Rhode Island Diners

by JudithG

by Judith Glynn. Diners serve inexpensive, hearty meals, many using homegrown ingredients prepared by gourmet chefs. Rhode Island is where the diner concept began.

Bite-size Rhode Island measures 37 by 48 square miles. It has a Colonial past and miles of beaches along its Atlantic coastline. But a true slice of Americana gets taken for granted here. And that's the classic American diner. Stool for stool, booth for booth, in terms of cultural trends and great eats, a Rhode Island diner stop is a must.

Diner History

It all began in 1872 when Walter Scott cut holes in the canvas sides of a freight wagon, hitched a horse to it and sold light foods alongside a downtown Providence building. Little did he or his customers know that his concept would later become permanent structures with counters lengthened and expanded menus. By the 1940s and ‘50s, which was the diner’s heyday, 6,000 diners had been built, most of them anchoring Northeastern neighborhoods.


Typical Diner Counter

Typical Diner Counter
Typical Diner Counter
Johnson & Wales

Speak Like a Rhode Islander

The Rhode Island Dictionary [ILLUSTRATED]

Rhode Islanders, like Texans, Georgians and the British, have their own version of the English language. This is its Rosetta Stone. Translated by the canny Mark Patinkin and ill...

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Today, around 2000 classic diners remain with New England boasting the country’s oldest. Some are on the National Register of Historic Places. Diner aficionados can identify the manufacturer. For instance, the Sterling Streamliner resembles a locomotive, while a Worcester diner is barrel-shaped. Beware of gaudy, “nouveau diners,” built to resemble the past. A vintage diner was manufactured elsewhere with a numbered tag. It was taken to a site and assembled there with seats for around 35 patrons. Stools are a must. Other features included ceramic tile floors and half-walls, chrome and stainless steel, menu boards in mahogany frames, marble or Formica countertops and often a wall refrigerator that clicks shut. 

Diner Stools
Diner Stools

An All-Time Favorite

The Modern Diner, built in 1940 and located in Pawtucket, is a Sterling Streamliner diner and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Menu selections can include Lobster Benedict. Or how about French toast stuffed with blueberry cream cheese or with mascarpone and strawberries. Weekends are very popular here with often a line out the door. 

Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI



Open All Night

The Haven Bros. Diner, in downtown Providence, is on wheels. Around 5 p.m. it pulls up alongside City Hall and closes when the morning dew rolls over the city. The place is a giddy sideshow of club people, white-collar professionals, college students and weirdos. Top order here is the Murder Burger. That's double patties, bacon, mayo, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and onions. And be sure to top it off with coffee milk, a Rhode Island concoction. Somehow the Haven Bros. diner gets away with being a little pricey but where else is there to go in the wee hours.

Books on Diners

American Diner Then and Now

From the first diner in 1872 to the "rediscovery" of diners in the 1990s, Richard J. S. Gutman's American Diner Then and Now covers the history, architecture, menus, and the app...

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Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: An All-American Road Trip . . . with Recipes! (Food Network)

Food Network star Guy Fieri takes you on a tour of America's most colorful diners, drive-ins, and dives in this tie-in to his enormously popular television show, complete with r...

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More Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: A Drop-Top Culinary Cruise Through America's Finest and Funkies...

Join New York Times bestselling author Guy Fieri, host of the hugely popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, as he takes you on a tour of 60 more of the best loca...

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Diners in Small Towns

East Greenwich is a showcase community of pre-Revolutionary and Victorian homes with Jigger’s Diner on Main Street. The tiny Worcester-style diner has a few tables, 13 authentic stools and a vintage rotary pay phone. Home-made potato chips here have a chipotle dipping sauce accented with sour cream and chives. That's finger-licking-good for only $4.89. And do try the johnnycakes, which are similar to pancakes, with an origin dating back to Colonial times. They're made from local stone-ground corn meal. A stack of four costs $4.99. 

Across the Narragansett Bay, which slices the state in half, is the Blue Plate Diner located in Middletown. That's a stone's throw from fancy Newport. With the bountiful Atlantic Ocean only a net away, the Blue Plate serves a Fresh Fisherman's Platter brimming with cod, scallops, shrimp and calamari for $19.

Vintage Stove at Culinary Arts Museum
Vintage Stove at Culinary Arts Museum

Diner Foklore

For a combined food industry and diner experience, the Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum in Providence has a 25,000-square-foot gallery accented with antique cast-iron stoves, refrigerators with motors on top, 7,000 cookbooks and a country fair replica. Fearing the loss of an American institution, a 1929 Ever Ready Diner was installed in the middle of it all, complete with neon, photographs and furnishings. Note: The museum will continue its normal hours through May 19, 2013 when it closes to conduct a comprehensive inventory of its thousands of items. The museum reopens at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

Rhode Island Off the Beaten Path, 7th: A Guide to Unique Places (Off the Beaten Path Series)

Rhode Island Off the Beaten Path features the things travelers and locals want to see and experience––if only they knew about them. From the best in local dining to quirky cultu...

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If You Go

Tourist information about Rhode Island, which was one of America's 13 colonies when the country was formed, can be found at the state's tourism Web site at Visit Rhode Island  or call toll-free to 800-556-2484.

Updated: 07/25/2014, JudithG
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jptanabe on 06/21/2013

Lovely introduction to Rhode Island diners. We have a diner in our village (called the Village Diner of course) and I love the atmosphere. Next time I'm in Rhode Island I'll have to check these out.

JudithG on 04/05/2013

Hi Mire, There were built all over the U.S. but their prevalence is the East Coast, into New Jersey, out to Ohio but not that much farther -- to the best of my knowledge.

Mira on 04/04/2013

So between the 1940s and 1950s, 6,000 diners were built all over the US, or only on the East Coast?
I love the idea of diners, and enjoyed your article!:)

JudithG on 03/07/2013

Thanks Katiem, If you do make it to Rhode Island and I'm there at the same time, let's do breakfast at the Modern Diner. Thanks for your comments, by the way. JG

katiem2 on 03/07/2013

I love little warm and cozy diners. I've visited every diner in my city and surrounding area I have located, it's a bit of a hobby and a very nice experience. You meet the most interesting people in diners and enjoy some amazing food. Now I'm adding Rhode Island Diners to my bucket list. :)K

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