Illustration by Serge Bloch
Good, cheap, and simple: The American diner formula is just about perfect. At a real diner you get made-to-order home-style cooking, a comfy booth, unfussy service, a big dollop of nostalgia, and lots more. Sometimes, much too much more—and that’s the rub.
The biggest issue with eating at a diner is often portion size: mountains of fries, mile-high pies, rivers of gravy. Then there’s the swaggering way diner food is cooked: quickly, assembly-line style, on a flattop, which is a large, smooth sheet of stainless steel kept hot, and well greased, all day long. Short-order cooks throw more butter and/or oil on the griddle with every order, which means your food may soak up more fat than you think.
You can’t prevent all that fat on the griddle, but you can pay attention to portion size: Share, or take home, the rest. You can also keep an eye on likely calorie and fat content. We analyzed commonly ordered dishes at a number of diners. Those marked as "Splurge Only" aren’t untouchable (no food is) but can be a really big splurge. Nutrition numbers are estimates: Results vary widely among restaurants.
Best Diner Strategies
Order smarter side dishes...
That pile of fries and tiny paper cup of slaw can easily add 400 to 500 calories to your meal, along with a heavy dose of sodium. Have a cup of soup with your meal instead. It, too, may be salty, but a cup of chicken noodle, minestrone, or vegetable soup likely has fewer calories and will help you stay fuller longer.
...and avoid the blue-plate specials.
A hot open-faced turkey sandwich served with mashed potatoes, gravy, buttered carrots, and apple crisp may seem like a great deal, but it’s only a bargain if you split it into five meals! The calories can add up to what most of us should consume in a day and a half.
Ask Your Server: