Like it or not, diners are a part of popular culture. It seems like every good television show has had a diner as a major hangout, from Seinfield‘s Monk’s Diner to Arnold’s, seen in Happy Days. Heck, even the kids of Saved By the Bell hung out at The Max. The movie Grease had a corner diner, and songs from the 50s are filled with references to milkshakes and soda fountains. What is astounding is that the diner hasn’t died out and been relegated to nostalgic venues of yesteryear. Instead, they are quite alive today, drawing in customers with their old-fashioned feel and homemade food. I decided to find the best diner in the greater Omaha area, a quest that will not be easy or simple to finish. I will begin with reviewing three restaurants I visited recently. So sit back, put on your Elvis record and tuck in your napkin. It’s time for a blast from the past.
This diner is full of traditional kitschy memorabilia from the 50s and early 60s— movie posters and records cover the walls. Guests will be greeted by two of the era’s most famous celebrities, in statue form: Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
The look of the diner is classic. The brown quilted booths and long counter seem to be out of a movie. Each table has a miniature jukebox on it, complete with the cards that turn to list the available selections.
Larry Richling, an Omaha native, came up with the concept for this diner in a most unusual way. In 2003, Richling was on a family vacation when he saw an original 1950s diner for sale. This stainless steel building was transformed into the Hollywood Cafe.
The food is, as James Dean might have said, ‘The real cat’s meow, daddy-o.’ The menu has a wide variety of food, from traditional diner fare such as milkshakes, hamburgers and fried chicken to more creative foods, like Liver and Onions or the ‘Elvis Baby’ (a peanut butter and banana sandwich). The prices are also rather reasonable. Expect to pay around $12 for a lunchtime meal with a milkshake.
When I went to the diner, I had onion rings and a caramel milkshake. The onion rings were divine. They were the perfect thickness and had an adequate amount of breading on them. The milkshake came out in traditional 1950s presentation— a glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, with the extra shake in a silver canister. It was good. Really good. I-ate-the-entire-thing good.
You don’t have to just take my word for it. One of the world’s richest men is a regular customer. That’s right, I’m speaking of Warren Buffett. He likes it so much, he takes his company there, company such as rapper Jay-Z.
Alas, I did not see Buffet and Jay-Z when I went. Rather, the cafe was full of elderly travelers who had just came from their tour bus.
The cons of the Hollywood Cafe are few. The location is inconvenient. It is a five minute drive from downtown, but can give a much-needed break from the bustle of the city. Some patrons will find the decor cheesy and over-the-top, but others will find it to be appealing and exciting.
This diner is super kitschy and fun, but has the quality food to back it up. I recommend this restaurant to families with children. Kids will love taking their picture with Elvis and Marilyn and pressing the buttons on the jukeboxes. It is also a good locale for a change of pace. Sitting at the stainless steel counter is sure to be unlike anything you normally do. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a movie star?
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars. Highly recommend.
The Hollywood Cafe is located at 2212 Abbot Dr., Carter Lake, Iowa. Their website (which is currently experiencing technical difficulties) can be found here. Phone number: 402-280-1000. Open seven days a week, with both indoor and patio seating.
Part one of a three part series. Stay tuned to see the other two featured diners.