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Piles of fluffy pancakes as far as the eye can see. A vinyl booth that seems to sigh as you park your exhausted, drunken ass in the seat. The waitress who lets out a "Here you go, hon" without a hint of irony in her sweet Southern drawl as she fills your cup of coffee for the fourth time in one sitting. These are the comforts of the well-worn diner and local greasy spoons. Food that is reliable and cheap -- and reliably cheap -- and wholly uncomplicated by pretension or health concerns.
You may have to drive a little farther than you would in New York, but even in a region as image- and trend-obsessed as South Florida, one can find plenty of these 24-hour, breakfast-all-day havens of hash browns and nostalgia. Here's a list of our ten favorite diners in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
10. Egg N' You Diner
Anyone who treks up and down Federal Highway near Oakland Park Boulevard knows this joint by sight alone: It looks like it's been hanging out in the same dusty spot for eons, basically because it has (it's been around since the mid-'50s). But this old-school diner has earned its hardcore greasy-spoon stripes serving mammoth portions of chili omelets, hash browns, and crispy bacon for a song. Rub elbows with Fort Lauderdale's blue-collar crowd as you tip back a never-ending cup of piping-hot percolated coffee at the long lunch counter, or lay claim to a corner booth and work on an obscene portion of biscuits and gravy in relative peace.
9. Nick's Diner
The owners have taken such pains to capture the nostalgia of an imaginary postwar America that one practically expects to see the Fonz working the room and snapping his fingers to change the song on the diner's 1955 Seeburg jukebox. Decked out in a fit of 1950s memorabilia, this retro diner is particularly proud of its half-pound burgers, claiming "You can't beat Nick's meat." Mind out of the gutter, folks; this is good, clean, American value with nothing priced higher than $10 and a whole mess of sandwiches, hot dogs, and wraps for less than $8. The throwback vibe carries over to the menu, with fried clams, homemade meat loaf, and turkey-breast platters made with meat that's roasted on the premises.
8. Peter Pan Diner
It's 3 a.m., and after a night of pounding vodka tonics in downtown Laudy, you need something to take the anticipated edge off tomorrow morning. You could make a beeline for Denny's, but why choose a lame-ass national chain when this kitschy, beloved Oakland Park mainstay has had its arms -- and doors -- wide open to Broward County's late-night carousers for years? In the wee hours, the people-watching is nearly as delicious as the piles of Greek diner fare. The menu? As massive as your inevitable headache the next morning.
7. Flakowitz Bagel Inn
It's damned near impossible to score a table at this Boca joint during the breakfast rush when the city is in the midst of "season." Temporarily displaced New Yorkers elbow their way in for platters of brisket, chewy house-made bagels, and the kind of rough/friendly service one would expect in a restaurant that caters primarily to Big Apple expats. Breakfast is cheap as hell with ridiculous portions of eggs, potatoes, and multiple species of carbs clocking in for less than $10 per person. Stick to the basics -- fried, battered, scrambled -- and don't give it a second thought that you're likely lowering the place's median age by a mile.
6. Green Owl Restaurant
Amid the revolving door of trendy restaurants and nightclubs on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach is this shabby, er, chic diner that's stood the test of time as one of the area's oldest restaurants. A lot of the wait staff have been serving tables in the breakfast and lunch joint for years, so they know the greasy fare like the back of their hands. Locals come for the reliable standbys, like club sandwiches, pancakes, and home fries. The prices are reasonable, and even when there's a wait (and during the breakfast rush, you might encounter one), the turnover is generally fast.
Even in our postpostironic age, diners that offer PBR in a can are criminally few and far between. But that's the case at this hipster take on an American classic. From the same restaurant group that gave birth to Dada and Respectable Street, this late-night spot won the New Times award for Best Diner in 2005. In addition to beer (including some higher-brow offerings), boozers can order wine or specialty cocktails to complement plates of country-fried steak or liver and onions. Classic old-school desserts are a can't-miss, with choices like banana splits, cobbler, banana cream pie, and a whole mess of milk shakes.
4. Flashback Diner
Feeding the masses for more than 20 years, this Hallandale Beach greasy spoon is open 24 hours a day, 365 days, so you can get your comfort grub on any time of day or night, on any day of the year. Among the typical offerings -- three-egg omelets, corned beef and hash, and ham steak and eggs -- is a cast of deli sandwiches named for retro celebs. There's the Wild Bill Elliot with crispy fried chicken and buffalo sauce or the Marilyn Monroe with roast turkey and stuffing. Or try the huge hot dog named for dearly departed sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. Bonus: The diner also serves beer and wine.
3. The Pelican
It looks the part, but the Pelican isn't exactly the prototypical diner. Located in an eclectic section of downtown Lake Worth, this neighborhood favorite has transitioned over the years from serving a straight-forward selection of artery-clogging American breakfast favorites to a more diversified menu that includes Indian classics alongside standard diner fare. In recent years, the restaurant has added dinner hours, but breakfast remains prime time, when devotees can start the day with a plate of scrambled eggs and a side of naan or an omelet flavored with spicy curry.
2. 84 Diner
This behemoth of a diner is a South Florida staple, with a menu nearly as expansive as the multiple dining rooms. Breakfast is served all day long -- as it should be -- with three-egg omelets, biscuits and gravy, and Mickey Mouse pancakes at the ready no matter the hour. But eggs and batter aren't the only ways to throw your cholesterol out of whack; there are also meaty dishes like the Hawaiian ham steak or carby treats like the baked lasagna as well as Coney classics like hot dogs and Greek dishes.
1. Lester's Diner
This historic beacon of bacon and chicken-fried steaks could serve as the blueprint for the ultimate Americana diner. Around and kicking since the '60s, Lester's comes complete with all the Norman Rockwell touches; the chrome accents, thickly frosted cakes rotating in a display case, and a slew of regulars that include a variety of public servants. Long a favorite for locals and the late-night crowd, the menu is dominated by comfort classics like meat loaf and open-faced sandwiches.
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