04 February 2008

The Original Mel's Diner: Home of American Graffiti

A rainy evening a couple of days ago, Hubby and I realized later than usual that we hadn't eaten dinner yet. Hubby wasn't in the mood to cook anything and wanted us to just get out. So off to Walnut Creek we went to dine at Mel's Diner--a perfect late night eatery as it is open until 3 a.m.!

Mel's Diner is a classic 50's-style diner based on the drive-in featured in the early George Lucas film American Graffiti. The original eatery where the filming of the movie actually occurred was located in the Central Valley town of Modesto, California. Since that time, other Mel's Diner locations have opened around the West with most being company-owned. However, the Walnut Creek establishment is actually a franchise (which we just learned on this visit).

The decor is classic 50's diner decor with lots of American Graffiti memorabilia and photos gracing the walls. Even if you aren't a fan of the film, Mel's Diner is sure to be a treat because of its easy-going atmosphere, nostalgic charm, and great food. And the service has never been anything less than superb in all our visits even to other locations.

Hubby chose to order the Mel's Classic Burger. The burger was served hot and juicy--just right to curb the craving for the "perfect burger". The bun was very impressive. It held together being was more like a dinner roll than a bun in its density. A large pickle spear being served on the side was refreshing as pickle on the burger is sometimes overpowering. The large leaf of lettuce was fresh and crisp. The burger came without mayo--which made it a refreshing change as one doesn't always want the added calories (although there may have been some butter on the bun).

I ordered my favorite, the French Dip sandwich. The sandwich is offered as a traditional French Dip with roast beef only on the bun or for a nominal charge one can order it Philly style with bell peppers, onions, and cheese. I ordered mine with grilled onions and cheese. Of course the sandwich is served with a small bowl of au jus. Au jus can make or break a French Dip sandwich, and I found Mel's au jus to be very tasty but not too salty. The roast beef was succulent, tender, and perfectly sliced making bites into the sandwich easy.

Instead of the standard side of fries or cole slaw, we chose the beer-battered onion rings (that cost a little extra). The generous portions of rings were hot, crispy, and tasted wonderful. Hubby ate his without condiments while I chose to eat mine like I always do with lots of ketchup. And as really good onion rings should be, they were almost too big to eat in a polite manner. That's the way diner food should be in our estimation--not too fussy and a little bit messy.

The overall ambience of Mel's Diner is always enhanced by the music that plays in the background from the old jukebox that's been converted to play CD's. Many times during our meal, we would be sitting there and then realize that we were quietly humming along to a favorite old tune that we've heard so much throughout our lives that's it's just become a part of the fabric of who we are. I think that's why Mel's Diner appeals to us (and many others). It represents a slice of Americana that has actually been woven into the fabric of our lives. It is who we are. And reconnecting with that part of ourselves is always a great way to spend a rainy evening when it's late, we're hungry, and Hubby doesn't want to cook.

To see any one of the images in this review larger, just click on it. All photographs were taken by permission of the management of the Mel's Diner in Walnut Creek, California.

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