Somewhere between East Coast delicatessens and West Coast cafés is the culinary intersection of utility and community. Though the Midwest didn’t exactly invent the diner, it has arguably perfected it. But defining a diner isn’t as easy as it seems.
Tommy’s urban appeal and Nancy’s down-home feel are two sides of the same coin. Cap City and Starliner both push the envelope with avant-garde offerings, while Hang Over Easy and Chef-O-Nette certainly deserve a nod. But none really meet the standard for tiny diners, the neighborhood haunts only the locals seem to know.
Despite our critically-acclaimed restaurant scene, the classic diner is working class by design. Most offer open kitchens and open seating without a sous chef or sommelier in sight. Better still if there’s a guy with a gallery of tattoos behind the grill and the coffee is strong enough to stand up a spoon. Breakfast hours are essential; breakfast anytime is understood.
There’s an implicit social compact to rubbing elbows with strangers at tightly-grouped tables or a crowded counter. Enough original or inspired decor with knickknacks and nostalgia so that even regulars find something new every time combined with off-the-menu specials and predictable patrons the staff know by name are all part of the charm.
Unfortunately, that social scene is also what may make these esoteric eateries intimidating for the uninitiated. So here’s an insider’s guide to some of the city’s best tiny diners and the plates that make them great.
George’s Beechwold Diner
4408 Indianola Ave., North Clintonville
Dinky diner meets neighborhood dive on the edge of Clintonville. The steak and eggs and biscuits and gravy are both solid. If you can’t decide, you can’t go wrong with the garbage omelet, which varies from visit to visit, but includes every meat, cheese, and veggie on the menu.
Jack & Benny’s Barnstormer
2160 W Case Rd., Dublin
Hidden gem is an understatement for a joint tucked away in the back of a hanger at the recently remodeled OSU Airport. Try the legendary Gut Buster at least once—layers of egg, cheese, sausage, bacon, ham, and hash browns with a potato pancake and peppered gravy for good measure.
2932 E. Broad St., Bexley
Skip the standard French toast and substitute challah bread instead for something unexpected. Buttery pancakes with fresh blueberries are always in season. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Order the gyro omelet with feta, but add spinach and tomato for even more Mediterranean flavors.
Louie’s Daybreak Diner
1168 E Weber Rd., Linden
This Linden destination offers all the standard breakfast fare with some signature standouts, like their famous Panhandler, or a personal favorite, the Philly Omelet. Sliced roast beef and Swiss with mushrooms, peppers and onions is like a cheesesteak wrapped in an egg instead of a bun.
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German Village Coffee Shop
193 Thurman Ave., German Village
Don’t let the name fool you. The patty melt is superb, covered in grilled onions, Swiss and American cheese, and Thousand Island on rye—as is the Monte Christa, the comfort food cousin of the classic club sandwich with egg-battered bread stuffed with hot turkey, ham and cheese.
5916 Westerville Rd., Westerville
With a new name, more tables, and a few menu holdovers, you’ll still find the best corned beef hash in Columbus, carved into huge chunks, served with grilled red potatoes and onions, and eggs to order. Crispy country fried steak smothered in sausage gravy also remains a reliable staple.
Jack’s Downtown Diner
52 E Lynn St., Downtown
Hard to find, even in the heart of downtown, is a time capsule of the prototypical American diner. You could shoot a period picture at Jack’s and not have to change a thing. It’s already perfect. Order the meatloaf sandwich on sourdough with a side of hash browns, just to mix it up.
Grill & Skillet
2924 E Main St., Bexley
Nothing says nostalgia like grilled liver and onions with homemade mashed potatoes, or a thick-sliced, fried bologna sandwich—not even the checkerboard floors. But don’t overlook the weekend specials, like peanut butter and banana French toast, salmon patties with Hollandaise, or their killer kielbasa and eggs.
3 Brothers Diner
3090 Southwest Blvd., Grove City
The three brothers from Oaxaca helped establish the style of another local diner before opening their own. Try their namesake omelet, with bacon, ham, plantains, and Monterey Jack covered in chili sauce and sour cream—or their signature scramble with poblanos, onions, corn, and zucchini, topped with Jack and queso fresco.
59 S State St., Westerville
On the south end of Uptown, evening hours are often the exception when it comes to diners. Don’t miss the smothered chicken, grilled with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and melted cheddar with a side of mashed potatoes, or the weekend-only prime rib, slow-roasted and served with au jus.
Philco Diner + Bar
747 N High Street, Short North
The only entry on the list where all-day breakfast meets beer and cocktails, this upscale Short North pit stop offers a modern twist on every recipe. Seriously consider the coffee-braised pot roast, served with butternut squash, red potatoes, poblanos, and goat cheese, with rosemary onion rings.
Fitzy’s Old Fashioned Diner
1487 Schrock Rd., Worthington
It’s never too late or too early at Fitzy’s, the only 24-hour diner on our list. Go for the breaded and fried, sliced pork tenderloin, served as an entrée, on a sandwich, or with your eggs—or keep it simple with the Fitzer: eggs your way, home fries, and a biscuit all covered in sausage gravy.
Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch.
Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.
BLunch • 2973 N High St.
Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.
Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.
The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.
Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.
A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.
Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer
Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.
Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.
The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.
From pie to salad, it’s all good.
They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.
I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.
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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.
Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.
Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock
Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.
Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.
Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.
The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.
They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman
Eight years ago, Harvest Pizzeria cropped up in a small space in German Village. Today, the local pizza chain announced the closure of its flagship location.
Harvest Pizzeria German Village will open its doors for the final time on Saturday, April 27th.
“Despite the success of Harvest in German Village and our strong ties to the neighborhood, the owner of the property will not honor our renewal of the lease,” wrote founder Chris Crader in an email. “…the landlord’s demands for a new lease at a higher rate would not allow our little pizzeria to remain viable.
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Crader added that he is proud of the strides Harvest German Village has made over the years, and thankful for the community that’s supported it. He hopes they can return to the neighborhood when the right spot presents itself.
As far as the employees go, Crader wrote that with the success of the other locations, the German Village workers will be able to join a team at another restaurant.
“Harvest sincerely thanks all of its loyal supporters and we hope to see you at our other locations soon,” wrote Crader.
This news follows the announcement of the Grandview Harvest closing back in February. Read more here.
What’s the deal with crawfish boils? Sure, they’re delicious, but as a true land-lubbing midwesterner, my knowledge of this particular culinary phenomenon is fairly lacking.
That said, I definitely can’t tell you why there are multiple crawfish boils going down this Saturday. Best not to overthink it—just enjoy the experience!
Pecan Penny’s |113 East Main Street Saturday at 4 PM – 7 PM
Sponsored by Brewdog, downtown BBQ joint Pecan Penny’s is kicking off patio season with an all-you-can-eat Crawfish boil, complete with giveaways and a DJ.
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Rehab Tavern | 456 W Town St 2 PM – 6 PM
Rehab’s own 4/20 crawfish boil kicks off at 2:00. Your $15.75 entrance fee will net you a pint of beer in addition to all-you-can-eat crawfish and fixins’!
Can’t make either of these, or want to try the boil experience before committing to a large-scale event? Check out Kai’s Crab Boil or Boiling Seafood Crawfish—both on Bethel Road —for first-rate seafood experiences you won’t soon forget.
Why are there two crawfish boils on the same day? Why are there two crawfish restaurants on the same road? We may never know, and honestly, who cares? Crawfish is the bomb! Just put on your bib and get crackin’!