15 Best Diners in New England
New England is where the American diner began, and today, many cozy spots are still serving up great comfort food at affordable prices. Food and travel writer Mike Urban names the 15 Best Diners in New England.
New England is the birthplace of the American diner. It’s also where diners and diner cuisine have developed most fully over the years. From the lunch wagons of 1870s Providence, Rhode Island, to the gleaming steel-and-glass palaces of today, New England diners have long served as community gathering places, offering comfort food at affordable prices in a warm, homelike atmosphere. Food and travel writer Mike Urban, author of The New England Diner Cookbook (Countryman Press, 2014) has visited dozens of these iconic eateries throughout the six-state region. Here are his picks for the top fifteen New England diners.
After rising from the ashes of a devastating fire in 2006, this diner has galvanized its reputation as the best in New England. Owner Brian O’Rourke’s Irish heritage shines through in such menu items as the Dubliner Omelet, corned beef hash, and Irish Soda Bread. (The diner does all its own baking.) Another not-to-miss dish is the Steamed Cheeseburger, a central Connecticut specialty. Brian is constantly innovating in his kitchen, and every day features some hitherto unheard of (and unforgettable) dish springing from his creative mind and showcasing the freshest of carefully selected local ingredients. Middletown, CT. 860-346-6101; orourkesmiddletown.com
This place epitomizes the way a good diner (or any restaurant, for that matter) should be run. Housed in a compact, stainless steel, 1950s Fodero diner car, the Agawam efficiently serves up a very basic and very excellent menu of diner classics, such as meat loaf, pot roast, upside-down chicken pie, omelets, pancakes–and its most famous item: pies. Co-owner Bubba Galanis bakes more than forty of them each day, and many end up in the display cases on either side of the kitchen door. Come here for the soul-satisfying comfort food, but be sure to stay for the pie! Rowley, MA. 978-948-7780
Perched on metal stilts on a hillside some twenty feet above a parking lot, the A1’s precarious position in the world belies its reputation as the most gourmet diner in New England. Co-owner Michael Giberson is constantly innovating in the kitchen of his 1940s Worcester diner car, coming up with such dishes as Syrian Cod Cakes in a Spiced Tomato Sauce; Lamb with Eggplant Curry; and Spinach with Dates, Red Onions, and Sumac-smoked Pita. You may also enjoy regular diner food, such as a plate of beans and franks or the A1’s famous fresh-ground beef burger with hand-cut french fries. Gardiner, ME. 207-582-4804
Back in the late 1970s, the Modern was the first diner to make it onto the National Register of Historic Places. This 1940s Sterling Streamliner diner, owned by chef Nick Demou, is best known these days for its amazing weekend brunches. With such dishes as Linguica Hash Benedict; Lobster Cheese Grits; and a Sun-Dried Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Feta Cheese Omelet, the Modern attracts devotees from Providence to Boston and all points between. The straight-up diner food is also excellent, especially the home-cooked meat loaf and the liver and onions. Pawtucket, RI. 401-726-8390
The Maine Diner
More than 6 million customers have enjoyed the fine cooking at this famous southern Maine eatery since it first opened its doors the early 1980s. Brothers Myles and Dick Henry started with their grandmother’s recipes for dishes such as Lobster Pie, Red Flannel Hash, and New England Boiled Dinner, and they expanded the menu from there. Myles’s Seafood Chowder is nationally renowned, and the fried clams, cod cakes, and baked stuffed haddock further elevate the diner’s reputation for great, fresh seafood. Out back is a three-acre garden that provides the Maine with plenty of fresh produce throughout much of the year. Wells, ME. 207-646-4441; mainediner.com
Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner
“Vegetarian” is the watchword at this southern Vermont eatery, which has been serving numerous meat-free dishes since the late 1970s, well ahead of the mainstream vegetarian movement. Sonny and Marylou Monroe have been owners of this Silk City diner since 1974, pioneering such dishes as Sonny’s Scrambled Tofu, Veggie Enchiladas, and Raspberry Crunch French Toast. Each day, there are more specials than items on the menu—indicative of a busy and innovative kitchen. Bennington, VT. 802-442-5140