I've always opted for a diner when choosing a place to have a quick, inexpensive, and good breakfast...without all the extra fluff that comes along with eating elsewhere. The expansive menus and simplistic layouts of traditional diners tend to set the tone for a comfortable dining experience. Having visited many "diners" in Houston, including my favorite hangover spot, Waffle House, I have become very fond of places like Avalon Diner and Franks Grill. Both have menus that remind you of the Burger King motto, "Have It Your Way", where pretty much anything goes and anything is available. And if you want the kitchen sink, I am sure with enough persuasion, you could have that too!
Although you will come across many definitions for a "diner", you can definitely recognize one when you see it. In regards to a diner's layout, you will typically see a long counter sporting stools that give you a front row seat to the action in the main prep area. In addition to the counter seating, many diners will offer booth style seating instead of traditional table tops. You will find that some diners stay open later than many restaurants which is a major advantage for those that suffer from insomnia, excessive partying, or late night cravings. Also, diners, unlike other restaurants, will serve breakfast all day long even when their lunch and dinner service kicks in. Although diners have evolved over 100 years from their look and feel to their increasingly lengthy menus, they have continued to remain in demand today even though fast food has tried to take them out many times over.
On to a few of my go to diners in Houston...
Avalon Diner has three locations in Houston: River Oaks, Stafford (my go to), and one in Memorial Villages. With its very retro feel, I enjoy the high booths and they have an amazing breakfast offering. I have yet to visit during lunch or dinner, but honestly I rarely visit diners in general if I am not going for breakfast food. A few must have items are the Bagel Melt Sandwich (100% whole wheat bagel w/two eggs, choice of ham, bacon or sausage & cheese.), the sinfully good Chicken & Biscuits (two Avalon biscuits, topped with a Chicken Fried Chicken, then covered in savory cream gravy), and their Chicken Fried Chicken & Eggs (Chicken Fried Chicken Breast, two eggs with hash browns, fruit cup or grits, toast or biscuit). If you happen to drop by for lunch, make sure you check out their Blue Plate Specials where you can enjoy classics like Homemade Meatloaf or Chicken & Dumplings.
Take Avalon, without the retro look and feel, and you will have Frank's Grill. They have six locations in Houston and one in Pasadena; the one in Westchase is my go to spot. Although Avalon and Frank's do have some similarities in the menu choices, I have found that Frank's Grill is a bit more like I am cooking at home minus the messy kitchen. I can't really put my finger on it, but it's that no frills home cooked breakfast that you crave for on many weekend mornings. At Frank's, everything is BIG, from the mound of hash browns, to the larger than your plate Chicken Fried Chicken, and let's not forget those huge ass biscuits. A few of my faves are their Catfish and Eggs Breakfast (two large catfish fillets served with two eggs), the Meat Lover Omelette (three eggs omelette with bacon, sausage, and ham), and the French Toast. The service is always great and even though they can get busy, especially on Sundays, we have never had a bad experience.
As the American Diner Museum states, "diners evolved into community gathering places where people from all walks of life and origin shared a home cooked meal in a small and comforting atmosphere." That message still stands today, and is the reason I will continue to visit diners. I hope that even if the retro look is redefined and replaced by something more "trendy" or the booth and counter seating is long gone, diners will remain the same comfortable places where we can all go to enjoy a home cooked meal.
~ Shanna "Urban Girl" Jones, Urban Swank