4701 Ruffin Road, Kearny Mesa
There’s no question, Studio Diner stands out in east Kearny Mesa. Built to resemble a metal film reel canister topped by a black-and-white-striped director’s clapboard, what the 24-hour diner really looks like is an art deco slice of Americana. Like a vintage ’50s burger joint that’s been holding down its spot on Ruffin Road for decades while steel and stucco business campuses have sprouted around it.
But I’m not sure dating back to 2003 qualifies as vintage unless you’re talking about wine. Studio Diner’s actually a precocious 12 year old, a brightly conceived homage to the classic Hollywood representation of a diner. It’s also only 24 from Thursday through Saturday, closing at midnight the rest of the week. Not as romantic to think about, but in terms of health and construction codes it may deliver a more satisfying experience than the real thing.
Driving past the shiny storefront, I found it eye-catching enough to ditch my original lunch plans and make a U-turn to belly up to the restaurant’s breakfast counter. A staff of sassy waitresses gave me the sort of friendly welcome one might enjoy in a neighborhood bar. One even offered suggestions from a huge menu that covers standard American diner fare from breakfast through dinner, often featuring silly names like the Sloppy Bob or the Boob Sandwich (a chicken breast).
But my immediate association with a 24-hour diner is breakfast, and the all-day breakfast option meant that I could enjoy eggs at 2pm just as I might have at 2am as a teenager. I learned that both the corned beef hash and biscuits were made in house — $8.95 with two eggs, over easy.
The interior’s decked out with enough art deco and movie references to seem fun, but I thought the actual non-kitschy design elements held their own, including an arched brass ceiling and plenty of polished wood.
The food worked for me, too. The corned beef hash was pan crisped, with finely chopped meat and potatoes. The hash browns were also crispy without being greasy, almost like shoestring fries. Both were tasty, though the biggest standout was the lightly grilled and airy biscuits — easily better than an English muffin.
Mostly it was just a solid, stay-inside-the-lines American breakfast. Exactly what you look for walking into a place like this. If the restaurant itself is dressed like a movie set, I’m glad the kitchen here turned out to be more than a mere prop department. It imitates retro breakfast fare convincingly enough you can suspend disbelief and pretend the place has been here forever.