Whether far from home, or just not wanting to go home yet, the nostalgic warmth of diners has kept Americans well-fed for generations. Has the world of modern, polished restaurant design quieted the glow of old-school diner culture? Eater spent late nights and early mornings exploring North Carolina’s most quintessential diners that are keeping it classic and succeeding in staying effortlessly cool.Read More
11 Can’t-Miss Iconic North Carolina Diners
Yes, Waffle House is included
Perched on a hill above New Leicester Highway, Wynn’s Diner is a decade old destination for locals and Asheville visitors alike. The interiors are filled with cherry red chairs and retro touches. Think less glitzy and glam, and more grandma’s kitchen. Alongside its classic breakfast and lunch offerings, customers will be surprised to find hand-tossed flatbreads, a variety of local hams (country equals salty, city equals sweet) and one of its most popular orders: a Cuban sandwich. Weekend mornings often mean a line out the door, so come early for a country diner fix.
The stuffed French toast with scratch made orange vanilla compote and a side of cheesy hashbrown bites is always a winner.
Five Points Restaurant
In a city renowned for its buzz-worthy restaurants and chic eateries, Five Points is a landmark for those who crave something a bit more nostalgic. Just steps away from downtown Asheville, this 1972 diner continues to serve its regulars seven days a week, through generations of local family ownership. Here, customers are like extended family, and most are known on a first-name basis. From the hefty 8 oz. ribeye steaks and over a dozen varieties of stuffed omelettes, it’s clear why Five Points has kept guests coming back for almost half of a century. Don’t stop at its generous breakfast offerings, Five Points’ lunch and dinner crowds are equally as busy. This diner’s best-selling dishes are tied between its fried seafood platters and roasted Greek chicken, which sells out every Wednesday night.
Regulars swear on the Five Point Special, buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, a choice of bacon or sausage, and a side of extra crispy hash browns (that’s right, with ketchup).
The Local Joint
It’s a good rule of thumb that when there’s not much else around, a local diner will be the heart of a small town’s culinary scene. The Local Joint, located on the outskirts of Asheville in Fairview, is packed daily with regulars who come hungry for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes. Don’t be fooled by the connecting gas station: The Local Joint’s ambience is tastefully modern, with all the comfort of a proper Southern diner. The menu is reflective of that, ranging from fluffy biscuits smothered in homemade gravy to vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Paying a late night visit? Pop over to The Local Joint’s next door bar, appropriately named The Joint Next Door, for live music and full food service.
Fans rave about the Big Bear, a crispy cajun chicken with applewood smoked bacon, sausage gravy, and cheddar cheese on a large scratch made biscuit.
Ask any freshly transplanted or native Charlottean alike where the closest diner is, and they will likely point in the direction of Midnight Diner. At the bustling intersection of Uptown and Southend, this Queen City favorite is a destination for busy bankers, millennial bar hoppers, and just about every crowd in between. Open almost 24/7, Midnight Diner’s menu is filled with every diner essential diners could be craving when they roll into one of the glittery booths, be it at 2:30 a.m. or p.m. With smothered hash browns, cheeseburgers piled high and jumbo chicken and waffles highlighted on the menu, it’s hard to pick just one thing to indulge on here. The beer menu (because diners aren’t just for coffee) is also extensive, featuring favored breweries located within a 10 mile radius. Whether it’s a midday stroll or a late night stumble into Midnight Diner, a visit to this prized landmark means customers are one step away from getting the fuel to make it back to work, or back home, just in time.
The Uptown is the go-to with a golden Belgian waffle, shredded hash browns or creamy grits, and two eggs any style.
Like its name beckons, The Diamond is a gem in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood, tried and true since 1945. With just enough of a throwback vibe seen in its corner juke box and sea of lived-in booths, mixed with the alternative flair of its surrounding neighborhood, this hipster-friendly diner checks all the boxes off on an authentic diner experience. Polished and buffed over the years, its menu yields American classics like block burgers and all-beef hot dogs, house specials like golden fried chicken, jumbo calabash shrimp, and Greek touches like its meze platter and Greek po’boy. Vegetarians: fret not. There is a satisfying variety of dishes made with dietary restrictions in mind (hello jumbo soy dog and hot pimento cheese dip.) Out late? Simply follow the red glow of The Diamond’s signature neon sign, pick a seat at the counter and get to chowing down. There’s a lot of goodness to get through here.
The fail safes include: pig wings, hushpuppies, and banana pudding. It’s an a la carte trio not to be missed.
Landmark Restaurant Diner
Just a few steps into Landmark Diner’s entrance and one is greeted by its iconic dessert case, towering with dozens of housemade cakes, pies, and cheesecakes. There’s an overwhelming sense from the start of the visit that, no matter what guests choose to dig into, it will be made with love. Landmark’s menu boasts an endless selection of diner fare, from challah French toast and lunch-friendly triple decker sandwiches to handmade Italian pastas, and even seafood and steak entrees. Its kitchen, housed by fourteen full-time cooks, is a large operation with thirty years of family leadership at its core. Fun fact: its team includes both an in-house butcher and baker. Come for the New York strip steak or a simple fix of blueberry pie a la mode, and end up staying to bask a bit in Landmark’s timeless, unpretentious feel. And that’s perfectly fine, because the dessert case was made for doing just that.
The roasted young Tom Turkey with homemade stuffing and gravy is a winner. Add a slice of spanakopita.
Smith Street Diner
Smith Street Diner is a celebrated establishment, and one that tops Greensboro’s lists of restaurants that define the city. From 1980, its massive, buttery biscuits have swept locals and visitors off their feet and into one of their highly awaited seats. This cozy, corner eatery is known for country style breakfast served “eight days a week,” along with lunch and dinner. Highly ranked for its food, atmosphere and hospitality, Smith Street Diner represents the perfect blend of Northern diner influence with the old-school Southern charm one would expect to find while exploring Greensboro. Keep an eye out for the whiteboard specials.
The chorizo omelette and biscuits with a healthy serving of apple butter always satisfy.
Early risers unite. In the heart of the Research Triangle and its anchoring universities, Elmo’s Diner has brought comfort food to the studious academics and local families of both Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro for more than twenty years. There’s less of a focus on vintage knick knacks here, and more on all-day comfort food. In a sweet mood? Try the golden pancakes, topped with fresh whipped cream, bananas or homemade cinnamon apples (none of the gunky canned stuff). Feeling more savory? Go the quiche route, or browse through the many Tex Mex inspired plates, like huevos rancheros and spicy enchiladas. Between its easy breezy atmosphere and incredibly friendly service, Elmo’s Diner brings two rivalry college towns together — not over the blue of their opposing basketball courts, but over fresh blueberry waffles instead.
The pecan and chocolate chip short stack with sausage links and cheesy scrambled eggs and always popular.
In addition to the collection of independently owned diners, it just feels right to have an honorable mention of the most famous house of early morning and late night eats of all; the one and only Waffle House. Since its 1955 debut, the Georgia-born chain found its way into North Carolina, and today has hundreds of locations across the state. Often described as a lighthouse in the distance by its fans, Waffle House is a symbol of simplicity and dependable companionship. Tasty companionship. With its pendant soft lighting and familiar sizzling sounds of a well-seasoned flat top, it’s truly the “house” many find themselves in when they’re not ready to return to the real one just yet.
Is it the perfectly crispy waffles, signature hash browns, free entertainment or breathtaking views of strip mall parking lots that keep loyalists coming back time and time again?
It just might take a lifetime of roadside pit stops here to find out.
The Shiny Diner
The Shiny’s Diner eye-popping silver exterior, black-and-white checkered floors and overhead spotlights make it the state’s finest example of an old-school diner brought back to life. Just one look through its geotagged posts of teens and tweens posing among the retro interior confirms that diner culture, at least in Raleigh, is definitely back in style. Staying tight knit to the classics, this frequented hot spot is known for its ice cream floats, baskets of fried sides and all day breakfast essentials. Though its authentic diner cart aesthetic and glorified Cadillac memorabilia might lead one to think it got its start in the fifties, The Shiny Diner (originally Gypsy’s Shiny Diner) was established in 1997 and has kept crowds coming back ever since, no poodle skirt required.
The Uncle Billy’s double big burger with tater tots and the Elvis milkshake is a classic go-to order.
While it may not open at sunrise, and might take the art of plating a bit more seriously than most, Poole’s Diner in Raleigh is a must-visit destination that brings the traditional late-night diner experience to its most elevated, yet familiar form. With just one glance at its ever-changing chalkboard menu, it’s evident from the start that using the words “mac n cheese” and “diner” in the same sentence here might taste and feel, a bit different. Highlighting an array of locally sourced ingredients, like steelhead trout, duck and liver, Poole’s Diner is known for serving unexpectedly luxurious flavors in a relaxing, retro-chic environment. What else is it known for? One word: pie.
Tracing back to its origins as a pie shop, it’s highly encouraged to save room for Poole’s latest inspired slice. Prefer salty over sweet? Swing by its brand new pizza concept Pool’side Pies, located right next door.