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
13 Can’t-Miss Iconic North Carolina Diners
Yes, Waffle House is included
Scrambled Southern Diner
There aren’t many days out of the week that there isn’t a line snaking out of the building or a waitlist less than an hour long at Scrambled. The fine dining roots of the diner’s former iteration, Josephine’s, show clearly on the menu. Whether it’s in the crab cake Benedict with spinach and sherry fondue, the stacks of golden brown pancakes with lacy edges, or the buttery biscuits and gravy, this perennial brunch spot is the one to visit.
Coliseum Country Cafe
A friend, neighbor, or co-worker might bring you here as this is not the type of place anyone would stumble upon by accident. This Glenwood neighborhood staple has slung plates for over 25 years. The entire menu reads like a love letter to every nook and cranny of the list of Southern comfort foods with a few unexpected surprises along the way. The list of ever-changing seasonal sides is just as impressive as the entrees: tomato pie, pineapple casserole, pinto beans, and mashed potatoes sit next to eight-ounce ribeye steaks, jumbo fried shrimp, and fried bologna sandwiches.
Elmo’s Diner has brought comfort food to both the studious academics and local families of Durham for more than twenty years (sadly, the Carrboro location closed in 2020). Feeling sweet? 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.
Mecca is such a part of the fabric of Raleigh that when the diner’s matriarch, Floye Dombalis, passed away in April of this year Governor Roy Cooper sent out a condolence tweet. Raleigh’s oldest restaurant has served high-powered politicians and regular Joes for more than 90 years. Breakfast and lunch are served in the narrow downtown space, where diners pack the booths and fill the vinyl seats along the diner’s counter for breakfast and lunch offerings like ham and eggs, omelets, pulled pork sandwiches, and fried chicken platters.
The Shiny Diner
The Shiny’s Diner eye-popping silver exterior, black-and-white checkered floors, and overhead spotlights make it one the state’s finest examples of an old-school diner brought back to life. Staying close to the classics, this 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.
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.
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 eight-ounce ribeye steaks and over a dozen varieties of stuffed omelets, 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, the 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.
Tastee Diner, opened in 1946 on Haywood Road in what was then thoroughly working-class West Asheville, is one of the oldest restaurants in town. It has the same footprint and probably some of the original grease somewhere on the premises, but since purchased by noted local chef Steve Goff in 2022 and re-opened in 2023 after an extensive, but history-respectful remodel, has an all-new menu. Goff — known for over-the-top creations — has taken an eclectic range of diner origin stories, thrown them in the Goff-erator, and out comes a menu with everything from steak and eggs and hangover hash browns to burger and fries, baked ziti sandwich, and regional classic Carolina dogs.
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 breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes. Don’t be fooled by the connecting gas station: the Local Joint’s ambiance 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.
Circle G Restaurant
The only difference between a diner and a Southern meat-and-three is the long list of daily vegetables. Circle G certainly has those, and all the other trappings of a classic, from down-home decor to friendly servers. Breakfast is served from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, and all day Saturday, while the lunch menu has Southern classics with Greek touches (souvlaki, gyros, and baked Grecian chicken), part of Charlotte’s long history of Greek-owned diners.
Perched on the side of Charlotte’s Uptown, the Midnight has always looked the part, with its chrome exterior, red booths, retro lights, and a hint of red neon. The original location — near plenty of bars and across from a men’s club — made it a late-night favorite. The old location is now being redeveloped, so it’s moved to an even better location, right in the center of the city across from the Spectrum Center. The menu is still spot-on, with breakfast all hours (if you get the pecan Belgian waffle, ask for the warm honey butter) and all the classics, from chicken and waffles to 10 kinds of burgers.
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 in its corner jukebox and sea of lived-in booths, mixed with the alternative flair of its surrounding neighborhood, this hipster-friendly diner checks all the boxes for a 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.
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. 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 is a large operation with over thirty years of family leadership at its core.