Diners are a time portal.
Many restaurants strive to be modern or pivot hard to feel retro, but diners are effortlessly the real deal. Several of Atlanta’s oldest restaurants are diners and they’re defined by the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or even it it is broken, why bother fixing it? This laissez faire approach has a charm that not many other types of restaurants can pull off.
Much of the appeal of a diner stems from its versatility. It can be both the drunken late night snack and the hungover meal. It can be the spot for a road trip stop or a post-church family gathering.
And those menus! Where else can you get a patty melt, veggie omelette, eggplant parmigiana hero, shrimp cocktail, shawarma pita wrap, and pancakes all on the same menu in the same amount of time? Supply chain logistics, culinary expertise, and preparation methods are irrelevant in diners. All that matters is you’re going to get what you want when you want it and boy is it going to hit the spot.
Here are Atlanta’s finest diners.
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A relative newcomer to the diner scene (opened in 2008), the Sandy Springs Diner is a welcome and reliable member of the neighborhood. They hit on all the idiosyncratic categories you expect on a diner menu: “Griddle Specialities”, “Greek Wraps & Platters”, “Entrees & Roasts”, and of course “Dessert”. Whether you’re craving a chicken salad melt or a root beer float, the Sandy Springs Diner always lives up to its tagline: “it’s diner time!”
The Landmark Diner is indeed an Atlanta landmark. The original Buckhead restaurant opened in 1994 (right next to The Punchline comedy club) and in 2003, they opened their second one downtown by the Georgia State campus. Both locations are open 24 hours, and they seem to particularly thrive after-hours, inspiring their descriptor “Where Stars Meet at Night”. With their substantial sandwiches and even bigger slices of cake, the Landmark Diner should be on the starting roster of your late night destinations.
The Majestic Diner has been serving up “food that pleases” since 1929. The food was hardly the main appeal…it was really the diner’s late night spectacle that kept it in the hearts of Atlantans everywhere. It has unfortunately been forced to modify its hours, now operating from 7:30 AM to 2:30 PM, practically the inverse of the most popular times to spend in a diner. Even though the after-hours shenanigans that used to be commonplace are a thing of the past, the Majestic Diner is still an Atlanta icon and we will continue to treat it as such.
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The newest comer on the list, having opened in fall 2022, Roshambo is the latest concept fromm the Unsukay group (Local Three, Muss & Turner’s, MTH Pizza) and dubs itself a “diner’s diner”. They break out of the typical diner mold with some innovative takes on some of your favorites as well as some total curveballs. While they’ve got the classics like Pigs in a Blanket and a Fried Bologna Sandwich, they also have Crispy Fish Tacos and Cacio e Pepe. Everything on the menu is fantastic and will leave you in a comfortable state of bliss, as all diners should.
For 24 hours a day, folks in Marietta knows exactly where to turn for food that hits the spot every time. The Marietta Diner has a short novel for a menu, offering an endless and eclectic collection of dishes like a Fried Mac and Cheese Burger, Baklava Cheesecake, and the vaguely but aptly named Out of this World (Romanian tenderloin accompanied by shrimp scampi over rice…obviously). The Marietta Diner is packed no matter the time of day, and it’s in the rare company of restaurants that have been featured on both of television’s most acclaimed programs: Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Atlanta Eats.
The Silver Skillet is one of those diners you walk into and immediately know that little to nothing has changed since it first opened in 1956. This old-school aesthetic is partially why it’s been featured in countless period piece movies and TV shows like Anchorman 2 and Remember the Titans, and its food is why it’s been featured in one of our most cherished cultural documents, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Some of the heaviest hitters on the menu, which perfectly represent the southern twang of this place are the Lemon Box Ice Pie and the Country Fried Steak covered in a hearty country gravy.
This Greek-owned diner, the self-proclaimed “university of good food”, was founded in 1948 and has been in the same Buckhead location for over half a century. If you want a direct connection with thousands of happy customers from the past half fifty years, order the White House breakfast: two eggs, any way; bacon, sausage, or ham; and either pancakes or French toast. On a recent visit, I got the perfect encapsulation of this culinary fusion of Greek and American Southern: the gyro omelet with a biscuit on the side. The chopped up gyro meat is packed with flavor and is perfectly accompanied by tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers, feta, and side of tzatziki to spread, dunk, or put a straw in and slurp up (I don’t condone this option but I also don’t condemn it). You can get a wide swath of other options such as a BLT, biscuits and gravy, or a moussaka lunch special.
No matter which of Thumbs Up Diner’s seven locations (including Roswell, West Midtown, and Fayetteville) you’re dining at, there are a few things you can count on to blow you away. They smoke their own meats in-house, freshly squeeze their orange and grapefruit juices, make best-in-show multigrain biscuits, and serve up some mean and hearty skillets. By the time you’re done with your meal, you’ll (sorry in advance for the pun, but you know it’s coming) give it two thumbs up (we warned you).
Honorable Mention: Waffle House
“Waffle House isn’t a diner!” Are you sure about that? Let’s see…late night hours? Check. Breakfast and lunch both available all day? Check. Nothing that’s particularly spectacular but it’s okay because that’s not why you’re there in the first place? Check check check. Look, sometimes a person just needs an All Star no matter the time of day or their state of inebriation. And isn’t that what diners are all about?