When in Los Angeles the chances of bumping into a celebrity or passing by a movie or TV filming skyrockets. Odds of getting delicious food also increases as The City of Angels offers a large array of restaurants, specializing in a particular type of cuisine or offering everything in the kitchen sink, a place of fine dining or a greasy spoon. Dinah’s Family Restaurant, located on the border of the city’s Westchester and Culver City neighborhoods, is the latter, a quintessential diner that’s been open since 1959 serving everything from fried chicken to pancakes to BBQ.
The family owned 24-hour diner is famous for more than just its fried chicken and oven baked pancakes. It’s become a highly recognized restaurant for being used in famous movies including Little Miss Sunshine, Drive, Nightcrawler, Pulp Fiction, and The Big Lebowski, as well as TV shows like Modern Family and Malcolm in the Middle. I usually recognize when Dinah’s is used in movies or TV shows, as I am quite familiar with this fun and spirited diner. As the birthplace of my father and home to several family members, L.A. was a frequent destination for my family, and still is with my brother now residing there. From massive family reunions, to quick late night meals, to early morning breakfasts before heading out to Disney Land, Dinah’s Family Restaurant has beccome a go-to stop for us every time we visit. In February 2017 when visiting my brother I had him drop me off at Dinah’s for a last meal before heading to the airport for my flight to Chicago. It has become a habit of nature to eat at Dinah’s every time I’m in Los Angeles!
Dinah’s Family Restaurant has a colorful and energetic interior that makes it a stand out spot for movies and TV shows looking to film at a retro diner location. The inside throws you back in time a bit to the 60’s, equipped with red-padded booths, a long counter overlooking the kitchen, and red and blue flying saucer-like decorations on the ceiling. Plenty of windows allow for sunlight to brighten up the interior during the day.
The outside of Dinah’s is a bit funky, with an sign that looks more southern in style and a view of a circular room adjoined to the main dining hall of the diner. On the back side of the restaurant is a take-out area where the massive Dinah’s fried chicken tub juts out into the sky, the very first tub sign ever in Los Angeles.
While the restaurant has become a spot I automatically associate with visits to Los Angeles, the truth is that most of the food I’ve had at Dinah’s is pretty mediocre. Dinah’s Monster Burger – made with bacon, cheese, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, red onions, pickles, and thousand island dressing – is too greasy and more bun than patty while Dinah’s Special Club Sandwich – made with turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss, Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and mayo – lacks a bold flavor that sets it apart from sandwiches I could make at home. The restaurant’s BBQ options seem like an odd inclusion on the menu, but Dinah’s is known for serving a little bit of everything. The BBQ sauce served with ribs and chicken is too runny and sweet for my liking. Their ribs are chewy and tough, lacking the tenderness and smokiness that I look for, while their chicken is as dry as Death Valley, even when slathering on BBQ sauce. Sides like fries, onion rings, coleslaw, and soup are all fine, but no food jumps out as a go-to side, as they are all equally average.
Dinah’s is famous for their fried chicken, with an original recipe that has been kept secret for decades. My dad and my uncle told my cousins and I that their mother would almost always order Dinah’s fried chicken for large parties at her house, as it was delicious and a sure fire hit at the party. Nowadays they agree Dinah’s fried chicken is not as good as it used to be. In my opinion, out of the two or three times I’ve had their fried chicken, I’d say it’s one of the worst I’ve tried. The breading is flavorless and so crispy I feel like I’m eating a burnt piece of toast when I bite into it, while the chicken is extremely dry. The best thing about the fried chicken at Dinah’s is the quantity and affordability. Dinah’s Complete Chicken Dinner comes with 2 fried white meat breasts and a wing, 2 fried dark meat thighs and a leg, and is served with soup or salad, two sides, rolls, banana bread and a soda, all for about $19.
While Dinah’s is mainly a pathway of nostalgia for my family and I, there are some stand out breakfast options that make it a place worth going to in the morning or if craving some giant pancakes at 3am at night. Breakfast specials that come with meat and a choice of eggs, their array of sizable omelettes, and the biscuits & gravy with two eggs hit the spot every time. In the end though, it’s Dinah’s sweet breakfast offerings like waffles, french toast, and pancakes that are its saving grace. When my brother and I were little we would always go for their massive chocolate chip pancakes, but once we took a taste of Dinah’s Gourmet Oven Apple Pancake that my dad always ordered, there was no turning back. Dinah’s array of oven baked pancakes, including apple, German, and banana walnut, are the real reasons I go back to Dinah’s every time I’m in Los Angeles. The Gourmet Oven Apple Pancake is baked for 20 minutes and topped with fresh apples and cinnamon glaze that makes for an indulgent and massive treat. It’s by far the best food at Dinah’s!
Sometimes a restaurant, especially a diner that seemingly specializes in every possible food, doesn’t need to knock it out of the park with everything for you to keep coming back. They just need to serve a couple dishes that particularly hit the spot, with good service and a friendly and fun atmosphere. That is Dinah’s for me! I go back every time for a taste of those oven baked pancakes, some excellent people watching, and the chance to reflect back on fond memories I’ve made at Dinah’s and in Los Angeles. If near the Westchester/Culver City area or on the way to the airport with some time to spare, Dinah’s Family Restaurant is worth a visit. However, if it requires driving through hours of L.A. traffic hell, then don’t waste your time as there is likely to be another diner nearby that can be your go-to spot.
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire