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Some Great Diners & Drive-Ins!

By travelanswerman | May 3, 2011

Part of the joy of traveling the world is exposing yourself (and your palate) to new flavors and traditions in the local cuisine. It’s also a great way to meet and touch the local people and discover something about the culture. Use this list to find the cheapest ways to keep your tummy full, your tastebuds happy, and your wallet and stomach full. And while you’re getting pleasantly plump, you might just learn something new.

We always look forward to your favorite suggestions! People want quality grub with a cheap price! Tell us where they are and let us know why they are special to you!

Hot Doug’s: www.hotdougs.com  The deal here is encased meats, as in hot dogs and more hot dogs, bratwurst and more sausages. You’ll find everything from Polish to Italian sausage. Weekly specials are really where it’s at, though. It is located in Chicago.

Billy Goat Tavern & Grill: www.billygoattavern.com  This is one of Chicago’s most famous and colorful burger bars. It’s a funky, no-frills kind of place and a living museum of Chicago journalism. Blowups of columns and bylines of famous writers from days past fill the place. The food is quick, cheap and burger centered (they make a good one, and it’s topped with tasty pickles you’ll want to pile on high). But don’t expect a lot in the way of service.

Shake Shack: Arguably the best burgers in New York City along with juicy hot dogs. Concretes, dense frozen custard blended at high speed with various mix-ins, make for a memorable sweet treat (a favorite is the Concrete Jungle—peanut butter, banana and hot fudge). Beer and wine is also available for quaffing at the tables surrounding the kiosk.

American City Diner of Washington:  www.americancitydiner.com  Want a soda? Need a hot dog? Crave liver and onions with mashed potatoes? Then this homey, folksy eatery will fill the bill, especially as it’s open 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday. It is located in Washington, D.C.

Bread Line: www.breadlinecafe.com  Don’t come expecting to have a relaxing lunch, though, for this bare-bones shop near the White House is usually crowded and a bit chaotic, even after the main lunch hour. You’ll find scones and muffins for breakfast; soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch. It is located in Washington, D.C.

Mike’s City Diner: www.mikescitydiner.com  Mike’s is the sort of nostalgic American diner politicians choose for photo ops: Indeed, President Clinton once ate ham and eggs with grits at one of its classic checker-clothed tables, among neighborhood folks, cabbies, cops and workers from the nearby hospitals. Mike himself is no longer here, but his practice of roasting turkeys, slicing fresh-cooked ham off the bone, and never skimping on the mashed potatoes—or the coffee—continues. Bring your cash (credit cards aren’t accepted), your appetite (the huge breakfasts are served all day) or your fiercest hangover. It’s centrally located in Boston.

Pink’s Famous Chili Dog: www.pinkshollywood.com  Pink’s has been slinging ripe, bursting-with-flavor beef hot dogs into fresh buns for the hundreds of hungry folks who stroll up to its takeout windows longer than almost anyone can remember (about 60 years). It is located in Los Angeles.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Que: www.foxbrosbbq.com  Innovative nibbles include fried squares of mac ‘n’ cheese rolled in crumbs and deep-fried, so the cheese is creamy and the outside is crunchy. Baby-back ribs have the proper slightly pink color at the bone—the so-called “smoke ring”—that proves they were cooked over wood. The meat is tender but just slightly resistant to the bite, as it should be. Smoked chicken comes with rarely seen white barbeque sauce. Ask for some to go with the smoked beef brisket, best enjoyed sliced, not chopped. The Fox standard ‘cue sauce is medium-bodied and just slightly tangy. Pulled pork is spot-on, too. Brunswick stew and all sides are made with fresh ingredients and it shows, and don’t pass up the green bean casserole when it’s offered. Finish with banana puddin’ or chocolate pecan pie. It is located in Atlanta.

Jamaican Jerk Hut: www.jamaicanjerkhutinc.com  Nicola Shirley, high priestess of island food, presides, ladling out her famed goat curry and spicy jerk chicken. From English rule there’s oxtail stew with roti (a chickpea pancake used to wrap varied fillings—another Indian influence), and, of course, jerk chicken that’s the island’s own. Start the meal with conch salad or mango salsa, heated by Scotch bonnet peppers and cooled by cilantro. Try crisp conch fritters or calaloo (a spinach-like vegetable) tarts that are one of many vegetarian offerings, such as sides of spinach with groundnuts (true African) or okra. Make yourself some rum punch, enjoy reggae tunes and chow down, but don’t forget to include a slice of Shirley’s carrot or coconut pound cake for dessert. It is located in Philadelphia.

Lankford Grocery & Market: Located in Houston. Part of the delight of the exquisite cooking you’ll find here is the unabashed modesty of the retro surroundings, from old vinyl booths to beer signs. Everything about Lankford’s famous burger makes it justly revered: the thickness of the homemade patties, the perfect grill char, the amount of lettuce and other fixings they support, even the sprinkling of black pepper that flavors each bite. With cheese melted into the bun, this two-handed burger may well be the best in town—or on the planet, some devotees would argue. Daily specials include enchiladas—these Tex-Mex marvels rival any in town, packed with chicken and swimming in soulful chile gravy.

This Is It Soul Food: www.thisisithouston.com  This latest incarnation of one of Houston’s favorite diners has the charm of a school cafeteria with freshly painted walls, faux greenery and black-and-white checked linoleum floors. But what makes this place the heart and soul of home cooking is its combination of friendly servers along the walk-through buffet line and daily specials of authentic soul food—we’re talking ham hocks, oxtails and chitterlings. Less adventurous country-cooking devotees may opt for the basics of meatloaf, barbeque rib ends, baked chicken and smothered pork chops. Soulful sides include mustard greens, black-eyed peas and candied yams. You can top off your meal with a heaping helping of peach cobbler or an assortment of homemade cakes. It is located in Houston.

The Pit: www.thepitbarbq.com  On the edge of the Everglades, The Pit is an easily accessible southern respite from the din of the city as well as a must-stop after or before a day in the Glades. The verge-of-collapse shack and barbeque sauce-smothered goodies make for slightly dangerous eatin’ that evokes old Miami. The service and atmosphere may be bare bones but the idea is that that’s all you’ll leave of your ribs, too. Try the fresh-from-the-swamp frogs legs and extra greasy (extra good!) biscuits. It is located in Miami.

The Original Pantry Cafe: Sometimes, all you really want is a big, heaping plate of steak and eggs – at 3 am. For those times, there’s The Original Pantry Cafe, a 24-hour downtown institution owned by former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. Since 1924, service has been speedy, prices easy on the pocket and portions beyond generous. This unassuming little diner is by no means glam, but there’s something charming about a menu selection ranging from New York strip steak to ham hocks and beans. And though it seems as if every family in the county is in the Saturday morning line, the doors never close (they don’t even have locks), so there’s never a bad time to go for a signature stack of buckwheat pancakes.

Tip Top Cafe: Owned by the DeWese family, opened its doors in 1938 in San Antonio, Texas and began serving heaping plates of fried food to customers. Generations later, not much has changed: The restaurant is still owned and operated by family members, and diners drive for miles to get their fill of all things battered and fried. Mementos of the family and the diner’s history are mounted on the wall, including the memorable stuffed bass. Onion rings and fried chicken are house specialties, but for a true taste of Texas, try the chicken-fried steak — crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and covered in rich gravy —which ranks among the state’s best.

Highland Park Diner: Since its 1948 debut, Highland Park Diner in the quaint Swillburg neighborhood of southeast Rochester, New York has undergone a few changes in ownership and function, including one stint as an off-track betting parlor. But for the past 20 years or so, the local institution has remained true to the tradition of gleaming neon-and-chrome diners, serving comfort food in gargantuan portions. Breakfast-all-day specialties include a sweet cheese-topped Belgian waffle and the Highland skillet bowl, a medley of eggs, home fries, gravy and shredded cheese. The current owners have added Greek specialties to complement the traditional diner fare, but thankfully, they’ve kept the classic hand-dipped milkshakes and the renowned apple pie and coffee.

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