Craving "East Coast" diners in East Cty. San Diego
My friends and I were talking, more like drooling, about the good ole days back home. A diner or little mom and pop cafe, where you could always get a good hot meal at a good price. We all know about The Studio Diner in Kearny Mesa, but what else is there? I'm looking for a great reuben sandwich, big salads, greek chicken, huge breakfasts and a great atmosphere. Whatcha got for me??? Thanks for the help!!
67 at Bradley exit- see that sign on the South East corner..."Greek Style Chicken". Go there.
Keep going up 67, until it ends. Really. The freeway ends. In Lakeside. There is a traffic light. The South West corner there is "Cafe 67". Only open for breakfast and lunch. Go there.
East Coast Diners typically have huge menus packed with comfort foods such as, roasted turkey, meatloaf, large salads and specials of the house. Also, some incredible desserts and homemade pies. Unfortunately Perry's isn't that. Recently Food Network Diners, Drive-ins & Dives had a show about EC Diners. Very popular in NJ.
I am not so sure you are going to find what you looking for down here in SD. When I get that kinda craving I usually head up to Irvine and hit the closest Daily Grill to me. Yes I know it is a small chain, and it may be at a higher price point than you are looking for, but they have a wide selections of the diner classics and I can always get my comfort food there. A hangtown fry just hits the spot for me.
I know you said east county but if you're ever in Encinitas check out the Encinitas Cafe on the 101. I'm from NY/NJ and would say it's not exactly what your looking for but pretty close. They have a great hot open faced turkey sandwhich, big salads, and good breakfast food. I've liked all the food I've had there and I've been there at least a dozen times.
I grew up in Philly and spent college + 9 years in North Jersey, and love (and miss) diners. I am always looking for a substitute here. To set the stage, my choices at diners back east are usually limited to: tuna melts, club sandwiches, and breakfast (preferably at 2 AM). Not that I don't branch out, but these are the dishes by which I judge.
First, tuna melts. I am convinced that there are no good tuna melts outside of New Jersey. A tuna melt is an open-faced tuna on rye with melted swiss. In most other places, it's a grilled tuna and cheese. If that were the case, why isn't it a "grilled tuna" sandwich on menus? (I had this discussion with the waitress at the Commonwealth Cafe last night - which was disappointing, btw.) A tuna melt is like a patty melt, just sub tuna salad for the burger. It's not that hard, people! (Sorry, I crave them and can't get them here). That said, DZ Akins may have a real tuna melt, but I go there for other reasons.
Second, a club sandwich. Now I must tell you, I am very particular about my turkey. The mark of a diner is that you will never get served turkey roll, or turkey deli meat. There should be a turkey in the back that is getting carved to order so that when you order a turkey sandwich, that's what you get. I have sent back many, many sandwiches for being served fake turkey when I've specifically asked if the turkey was real. The only places I have gotten real turkey are DZ Akins, Keith's in Mira Mesa and Mimi's Cafe (yes, you may take away my Chowhound membership now).
Lastly, breakfast, something that San Diego does very well. My favorite "diner breakfast" is Perry's in Old Town, hand's down. But it's not a Jersey diner breakfast. Something is off about it, but it is still a great meal. That said, I like to sneak past the waiting crowd, grab a seat at the counter and order a (great) cup of coffee, and a huge omelet (light on the cheese, please) with a side of salsa and a biscuit. Told you it wasn't a Jersey diner.
But for me, the closest experience to a North Jersey diner is DZ Akins in La Mesa. Yes, flame away, but it's got the right sized menu, huge portions, decent food, real turkey, waitresses with personality, a bakery (so it smells right when you walk in), good coffee, and a clientele that makes me feel like I just got off Turnpike exit 11. It's missing the "Greek diner" element, so there are lots of dishes that you will not find on the menu, but you can get some Jewish favorites that I miss, like smoked whitefish salad and a decent corned beef sandwich. If I am feeling especially nostalgic, I can pretend that I am at a (downscale) Ritz Diner (Livingston). They even have buckets of pickles on the table.
So no, you won't find an authentic diner experience here. But I imagine that at this very moment, someone is posting on the mid-atlantic or tri-state boards asking where they can find some decent carne asada and getting a similarly disappointing answer!