The Spot: Mel's Diner
1747 Grand Avenue
Most customers are regulars. Many are older, and a few linger in the far corner once their eggs have been mopped up with toast and their last dregs of coffee have been sipped. Open your ears at Mel's. You may hear some things. F-bombs tend to be heedlessly detonated. Details of personal lives may be spoken in loud tones, details you try to ignore but simply can't.
Mel's is a no-bullshit diner in a hardscrabble maze of back roads not far from Interstate 10 and Grand Avenue. Much of the clientele mirrors the diner, which itself is such a natural fit for its environs that it might have sprouted from the asphalt. The place is a true throwback.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, Mel's was famously the fictional setting of the TV show Alice.
Egg skillets are the item that stands out most from a classic menu of omelets, steak and eggs, and two-eggs-your-way combos. These egg skillets consist of two eggs served over a thicket of toppings so dense that you'll almost certainly be taking food home. An Arizona skillet unites bacon, sausage, cheese, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. The tomatoes burst with tang. Like the green peppers, their skins have been blistered and partly blackened, unlocking more flavor than these nightshades have raw.
The skillets come with toast. Instead of toast, you can order biscuits. Instead of getting biscuits naked, you can have them smothered in a smooth country gravy that almost stings with black pepper. This is much lighter fare than expected, and makes a nice sidekick to eggs.
The grits at Mel's are nobody's sidekick. They are the diner's proudest offering. You can get them instead of toast. With a scoop of whipped butter stirred into the warm mass, you can see why Southerners are so into this humble grain porridge. The mystery resolves itself in one comforting spoonful.
The Bottom Line: The food at Mel's is as no-bullshit as the neighborhood, the diners, and the setting. All diners can feel the same to some degree. This one feels a little different and serves food that's a little better.
Hours: Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Coffee Options: Old-school. They'll keep pouring if you keep drinking.
Juice: Nothing too fancy.
Drinking Before Noon: Nothing on the menu.