The diner. It is a staple of American culture, cuisine and camaraderie. For travelers, it is a beacon, a symbol of something fast, friendly and familiar. Nighthawks. Seinfeld. Happy Days. Media, from paintings to movies to television shows, depicts the diner as symbols of American optimism and everyday life.
The diner’s significance is rooted in America as one of the first eateries to serve food 24 hours a day, but prior to 1872, there was not much in the way for late-night workers and travelers to get a bite to eat. That is until Walter Scott opened up the first Pioneer Lunch in Providence, R.I. Scott’s horse-drawn wooden wagon served up sandwiches, pies, boiled eggs and coffee. Early competition and the invention of the first walk-in lunch wagon prompted Charles H. Palmer’s patent of a lunch wagon design: a narrow, extending wagon with a “kitchen-apartment” and counter which separated it from the “dining-room space,” where stools would carry patrons and hungry customers. This design became the standard for almost 20 years, and diners today still mimic its narrow interior.
In the early 21st century, diners, which had acted almost as early food trucks, planted themselves on the streets, as their late-night and early-morning operations had violated operating permits and caused citizen complaints. Prior to the Great War and the passing of the 19th amendment, women were not allowed in diners, with many establishments boasting signs that read “men only.” But social change, modernism and the Golden Age of the Diner have solidified the diner’s significance in America’s history.
Along Route 66 and around Flagstaff, diners are sprinkled throughout, adding a sense of history and familiarity. Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, dinner or just a cup of coffee and a slice of pie, here are five diners in Flagstaff to feed your appetite.
Flagstaff’s newest addition to its diner scene is Carmels. Named after owner Pat Flanigan’s mother, Carmels, located on San Francisco Street just south of the train tracks, offers simple sauce-less breakfast and lunch items such as crepes, omelets and burgers in a casual and funky atmosphere. Enjoy a meal outside on its tangerine patio or try inside. With a cream-colored interior and floor-to-ceiling photograph of astrogeologist Gene Shoemaker, Carmel’s is like a throwback to the ‘60s. Originally a Valley staple, Carmels has nestled itself a new home in Flagstaff. (928) 554-6112. 116 S. San Francisco St.
Crown Railroad Café
If you’ve driven down Route 66 east of downtown you’ve probably seen a neon orange sign that reads “Restaurant.” That sign is, in fact, correct. There is a restaurant there, and that restaurant is the Crown Railroad Café. Since the mid ‘60s, the café has been a favorite pit stop for travelers on the Mother Road. While enjoying a short stack of pancakes, a hot pastrami sandwich or a warm bowl of menudo, take in the view of the occasional train as it chugs along just parallel to the 66. And if you can’t get enough train action, worry not, as a model train that circles the interior will surely make its way around. (928) 522-9237. 3300 Historic Rte 66.
If you’re lucky enough to score a window seat, Downtown Diner is a perfect spot for people watching. The diner, located on the north side of downtown Flagstaff, provides a perfect view of Aspen Avenue and Heritage Square. With license plates from across the country lining the counter, vintage tin posters and a television that’s almost always tuned in to the news, Downtown Diner is a pleasant pit stop in the heart of downtown. Its menu offers moderately-priced meals which almost always call for a take-home box. Try a Big Daddy burger for lunch or dinner, with chef-made soups of the day and an all-day breakfast menu. Or relax with a cup of coffee and a slice of one of its freshly-made cakes from its countertop. (928) 774-3492. 7 E. Aspen Ave.
Get your ‘50s fix at the Flagstaff icon, Galaxy Diner. As its name suggests, Galaxy Diner sports a retro space-themed design, with a steel wave-like exterior like old space-ship designs and blue and red neon lights that light up the dark sky city. Its interior is lathered with posters and photographs of musicians, actors and actresses of the ‘50s, and its jukebox boasts tunes from Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline. The diner also hosts free swing dance classes every Saturday. Enjoy an all-day breakfast menu, a big boppin’ burger or a knuckle sandwich, or indulge in one of its many shakes, splits and sweets.(928) 774-2466. 931 W. Rte 66.
Grand Canyon Café
For more than 75 years, Grand Canyon Café has been an icon in Flagstaff and along Route 66, appearing in numerous regional travel guides and cookbooks. Previously owned and managed by Fred and Tina Wong, the café, since 2016, has switched hands over to the Moirs family, who own and manage Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar, Criollo Latin Kitchen and Proper Meats + Provisions. Grand Canyon Café serves up a variety of food such as burgers, burritos, pancakes, ribs and even chow mein and chop suey. Quench your thirst with a warm cup of Joe or an ice-cold shake. Perhaps even take advantage of their day-drinker specials, with draft beer, Bloody Marys and classic cocktails for your delight. (928) 774-2252. 110 Historic Rte 66.