Here in Edmonton, the options for fine dining are growing fast; in fact, we at Avenue just celebrated a whole bunch of them last month in our annual Best Restaurants issue.
But, sometimes, you want your dining to be anything but fine. You just want the basics done well, without any fancy techniques or a sprig of parsley on the side of the plate. You don’t need artisanal toast; “white” or “brown” is good enough. Sometimes, you just want your coffee strong, your eggs runny and your hamburger with lettuce, tomato and nothing else. Sometimes you want to go to a place where the fanciest French sauce offered is mayonnaise, and where you can get fried rice to go with your hot turkey sandwich.
Edmonton is blessed with its fair share of no-frills greasy spoon diners all over the city. Here are five of the most famous:
Route 99 Diner
Along with the street signs, licence plates and posters of people like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe lining the walls of Route 99 Diner, there are classic album covers featuring musicians like Sammy Davis, Jr., the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Johnny Cash, just to name a few.
Similarly, the menu at Route 99 has something to suit just about anyone. From Western omelettes to grilled cheese sandwiches, liver and onions to Salisbury steak, this retro diner is serving up classic dishes without pretense. Its only aim is to fill up customers’ stomachs without draining their wallets.
The burgers are piled high with toppings, and the sandwiches are tasty; both have the option of fries and coleslaw on the side. But the best thing on the menu might just be the gigantic milkshakes, which come in five classic flavours and are served in metal cups that, along with the rest of the decor, transport diners to another place and time. –Glenn Cook
8820 99 St., 780-432-0968, website n/a
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With its familiar ship’s wheel logo painted on its front window facing Jasper Avenue, hungry diners have been setting sail for the Commodore Restaurant for more than 70 years. And with delightfully retro decor, friendly staff and good food at great prices – seriously, where else can you get a cheeseburger and fries for $6.95 anymore? – it’s easy to see why this culinary port-of-call is still so popular.
While there are all sorts of sandwiches, steaks and even Chinese food on the menu, it would almost be wrong to go to the Commie and not order off the all-day breakfast menu. The hot cakes are light and fluffy, and the bacon is crispy and flavourful. Add a couple of poached eggs on the side and you’ve set yourself up for smooth sailing the rest of the day. –G.C.
The moment you sit down in the upholstered booths at Saratoga, a waitress approaches with a piping hot pot of coffee and menus. With a newspaper flung casually on the table, glass and wood partitions separating the booths, and a faint bell rung when an order’s up, it’s as if time has stood still since the ’70s.
Saratoga has all the diner breakfast staples – pancakes, eggs, toast and a variety of breakfast meats. I go for the French toast, which comes served with eggs and a delightfully retro orange slice garnish. Many French toast dishes set themselves apart by using different breads, infusing the batter with flavour, and topping it with innovative compotes and syrups. That’s not what Saratoga is about. Its French toast is probably the type you remember from your childhood – battered triangles of white bread, served with a jug of maple syrup. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. –Adrianna Szenthe
2610 Calgary Tr., 780-437-0071, website n/a
Tucked away in north Edmonton, Hathaway’s Diner is a curiosity. After all, it’s ranked No. 11 out of approximately 2,000 on TripAdvisor’s list of Edmonton restaurants, ahead of eateries like The Marc and Corso 32. But, when you visit, you see what all the fuss is about.
Customers are immediately greeted warmly by waitresses who are quick with a smile, but seemingly even quicker with the food. While tempted by all-day breakfast, I ultimately opted for the hamburger. When it arrived, it smelled like it had come right off the backyard barbecue. With cheese and mushrooms for an extra charge, it was a more-than-satisfying lunch.
That’s not to say, though, there wasn’t room for a slice of pie. Lemon meringue is my kryptonite, and Hathaway’s version – tart and sweet, with light, airy meringue – was a fantastic way to end a meal.
What’s all the fuss about at Hathaway’s? It’s about friendly service, good prices and simple, homestyle food made really well. –G.C.
If you’re looking for Hap’s Hungry House, look for the mini traffic jam just off Stony Plain Road. There’s a reason why all the tables are full throughout the weekend brunch crush; do the basics well, and the world comes to your door.
To enjoy Hap’s to its fullest, you need to show up, well, hungry. Fast before you go. And don’t make any meal plans for later in the day; just enjoy a massive diner-classic meal and then go off and curl up like a snake.
Whether it’s the massive waffles with berries, the home-fried potatoes mixed with a healthy dose of green onions, the two-thumbs-thick burgers or one of the house omelettes, Hap’s is a fine place to spend a weekend morning. When you write about food a lot, there’s something wonderfully simple about being able to enjoy a Denver omelette, filled with lots of ham, and thick slabs of toast. Hap’s is not reinventing any wheels, but that parking lot will tell you that the public has spoken. Follow the wisdom of the crowd. –Steven Sandor