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.
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.
Welcome Diner was built in the 1940s, but it didn’t arrive in Phoenix until 40 years later. Entrepreneur Arthur Valentine prefabricated a handful of diners in Wichita, Kansas, then shipped them across the country to aspiring business owners. With their simple design, the diners were easily moveable, and this one is quite traveled: it spent a good decade of its past life in Los Angeles, then moved to a stretch of Route 66 outside Flagstaff, where truckers could easily pop in while their trucks, too large to fit inside, sat leashed to telephone poles in the parking lot. It finally moved to Phoenix in 1980, where it sat abandoned for more than 20 years. In 2003, the building fell into the hands of artist Sloane McFarland, who revived and gently renovated the restaurant. He and his team kept most of the building's original elements intact except for one new addition to the exterior: the words "Welcome Diner" in cheery red letters. Today, the tiny eatery serves up its own brand of inventive American cuisine. The PB & B burger, for one, tops a half-pound Niman Ranch beef patty with a layer of peanut butter, a layer of bacon, and a layer of bread-and-butter pickles. The vegan po’boy, on the other hand, forgoes meat for fried avocado, kale, and a cajun remoulade. Of course, it wouldn’t be a diner without breakfast. Morning hours bring lemon-ricotta pancakes and creative biscuit sandwiches.
Though they can pile burgers up to three patties high, the chefs at Lenny’s Burger are known more for their culinary prowess than their architectural skills. They start by forming patties from fresh, never-frozen beef, and then infuse them with a burst of flavor by grilling them over an open flame. After sliding the sizzling burger onto a pillowy bun, they carefully choose from a variety of freshly cut toppings and homemade sauces to create their seven styles of burgers. Whether it's the classic Tasty Burger that won them lifelong customers more than 25 years ago, or a newer creation such as the Cowboy Burger topped with onions rings, bacon, cheddar cheese, and a slathering of barbecue sauce, every burger is customized and grilled to order. Root-beer floats from the soda fountain and french fries topped high with chili and cheese complete the meal, creating the best all-American trifecta since the Andrews Sisters discovered hair metal.
The cooks at Fast Eddie’s Diner sling breakfast all day long, filling mouths with sumptuous eats such as french toast and omelets. Their classic sandwiches and hearty burgers silence belly rumbles during lunch keep patrons sated. Fast Eddie’s maintains an unpretentious environment, unlike diners that require customers to wear black ties as bibs.