What are the best diners in Pigeon Forge? Our top 5, ranked

Sunliner Diner in Pigeon Forge TN

The Sunliner Diner makes the list, but who will take the number one spot for best diner in Pigeon Forge? (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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Classic diner fare isn’t fancy. 

Burgers and fries washed down with a thick milkshake. It’s classic comfort food, and it’s hard to beat.

What I like about a good diner – aside from the food – is the nostalgia. I’m a sucker for any experience that lets me feel transported to another place or time. 

In other words, authentic diners offer mainlined Americana. From the design to the menu, it’s a link to our past, to a uniquely American experience. 

And, again, the food’s pretty good, too.

So what makes a good diner? A few things come to mind. First, you’ve got to have the menu. Secondly, the food must be comfortable, affordable, tasty and incredibly unhealthy.

Next, you have to have the look.

Such as a small place, preferably one that looks like somebody converted an Airstream camper, with limited seating and the ability to see all of the establishment’s employees as they work. If you can’t see the cook, you ain’t in a diner. 

Finally, the hours. Not all diners are open 24 hours, but they should be. 

With the connection to the late 50s and early 60s as well as American car culture, it should not be surprising that several great diners are found in the Pigeon Forge area. 

Let’s rank some of the best diners in Pigeon Forge:

A sign for Waffle House, a classic diner in the South
Waffle House is a favorite, even though it’s pretty ubiquitous in the South (photo by jetcityimage/stock.adobe.com)

5. Waffle House

A lot of people look down their noses at the Waffle House. They are fools.

There is nothing better after a late night than swinging into the Waffle House and ordering a BLT with a side of hash browns, scattered, covered and smothered as God intended.

Why John, if Waffle House is so great, are they ranked at number 5?

First, it’s the obvious answer. Bob Dylan didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and my fellow Southerners don’t need me to tell them the Waffle House is a high holy place of diners.

Secondly? They are pretty ubiquitous to the South, and we like to highlight more unique experiences.

Then why include them at all?

Because there are places in the world, my friends, where The Waffle House is only a rumor. Heck, they don’t even know the song.

Surely we should feel pity in our hearts for them. In fact, if I ever hit the Powerball, I’m becoming the Johnny Appleseed of Waffle Houses.

I will travel the North and West and points beyond, spreading the good word and seeding Waffle Houses where there are none.

It is the first step in my 27-part plan for world peace. 

Read Also: Top restaurants with all day breakfast in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg

A classic car outside the Sunliner Diner (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)
Sunliner Diner is one of the more classically themed diners in Pigeon Forge, and they also have a location in Alabama (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

4. The Sunliner Diner

The Sunliner Diner is a classic 50s-themed American Diner (is there any other kind) that has two locations in the world: Gulf Shores, Alabama and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Novels could be written about a business model based on targeting audiences in Gulf Shores and Pigeon Forge. That is some laser-focused audience targeting.

Breakfast? Served all dang day like it says in the Bible.

Lunch and dinner? Both start at 11 am. I like everything about the Sunliner until I get to the menu, which is fine, but a little frou-frou for an authentic diner.

Sure, there’s meatloaf. There’s country-fried chicken and steak. There’s also more than one burger/sandwich with an avocado option?

AVOCADO!

In an authentic 50s diner? You didn’t ask for avocado in the 50s. They didn’t even know what an avocado was back then.

You give an avocado to a garden variety person from the 50s, they’re gonna think it’s a grenade and instinctively throw the thing.

The Sunliner also offers a New York Strip steak dinner. Everyone knows diners have two kinds of steak, thinly sliced sirloin or bottom-of-the-market T-bone. That’s it!

3. Bob’s Burgers

Located inside a little antique store on Wears Valley Road, Bob’s Burgers is itself, an antique.

In fact, the menu is written on the chalkboard, there is no need to involve ink and paper in the ordering process.

It’s a work of art. You got burgers, hot dogs, onion rings and both kinds of fries, loaded or regular. Sandwich options include grilled cheese – the perfect grilled cheese is a wonder of the world – BLT, hot ham and cheese and fried bologna.

When you grow up poor, you learn about the multiple properties of bologna. For example, straight out of the fridge, rolled up, it’s an appetizer.

But slap it between two slices of bread with a squirt of ketchup and it’s a main course. Fry it and serve it up with fixings, it’s a sandwich fit for a king. 

Lil Black Bear Cafe in Pigeon Forge
The Lil’ Black Bear Cafe is a local favorite, but be sure to check the hours when you plan your visit (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

2. Lil’ Black Bear Café

Based on the shape of the building and the name, you’d be tempted not to include the Lil’ Black Bear Café in the diner club.

You’d be wrong. It’s closed Sunday and Monday. And it’s open from 8 am to 2 pm the rest of the week. The Lil’ Black Bear Café is not here to mess around.

The menu offers 10 options. That’s it.

There’s a salad, but I suspect it’s some sort of test. Order the salad and your seat immediately ejects you through the roof, James Bond style.

The breakfast is rave-worthy. The pancakes are beloved. The omelets are so good, chickens volunteer their eggs in tribute.

But we are here, my friends, to discuss two menu items in particular: The Reuben and the Patty Melt. Diner staples.

An artist lives at the Lil’ Black Bear, and that artist works in rye sandwiches. The Patty Melt is hamburger patty on grilled rye with grilled onions and two slices of provolone.

The Reuben has real corned beef. Too many places in the South try to make a Reuben with something else and it is an INSULT to places like the Lil’ Black Bear Café.

Swiss cheese, kraut, 1,000 Island dressing. It’s perfect.

Read Also: 7 best hole in the wall restaurants in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg

Mel's Classic Diner in Pigeon Forge
Mel’s Diner is our favorite classic diner in Pigeon Forge (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

1. Mel’s Classic Diner

I’ll admit that Mel’s first grabbed my attention with its name. I’m a child of a certain generation, raised on sitcoms.

I remember “Alice” about the waitresses at Mel’s Diner trying to make it, like the sassy Southern waitress whose catchphrase “kiss my grits” was comedy gold. 

While I wandered into Mel’s, curious to see how far the “tribute” went, it was the food that kept me coming back. 

Mel’s offers many of the diner staples we mentioned above, all expertly prepared. I’m a fan of the meatloaf.

But we’re going to talk about desserts. Specifically, we need to discuss Mel’s Famous Ultimate Banana Split. 

The six-scoop version comes with two scoops of chocolate, two scoops of vanilla and two scoops of strawberry ice cream between a split banana all topped with strawberry topping, pineapple topping and chocolate syrup with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top.

Certainly, it ranks alongside Mt. Rushmore, the Hoover Dam and Neyland Stadium as one of America’s greatest architectural achievements. 

Do you have a favorite diner in Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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1 thought on “What are the best diners in Pigeon Forge? Our top 5, ranked”

  1. Waffle House is NOT a diner! I’m from Jersey the Diner Capitol & I can guarantee you it is not a Diner!

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