Food & Drink

Baltimore's Diner Daze

Our twelve favorites

Happy days are here again.

Well, actually, they’ve been here all along in the cozy booths of
Baltimore’s many diners. You don’t have to drive far before stumbling on
one of these chrome, neon-glowing monuments to days gone by. The menus
tend to nurture visitors with comfort food and homemade desserts, and
with servers who treat you like family, Hon. But what exactly is a
diner? There’s no exact definition, so we decided to look for places
that serve sumptuous breakfasts, pour unlimited cups of coffee, and dish
out a retro vibe. (Of course, nowadays, diners are just as likely to be
brand-new replicas of their namesakes and offer martinis and prime
steak dinners, too!) Here are our 12 favorites.

Bel-Loc Diner

1700 E. Joppa Rd., Parkville, 410-668-2525.

Why we come here: Breakfast is served all day long,
and the cheerful waitresses know the regulars by name. Even if they
don’t know you, they treat you like a special visitor. Tidbit:
Southern Living magazine picked Bel-Loc (named after the Beltway and
Loch Raven Boulevard) as one of its favorite diners in 2009, including a
recipe for rice pudding from owner Bill Doxanas. A peek at the menu:
That rice pudding, always a crowd pleaser, is still available—with
whipped cream, as one waitress recently suggested. Of course, there are
the usual eggs, pancakes, and sandwiches with heartier fare like grilled
steer liver with onions and gravy and two grilled pork chops. There are
also some Italian dishes and a kids’ menu. The surrounds:
This is no retro diner. It’s the real deal. Bel-Loc bills itself as “A
Baltimore Landmark since 1964.” The turquoise booths, some with
jukeboxes, may have been updated, but the décor is still a soothing
throwback. Don’t miss: The three-decker sandwiches. We are particularly fond of the turkey club with bacon, a pile of chips, and a slice of pickle. Who goes there:
Retirees, families, couples, and, during the week, office workers. You
may also see former Baltimore Colts players Bruce Laird and Marty Domres
there, too. Behind the scenes: Doxanas is a hands-on
owner of the business that was started by his dad. He is now the “cook,
chief bottle washer. It’s just me,” he says with a laugh. “We don’t try
to be fancy. We serve quality food at reasonable prices with good
service.” For many of the waitresses, it’s a family tradition to work
there, from grandmothers to mothers and now daughters, he says.

Boulevard Diner

1660 Merritt Blvd., Dundalk, 410-285-8660.

Why we come here: It’s open 24 hours on Friday and
Saturday, which is perfect for late-night weekend munchies. Tidbit: The
retro, family-owned diner, which opened in 2001, replaced The House of
Neptune, a popular Dundalk restaurant, and still serves some of its
dishes like the crab cakes, fried seafood, and Neptune sub with fried
shrimp. A peek at the menu: The eight-page booklet runs the gamut, from
the usual diner fare like hot open-faced roast-beef sandwiches and
french fries with gravy and cheese to numerous Mediterranean offerings
like Yia’s Yia’s (grandma’s) “famous” stuffed grape leaves. The
surrounds: Chrome rules. The exterior, with its silver and turquoise
hues, looks like it just stepped out of the last century. Inside, booths
with tableside jukeboxes and a long counter with stools continue the
theme. Don’t miss: The Boulevard Cuban—really, in Dundalk—is a worthy
version of the sandwich that originated in Cuba, with tender pork, ham,
Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo, and mustard on a flattened, grilled sub
roll. Who goes there: Besides local residents, including many retirees,
it’s a haven for elected officials like state Delegate John “Johnny O”
Olszewski Jr. and Peter Franchot, state comptroller. Behind the scenes:
The idea to put a diner on the prominent corner of Merritt Boulevard and
Holabird Avenue evolved after family friends from New York visited and
suggested that type of venue for the property, says general manager Marc
Tsakiris, who runs the family’s diner. “My grandfather asked me if I
wanted a diner,” he says. “And I was interested.”

Broadway Diner

6501 Eastern Ave., 410-631-5666.

Why we come here: All the desserts are made on the premises. Don’t
miss the cinnamony apple pie à la mode. It’s better than mom’s. (Sorry,
Mom.) Tidbit: If you missed Broadway Diner’s appearance on Food
Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, you can watch it on the diner’s
website, A peek at the menu: This is a page-turner
with overwhelming options for breakfast (The Lumberjack, three pancakes
with ham, bacon, sausage, and two eggs), lunch (half-pound Reuben
pastrami burger with fries), and dinner (roast turkey with apple
stuffing). Actually, there are lots of different cuisines,
including—natch—Greek. The surrounds: It glistens with chrome, Formica
tables, aqua-colored booths, and jukeboxes. There’s lots of
parking—great for a downtown restaurant. Don’t miss: The combination
Greek platter, a yummy plateful of pastitsio, moussaka, and spinach pie
with a small Greek salad. Who goes there: You see a variety of
customers, including soldiers in uniform and families with kids. After
Diners host Guy Fieri filmed the TV episode, he came back a couple of
weeks later on his own with family and friends, says owner George
Kavourakis. Behind the scenes: Kavourakis has a lot of history in the
business, having been involved in diners in upstate New York,
Connecticut, and Rockville. Eight years ago, the Eastern Avenue property
became available, and he had the diner built from scratch there. “I
figured it was good for a diner because of its location near the highway
95,” he says.

Double T Diner

eight locations, including 6300 Baltimore National Pk., Catonsville, 410-744-4151.

Why we come here: It’s an original, feeding hordes of visitors since
1959. The diner has expanded to seven other locations throughout the
state, but we still like to come to this one. Tidbit: The diner got its
name from the first names of the original owners Thomas Doxanas and his
partner Tony Parradas—hence, the Double T. A peek at the menu: The
breakfast items merit their own menu with a dizzying selection of eggs,
waffles, and sides like a T-bone steak for $13.50 and scrapple for
$2.40. The rest of the menu at this 24-hour diner includes an array of
reliable staples like grilled cheese, meatloaf, and Greek specialties.
The tempting desserts are homemade. The surrounds: The bustling
restaurant, heavy on Formica and shiny surfaces, is larger than it looks
from the outside with several dining rooms and a counter with TVs,
where customers like to linger. Don’t miss: The fresh spinach, mushroom,
and tomato omelet. Substitute a bowl of fresh fruit for the potatoes
with your meal, and you’ll have a few extra calories to splurge on the
“Bunnery” selection of Danish pastries, apple turnovers, and other sweet
breads. Who goes there: At this busy Route 40 landmark, there’s an
international clientele, including office workers, retirees, families,
and couples. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and other players often stop
by after games, says co-owner Tom Korologos. Flacco signs autographs,
“which is nice for us,” he says. Behind the scenes: All eight diners are
now run by brothers John, Tom, and Louie Korologos. When asked if there
were any more diners in the works, Tom Korologos promptly answered, “No
more.” He credits the diner’s success to serving breakfast 24 hours and
to having a varied menu with reasonable prices. “You can eat from $10
to $20,” he says.

G & A Restaurant

3802 Eastern Avenue, 410-276-9422.

Why we come here: G & A, in the heart of Highlandtown, serves
delicious, classic hot dogs at down-home prices. A peek at the menu:
Besides its signature $2 Coney Island hot dog (chili sauce, diced
onions, and yellow mustard), the diner is also known for its
cheeseburger sliders and gravy fries. The menu has typical diner
offerings like all-day breakfast, gyros, pasta dishes, fish and chips,
and milkshakes. A plus is that all of the omelets can be made into
breakfast wraps upon request. The surrounds: This narrow spot on Eastern
Avenue evokes the classic, ’50s diner feel with sea-foam green Formica
tables, counters lined with pie trays, and prints of James Dean and
Marilyn Monroe on the walls. A nice touch is the wall of UTZ chips that
greets customers at the door. Don’t miss: G & A’s signature smooth
and zesty chili sauce, which can be found on its hot dogs, burgers, and
omelets. Who goes there: Highlandtown locals and blue-collar families.
Behind the scenes: G & A was started as a hot-dog stand in 1927 by
Greek immigrant Gregory Diacumacos. Now, his great nephew Andy Farantos
runs the place and can be found demonstrating his signature move: lining
up a dozen hot dogs on his arm and dressing them with the works.


801 S. Broadway, 410-327-3273.

Why we come here: Diners don’t come more convenient than smack dab in
the middle of Fells Point, and when they’ve got quick, cheap, yummy
food—and beer—served with unpretentious charm, we’re in. Tidbit: The
late William Donald Schaefer, former city mayor and state governor, ate
breakfast at Jimmy’s almost every day for 20 years, ordering what came
to be known as the “Schaefer Special”: scrambled eggs, home fries, and
rye toast, with a cup of tea. A peek at the menu: Get your eggs Benedict
elsewhere. Jimmy’s menu is stacked with traditional variations on
omelets, pancakes, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and platters like liver
and onions and pork chops, all at ridiculously low prices. Where else in
Fells Point—or anywhere else—can you get a short stack of pancakes for
$3.89 or a bowl of chili for $3.35? The fanciest—and, often,
tastiest—items available are Greek favorites like the spinach pie and
the Greek burger, a wonderfully seasoned patty topped with a mound of
feta cheese on a garlic-toasted bun. The surrounds: The bare-bones
greasy spoon features a counter where diners get a view of the grill or
tightly packed Formica tables outfitted with paper placemats. The walls
are lightly dotted with ephemera, including a signed portrait of Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a picture of owner Jimmy Filipidis with
Bill Cosby outside the restaurant. Don’t miss: The chance to down a
16-ounce draft of Yeungling or Budweiser for $2.30 at 5 a.m. Who goes
there: Once upon a time, it was mostly blue-collar folks coming in
before, after, or on breaks from work, but Jimmy’s has become a local
institution, so the locals now share lunch-counter space with tourists
and families from the ’burbs. Behind the scenes: Jimmy Filipidis, an
immigrant from Greece, opened Jimmy’s in 1944 as a candy store. His son
Nick bought the place from his dad in 1981, even though Jimmy offered to
give it to him—“I never would’ve thought it was mine [that way],” Nick
has said—and now runs the place with his own son, Jimmy.

Lost in the 50’s Diner

5512 Harford Rd., 410-254-1639.

Why we come here: The low-key, family-run diner in the Hamilton
business district offers classic renditions of American breakfast and
lunch staples. Tidbit: Lost in the 50’s is the brainchild of
husband-and-wife team William Bosques and Sylvia “Angelica” Gracia.
Their two teenage daughters help out in the restaurant on weekends. A
peek at the menu: Only open for breakfast and lunch, the diner doesn’t
mess around with the tried and true: eggs, pancakes, hamburgers, hot
dogs, club sandwiches, and fries are all given traditional preparations.
There’s also a Lil’ Bopper menu with chicken tenders, PB&J, and
grilled cheese. The surrounds: This is classic Americana right down to
the Formica-topped, chrome-edged tables and red vinyl booths. There are
even individual—though, sadly, not working—jukeboxes in each booth.
Don’t miss: Framed black-and-white photographs of the neighborhood from
the 1950s add a personalized touch to the décor. Or, strike a pose with
the Elvis Presley cardboard cutout near the bathrooms. Who goes there:
Gracia says most patrons are older folks from the neighborhood who
actually remember the ’50s and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and oldies
played on the sound system. “They sit here, and there’s no rush,” she
says. “We’re not one of those places where we hurry people out.” Behind
the scenes: Though it seems like the diner has always been there, it’s
actually only three years old. It used to be a restaurant called The
Golden Key, which offered a similarly traditional American menu. The
grand opening was the day of Obama’s inauguration and the family stayed
up until 4 a.m. trying to get everything ready. If Gracia has her way,
more tweaks are forthcoming. She doesn’t like the fact that the
individual jukeboxes don’t work and says they may rewire each one or
connect them all to a central retro jukebox, like the one she found in
the basement of the building.


two locations, including 2047 York Rd., Timonium, 410-561-9236.

Why we come here: It’s open 24 hours; the menu is extensive; and the
service is speedy. There’s plenty of parking, too. Tidbit: The
waitresses, dressed in functional black and white, aren’t the
gum-chewing, tough types you see in the movies. They’re young,
attentive, and efficient. A peek at the menu: Breakfast is offered all
day long. You can behave yourself with cereal and fruit, but the giant
omelets, challah-bread French toast, stacks of pancakes, and Belgian
waffles merit your attention. The rest of the list goes on and on:
snacks like stuffed grape leaves and French fries, paninis, sandwich
melts, pastas, and big-helping entrees including a crab cake, calf’s
liver, filet of sole francaise, moussaka, and meatloaf. The surrounds:
Lots of chrome with salmon-colored accents, blue-and-ivory booths (some
of which have tableside jukeboxes), a dining counter, and a prominent
dessert case filled with luscious goodies. A seascape mural in the back
of the dining room adds extra cheer. Don’t miss: The breakfast specials
from 6-11 a.m. Monday-Friday, excluding holidays. We like the two eggs
(scrambled, fried, or poached), potatoes, toast, meat (bacon, ham,
sausage, or scrapple), juice, and coffee or tea for $8.39. Who goes
there: Suburbanites, with or without families. Regular customers include
Cal Ripken Jr., former Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, and
WBAL-TV’s Deborah Weiner. Behind the scenes: General manager Ted
Efstathiou and his partners brought their New York diner experience to
Timonium because “there were not many restaurants in the area serving
breakfast,” he said. They modeled their 11-year-old diner after diners
of the ’60s.

The New Wyman Park Restaurant

138 W. 25th St., 410-235-5100.

Why we come here: To wolf down one of the classic quarter-cut club
sandwiches and soak up the ambiance of a true neighborhood diner.
Tidbit: The secret to the turkey club is the turkey itself, which is
roasted in-house. A peek at the menu: Mostly the standard assortment of
diner fare, including eggs, pancakes (still endearingly called “hot
cakes”), sandwiches, subs, salads, and platters. There are about two
dozen “dinner platters”—which is somewhat odd, since the place closes at
3 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays (closed on
Sundays)—including old-school charmers like salmon cakes, baked ham, and
hot beef, each served with vegetables. (Fear not, green-veggie phobes:
mashed potatoes, French fries, baked beans, coleslaw, and applesauce are
options.) The surrounds: The warm, narrow space features wood panels
and generic artwork, all of which seem to date from a rash redecorating
frenzy in 1989. A posted sign alerts solo diners that they are required
to sit at the counter during prime lunch hours, leaving the 10 or so
booths open for larger parties. Don’t miss: Wyman Park excels at diner
favorites like the B.L.T., rice pudding, and crispy fries served with a
side of thick brown gravy. Who goes there: It’s largely the domain of a
diverse cast of locals and long-time regulars, along with the occasional
Hopkins student and, sometimes, John Waters. Behind the scenes: Owner
Spiro Conits bought the diner, which dates to the 1940s, in 1989 and
added “New” to the name. He hasn’t changed much else, but, among local
merchants, he has become a vocal supporter of the proposed shopping
center, to be anchored by Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, that developers want to
build across the street at the site of Anderson Automotive.

Papermoon Diner

227 W. 29th St., 410-889-4444.

Why we come here: For many, the Papermoon is a Baltimore institution
on par with Camden Yards or the Washington Monument. With its
Technicolor oddness and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink décor, it
represents Baltimore’s kooky streak. Also, the milkshakes are really,
really good. Tidbit: The almost supernaturally delicious milkshakes are
made with regular old Breyers ice cream. Go figure. A peek at the menu:
Open up the laminated menu, bound between covers of bizarre reference
books, and you’ll find pages of diner standards and comfort-food
favorites with ironic wit and foodie flair. Try, for instance, the Green
Eggs and Hen, an omelet with grilled chicken breast, spinach, and
melted cheddar cheese or the Hella Portobella sandwich featuring grilled
portobella mushroom, mozzarella, spinach, tomato, and vinaigrette on
toasted sunflower bread. There are also plentiful options for
vegetarians and vegans. The surrounds: Papermoon embraces the
more-is-more approach to decorating with every available surface—even
the blades of the ceiling fans—covered with toys, collectibles,
tchotkes, buttons, furniture, baskets, and retro artwork. Don’t Miss:
The epic PEZ dispenser collection in the entryway vestibule includes
hundreds of the plastic collectibles representing franchises from Looney
Tunes to Star Wars. Who goes there: Everyone, but especially Hopkins
students and twenty- and thirtysomethings from nearby Hampden,
Remington, and Charles Village. Behind the scenes: For most of
Papermoon’s 18-year history, it was a 24-7 operation. The recession put a
stop to that in 2009, but it’s still a gathering spot for night owls.
Hours are 7 a.m.-midnight. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m.-2 a.m.
Friday and Saturday.

Sip & Bite Restaurant

2200 Boston St., 410-675-7077.

Why we come here: The diner is open 24 hours every day except Tuesday
and is centrally located between two nightlife hotspots, Fells Point
and Canton. A peek at the menu: Breakfast is served all day, and we love
the diner’s rotating omelet of the day and crispy hash browns. But you
can’t count out Sip & Bite’s Greek influence with its hearty gyro
platters, Greek-style meatloaf, and flaky spanakopita. The crab cake,
six ounces of jumbo lump with a slight mayo zing, is another big draw.
The surrounds: Sip & Bite recently underwent major remodeling,
apparent in the pop-art-like graphics on the wall and rebuffed leather
booths. But the old stalwart’s charm can still be seen in the narrow
row-house feel, the counter seating, and refrigerated pie cases. Don’t
miss: The late-night scene. Sip & Bite is arguably the most
entertaining place to be in the city around 3 a.m. Not only can you get a
delicious (and necessary) French toast meal for $6, but the inebriated
people-watching can’t be beat. Who goes there: Young urbanites late at
night and blue-collar workers at the counter in the morning. Famous
customers have included George Clooney, Michael Phelps, and Mario.
Behind the scenes: Sip & Bite is run by third-generation owners Tony
and Sofia Vasiliades. The diner will appear on an episode of Food
Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives this spring, and it will soon
start shipping its popular crab cakes around the country.

Towson Diner

718 York Rd., Towson, 410-321-0407.

Why we come here: Any time, day or night, you can come and get
friendly service and reliably good food in enormous portions.Tidbit: We
especially like the old-school Art-Deco design and tableside jukeboxes,
which stock everything from Frankie Valli to Bob Marley. A peek at the
menu: At nine choice-packed pages, a peek will hardly do it justice. The
breakfast section alone—offered 24 hours, of course—could supply a year
of unique Sunday brunches, including the gigantic omelets, fluffy
pancakes, and scrapple variations. Beyond that, the Greek specialties,
including the gyro platter and Greek salad—complete with stuffed grape
leaves and anchovies—are not to be missed. The hot entrees, particularly
mainstays like baked meatloaf and the hot open-faced turkey sandwich,
are reliably delicious and filling. The surrounds: Classic chrome-filled
retro diner with jukebox-befitted booths and lots of additional tables,
a bar at the back, and a dessert display guaranteed to make you
re-think just how full you are. Don’t miss: Polly, the exceedingly
friendly overnight waitress, who has become a hit with Towson University
students looking for laughs along with their late-night snacks. Who
goes there: For lunch, local businesspeople; for dinner and weekend
brunch, families with or without kids and hungover students; all night
long: students. Behind the scenes: Originally built in 1954, the
Kourtsounis family bought the diner in 1993, gave it a serious
renovation, and expanded the menu. Some locals initially grumbled about
an increase in prices, but pretty much everyone agrees the diner is an
institution these days.