When we asked 11-year-old Sasha to meet us at her favorite diner in her hometown of New York City, she responded without hesitation: Ellen’s Stardust Diner, “home of the world famous singing waitstaff.” At first we were skeptical—it’s glitzy and kitschy and the furthest possible thing from some of the other places we had captured. But soon we realized that if what we’re looking for is a diner that reflects its community, Ellen’s was perfect. A place like this couldn’t exist anywhere but Broadway.
After describing these pancakes (or, as charismatic owner Vicki calls them, “hotcakes”) to a friend upon our return to New York—richly sweet and spicy, dense but melt-in-your-mouth, stuffed with warm gooey cinnamon apples and drenched in butter, so delicious and moist that maple syrup is not a requirement but merely a bonus—she responded that she couldn’t die happy until she tried them. And let us tell you, from experience? She’s not exaggerating.
Tom’s is the quintessential Pittsburgh establishment: open all night, connected to a sports bar where at least one Pitt game can usually be seen, and yes, they put French fries on everything, including the sandwiches and gyros (Did you know that was a ‘burgh thing? It was a surprise to us!). But they’re not afraid to try new things, either, says manager Bridget—their huge craft beer selection and experimental new recipes like slow-cooked pot roast and fiery feta sauce is evidence of that.
We couldn’t leave Cleveland without trying just one more diner. Big Al’s is as quick and no-nonsense as they come, with sneakered waitresses shuttling back and forth between tables with pots full of steaming coffee, shouting “what can I get for ya?” over the bustle of the place. What they got for us was two of their breakfast specials, which also don’t mess around—a bread-egg-meat combo never fails to satisfy.