best diners

Best Diners in the Desert

Belly up to the counter at these establishments that offer creative takes on fountain shoppe classics.

Tiffany Carter Restaurants

best diners
King's Highway at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs: a hip, desert diner off Highway 111 where steaming cups of coffee and chef-style avocado toast are the morning pick-me-ups.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY TIFFANY CARTER

Diners are the quintessential Americana eatery, made popular in the 1950s as roadside retreats offering soda pop, classic cheeseburgers and hot dogs, and of course, milkshakes and floats.

Now, diners have been revamped and menus revitalized. While many of the best spots in the desert offer a classic experience straight out of Happy Days, some have been reincarnated as hip hot spots attracting a new generation of foodies

King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel

At its core, this is a classic roadside diner — but we’re talking about the Ace, which does things a little “cooler.” The spacious Palm Springs diner is a hipster haven offering such trendy menu items as avocado toast, cauliflower burgers, and mushroom “chorizo” tacos.

kingshighwaypalmsprings

However, they know how to do the classics right, too: The buttermilk pancakes drizzled in Vermont Grade A maple syrup are so good, you’ll be dreaming about them through dinnertime, but by then you can order the signature Desert Highway burger, with two patties and American cheese. The counter is small, but there are plenty of people bustling about to give you first-rate service. You’ll never have less than half a cup of coffee.

What to order: Breakfast — specifically, avocado toast. (Hello? You’re in California!) Add a fried egg on top for a filling meal packed with protein.

kingshighwaydiner.com

Lost on 111 Grill and Art Lounge

This kitschy diner is like Gilligan’s Island meets Lost, with tiki-inspired decor and enough eye-catching wall art to fill up your Instagram feed with hashtag-worthy photos. While the menu is quite diverse, the focus is on island-inspired comfort food, such as Spam and eggs and the Luau Platter. This place is hidden in a La Quinta strip mall, so keep your eyes peeled and your Google Maps close so you don’t get “lost.”

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This kitschy diner serves up American comfort food inspired by the islands. Don’t forget to order the $4 LostMosa – which puts all other mimosas to shame.

What to order: The perfect pairing: the Huli Huli Burger and a LostMosa. A juicy Angus burger with a grilled pineapple slice, provolone cheese, and huli huli sauce (pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, sherry vinegar, and a dash of brown sugar and ginger) comes with fried potatoes topped with garlic and Parmesan. The LostMosa is a take on the classic mimosa made with pineapple-orange-guava juice. And it’s just $4 for a glass!

loston111.com

Don & Sweet
Sue’s Cafe

If you’re missing your mama’s cooking, head to Don & Sweet Sue’s Cafe in Cathedral City, where you’ll be greeted by a waitress calling you “sweetie” and the aroma of biscuits, gravy, and sizzling meatloaf. The counter is a large half-circle where you feel like you’re back in high school, pulling your desks together for a roundtable discussion on global economics — except this discussion includes mile-high sandwiches, chicken and dumplings, and macaroni and cheese.

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You’ll fall in love with this circular diner and with the mile long menu that has everything your grandma used to cook. The corned beef reuben sandwich is a mouth waterer.

I dare you to figure out what to order in less than a minute: The menu is like a food bible, with everything your mother ever cooked, including sautéed calves liver and lima beans and ham.

What to order: The grilled Reuben with corned beef. Aaah! Heaven between two slices of rye. The Swiss cheese is drooling out the sides, and the blend of sauerkraut and thousand-island dressing with smoky corned beef is perfect to satisfy your diner-food cravings.

donandsweetsues.com

JT’s Diner

JT’s has an extra-long counter, humorous retro diner signs, classic food, and music from the ’50s and ’60s. But you’ll be focused on the present via a big-screen television playing sports and hearty helpings of dishes like croissant French toast, BBQ ribs, and the turkey jalapeño sausage scrambler.

I love the humorous retro diner signs that hang in the kitchen -— it keeps you entertained as you wait for your food at the counter.

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A perfect blend of retro and present day vibes, you can order one of their creative recreations like Croissant French Toast or opt for the classics like me and order the Tuna Melt. 

What to order: The classic grilled tuna melt. It’s a basic done right, with creamy albacore tuna between toasty bread, sealed tight with your choice of oozing cheese.

jtsdinerpalmdesert.com

Keedy’s Fountain & Grill

You’ll feel like Marty McFly from Back to the Future when you sit down to the counter at Keedy’s, which has been around since 1957 and is truly a Palm Desert landmark. The minute you walk in, you’ll feel a wave of nostalgia at the sight of Formica tables, the original spearmint-green counter stools, and all the milkshakes, malts, and flavored sodas you could dream of.

keedysfountainpalmdesert

Step back in time at Keedy’s, a landmark from the 1950s where they still serve fountain drinks, real malts and milkshakes and, of course, creamy root beer floats.

This authentic experience is open only until 2 p.m., so get your fix early with such classic dishes as chicken fried steak and eggs, a hot meatloaf sandwich, or chili cheese fries.

What to order: A root-beer float. Super-creamy vanilla ice cream drowning in flavorful root beer is the perfect drink to sip or scoop with a spoon. An extra glass of root beer comes on the side to keep the float going until the last sip.

keedysfountaingrill.com