Black bears love strawberries. The bears of Northern California could often be seen wandering through the berry patches surrounding Mt. Shasta, an area favored by travelers since the 19th century because of the charmingly hospitable inns and restaurants found there. Bob and Laurie Manley were inspired to recreate the area’s post–Gold Rush hospitality, and they opened their first restaurant, Black Bear Diner, near those same strawberry patches. Nearly 20 years later, their brand has grown to encompass 50 different locations, each of which retains the founders’ principles of small-town charm and generosity. The menus also preserve the mom-and-pop vibe, with dishes such as secret-recipe sweet-cream pancakes, old-fashioned burgers wrapped in wax paper, and, of course, homemade bear claws. Each location is adorned with a trademark bear sculpture that has been hand-carved by Washington chainsaw artist Ray Schulz, who often grants his works with regional characteristics such as cowboy hats or taxi-hailing skills.
A delicious monument to '50s-era nostalgia, 5 & Diner dishes out a dawn-to-dusk menu of 14 specialty burgers and classic comfort fare. At the stroke of lunch, the charbroiled hamburger reins supreme, ensconced between adoring buns, draped with garlands of fixings and special sauce, and accompanied by seasoned fries, coleslaw, potato chips, or a moving argument in favor of primogeniture. Guests can bite into the Southwest burger ($8.99) flanked by a cheese-kissed side of chili fries ($5.29) or explore patty permutations with a tray of cheese-slicked slider bites ($6.99). For bunless munching, the Cadillac meatloaf presents a homemade meatberg piled with chopped bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and onion straws ($10.99).
Family Cafe's artful chefs dish up home-style Midwestern eats for breakfast, lunch, and Friday dinner from within a newly opened feeding hub. Morning meals commence with the cracking of eggshells, which fuel the savory Meatlover's omelet ($8–$9.99), packed with bacon, ham, and sausage, and experimental, yolk-powered automobiles. The spicy Baja breakfast burrito ($8.99) lines a tortilla shell with tasteful scrambled egg, chorizo, and green chili wallpaper splashed with a dash of salsa and cheddar jack cheese. Lunch sandwiches ensconce fixings with more layers than an philosophy-studying onion, featuring the meatloaf sandwich made from a generational recipe and precariously piled with mashed potatoes and gravy ($7.50).
When the Draft House On The Reef says it’s known for chicken wings, it’s not a hollow boast. Each week the cooks coat up to 800 pounds of the savory favorites in flavors such as parmesan, jalapeño , or honey. During football season they serve more than one ton per week. To augment the pub’s menu they sling simple yet satisfying bar eats that include potato skins or pulled-pork sandwiches with pickles and onions, and bartenders slide a wide array of libations down the enormous central bar. From time to time the bar hosts pool and dart tournaments, livening up the atmosphere more effectively than bringing a T-shirt cannon to your parole hearing.
You won’t find many light, barely filling breakfast items on the menu at Perk Eatery. That’s because the chefs use recipes perfected by three generations of Midwestern restaurateurs to create stick-to-your-ribs meals just like the ones their mothers made for them. But recipes aren't everything—the plates of steak 'n' eggs, western omelets, and banana-nut pancakes go one step further in their quest for a homemade taste. They incorporate local and organic ingredients. The staff uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, cage-free eggs, and certified organic coffee roasted especially for the eatery so that diners can know what they’re putting into their bodies without installing metal detectors in their molars. Lunchtime brings the same careful ingredients in classic sandwiches and grass-fed burgers, which emerge fresh from the grill until they close at 3 p.m.
For most people, making pancakes is sort of a mindless process. But Joe Seriale isn’t most people. Though a chef at heart, Joe was determined to learn every facet of the food-service industry—throughout his career, he’s been a cook, head waiter, bar manager, traveling private chef, and has held upper management positions at food-supply companies. So when he finally got the chance to open his own restaurant, he knew exactly what he needed to do to set his diner––and its food––apart. For his menu at Joe’s Diner, he wasn’t interested in making run-of-the-mill pancakes. He created a recipe for buttermilk pancakes that convinced the Phoenix New Times to proclaim his the city’s best in 2010. The extra effort can be seen in many of Joe’s dishes, including biscuits with homemade chorizo gravy, muffulettas with family-recipe tapenade dressing, and fresh baked pies. And, of course, there's also the meatloaf first made famous at a café owned by Joe's grandma Dan, who gave him his first job at the age of 11.
Working alongside Joe is his wife, Joan, who has more than 15 years of restaurant experience and grew up less than a mile from the diner. Together, they serve breakfast and lunch in a dining room that harkens back to the diners of olden days, complete with black-and-white checkered floors, red vinyl booths, and meal orders transmitted through Morse code.