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The Diner Dinner

By Luci

You are on a road trip traveling on the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Argentina. Where will you eat? Diners, diners and diners.

Enrique Zapata and his wife, Natasha, are dear friends and for many years I have been doing a dinner to celebrate Enrique’s birthday. (I don’t neglect Natasha. She and I have birthdays just three days apart so we usually get together for an evening out.) Enrique is an adventuresome soul. His next adventure - that’s right - driving from Alaska to Argentina. Of course, he will be eating in a lot of diners so, to give him a taste of his meals to come, his birthday dinner this year was a sophisticated take on diner food. Diner food, itself, has become quite sophisticated compared to the simple offerings of years ago. Are we not all fans of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Dives and Drive-ins? So a celebratory dinner of diner food, a bit upscale, seemed the thing to do.

The table setting looks nothing like a diner’s table. I thought about using paper placemats and paper napkins but just could not forego my tendency to dress up tables, most often with flowers. For a genuine diner look - go for paper.



Prosecco, devoid of embellishments


Mexican Marinated Shrimp

Guacamole with Green Olives & Roasted Peppers, Purple Potato Chips

To Pick: Sopresato, Mozzarella Cheese, Marinated Mushrooms


Rib-Eye Steak Sandwiches on Crusty Italian Bread.

To Be Slathered with Creamy Horseradish Dressing or Grainy Dijon Mustard.

With Toppers: Bacon, Blue or Truffled Cheeses, Roasted Shallots, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Sweet Onion.

Sautéed Fresh Corn, Red & Green Peppers, Red Onion, and Basil

Spicy Cole Slaw

Patatas Bravas

Digestive Interlude

Marinated Artichokes, Ceregnola Olives, Celery Chunks


Vegan Chocolate Cake

Ice Cream: Vegan Vanilla and/or Chocolate Gelato


Mexican Marinated Shrimp

Shrimp cocktails are a staple of diner food, usually served with cocktail sauce. This recipe is a variation that heats up the taste of the shrimp with a marinade that allows for preparation two days ahead.


1 quart bottle Bloody Mary mix or V-8 tomato juice, divided

1 cup water

1 ½ pounds large, peeled, deveined raw shrimp, preferably with tails removed

4 cups ice

½ cup sriracha sauce

⅓ cup vodka

⅓ cup olive oil

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Tabasco

1 tablespoon chili powder

4 sprigs cilantro (do not chop)

1 cup thinly sliced onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Garnish: Chopped cilantro


Cook shrimp: 1. Place 1 cup water and 3 cups Bloody Mary mix in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over

high. Remove from heat.

2. Immediately add shrimp; cover and let stand until shrimp are barely opaque in centers,

about 8 minutes. Immediately stir ice into shrimp mixture to stop cooking; let stand until

shrimp are cool. Drain shrimp, and pat dry.

3. Meanwhile, make marinade. Stir together remaining ingredients in a large heavy-duty

plastic freezer bag. Add shrimp. Place in refrigerator to marinate at least 8 hours or up to 2


4. Drain shrimp and remove the cilantro and onion. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.

Guacamole with Green Olives & Roasted Peppers, Purple Potato Chips

Guacamole once was served only in Tex-Mex restaurants but now is a common starter in restaurants and parties at home. Years ago I made it from scratch but now excellent guacamole can be purchased. Embellish with additional ingredients and it gets kicked up a notch.


8 ounces guacamole

1/4 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers


Stir together all ingredients.

To Pick: Sopresato, Mozzarella Cheese, Marinated Mushrooms

What diner or restaurant does not place a plate of little things to pick on with your drinks before the order is placed? I purchased a spicy sopresato, creamy mozzarella cheese and savory marinated mushrooms.


Another diner staple - steak sandwich. Scaling it up is common and a lot of fun with almost limitless choices.

Ingredients and Preparation

Bread: A crusty Italian or your choice.

Rib-eye steak: Grill or pan fry 1 1/2 inch rib-eye steaks. It must be rare. Slice thinly.

Slather with a creamy horseradish sauce or grainy mustard

Top with any or all of these:

  1. Cheese: I used a blue cheese and a truffled cheese but cheddar, Swiss or plain American are also good cheeses.

  2. Bacon: Fry thick slices. They should be well done but not crispy or they will fall apart when picked up to put on sandwich.

  3. Roasted shallots:


8 large shallots, unpeeled

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Toss shallots with olive oil. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes. The shallots should be soft with browned skins. Cool.

  3. Slice off the tops of the shallots and squeeze out the shallot flesh. Season with salt and pepper.

  4. Sliced tomatoes: Use small rather than large tomatoes so that they will fit better in the sandwich.

  5. Lettuce: Sandwich-size leaves of romaine are ideal.

  6. Sweet white onion: Thin slices, please.

Sautéed Fresh Corn, Red & Green Peppers, Red Onion, and Basil

A joy of summer is fresh corn. Diners often serve cooked (too often, overcooked) corn on the cob. But so messy! Why not cut the corn from the cob and serve in a bowl with butter? Additional ingredients will charge the dish up.


1-2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup red pepper, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup green pepper, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup red onion, cut into small pieces

4 ears of yellow corn kernels cut from cob

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup basil, in small slices


  1. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté the red and green pepper until just beginning to turn soft, about 3 minutes.

  2. Add corn kernels, stir and sauté for only about 2 minutes so that the corn retains its fresh-from-the-cob flavor.

  3. Place in serving bowl and stir in the basil.

Spicy Cole Slaw

It’s a favorite of diners and casual summer meals. Give it a spicy kick to make it a hit. The slaw can be used as a sandwich topper or dished out separately.


1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon brown mustard

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

3 cups shredded cabbage, preferably savoy

1 tart apple, peeled, cored and shredded

3/4 cup carrot, shredded


  1. For the dressing: Mix the mayo, vinegar, mustard, cayenne and salt and pepper.

  2. Combine the cabbage with the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to to 2 days ahead.

Patatas Bravas

These are the Spanish equivalent of home fries, a diner staple, and seen on many tapas menus. My friend, Catherine, an accomplished cook, contributed them for this dinner. You will find many recipes on the Internet.


Marinated Artichokes, Cerengnola Olives, Celery Chunks

It’s always nice to take a break after the main meal with a light salad or, as many diners used to do, with a tray of pickled or crunchy veggies. Many believe these munchies aid digestion.

Place the artichokes, olives and bite-size celery on a tray.


Vegan Chocolate Cake, Vegan Chocolate Frosting

In searching for a vegan chocolate cake for a friend who is a vegan and loves chocolate, I lucked into this one ( It is, according to the many guests that have tasted it, simply and surprisingly (for vegan) delicious. To make it even more delicious use pears rather than apples because pears are perfect in cakes that use fruit. Add almond flavor because the combination of chocolate and almond is wonderful.

Cake Ingredients 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 cups all purpose flour 1 3/4 cups sugar 3/4 cup cocoa powder 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup melted coconut oil 2/3 cup processed fresh pears 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.

1 tablespoon almond extract 1 cup boiling water

Cake Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease two 9-inch cake pans. Line them with parchment rounds and lightly butter and flour.

  2. Measure 1 cup unsweetened almond milk and add the tablespoon of vinegar to it. Stir slightly and set aside to curdle.

  3. In a large bowl, add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk well to combine.

  4. Add the oil, pears, vanilla and almond extracts and the milk/vinegar mixture. Mix gently until well combined.

  5. Carefully pour in the boiling water, mixing gently but constantly. It looks runny but bakes up nicely.

  6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Remove from pans. At this point you may wrap the cake in plastic and freeze or hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Vegan Chocolate Frosting

Frosting Ingredients 1 cup cocoa powder 1 1/2 cups Earth Balance vegan butter, softened 4-5 cups powdered sugar 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 teaspoons almond extract 1/4-1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

Frosting Preparation

1. Put the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Whisk well to remove any clumps.

2. Add the softened vegan butter and mix until creamed and well combined.

3. Add half of the powdered sugar and half of the almond milk, and mix until combined. Add

the rest of the powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extracts. Mix until fluffy..

4. If the frosting seems too dry, add more almond milk, a tablespoon or two at a time. If the

frosting seems too wet and doesn't hold it's shape, add more powdered sugar until it

thickens up. You may freeze or hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

5. Defrost the frosting if frozen. You may frost the cake while the layers are frozen or brought

to room temperature.

6. Serve with the ice cream of your choice.

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1 Comment

Haven't been to a diner in ages, but if this is what they serve now I want to go.

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