A young friend of mine is sad that the stack of pancakes with the whipped-cream smile she used to order from the IHOP at Apache and Mill is part of her past, now. The former pancake house disappeared when its host, the Twin Palms Hotel, was shuttered last year. But here's good news for both my little pal and anyone who likes inventive cuisine and isn't put off by ersatz hipster décor: Normal Diner, located in (and independent of) the new boutique hotel The Graduate Tempe, is on its way to really being something.
A long counter with chrome stools recalls chain diners of yore, while a counter with juices, coffee, and an array of to-go nibbles reflects its largely college-aged clientele. A wall installation of 8-track tapes, retro diner-ware, and bills tucked into vintage trash novels telegraphs Normal's camp, '70s-centric approach to dining. Fortunately, Normal's chef Brian Archibald is dead serious about what comes out of his kitchen.