Lunch for $10 or less: Hollywood Diner

The Hollywood Diner reopened with a new operator in early November. The diner, which is owned by the city of Baltimore, is in great shape. The tile floors are shining and the chrome is gleaming.

The diner, which was built on New York's Long Island, gained cinematic fame as the principal setting for Levinson's 1982 ensemble movie "Diner" about a group of Baltimore guys on the verge of adulthood. It was brought back to Baltimore after filming ended, and has had a turbulent history ever since.

The new operators, operating under the name Tomasino's and headed by Richard T. White, couldn't be nicer, and they have good ideas. Vintage 1950s tunes play over the loudspeaker, but the kitsch stops there. The counter help and waitresses aren't wearing costumes, and the menu isn't a gimmicky throwback to the days of french fries and gravy.

The menu is instead the kind of eclectic fare that real Baltimore folk eat every day. There are burgers, wings and pizza and on the edges, soulful sides like collard greens, green beans and macaroni and cheese.

It's not fast food, though. Some things, like spaghetti and meatballs, can take some time because the pasta is boiled to order. The chef threw in some extra meatballs into her zesty marinara sauce to make up for the wait.

The fish platter took a while, too, but it was worth waiting for. For $6.99, the diner plates up three good-sized pieces of fried whiting and a pile of steakhouse fries (or cole slaw) and a few slices of white or wheat bread. The seasoning, on the mild side, comes alive with a dash of hot sauce.

That nice chef happened to be Amber White, who told us that her parents were mending from a Nov. 23 car accident. Her mother had just returned to the restaurant, Amber said, the day before. This was a few days before Christmas.

When we visited, the staff was handing out mini cupcake samples of the diner's homemade red velvet cake. And we got a good look at a freshly baked strawberry shortcake.

As have previous operators, the Whites are using the diner as a training program. There are plans to use the diner in the evening for special events like spoken word and poetry gatherings and even for outdoor movie nights. That will come in the spring, the Whites hope.

For now, they'd like folks to know that new operators have taken over the diner. Your booth is waiting.

Hollywood Diner

Where: 400 E. Saratoga St.

Contact: 443-872-4370

Hours: Open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch

Lunch entrees: $6.99-$11

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