Food & Drink

Diner Democracy: Contemporary Utah Diners for All to Love

Utah has its fair share of classic American diners serving nostalgia, comfort, iconic decor and traditional fare. From Ogden to Oakley, these six restaurants fit the bill.


Classic American diner restaurants hold a special place in the hearts of many, both for their timeless charm and the comforting, hearty meals they serve. These quintessential eateries are more than just places to grab a quick bite; they are cultural landmarks that have shaped the American dining experience for generations.

The roots of American diners can be traced back to the late 19th century when horse-drawn lunch wagons or “night owls” would cater to late-night workers and revelers. Over time, these wagons evolved into stationary establishments with iconic stainless steel exteriors and neon signs. The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of diner culture, with their popularity peaking during the post-World War II era.

One of the key elements that set classic American diners apart is their unique ambiance. The retro-themed interiors often feature checkered floors, cozy booths, and counter seating, where you can watch the hustle and bustle of the grill. The distinct blend of nostalgia, comfort, and a touch of kitsch has made diners a welcoming gathering place for people from all walks of life. The American diner is a truly democratic phenomenon. 

Classic American diners are known for their extensive menus, offering everything from breakfast favorites to hearty sandwiches, burgers, and comforting, home-style dinners. 

Oakley Diner, former Road Island Diner, has expanded in reopened. Photo from

One of the best Utah examples of this is the Oakley Diner — formerly Road Island Diner — an authentic, historic, made-in-1939, O’Mahony Co. diner that was originally transported across the country to Utah in the spring of 2007. Recently reopened as the Oakley Diner, menu items include burgers, country fried steak, patty melt, meatloaf, chili, corned beef hash, and of course, homemade milkshakes and desserts like banana splits — classic American diner cuisine, indeed. 

Jeff Masten is a New England Culinary Institute grad who served as chef at The Roof restaurant in the Hotel Utah, Executive Chef at Market Street Grill, and helped to open and define Red Rock Brewing Co. when it launched in downtown SLC. But his first love was traditional American comfort food, which is why he opened his own diner in 2006 — Left Fork Grill — in the space that was formerly Kramer’s Diner. 

Classic dishes like liver and onions, roasted turkey, meatloaf, Reuben and corned beef on rye sandwiches, and homemade coleslaw (his grandmother’s recipe) are real crowd pleasers. But Left Fork Grill is probably most beloved for its outrageously delicious homemade pies, and every table has a pie plate stand affixed to it. 

Founded in 2002 by Annie Sill Curry, Annie’s Diner in Kaysville is now owned and operated by Jason Sanders and his wife Dani, and just recently updated its menu. But not to worry, Annie’s still offers classic comfort foods such as Salisbury steak, chicken cordon bleu, Utah-style scones with honey butter, flapjacks, chicken fried steak, roast turkey with mashed potatoes & gravy, and now, prime rib on Friday nights. And, it’s all served up in classic diner ambiance complete with counter seating that reminds me of Arnold’s Diner from the Happy Days TV series. 

One of my favorite Ogden eateries is No Frills Diner on 25th, where you can enjoy things like a bone-in ham steak, seared beef brisket, or country fried steak for breakfast, and menu items such as a Monte Cristo sandwich, patty melt, grilled pork chop with sides, and shepherd’s pie later in the day, all in a modern diner atmosphere and ambiance. 

Although the atmosphere is very American diner-ish, Vertical Diner is not your daddy’s diner. Ian Brandt’s unique, contemporary diner is distinguished by serving vegetarian and vegan fare made from scratch with wholesome ingredients. And, 90% of the menu items at Vertical Diner can be prepared gluten free. Here, you’ll find vegetarian versions of classic comfort foods like mushroom stroganoff, “Chikun” fried steak, the Vertical Reuben with grilled seitan, and a hearty breakfast called The Avalanche, with two pancakes, country potatoes, tofu scramble, and a choice of mushrooms, tempeh “bacun” or “sauzage.”

Perhaps Utah’s most iconic diner is Ruth’s Diner in Emigration Canyon. Ruth’s Diner isn’t just a restaurant; it’s an institution with character. Its legacy is built on the tireless efforts of the strong-willed Ruth Evans and the commitment of subsequent owners to preserving her vision. It’s a place where generations of families and friends have made lasting memories while savoring hearty meals. 

Ruth’s was established in 1930 when Ruth Evans converted an old trolley car into a makeshift kitchen to serve hungry travelers. The quaint trolley car, perched on the side of a hill, has since been expanded into a charming restaurant and sprawling patio that retains its vintage charm, with scenic views of the canyon making it a unique and picturesque setting.

And, while vintage diner dishes like chicken fried steak, pot roast, and meatloaf pepper the menu at Ruth’s, they are accompanied by more modern fare such as roasted cauliflower quinoa tacos, butternut squash carbonara, and Chef Erik’s popular raspberry chicken. 

Whether you’re seeking a quick meal, a cozy spot for conversation, or a trip down memory lane, the classic American diner is always there, ready to serve up a slice of history with a side of fries.

Feature Image: The patio at Ruth’s Diner is a popular dining spot. Photo by Dung Hoang.


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