‘What Is A Diner?’ Here Are Six Delicious LA Breakfast Joints To Ponder That Question
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Whittier and I’m waiting for my friend, colleague and LAist food editor Gab Chabrán. He’s five minutes late and I hate that (which you know if you’ve listened to Season 2 of the WILD podcast). Usually.
But I don’t mind waiting for someone while sampling three different types of avocado toast at my new favorite breakfast joint, Madres Brunch. They have one that’s salmon and guacamole on an in-house-made brioche toast. They also have a version with bacon, a fried egg, and another that’s just guacamole and toast.
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The menu is amazing but the toast sampler was an easy and quick choice for me, since I was too hangry to think clearly when I first sat down. Madres also has some incredible chilaquiles (pro-tip: ask for some grilled chicken on your order), along with birria eggs benedict, and giant things like loaded waffles, pancakes and French toast. They also have some incredible omelets and lattes. I mean, the coffee is great here too.
But as I’m looking around, I start to get a feeling I really only get in diners. What I mean by that is a hangout vibe. People are here for the food but they also seem to be here for a conversation. Madres has only brunch items on its innovative menu. So by the time my buddy Gab arrives, I have to ask, “Is this a diner? Like what makes a diner a diner?”
Gab is an award-winning food and culture writer who knows so much about Los Angeles and its food ways that half the time I’m suspicious he is an AI chatbot with the personality of a dad who majored in Chicano Studies. So I’m surprised when he says, “A diner is a restaurant.” He then goes on to elaborate in some detail, but the truth is I was too busy eating avocado toast to write any of it down. But the gist of it is, this is a diner if you think it’s a diner, but also they only sell breakfast and brunch so probably not a classic diner.
Season Two of LAist Studios' WILD podcast is out now. We recommend you listen to Episode 3 as an accompaniment to this piece. The second season is a nine-part serialized fiction rom-com for your ears. It centers a couple from Southeast L.A., who embark on a road trip adventure across America. Will their relationship survive the trip? Find out on WILD Season 2: I Think I'm Falling In Love, co-hosted by Erick Galindo and Megan Tan, and starring Melinna Bobadilla, Gabrielle Ruiz, and Atsuko Okatsuka.
If you’ve listened carefully to the recent episode of the WILD podcast, you may hear my co-host Megan Tan and I eating at a local diner (bonus points if you can guess which one on this list is featured on the show). Because that’s how we often wind up having deep conversations with one another. Just a long-ass chat that can sometimes start in the morning and veer into the early lunch rush or sometimes an evening conversation that goes well past dinner. It’s great. There’s few things I love more than a good talk with good people over food and maybe some coffee or a hot chocolate. But, it’s rare that I ever order anything but breakfast.
So sure, maybe Madres isn’t a diner because all they sell is breakfast-type things, but also it’s my new favorite diner because I only care that it’s a place where I can ponder questions like “What is a diner?” with one of my favorite people, while eating a delicious breakfast type thing.
In honor of that conversation and all the conversations like that, here are some of my favorite places to have breakfast and a chat in Los Angeles.
I’ve already said a lot about this place (see above) but I’ll add that the staff is wonderful and their mazapan latte is beautiful and tasty.
7040 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, CA 90602
15722 Lakewood Blvd., Bellflower, CA 90706 (Coming May 2023)
Jack's Whittier Restaurant
I don’t think there’s any denying that Jack’s is a diner. And it’s one that’s been running since 1933 with some of the crispiest fried chicken I’ve ever had outside of the Southern United States. I always order the fried chicken with two over easy eggs and some hash browns. Their “old fashioned buttermilk hotcakes” are fluffy and not overly sweet and taste like the ones my mom makes. But my favorite thing is Jack’s rich and decadent hot chocolate.
13221 Whittier Blvd., Whittier, CA 90602
Avila's El Ranchito
There are multiple locations of Avila’s, but the HP one is definitely my favorite. It’s also the original. Avila’s was established in 1966 in one of LA’s best food communities, Southeast Los Angeles. This is from Avila’s website: “This is where all those treasured memories began with a $2,000 investment and Mamá Avila’s delicious family recipes from Guanajuato, Mexico. The entire family pitched in…even Grandpa Poldo washed dishes. No one imagined a legend was being created!” The legend, in my opinion, besides Mamá Avila herself, is the huevos rancheros dish that’s two over easy eggs served with salsa and melted cheese.
6703 Santa Fe Ave, Huntington Park, CA 90255
& Multiple Locations
Boys Burger No 10
Yeah. I put a burger joint on here! It’s my list! And trust me, Boy’s is a diner. And their burgers are incredible but so is their sausage breakfast burrito and their steak and eggs breakfast. I mean, a lot of their stuff is great. So if you’re not a breakfast-obsessed fool like me, go off on their eclectic menu.
9090 Imperial Hwy., Downey, CA 90242
Pann’s is the type of spot where you can go have incredible biscuits, fried chicken and waffles, after you go to the airport to make some grand gesture for love like kissing a person who you’ve realized you’re in love with after they went away for a month. And you can sit there after eating your delicious food and feel like you’re in a coming-of-age movie from the early aughts where there’s this fledgling couple eating and talking and trying not to think about that first kiss until one of them reaches across the table and takes your fried chicken bones to pick the meat off of them with her teeth in way where they just makes you want to rush to the airport and kiss them all over again. I know that’s very specific, but that’s Pann’s for you. A place that much like Los Angeles itself is full of some of the best food and greater possibilities.
6710 La Tijera Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Nick’s has great ham and eggs. If you’ve been to Nick’s you already know. There’s a pig on their sign. But I also think their waffles are quite good. And the best part about Nick’s is that it’s the kind of place where if you go often enough, they’ll remember your name and your favorite things to order. And you can sit outside on this odd corner of Chinatown on Spring Street where you can hear the Gold Line battle the traffic in a mellifluous war of transit sounds and peak at the edges of Los Angeles State Historic Park as you wonder like I often do about the big questions like: “Is this tiny place with a pig on the sign — that calls itself a cafe — a diner?”
1300 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Honorable mentions: Swingers, The Original Pantry, Roscoe’s, and Tams. All of these establishments have been rightfully written and reported about very extensively (the latter by me a lot) to the point where I don’t feel the need to say anything new about them.
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