7 diners where the locals go
Come on in, pull up a chair and make yourself at home.
Diners remind us what life was like before fast food. They offer comfort food at a comfort price, and we'd never pay in anything but hard-earned cash. Meals are homemade and hearty. Customers are considered family. Specials are written on a marker board, chalkboard, or yellowed-from-age piece of paper. Alcohol is not served, but you can get breakfast all day, every day.
Family-owned diners are a mainstay of small Southern Indiana towns. 812 picked our favorites. We don't claim they're the best, but anyone within a 10-mile radius can tell you how to get there. These diners feature that mix of sass and sweet friendliness that make a place feel like home. And whether you want a hamburger or a heap of hash browns, we know you'll find it here, served with a side of hospitality.
Burgers and pies
The Burger Joint
Where: 206 South Adams St., Bloomington
What to order: A burger, of course. And fries.
When someone will serve you: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. for lunch, but closed Sunday.
When you open the door, walk to the red counter. Don't sit down yet, you've got to place your order. Pickle or onion on your cheeseburger? If you order everything, you'll also get lettuce. Although the Clark family owns Hinkle's now, they've kept the original family burger and chili recipes because they've worked so well. The one-room building holds six tables where you can chat with your neighbor while you wait for your order to come up. Soft crushed ice fills your sweet tea glass, but the real star is your hamburger. It's as greasy as they get, but it's delicious that way.
The beef patty was formed from meat ground on the premises that day. A simple white bread bun sandwiches the meat, and you can dribble as much ketchup or mustard as you like. Top the meal off with some crinkle-cut fries in a grease-soaked paper bag and you'll walk away with an All-American satisfaction. Even former IU president Herman B Wells loved Hinkle's, and there's a framed signed letter on the wall to prove it.
The Pie Place
Where: 125 West 2nd Street, Mount Vernon
What to order: Pizza, pie
When someone will serve you: Monday - Wednesday 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., Thursday 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Friday 5 a.m. - 12 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. - 11 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Wilfrud Nobles, 53, says being the oldest running restaurant in Mount Vernon gives Dean's Diner an edge. The diner is named for his mother and has been running for 33 years.
The long, wooden bar, along with smoking and non-smoking sections, make this feel like an old-fashioned diner. Nobles' mother comes in early every morning to bake pies - coconut cream, lemon cream, chocolate cream, the list continues. He says people come in for the pies, but their specialty is pizza and strombolis.
The pizza is exactly how a pizza should be - cheesy, just the right amount of sauce, and a middle ground between hand tossed and thin crust (leaning more towards thin). The spices in the sauce make a perfect marinara, and the best part is that you can get whatever toppings you choose. There is no limit.
Nobles says that you get attached to your extended family of regulars, and it's hard to see them go. "With so much time here, we've had people pass," Nobles says. "And that's difficult."
He chuckles when questioned on the busiest time of day, because it's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Specials are offered every day, and on Sunday there's a buffet.
"Customers like a family business," Nobles says. "There are not many independently owned and operated businesses left."
Nobles hopes diners will outlast chains. But in a franchise world, he understands that insurance and taxes are difficult to pay; and sometimes fast-food service isn't an option.
"People don't have time or patience to come in, sit down and eat in," Nobles says. "Everybody wants things so quick now."
Nobles believes a diner should offer comfort food, a homey atmosphere, personalized service, and custom orders. That's the secret to keeping customers coming back for 30 years.
More of our favorite diners: