Elmo’s Diner in Durham, North Carolina

Glowing like a bright yellow duckling in North Carolina’s Old West Durham, Elmo’s Diner serves up hearty Southern fare with more than a few surprises. Upon entering the eatery, customers are confronted by a wall of rainbow colored ducks, peering cheerfully from their post on a wall.  is happy-hued gallery contains the contributions that Elmo’s kiddie diners have made to the décor. Once youngsters are seated, they are invited to color a drawing of the diner’s mascot, Elmo the Duck. Several of the entries are quite creative, including a golden version of Elmo depicted as a shiny, waddling cyborg named 3L-MO—a galactic, mechanical drake inspired by the renowned Star Wars robot, C-3PO.

Papermoon Diner in Baltimore, Maryland

The entire fantasia is the fruit of a funky teaming between Papermoon owner Un Kim and designer David Briskie. Kim was an immigrant from South Korea who came to the US during the 1970s and found her fortune in the food industry. She cut her culinary teeth saving a struggling carryout in downtown Baltimore and a cafe near the University of Maryland hospital. In 1994, she opened the Papermoon—naming it for the 1973 Ryan and Tatum O’Neal film—and engaged Briskie to furnish its décor. Briskie was a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art who’d opened an event design company in Virginia. Now, spurred on by bizarre dreams that were eating his sleep, he turned the Papermoon into an alternate universe—a new-dimensional dining area over owing with dismembered mannequins, toy cars, and eclectic stuff  that might have spilled pell-mell from a kid’s closet. The overall effect achieved something of the feel of a Hieronymus Bosch painting with fries.

“People need to have fun, no matter what age they may be,”Kim has often said.

Mayberry Drive-In and Diner in Moneta, Virginia

Although the Mayberry Drive-In and Diner has no direct connection to The Andy Griffith Show’s fictitious town, this combination eatery and outdoor cinema does share with the TV series a tendency to be populated with friendly people. Beaming owner Bob Craig even looks like a slimmed-down version of Santa Claus.

“This diner and drive-in both came together at once, on October 10, 2008,” Craig says. “We found the diner on eBay; it came out of Chesapeake, Virginia. It was called Cosmo’s, but it wasn’t that old—1998. I trucked it down here with four other guys, and we rebuilt the diner, put up a movie screen, the whole thing.”

The Little Tea Shop in Memphis, Tennessee

The Little Tea Shop is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Memphis. It opened in 1918 in the basement of the Memphis Cotton Exchange. At the time, only the higher-ups in the echelon of the trading world were allowed to enter and engage in trade on the first floor, so presumably, The Little Tea Shop was a place where the wives of the elite could meet, nosh, and sip tea in a quiet setting while the hectic bidding for cotton went on upstairs. Lillie Parham and Emily A. Carpenter were the original owners of this respite of genteel Southern hospitality.

At the height of the Great Depression, the restaurant was relocated. Yet there was no disruption in service. One evening after closing time, employees from waitresses to dishwashers moved everything down the alley and into the new location at 69 Monroe Street. The restaurant was open for lunch the following day.

Water Gap Diner in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania

The story of the Water Gap Diner began more than 400 million years ago, when a continent collided with North America. The Blue Mountains and Kittatinny Ridge were formed by that collision, which sculpted the rocky landscape of Pennsylvania. So was the Delaware Water Gap—a sharp gash through which the Delaware River flows on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

A few eons later—in the year 1986, to be precise—the Water Gap Diner was opened at 55 Broad Street in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. And the story continued on a smaller, less earthshaking scale…

Miss Washington Diner in New Britain, Connecticut

A ride on a Harley-Davidson—and memories of cooking with Mom—gave new life to the Miss Washington Diner.


Just ask owner Dan Czako. “I have literally always been waiting to own a place like this,” he says. “Since my twelfth birthday, when my dad took me for a ride on his Harley to a diner in Vernon, Connecticut, I’ve always known what I wanted to do. After that [trip], I started cooking with my mom…. [She] helped me develop kitchen skills by the time I was in eighth grade.”

When Czako later bought the Miss Washington Diner in May 2011, the eatery had been in existence for eighty-three years. Opened in 1928 at the corner of State Route 71A and Washington Street in New Britain, Connecticut, it originally operated as the Terminal Diner. In 1952, when a section of the original building was replaced, owner George Georgiadis decided to rename his restaurant in honor of the new improvements. He chose the name “Washington Diner”—and with that choice earned the objections of an existing Washington Diner in Hartford, Connecticut. To keep the peace, Georgiadis added the word “Miss” to his marquee.

Ben Franklin’s Sandwiches in San Luis Obispo, California

Jim Wilimek, owner of Ben Franklin’s Sandwiches, beams at a sunburned senior surfer next in line, and recites without prompting: “number eight wheat with everything on it except mustard and lettuce, add double peperoncinis.”

He explains, “I’m terrible with names, but I know what my customers order by heart.”

Sure enough, during the next fifteen minutes, the affable owner efficiently remembers all but one of the custom sandwich requests in line, making ordering here a breeze.

Given the 11:30 am lineup of repeat customers at this casual, colorful deli café just off US Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo, California, it’s clear that Ben Franklin’s has a solid following—and has had one since 1969.

Shoreline Diner in Guilford, Connecticut

Legend says that gold treasure lies buried in the Thimble Islands off the coast of Connecticut. Tradition insists that William “Captain” Kidd himself hid the gilded trove more than three hundred years ago among the pink-granite crannies of the archipelago. Treasure hunters have since searched for the rumored loot, launching boats into Long Island Sound on never-ending quests to uncover the pirate’s prize.

Onshore, and a mile or so inland at Guilford, the Anthis and Ayvacis families continue their quest, too—although theirs is a goal that needs neither oar nor shovel to succeed. They find their fortune in another type of treasure—the happy customer. More often than not, they claim that valued prize, thanks to the sincere efforts they put into their gem of a roadside business, the Shoreline Diner…

The Ten Top in Norfolk, Virginia

The Ten Top—a little carry-out restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia—is bursting with good food and love. That may sound a bit overdrawn, but when you learn why, you’ll probably agree with local food blog Laine and Alex: “I do not know why it is called The Ten Top, but I give it a 10.”

In restaurant lingo, a “top” is a table, and a “ten top” is a table equipped with ten chairs. Noted Norfolk chef, Peter Pittman, set the tone of homemade goodness when he opened a little restaurant with one round table and ten chairs and named it simply The Ten Top. The name stuck, and in 1997, the eatery moved to its current location on Shirley Avenue.

Rick and Heather Fraley bought The Ten Top after their 2011 wedding. Both are skilled chefs.  They met when Rick arrived at  The Ten Top in 2008. During Rick’s first day at work, Heather—then kitchen manager—accused him of trying to steal her job, but she solved the problem by stealing his heart. The young couple has maintained a delicious commitment to quality dishes—made from scratch— with locally produced foods that incorporate the bounty of nearby Chesapeake Bay.

Olympia Candy Kitchen in Goshen, Indiana

When Greek immigrant Nicholas Paflas wanted his new Hoosier neighbors to know that his confectionary was tip top, he called it Olympia Candy. The name evoked Mount Olympus—the highest peak in Goshen, Indiana, that Paflas’ shop was simply divine.

One hundred years later, Olympia Candy Kitchen remains a shrine to sweetness. Inside, elegant candy cases imported from Europe display their delicious wares for careful inspection. Comfy wooden benches—installed during the 1920s when a dining area was added to the original foundation—invite patrons to sit back and snack. The high tin ceiling dates from 1912—the year during which this sugary heaven opened for business.