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5 Family Diners to Visit in New England

by Debra Bokur

Mar 3, 2020

Diner: Photo: Boggy | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

If you’ve ever embarked on a family road trip along the northeastern U.S. coast, chances are you’ve eaten at least one meal in a traditional diner.


Diner culture actually dates to the 1920s, when these iconic eateries were commonly called lunch cars. While many were actual decommissioned railway cars, huge numbers were manufactured as prefabricated structures, delivered ready to have appliances hooked up and doors opened for business.


Wondering about the traditional long, narrow shape? That design decision helped to facilitate easy shipping via highway or railway from the manufacturing site to the business’s location. Most often, interior design reflects Art Deco and Streamline Moderne elements.


Modern Diner, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

I’m a native Rhode Islander, so the Ocean State gets my vote for the best New England diner — the Modern Diner in Pawtucket. Housed within a manufactured Sterling Streamliner, its claims to fame are consistently great food, and its status as the first diner named to the National Register of Historic Places. The specials change daily, but if you’re lucky, you’ll be there the day Maple Rum French Toast or Blueberry Stuffed French Toast is offered. Just allot time for a carb-recovery nap afterwards.


Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner, Bangor, Maine

While I no longer call Rhode Island home, I do live for part of the year in Maine, which means Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner in Bangor gets a big shout-out. If you’re flying in or out of Bangor, the diner is located not far from Bangor Airport, and its corned-beef hash and blueberry pancake stack are why I like my flights to leave or arrive mid-morning: When it comes to breakfast food, it’s always good to concentrate on the enjoyment factor. You’ll have a soundtrack of tunes from the 1950s and 1960s playing, and, if visiting during warmer months, you can sidle up to the big window on the exterior to place your order. As a nod to the building’s past as a 1970s ice cream parlor, the menu of treats includes amazing banana splits, frozen desserts and strawberry shortcake with ice cream.


Dottie’s Diner, Woodbury, Connecticut

It would be a shame to discuss diners without mentioning donuts. In Woodbury, Connecticut, you can get cozy at Dottie’s Diner in a booth where the seats are upholstered in a happy shade of blue, then dive into an existential dilemma over which homemade donut to order. While the diner is located within the historic former Phillips Diner dating to 1934, the current owners pay tribute to the structure’s history with a selection of Fresh Daily Phillips Donuts. While the Vanilla Dipped and Jelly are my personal favorites, you can decide where your own calories are best spent. Or, if you’re showing off your willpower, there’s a full menu of breakfast and lunch favorites to choose from instead.


4 Aces Diner, West Lebanon, New Hampshire

It may be a little campy, but New Hampshire’s 4 Aces Diner in West Lebanon is actually an original Worcester diner car (car number 837 to be exact) dating to 1952 — making it authentic campiness. Open daily until 3 p.m., the gleaming interior offers booth seating and red-cushioned stools at the counter are perfect for selfies while you and your kids pose with your ice cream frappes and soda floats. The breakfast menu includes cinnamon roll pancakes, pineapple upside-down pancakes and popovers with maple butter; while savory pot pies and brownie sundaes are perfect comfort food choices for lunch or early dinner. Try a Killer Kowalski sandwich with kielbasa sausage, barbecue pulled pork, sriracha sauce and coleslaw served up on a sweet corn sub roll.


The Birdseye, Castleton, Vermont

The Birdseye in Castleton, Vermont, is a classic 1940s Silk City Dining Car and it replaced an older, wooden diner of the same name. For half a century, through multiple owners and names, the completely refurbished Birdseye has reigned over its spot in Castleton’s history as a beloved destination for family dining. The menu features favorites from meatloaf to eggs and pancakes (served up, naturally, with real Vermont maple syrup); plus selections from The Malt Shop such as milk shakes, chocolate and vanilla egg creams, root beer floats and malted milk shakes.


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