The diner is one of those quintessential American restaurant genres. Whether it’s a tiny old railcar-style place or a sprawling institution alongside a New Jersey highway, these bits of Americana can be depended upon for a no-frills meal come rain or come shine. The fact that some are open 24 hours a day only adds to their appeal. These are the best 24-hour diners in America.
Diners can trace their history to the 1870s, when lunch wagons found their way to major American cities to serve quick takeout meals to hungry workers. These eventually evolved into prefabricated buildings that could be easily and inexpensively constructed, and were a less expensive way for aspiring restaurateurs to get into the restaurant business — spiritual ancestors to today's food trucks in that sense. The number of diners across America boomed in the years following World War II, expanding into traditional restaurants in a full range of architectural styles with ever-growing menus. Today, diners remain commonplace in the Northeast, but you can still find ones across America if you know where to look.
Diners were once America’s most widespread 24-hour establishments, a fact that automatically made them an essential part of urban culture, along with nightclubs and bars. They were the places where folks could congregate at 3 a.m. after the bar closed, and where night shift workers could grab “lunch” at midnight. Diners are still a part of the fabric of the American culinary landscape, but sadly more and more classic diners are closing yearly, especially in cities like New York, where the vast majority of them have been shuttered, often to be replaced by glassy high-rises.
In order to assemble our ranking of the best 24-hour diners in America, we started by first combing through existing rankings both online and in print, as well as through user-submitted reviews. We then ranked them according to history, level of local renown, menu variety, and food quality. The best rose to the top.
In this era of celebrity chefs and dishes with ingredients like lamb belly, fennel pollen, and sorrel sprouts, it’s not just comforting to have inexpensive restaurants that serve familiar dishes like meatloaf, Spanish omelettes, tuna melts, and Greek salads — it’s essential. It’s also essential to have restaurants where at all hours of the night anybody can stop in and have a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. These aren’t just the 10 best 24-hour diners in America, they’re among our most valuable restaurants, period.