Regional equivalents of the Black Bear Diner chain?
August 19, 2018 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I've moved from California to Pennsylvania, and I'm having to reset my road-trip list of good food! Help!

We're a geographically split family: one half (me) lived in California, and the other half (partner + kids) lives in New Mexico. Now I've moved to Pennsylvania, and I've been away for 20 years, and have no reliable mental list of Places To Eat While On The Road.

While we (1996-2015) and then I (2015 onwards) lived in California, we relied on Black Bear Diner for good, solid road food when we were traveling, either up and down the coast or into the Southwest or Mountain West. Unfortunately, Black Bear doesn't go east of Oklahoma.

I'd love recommendations for similar regional chains in the Midwest and East that we can trust for good food, at a quality one step up from Denny's and IHOP: not haute cuisine, but a good, solid quality of food across the chain, from breakfast to basics.

I'm particularly interested in responses from people who know Black Bear Diner as well as other regional players and can make a direct comparison, but any and all recommendations from roadtrippers are welcome!
posted by scrump to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Eat'n Park (western PA, and parts of OH and WV)
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:24 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cracker Barrel! Especially if you like breakfast food.
posted by Mallenroh at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Friendly's (mostly Bos-Wash corridor, some in Western NY, Virginia, Florida, and the Carolinas.)
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Re Cracker Barrel, I don't know about up north, but down here in the south it can be a bit much, culturally, to swallow.

Not a diner per se, but for your convenience store and gasoline needs, definitely check out the local Wawa. It's a well-run business with friendly staffers and a great story. They published a book about it.
posted by intermod at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

This WaPo article provides reviews of some American chain restaurants and gives Cracker Barrel a solid A.
posted by waving at 2:36 PM on August 19, 2018

I've eaten at both, and I'd rank Cracker Barrel lower than Black Bear Diner by a fair margin (just based on food, not the rest of the experience which is its own kind of trip). But if all you have is national chains, Cracker Barrel isn't terrible at all.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:08 PM on August 19, 2018

NH has The Common Man chain
posted by brujita at 3:31 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Waffle House, yo.
posted by rodlymight at 3:42 PM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

A little love letter to Waffle House from, of all places, Bon Appetit: What It's Like to Work at the Waffle House for 24 Hours Straight.

"After 24 hours on the inside, I can still say that the Waffle House—all 1,764 of them—is my favorite place to eat. Why? Because more than just a place to eat a meal, the Waffle House is an experience. And that’s what I value the most in restaurants, from four-star spots to taco trucks. In many ways, the place is like America itself: It’s filled with people from all walks of life, all races and classes, looking for a little bit of happiness and a personal connection...

Oh, and it’s delicious. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? Trust me. You never forget your first time."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 3:59 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Applebee's would be my one-step-up-from-Denny's choice.
posted by bricoleur at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2018

Steak 'n' Shake.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:35 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bob Evans.
posted by joycehealy at 4:49 PM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

Applebee’s, if they have them there.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:26 PM on August 19, 2018

Seconding Eat'N Park and Steak N Shake. Also Perkins is similar to Denny's, but better. They're a midwest staple. 24/7, I believe, as well.
posted by hydra77 at 11:13 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've only been able to eat at Black Bear Diner once, but that Chorizo Scramble is to die for!

Most Perkins are open 24 hours but my local one closes on weeknights and only stays open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday nights. It is just off a highway but it is more of a commuter highway than a road trip highway.

The Cracker Barrels up north are a lot less southern themed and more farm focused in their decor. I would recommend the Machine Shed over them, but they only have 6 locations - 1 in Illinois and 2 in Iowa. Country Kitchens seem to vary wildly in their quality. Bob Evans was our go-to place when in Ohio, but Steak n' Shake has been disappointing.
posted by soelo at 5:09 AM on August 20, 2018

Skews breakfast, but Another Broken Egg Cafe has the Southeast pretty well covered. And one in Burbank WTF!
posted by Drosera at 5:27 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I moved from Atlanta to Portland two years ago and had to do the same thing but opposite! I haven't checked out Black Bear yet, I'll have to try!

Steak n Shake, and Cracker Barrel are your winners. Also Chick Fil A. Waffle House is patently terrible, both the food and environment.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2018

posted by brujita at 8:58 AM on August 20, 2018

All of my visits to Bob Evans in the past few years have been spectacularly horrible, which is unfortunately because it's the most ubiquitous of the sit-down interstate exit chains. Waffle House is fine, and I seek out Steak-n-Shake every time I get west of the Ohio River, but I think both of them are a step down from Denny's/IHOP--fine for burgers and short-order breakfast items but little else on the menu and not a cosy atmosphere. I'd say either Denny's or Cracker Barrel are closest what you're looking for, in the category of reliably common interstate exit restaurants, with the choice depending on where your slider is set for expedience vs/ quality/variety.
posted by drlith at 2:26 PM on August 20, 2018

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