harbor workers and Pee-dro locals since the 1970s. The highlights here are hearty, overflowing omelets stuffed with things like stewed chile verde or crab and avocado with hollandaise. But anything you could picture someone wearing a neon safety vest ordering is going to be great. If you’re dining solo, grab a stool at the front counter next to the kitchen. Otherwise, there’s a spread of tables out back on the covered patio.

Russell’s is a retro lunch counter that, at first, you might mistake as a tourist trap: there’s a constant crowd out front, a bright neon sign, and tacky fine art reproductions lining the walls. And even by Old Pasadena standards, this place is a zoo. But don’t be deterred—Russell’s chaos comes with fantastic food. The menu is a mix of Southern and French-leaning brunch dishes, which means eating gravy-covered chicken fried steak while the person sitting next to you at the counter digs into a gooey croque monsieur. Be prepared to wait a few minutes for a table though, since Russell’s only accepts walk-ins and they’re busy most days of the week.

El Segundo’s nickname among locals is “Mayberry By The Sea” and spots like Wendy’s Place on Main Street are the reason why. The wood-paneled walls of this classic diner are covered in Norman Rockwell paintings and the plates look borrowed from grandma’s china cabinet. You'll sit next to regulars who've been occupying the same booth since the moon landing and wonder if you annoyed the waitress by asking for poached eggs. But that's all part of the charm. There's chicken fried steak for breakfast, and something called the Junior Club for lunch (a BLT with chicken salad on raisin toast). Expect to wait on weekends, and bring cash or have your Venmo/Zelle ready (no cards accepted).

Besides a few signed celebrity headshots and photos from the local Little League, there’s not much to look at inside Nat’s Early Bite. But this Sherman Oaks strip mall spot is a Valley weekend brunch destination for a reason: the food. Everything on the menu tastes as if it's been given some extra TLC, like the gigantic cinnamon roll where each bite tastes like gooey center. For something spicy, order the chilaquiles smothered in crisp-edged chorizo and of bright green tomatillo salsa with a side of home fries.

We could write a three-book series about this 64-year-old diner, but all we have is one paragraph, so here we go. You don’t come to this Burbank staple for an impeccable meal. You come to gawk at the people inside. Every customer is a living Hollywood time capsule, and you should know right now you’ll never be as cool as them. These people tried email once in the ’90s and hated it. They’re also all eating one of the many turkey sandwiches on the menu—you should follow their lead (fun fact: Tallyrand roasts 200 pounds of turkey daily).

This landmark cafeteria—which hits its 100th birthday this year— is halfway between L.A. Live and the Financial District, making it a prime stop for early-bird DTLA-ers. The dining room hasn’t changed much since it opened, and feels like a living museum as much as a diner: checkered floors, a vintage cashier booth, and servers who can tell you stories about serving coleslaw to Martin Luther King, Jr. They’ll also tell you to stick to the classics, and maybe suggest a side of housemade salsa to pour over your hash browns. The Original Pantry no longer operates 24/7, but they’re still open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday. Show up before 9am on weekends to avoid a wait.

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