Travel Tip Tuesday: The Diner Litmus Test

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There should be a law against it. We’ve all been there: driving, or walking, or riding the subway — who knows how many miles — to darken the doors of the ‘Something Something’ Diner, only to find out that it is more of a café, or sandwich shop, or even a fancy restaurant. Rats.

A true diner is a thing of beauty for the BlinkPacker, offering large amounts of rib-sticking, belly-filling foodness in exchange for a handful of dollars. Sadly though, too many ‘diners’ are nothing of the sort. Though ultimately the authenticity of a diner is highly subjective, I like to think there are some basic qualifications for earning the title.

For today’s Travel Tip Tuesday, I would like to present five axioms of dinerhood. It is quite possilbe for a diner to miss the mark on one or two, but I would argue that any establishment missing all five is not worth the calories.

Shiny siding
Call me a traditionalist, but I am instantly skeptical of any diner that is not clad in polished steel, aluminum, or some other shiny, metallic substance.

Dessert carousel
If mile-high cakes, and fruit pies, and eclairs are not spinning around in a clear glass case with five or six shelves, I am quick to doubt the ‘diner’ nomenclature.

Counter service
Without bar stools and a formica countertop, an important function of the diner is completely lost. Dining at a counter allows the patron the perfect combination of anonymity and community — a place where it is perfectly legit to hide behind a Sunday paper or share a few sentences with a perfect stranger. The hash browns may be stellar, but if there is no counter, there is no diner.

The Happy Waitress and the grumpy waitress
If a diner is true to its name, I should be able to order a Happy Waitress from a grumpy waitress. The former being a delectable grilled sandwich with ham, cheese, and tomato slices, and the latter a given at an all-hours food service establishment.

Early mornings and late nights
A diner should serve fresh coffee at 5am, dinner at 9am, sandwiches at 9pm, and breakfast at 2am. The diner is home to any and all who do not keep conventional schedules, and any restaurant that is unwilling to serve pancakes for supper is not worthy of the title.

So, dear reader, what diners have you visited that meet all five criteria? Any that I missed? And what diners break the rules but are clearly authentic anyway?

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