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The Downtown Diner unearths Uncle John's Ham 'n' Eggs

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Now a “career woman", Leilani Wertens searches for the perfect meal during her lunch hour in an oft neglected part of Los Angeles—the newly revitalized downtown district. Read about her weekly culinary adventures on LAist.

by Leilani Wertens

After schlepping up and down a two-block stretch of 5th street looking for a restaurant that apparently no longer exists, I stumbled upon Uncle John’s Ham ‘n’ Eggs tucked into a row of crumbling brick hotels. The moniker reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham so I figured it couldn’t be all bad. A peek through the glass window revealed a long, narrow dining room outfitted with an old-fashioned lunch counter and a row of stools. If the restaurant’s sign and décor were any indication, I had stumbled into a little slice of LA’s past.

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Scanty information exists about the restaurant before the late 1970s, but the current owners bought the business in 1979 and introduced a dual menu of Chinese food and American diner-style cuisine. Such establishments run rampant in LA—usually offering hamburgers and tacos (though my favorite sighting was a café with doughnuts and Chinese food)—but I tend to steer clear of such eateries. While I might have found the concept odd, the businessmen and women crammed on to stools or impatiently standing in line for takeout seemed to take the eclectic menu at Uncle John’s for granted.

Balancing my handbag precariously on my knees, I took a seat between a mustached man shoveling large forkfuls of chasu (bbq pork) fried rice and a couple sharing grilled pork chops bigger than my hand. After deciding against the Chinese food that mainly consisted of variations upon “chop suey,” chow mein, and fried rice, I played it safe and ordered a patty melt and fries with a Coke to wash down the grease.

There isn’t a separate kitchen, so lunch goers can watch their food being prepared. The staff is small so when Uncle John’s gets busy don’t be surprised if the waitress/host aids the cooks in assembling your meal. Turnaround time on most dishes is amazingly quick; my meal was plopped in front of me five minutes after ordering. Unfortunately the crinkle cut French fries bore a striking resemblance to those found in an Ore Ida frozen bag. The burger was rather flat—it looked like a prefabricated frozen patty with gooey cheese on both sides. The onions were sliced too thickly and not cooked long enough; they weren’t golden or glazed. The bread, however, was just right—not greasy, toasted, yet chewy.

Be warned that Uncle John’s only accepts cash. I of course neglected to see the sign posted above the cash register so ended up barely having enough to cover the check and scraped together some pocket change for tip. While the trip wasn’t all that unpleasant it made me wonder what keeps all these people coming… is it the Chinese food? Someone please try their Daily Special and let me know.

Uncle John’s Ham ‘n’ Eggs, 433 W 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014, (213) 623-3555

Things to do Nearby: Golden Gopher Bar (at night), Bishop Coffee, FIDM

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