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Real Diner Food in OC

OK. So I think I have seen every episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network. Being born and raised in OC, I don't think I have ever had real diner food. On my travels my wife and I usually do high-end or hole-in-the-wall ethnic.

I of course have reluctantly been to Ruby's and Woody's diner, but I imagine most of there food comes from Sysco. I love that on this show everything and I mean everything is made from scratch in the mom and pop multi-generational restaurants.

Are there any real diners in Orange County?

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  1. if you find one, please let me know. When the Daily Grill first opened about 15 or so years ago in Newport Beach, it was hopeful. They had pot roast, hamburger steak with hand-cut fries, open-faced hot turkey sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, tapioca pie (to die for!), egg custard, and other diner favorites. But, at least according to their management, these things didn't sell and now they serve the same mediocre and uninteresting food as a zillion other chain restaurants. Sure would like an old-fashioned New Jersey style diner in OC, but I don't think it exists. Let me know if I've missed out on some hidden gem!

    1. As a born-and-bred Jerseyan, I can tell you more or less categorically: there are no Jersey type diners in OC. The closest I've come was the Katella Grill, and I really (really, really, really) can't recommend it... the atmosphere was almost right but the food was awful.

      I would love -- LOVE -- to be contradicted here.

      That said, don't kid yourself -- Sysco have their claws in the Jersey diners too.

      1. Harbor House in Dana Point maybe your closest thing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: 1000steps

          Or Watson's Drugstore & Soda Fountain in Old Town Orange. Although they may not make everything from scratch there.

        2. Did you catch this recent thread on that subject by any chance?


          1. Watson's Drug and Soda Fountain in Orange is definitely an authentic diner/lunch counter; it's been a working lunch counter since the early 1900's. Everything is made to order, and pretty cheap. Except for the malts, but trust me, they're worth it! The food and the decor reminds me of the diners I used to go to as a child (but without the tableside jukebox unfortunately). And did I mention the malts? Think I need to mention them again. Yum!

            1. Have you tried Schooner or Later in Long Beach?

              1. I would think that La Palma Chicken Pie Shop would qualify.

                1. You might check out Arthur's Restaurant in Orange. I also second La Palma Chicken Pie Shop and Watson's.

                  La Palma's got a limited menu, and I pretty much always get the chicken pie combo. I also grew up with an East Coast diner context. and so expect that a diner should have a huge menu and execute a good part of their offerings reasonably well. I think Harbor House and Shore House chains do a reasonably good job of that. HH and SH both have several locations in the OC / Long Beach area. (only listed a few below, there's many more).

                  I should note that Shore House bakes all their own breads (or so I was told), if that's important to you. Regarding Sysco, US Foods, et al: they're just commercial grocers that deliver stuff that restaurants need, nothing more nothing less. You'd be hard pressed to find any restaurant, especially at this price point, that's hardcore about making everything truly from scratch.

                  La Palma Chicken Pie Shop
                  928 N Euclid St, Anaheim, CA 92801

                  Shore House Cafe
                  5271 E 2nd St, Long Beach, CA 90803

                  Arthurs Family Resturant
                  240 N Tustin St, Orange, CA 92867

                  Watson Drug & Soda Fountain
                  116 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92866

                  Shore House Cafe
                  801 E Balboa Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92661

                  Shore House Cafe
                  520 Main St, Huntington Beach, CA 92648

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Professor Salt

                    Thanks Professor. I have only been to the Shore House Cafe in Newport Beach on the Peninsula. I had breakfast there. I hope the other locations are better.

                    I used to go to Lido Diner until it was bought out by Woody's Diner. I did end up going there for dinner last week and found it pretty decent.

                    I will work through the rest of your list. My office is not too far from Authurs. Any recs for Authurs?

                    1. re: cdmedici

                      It's been years since I've been to Arthur's. LONG time. Nothing I've eaten there was ever brilliant, I gotta be honest. Just your basic diner / coffeeshop slop.

                      If you work in that area, I am tempted to suggest you schlep over to Watson's for lunch (it's adjacent to the traffic circle in Old Towne). The food is on par as any other coffeeshop in our area (which is to say meh), but at Watson's, you'd get the historic kitsch factor of an authentic American drugstore / diner.

                  2. What about Norm's in Santa Ana? That is an authentic real historic diner. I do not see how you could have missed Norm's being born and raised in OC haha, and Watson's is not a diner, not saying anything negative about their food or service.

                    Norm's is world famous. For the signage, Googie-ness, roadside attraction, etceteras . . . and when I was in England, I was surprised to find The Guardian mention a hometown hangout . . . You will find everyone there too just like a diner. You can eat the counter or in a booth since it is a diner. http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2006...

                    Also, Ruby's is pretty good food, I don't think most of their food comes from Sysco, hah . . . I think Ruby's was conceptualized with the idea that they would take diner food and make it taste better. Authentic diner food is not high cusine by any means, and diners aren't really family affairs--they are owned and run by families but it's not the way it seems you are describing, diners are places where anyone can get their start as cooks at the grill, even jailbirds . . . And waitresses at diners is a whole 'nother deal also, you should check out the diner in literature . . .

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: apple7blue

                      Has anyone tried the Filling Station in Orange? It's off of Glassell almost across from Rutabagorz. They are only open Thurs - Sun, but their eggs benedict is some of the best I've had. The hollandaise sauce is rich with the slightest touch of lemon (I don't care for mine citrus-y). Otherwise, for dinner I've had a roasted vegetable "torte" which honestly was more of a HUGE slice of veggie pot-pie. The sauce allowed the veggies to be themselves and the crust was the perfect flaky and tender phyllo. YUM. Everything is definitely home-made, and I believe worth a try at least once.

                      1. re: ssharp

                        I love the Filling Station. Everything ive tried there has been pretty dang good. Love thier omelets, Turkey Chili, Burgers, desserts, ....on and on baby!

                        1. re: ssharp

                          I have been meaning to try this place. It seems like it would be on the show Diners, Dives and Dive-Ins. I love how this show on the Food Network profiles restaurants that make everything from scratch and even grind there own hamburger and make their own corned beef for their hash.

                          1. re: ssharp

                            I'm gonna vouch for Filling Station and Ruby's. FS has a great vibe and cozy menu, while Ruby's has a tight concept and a whole lotta variety. Both are good depending on who you're dining with. Me? Ruby's is convenience while FS is for a leisurely Sunday.

                            1. re: brekkie_fan

                              on way to filling station riiiiiight now!

                            2. re: ssharp

                              Filling Station is absolutely terrific. Their really great stuff are their pies. Seriously, their Pumpkin Pie is well known on this board and very famous. Excellent. Their Apple Pie is of the same caliber.

                            3. re: apple7blue

                              Hahaha...Norm's. Boy that was funny reading that. I remember the one on Main St in SA. There's something alluring about that place at night, the sign, the architecture.

                              Any way...how about Dick Church's on Newport Blvd in Costa Mesa. Haven't been there forever...but it's a diner.

                            4. How about Sunset Harbor House, in Dana Point ?

                              1. There's a place in Sunset Beach called Harborhouse Cafe...what you're looking for. Also, OC WEEKLY has a column called "This hole in the wall life" that features a new place every week. Sometime in the beginning of May they featured some diner that got great reviews in the Tustin area. You'd have to check back episodes or call the PC Weekly though. Hope that helps.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: barno

                                  I love the Harbor House Cafe (there are two, one in Sunset Beach and one in Dana Point). I would go so far to say that they have real NJ diner food, but definitely not in a NJ diner setting.

                                  So if you're looking for the food, go for it, but if you're looking for blue-haired waitresses in orthopedic shoes to ask, "Maw cawfee, hun?" -- meaning the atmosphere -- then you'll need to go to New Jersey (or adjacent parts, like Westchester County, NY).

                                    1. re: ReelMike84

                                      Burger platters and shakes. I'm a creature of habit.

                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        I like the NY steak and eggs, the cheese burger is very good and add a side of maybe the best chili in the LA Area and you got a great chilicheese burger, the fries are good and I have been thinking about pouring that chili and some cheddar all over them also. I really never liked the home fries with the breakfast. The Hobo fries with breakfast is the better way to go. The soups are good but they are big chunk Mexican style.

                                        I ask for a counter seat, booth or table in the front section of the Sunset Beach location and find the ambiance to be about as close to a NJ dinner as can be found in Cal. The menu is surely NJ Diner.


                                      2. re: ReelMike84

                                        The breakfasts are really good (omeletts, skillet scrambles, the usual sort of thing, but done right).

                                        1. re: mikester

                                          I'll be in the area next weekend. I think I know where I'll be stopping now.

                                        2. re: ReelMike84

                                          I recommend the Hobo Omelet, the home fries are good and usually fresh.

                                          I've had a burger a couple times, and do not recommend it, or the fries.

                                          My wife likes the country fried steak.

                                          Stick with breakfast foods for best results.

                                          Also the Dana Point one has served me some terrible food, I've never had a problem at the Sunset beach location.

                                          1. re: peekpoke

                                            What could you not like about the burger? I find it to be a very flavorful and juicy 1/2 pound two hander on a fresh bun.

                                            1. re: peekpoke

                                              Have to stand up for Harbor House, Dana Point. Been there dozens of times and never had anything close to bad. The only negative I've experienced there was one Friday night when the place was overflowing with teens, half of them talking loudly on their cell phones and socializing table-to-table. Not a food issue and this isn't somewhere you go for ambience, so just a little hard to deal with.

                                              But it's open 24/7, so it's a go-to place whenever you want diner-style food of any kind. My wife is addicted to their chicken soup. Breakfast is a highlight, but I've never been disappointed by anything I've had.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                Went to the Harbor House for the first time today...the Dana Point one. Had breakfast...corn beef hash and eggs, with potatoes, toast and coffee. It was excellC!

                                        3. re: barno

                                          oops that's what I meant (no "Sunset" - I think there used to be a place of that name but it's long gone)...

                                        4. Okay, long shot here - it's not *exactly* the OC, and I haven't eaten there since my early 1980s punk rock days, but - the Hot n Tot on PCH in Lomita was once the absolute best "diner" ever - even though here in SoCal we tend to call them "coffee shops" rather than diners.

                                          I have fond, fond memories of homemade pot roast, mashed potatoes, and chocolate pudding for dessert before heading to Fender's Ballroom to catch a show. Definitely no Sysco pre-fabs in sight.

                                          I know that the place is still there, and I would LOVE to hear if it's still all that! Back in the day, my friends and I were heavily into the coffee shop/nostalgia/Americana thing, and the Hot n Tot was as good as it got.

                                          Hot N Tot
                                          2347 Pacific Coast Hwy, Lomita, CA 90717