Neighborhood Diners

The joy of eating in places where everybody knows your name

Neighborhood Diner

A great diner doesn’t have to have countertop seating, an old cash register that noisily cha-chings! after each sale, or a rotating dessert case with slabs of pie and mile-high chocolate cake—although it helps. At its core, a diner is about simplicity: classic, no-frills comfort foods. Orange County has a lot of great diners, so we looked for places that have both an intrinsic role in their neighborhoods and also serve terrific food. 

1. Harbor House Café
Don’t be surprised to find a crowd waiting for tables at 2 a.m. at this Orange County staple, which serves burgers, breakfast, and banana splits to hungry diners who need a bite after the bars close. Stop by for some Chicken Stir Fry or a slice of berry pie with a dollop of ice cream, and a cuppa joe. Open 24 hours. 16341 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach, 562-592-5404; 34157 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, 949-496-9270;

2. The Snooty Fox 
A popular spot since its 1979 opening in South County, The Snooty Fox cooks up home-style fare in an unpretentious environment. Dig in to golden pancakes served with a side of the diner’s specialty hash browns, endearingly called Those Potatoes. Stop by for lunch and order a Bleu Reuben on Rye. Kid menu. Open until 3 p.m. 23028 Lake Forest Drive, Laguna Hills, 949-770-7761. 

3. Magnolia Café 
This place has a warm and friendly shopping center locale that draws a bustling breakfast crowd seven days a week. Try the Californian Omelet, the Smokehouse Skillet, or the popular Waffle Combo. If you want a tasty dinner, stop by on Tuesday for “$7.69 Fried Chicken Night.” Comes with soup or salad, potatoes, veggies, and bread. Open until 9 p.m. 8988 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, 714-842-2844.

4. Greeter’s Corner 
A sprawling outdoor patio practically places you right on the sand, ideal for people-watching and taking in Laguna’s beach culture. The versatile menu offers classics such as omelets and oversized pancakes. For lunch, try the fish and chips. Because Greeter’s Corner is a tourist hotbed, be prepared to pay a bit more than at comparable diners. Open till 6 p.m. 329 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-494-0361.

5. The Chicken Coop
This kitschy place is not a traditional-looking diner, what with its large collection of porcelain chickens and a dining floor covered in sawdust. But don’t be deterred by the shabby country décor. The Coop serves classic diner favorites, including prime rib, chicken-fried steak, and hearty—and cheap—breakfast combos. It also serves alcohol and has an oyster bar. Pair the lobster omelet with a spicy bloody mary. Open until 10 p.m. Cash or debit only. 414 Old Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, 949-645-6086. 

6. The Galley Café 
This waterfront restaurant is tucked in a residential cul-de-sac alongside million-dollar homes. It’s an Americana diner, with Formica counter- and tabletops, cushioned booths, and a reputation as one of John Wayne’s favorites.  The daily specials include biscuits and gravy, and the must-have chili-cheese omelet is to die for. Stop by an ATM first; this classic is cash only. Open till 7 p.m. 829 Harbor Island Drive, Newport Beach, 949-673-4110. 

7. Woody’s Diner 
The 1950s retro experience still is very much alive at this small Orange County chain that celebrates vintage surf culture. A large sampling of omelets, breakfast burritos, short stacks, and house specialties make this a great stop for a pre-beach breakfast. For lunch, try loaded nachos, one of Woody’s burgers, and a little something from the soda fountain. Bring quarters for the jukebox. Open until 9:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 7871 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-848-9936. Other locations in Laguna Hills, Newport Beach, Seal Beach, and Sunset Beach;

Deconstructing the Diner Mystique

Susan Adkins started her career at age 21 at a Costa Mesa breakfast spot named Chester Drawers Inn. She now owns the lovable Omelette Parlor on the same site, which means Adkins, 51, has been serving breakfast—and some of the same customers—at the same location for nearly three decades. Along the way, she has figured out why people love neighborhood diners: “These places are usually a little more casual. People want their coffee, they don’t want to wait for their check, and they’re hungry and want their food. And they love that they’re not cookie-cutter [restaurants]. It’s different and cute—like Cheers, but without the bar.” 179 E. 17th St. #A, Costa Mesa, 949-645-0740,
photograph by David Guettler
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.

Facebook Comments