There’s something quintessentially American about the diner. Life seems simpler in divey grills and breakfast spots, where the aromatic combination of coffee, toast and bacon evokes the power of nostalgia.
Butte County features an abundance of classic diners, cafes, and grills, all of which can momentarily offer that brief feeling of being lost in time, with a black coffee, a short stack, and a curious sense of homey simplicity. If you’re on the hunt for Americana, these spots can scratch that itch.
From the street at its Park Ave. location, the Roost Cafe doesn’t look like much more than any other hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, and you might not look twice at it on your hunt for a satisfying, rib-sticking breakfast or brunch. That would be a mistake.
Looks can be deceiving, and such is the case with the Roost, which celebrates its titular theme half in-earnest, half tongue-in-cheek, by adorning its dining room with chicken-styled knicknacks. Three options await visitors: A small, shaded outdoor patio, a U-shaped counter with stools that allows guests a view of the kitchen, and a dining room, complete with wood-paneled walls and shelves full of ceramic roosters. If you had a grandmother with Midwestern roots, you might feel right at home here.
But what makes the Roost one of our recommendations isn’t just the nostalgic setting, but the fare, of course. A variety of country-style favorite breakfast classics—eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, toast, hash browns, and so on—shares the menu with some more developed options, like an assortment of benedicts and johnny cakes (cornmeal pancakes). Service is attentive, coffee is hot, and the portions are large.
Many a Chico State alum is familiar with Jack’s, which formerly was a go-to for late-night hunger pangs thanks to its generously affordable menu and, until recently, all-hours service. It’s a markedly more family-oriented operation these days, and that means an ample kids’ menu, on top of some of sure bets you’d make at a diner: BLTs, burgers, fries, club sandwiches, and of course a hearty breakfast menu for early birds.
If somebody were kicking off a weekend morning in downtown Chico and looking for a satiating meal before heading toward the plaza, one could easily be forgiven for indulging in some guilty pleasure in the form of a tasty biscuit and gravy. Its Main Street location feels very much like a natural starting point for a downtown venture.
For the non-agricultural types in Butte County, Richvale can feel like a blind spot—covered in farmland and ag development, the lifestyle is different out here. Appetites, however, don’t change, and one gets the impression that this is where hungry farmers meet for breakfast regularly, with the eager staff all too happy to provide it.
Just off Highway 99, the Richvale Cafe certainly has a bona fide Americana feel: The stars and stripes hang proudly on one wall, along with old-timey posters and placards with well-worn country sayings and farming memes (one poster, a photo of two little boys in overalls, is captioned “So how long you been farming?”, as an example), and the cafeteria-fashioned dining room is filled with four-seat tables, each loaded with squeeze bottles of burger condiments.
Breakfast visitors are privy to some killer combo deals, including short or tall stacks of fluffy pancakes, sweet French toast, and, of course, crispy bacon. The Richvale Cafe can feel like a well-kept farmer’s secret, but it’s a destination worth seeking out.
South of town proper, the Grill has staked out its place in Butte County as a favorite for truckers, travelers, and locals alike. Now under new ownership, it has plans to reveal a new dinner menu and crab shack, but it won’t be changing out its attentive, friendly staff and, if the chatter among those servers is accurate, certainly won’t touch its terrific lunch options, the superstars of which are their flavorful burgers.
Styled with a lovable hokeyness that seems to work exclusively in diners—think old-fashioned Coke photos, a collage of local folks’ Polaroids, and signs reading stuff like “Y’all ain’t right”—the Gridley Grill and Crab Shack is low on frills and big on diner staples. They have daily pie specials (this day’s was chocolate walnut, peach, and of course, apple, because America), a robust variety of burgers, and, as is so important when you’ve got a family in tow, plentiful options for kids.
You can feel lost in time here—and, once you start eating, find yourself in no particular rush to get back.
Long hours and tasty vittles come in a small package at Jenn’s on Mitchell Avenue, making it a destination in its own right for those seeking a hearty, traditional diner meal. Homey and endearing in its simplicity, that’s not to say that Jenn’s is “basic” by any means.
Regulars rave about the quality found here across the board—from specialty waffles to custom omelets and a wide assortment of breakfast sandwiches, burritos, skillets, and traditional combination plates. You won’t hear a portion size complaint at Jenn’s; even the “not that hungry” combo should hold most folks over ‘til lunch.
And Jenn’s shines in that arena, too, offering a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, sides and more; one of the more popular dishes here is the Monte Cristo. Simply put, they do it right, and without sacrificing any of the diner whimsy we all know and love: There is counter seating that allows a view of the kitchen, plus a whiteboard boasting hand-written specials.
An element of folksiness goes a long way toward nailing the diner aesthetic, too, like a coffee pricing sign encouraging friendly patrons (“Coffee,” $5; “Coffee, Please,” $4; “Good morning, Coffee Please,” $.75), and witticisms like, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy chickens, and chickens make eggs and breakfast makes you happy.”
Can’t argue with that!
No matter where you find yourself in Butte County, a solid diner option is sure to be nearby. If you find yourself hankering for a country-style breakfast or lunch and you’re in the area, make it a point to visit these spots for a dose of Americana.