Franks Diner – Kenosha, Wisconsin - Gastro Obscura

Gastro Obscura

Franks Diner

Behind a modern brick exterior lies the oldest continuously-operating lunch-car diner in the United States. 

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In 1917, the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company in New Jersey began manufacturing roadside diners. The long and narrow prefabricated buildings were trucked on railroad flatcars to various locations across the United States, and were often confused with the actual railroad rolling stock that they resembled.

One such diner arrived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1926. The diner had been ordered by Anthony Franks, who paid $7,500 plus $325 in shipping charges. It caused quite a stir among the locals, who watched as six horses pulled the diner to its downtown location not far from the shore of Lake Michigan.

Franks Diner has been serving food ever since, making it the oldest continuously-operating lunch-car diner in the United States. The Franks family ran the diner until they sold it in 2001, and it changed hands again in 2010. In that time, the space received a few upgrades, including the addition of a dining room, an expanded kitchen, and sections of brick wall around the exterior, which largely obscure its lunch-car roots.

Over the decades, the historic diner⁠—which seats 55⁠—has had its fair share of notable guests. Celebrity patrons have included the Three Stooges, Duke Ellington, and Liberace. More importantly, however, are the loyal Kenosha locals, many of whom have been eating at Franks for decades. Some come for the homemade pancakes, some for the French toast and omelets, but by far the most iconic item on the menu is Franks’s Garbage Plate (not to be confused with New York’s dish of the same name).

A full plate of this mountainous creation includes five eggs mixed into a combination of hash browns, green peppers, and onions. To this, the cook adds meat (or meats) that may include your choice of ham, bacon, sausage, or Spam. Choose your cheese(s) of choice and throw in some jalapeños if you’d like some heat, and you’re all set for a Garbage Plate. Still hungry? Have a cup of coffee and a homemade cinnamon roll.

Know Before You Go

Payment is cash only.