Tuesday, April 11, 2006

29 Diner: Fairfax, VA

The 29 Diner (formerly the Tastee 29 Diner) is the place where I developed my love of diners in general. My last year of high school I spent probably two to four nights per week here with three buddies of mine. So I could review this place in my sleep... which is more or less what I'm doing right now.

First of all it must be noted that this is a true 24/7 diner. They're closed on Christmas Eve for about 12 hours, and that's it. The place is open the whole rest of the year, which means that when you're jonesing for an after-Thanksgiving snack, this is the perfect place to come. You'll find some very interesting characters here, especially in the 2am to 6am time period (I recall a guy who interrupted a conversation I was having to point out that the entire Internet was housed at a colocation facility just up the road from the diner).

The building itself is a very beautifully preserved streamline modern Mountian View diner. According to the official website, it was delivered to its location on July 20, 1947. The joint was called Lee's Diner for a short period of time, but for most of its life it was the 29 Diner. Then for a period beginning in (I think) the 1980s it was part of a D.C.-metro-area mini-chain of diners and was given the "Tastee 29 Diner" name. Finally, some time around the year 2001, the "Tastee" was removed and it went back to its original(ish) name. The picture you see above is visually identical to the original 29 Diner sign, although I'm not too clear on whether it's the original sign refurbished or just a faithful copy.

Back in 1947, Route 29 was a pretty rural place. The diner was in the middle of nowhere. It was basically a truck stop, since 29 was a major trucking route. Since then, Fairfax County has grown to be one of the most populous counties in the country. In fact, even here in Boston I sometimes hear people using "Fairfax County" as a synonym for horrible suburban sprawl. It's mostly strip malls and car dealerships abutting the diner these days.

Random fact that I picked up from a short order cook who used to work there: the 29 Diner had a liquor license back in the 1970s. This cook remembered there being a bar fight in the diner and someone actually ended up flying out through the window. Crazy times. They lost (or maybe gave up) their liquor license not too long after that incident.

But enough background material. What about the food?

Here's how a typical meal at the 29 Diner would go. My three friends and I would saunter in at about midnight. We'd get seated at a booth. The waitress would give us water (bear with me, this is important info). I'd order a triple decker BLT. Chris would get a chocolate milkshake, although if really hungry he'd get a "plain burger, just meat and bread." Jimmy would often order a triple decker club, and Kevin... I dunno. He'd get something. Kind of a loose cannon. Regardless of what we ordered, we'd also get two orders of french fries and split them between the four of us. (Also routine, but nothing to do with food: at some point in the night, we would pony up the dough to get "Folsom Prison Blues" played on the jukebox.)

The fries at this place are heavenly. Not too thick, not too thin. Fried in... lard? Bacon fat? Who knows? I'm guessing it's something really bad for you, because it tastes so damn good. The BLT is always awesome. Lettuce crisp, tomatoes fresh, and the bacon is fatty without being greasy, crunchy without poking my gums, and delicious without, uh, tasting bad.

And the water! The water flows like, yes, water. Seriously. You take one single sip of water, and the waitress immediately comes over and fills your glass right back up to the brim. Also of note on the beverage front is that they have birch beer on tap, which is pretty rare for VA, even if it is the third-rate Fanta brand. The milkshakes always tasted pretty okay to me, but Chris was a connoisseur, and he liked the shakes enough to order them every time, which says something, I guess.

I've actually only eaten breakfast at the 29 Diner a handful of times. It's pretty decent, albeit typical, diner fare. The only thing noteworthy about the breakfast is that it's the South, so you can get grits. Omelettes are passable. The home fries suck. Other than that, there's nothing to separate their eggs over easy from anyone else's.

I like a whole lot of things about this diner. In fact, the few things that it gets wrong are entirely mitigated by the incredibly cheap prices. Maybe the menu items have gone up in price since I last visited a year ago, but last I checked you could get a single-decker BLT in the $2.00 range. Can't beat that.

29 Diner
(703) 591-6720
10536 Lee Highway (Route 29)
Fairfax City, VA 22030
(Google Local/Map)
(Official website: pics, history, historical menus, and more!)


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