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Food

The Best Diners in Los Angeles

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There are times when it's actually really hard to hate car culture, like when we pull up to one of Southern California's Googie diners. There are those blinking neon signs that lured motorists out of their cars, the space-age geometry that reminded midcentury Angelenos that the future was on its way. These aren't the prefabricated diners of the "Nighthawks" era—they're a reminder of the moment in history when the West Coast really came into its own. Sure, now the style feels more retro than futuristic (or at worst, kind of like a Denny's), but we haven't abandoned it altogether: many of the diners designed by Armet & Davis are still standing and still serving, and there's a newer crop of (proto-hipster) diners that pay homage to them. We've picked some of our favorite diners for a slice of Americana (or, you know, pie), bottomless cups of coffee on doilies, vinyl booths, long counters and a place to get cheap, greasy food to fuel after-hours screenwriting or sop up booze after a night out.

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A cuppa joe at Pann's (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
PANN'S: The first thing you might notice about Pann's is its classic movie-star looks. Pann's has served as a film location, but not for the one you're thinking of. It's a dead-ringer for the coffee shop in "Pulp Fiction," and some of the memorabilia from the movie is here. The diner, like many great American diners, was started by Greek immigrants after World War II, but the menu and the hospitality feels Southern. You can get po' boys, catfish or andouille sausage, but we like the chicken and waffles and biscuits.

Pann's is located at 6710 LaTijera Blvd. Los Angeles; (323)776-3770

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NICKEL DINER: This place is definitely emblematic of the new downtown: like Cole's and all those lofts in the Old Bank District, it's been lovingly restored to its pre-war origins. But let's talk about the delicious food: we like the pulled pork hash with poached eggs and also the catfish with corn cakes and pecan sauce. The dessert platter is the main draw and includes the (rightfully) famous maple bacon donut and home-made versions of junk-food classics, like Pop Tarts and Ding Dongs.

Nickel Diner is located on 524 S. Main St. in Los Angeles; (213) 623-8301

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THE ORIGINAL PANTRY CAFE: We wish we knew how to quit The Pantry. It may not be the best food in downtown, but we always end up returning again and again through its lockless doors. Maybe it's because it has such a grounding presence in one of the most rapidly changing areas of the city. Or maybe it's that pyramid of grilled sourdough bread slathered in butter that comes with every meal. The 89-year-old diner was bought up by former mayor Richard Riordan in 1981, who fell in love with its ruthlessly efficient service. We like the fact that you never know who you'll bump into particularly during the wee hours. (We're not referring to celebrities so much as the eclectic clientele, which includes people in costumes for whatever is going on down the street at the Los Angeles Convention Center.)

The Original Pantry Cafe is located on 877 South Figueroa St. in downtown Los Angeles; (213) 972-9279

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The Original Pantry serves breakfast 24 hours a day (Photo by cultureshlock via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
BRITE SPOT: It's been a neighborhood hangout for almost a century, and now it's a mainstay for the late-night crowd spilling out from The Echo on any given night of the week. We've always loved the interior. As Dana Hollister put it: "The wood paneling…it looks like Milwaukee in 1972, and there’s something really fucking amazing about it!" But the food wasn't really quite there. That changed this summer when Hollister took over and overhauled the menu. We're fans of the chocolate caramel banana cream pie and A Burger For Breakfast, which is inspired by the McDonald's McGriddle.

Brite Spot Family Restaurant is located at 1918 W Sunset Blvd; ‪(213) 484-9800

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Breakfast Turkey Burger (Lindsay William-Ross/LAist)
RAE'S RESTAURANT: This is an old-school diner with old-school prices. It's your typical greasy-spoon, but we're especially big fans of the biscuits and gravy. You might recognize it from one of its many appearances in the movies. But be warned: it's a tiny space (and so is the parking lot), so the line can get long on the weekends.

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Rae's Restaurant is located on 2901 Pico Blvd in Santa Monica; (310) 828-7937

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This is Los Angeles' version of "Nighthawks" channeled through Rae’s Restaurant (Photo by neonspecs via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
SWINGERS: This motel coffee shop turned Warholian diner is the perfect place to go after a late night out, and for what it's worth many famous or almost-famous people seem to agree. We always seem to end up at the Beverly Boulevard location after catching a screening at Arclight, New Beverly or Cinefamily. The blue corn nachos, the peanut butter and banana shake and the jukebox selection always hit the spot.

Swingers Diner is located at 8020 Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles; (323) 653-5858 OR 802 Broadway in Santa Monica; (310) 393-9793

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Swinger’s (Photo by Chris Yarzab via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
101 COFFEE SHOP: This is one of the new crop of diners that popped up over a decade ago (like Swingers and Fred 62). It lovingly recreates that 1960's diner feeling with its menu and decor, but during the evening it feels a little bit lounge-y. The lights get turned down low, which gives even the regular folks that you've-seen-them-from-something vibe. If you don't make your living in front of the camera, try the brownie waffle sundae.

101 Coffee Shop is located on 6145 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood; (323) 467-1175

BOB'S BIG BOY: We absolutely have to include Bob's Big Boy, not so much because of their culinary greatness although they do claim to have invented the double-decker, so there's that. The fact that many of the locations in Los Angeles and its suburbs were designed by Armet & Davis endears us to the chain. But the principal reason that we want to include Bob's on here is that, like many diners in Los Angeles, it served as a kind of filmmaking muse. David Lynch has said that for seven years, he used to go to the Bob's Big Boy in Burbank and have a milkshake at 2:30 pm everyday. This would put him into a sort of meditative state, and he'd jot down ideas on napkins as they came to him. He claims a customer at the diner was the inspiration for Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet." (Lynch quit his milkshake habit when he read the ingredients list.)

The Bob's Big Boy chain is making a comeback in California. You can find the oldest surviving location and Lynch's old haunt at 4211 W. Riverside Drive in Burbank; (818) 843-9334