Fifties-style diners remain popular, although most patrons of these retro eateries are probably too young to have set foot in the real McCoy. If you’re like me, your initial exposure to this iconic American eatery might have been through nostalgic TV shows, like Happy Days.
For those of you too young to remember this ’70s sitcom that referenced the ’50s, most of the action revolved around a diner, Arnold’s, named for its owner. Arnold eventually ditched the restaurant business and went on to teach martial arts to hapless teens like Ralph
Macchio and Hilary Swank. But that’s a story for another time.
A few years back, a California chain, Ruby’s, attempted to create a ’50s retro diner at Boulder’s Twenty Ninth Street. This space was recently resurrected as a retro eatery under local ownership and a new moniker, the StarLite Diner and Lounge. Like its predecessor, the ambience suggests a trip back in time, with plenty of vinyl banquettes and neon accented by cruiser bicycles and soaked in a golden oldies soundtrack.
Adhering to the archetypical diner theme, the StarLite features burgers and sandwiches as well as pizza, and breakfast faves like French toast and Denver omelets are served any time. There’s a full bar and an assortment of ice cream treats, including milkshakes, hot fudge sundaes and banana splits.
At a recent lunch, pal Paul and I started with a $5.99 fried green beans appetizer accompanied by ranch dressing. We figured this would be healthier than, say, mozzarella sticks, and we enjoyed the subtle crispness of both the clean-tasting beans and the delicately fried coating. Of course, the frying and creamy dip probably canceled out any of our healthful aspirations.
Chi Town partisan Paul seemingly turned his back on his origins by ordering a small New York-style pizza with two toppings for $12. Friendly debate arose between Paul and a gregarious server over the finer points regarding each burg’s pies. One defined the other’s favored pie as essentially bread, and an accusation flew that one variety was inedible without additional seasoning.
Nevertheless, Paul had to concede that the StarLite had aced the thin Big Apple crust — there’s also a thick Brooklyn-style pie available. The hint of grease on the tasty yet unpretentious toppings of pepperoni and mushroom blessed the pie with true street food cred.
I enjoyed a creamy $4.49 chocolate malt, which earned bonus points for arriving in both a glass and a steel shake cylinder freighted with additional frosty beverage. Like many others, I have a Pavlovian response when excess malt shows up in a metal vessel; I suppose it’s a touchstone of the old-school diner experience.
My main course was the $8.49 Street Legal burger, a grass-fed patty topped with American cheese and sided with thin-cut fries. Unfortunately, the lean beef wasn’t available rare, which detracted from flavor and texture. Garnishes of lettuce, tomato and onion exuded fresh flavor. The spuds were hot and crisp, although I prefer something more like the available thick-cut steak fries with my burgers.
The StarLite’s close proximity to the Twenty Ninth Street movie theater makes it a natural choice for an unfussy pre-show dinner or après summer blockbuster milkshake. Additionally, its Friday and Saturday midnight closing time helps fulfill the need for a latenight weekend bite.
StarLite Diner, 1750 19th St., Suite 1064, Boulder. 303.443.1559