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Nickel Diner

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524 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 623-8301

Short version: mediocre service and mostly just-ok food. This would be a two-star review were it not for the existence of the Irish Car Bomb and Strawberry Crumble donuts.

On Saturday morning of my lost LA food weekend, I had Nickel Diner planned. It looked to be a short walk from the hotel, though the area of downtown LA in which I walked was, at that time of the morning, rather interesting. And fragrant.

I arrived early and was told by the server that was going in the door that I’d need to wait outside. A glance inside made it clear that it’s not brimming with extra loitering space, so I got the logic of the request. Still, I wouldn’t have minded a seat inside in the corner. I was soon joined by another eight people waiting to get inside.

I’m not generally one to be a service snob, but having a waitress walk over to my table in the corner to inform me that my waitress was running late to work and would be with me in a moment seemed odd at best.

I was mostly here for donuts and sweets, but figured I ought to at least nod to blood sugar maintenance by getting a bit of protein and opted for the 5th and Main. The menu mentioned an option to have it over grits instead of potatoes, but the server never asked and I’d forgotten by the time she finally arrived. We’ll split the blame on that one. The dish was fine: the pork was a bit pasty due to there being a lot of sauce. The potatoes were fine. The eggs were cooked perfectly. I left half of it uneaten: it was one of those dishes that it’s worth a quick visit to, but I’m not going to hang out.

I started into my litany of donuts, which I’d planned to take to go and share, and she looked concerned. I didn’t find out why until 15 minutes later.

“We don’t have any donuts ready.”

Hmm. Anomaly? I’d have to think so. I ended up waiting 45 minutes for them to get things squared away.

Some simple donuts are great straight after being glazed. The more complicated they are, the less this seems to be the case. Worth bearing in mind when I talk about the quality of those.

I also ordered a homemade Ding Dong and a Pop Tart. No tarts until noon, I was told after the waitress. The Ding Dong, I’d find out later, was delicious. Beautiful, luscious cream in the middle, moist cake, and a nice quality enrobing chocolate.

Eventually the other sweets came out, I was handed my check, and I prepared to pay when I noticed that the pop tart was still on the ticket. I asked about it and she seemed suitably flustered and embarrassed and took care of it.

Overall, the experience struck me as overly casual. I know that it’s meant to be a casual diner, but it really felt that everything, including attention to detail and product, was far too casual for my tastes. It’s probably just bad luck that I decided to come on a day when they didn’t have their signature attraction ready to go for breakfast, but still…

Thoughts on the donuts:

Maple Bacon – train wreck. I don’t know if it was low quality bacon or what, but the flavor was weak in all the wrong ways. The maple glaze totally overwhelmed every other flavor of the donut. This was the one I was looking forward to the most and enjoyed the least. The version that Dynamo in SF does is superior in every way and, if memory serves, costs the same.

Irish Car Bomb – loved this one. Beautifully light cream infused with Jameson and a Guinness crumble. I would have eaten two of these by myself.

Nutella – decent and certainly delivered on the promise of hazelnut and chocolate.

Red Velvet – I’m not the world’s biggest red velvet cake fan, so maybe I wasn’t the target audience here. It was a bit heavy on the cream cheese filling for me.

Strawberry crumble – ridiculously good. Strong strawberry flavor from the freeze-dried strawberries, which is a genius move for a donut. I wish I’d ordered more for later.

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