Dent May’s Diner Tour of America

Ahead of his new album What’s for Breakfast?, the LA-based indie-pop figure answers a more pressing question for us: Where can I get a good country-fried steak near me?

Dent May’s Diner Tour of America

Ahead of his new album What’s for Breakfast?, the LA-based indie-pop figure answers a more pressing question for us: Where can I get a good country-fried steak near me?

Words: Mike LeSuer

Photo: Daniel Topete

March 27, 2024

Dent May has been a fixture in the American indie-pop landscape ever since he began making good-feeling music in 2009 under the moniker, even as he’s swapped shades of folk for sunshine-soaked synths or psychedelicized yacht-rock along the way.

His upcoming sixth album What’s for Breakfast? feels a bit like a revisitation of each of these eras as his attention turns to cultivating an aesthetic that mimics the sobering fluorescents and questionable trinkets of the nearest one-dollar-sign diner that’s currently open on Google Maps. With the help of a slate of collaborators including Jordana, Jimmy Whispers, and Pearl & the Oysters, he’s able to achieve the feat of compiling a dozen recordings that may scan as novelty items at first, but each packs a surprisingly lingering aftertaste (early single “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” has more than a little in common with “Wonderful Christmastime,” for example). 

Rather than asking May to wax reverent on the pop music that inspired Breakfast, instead we had him wax empty-stomached on some of the most inspiring meals he’s put away within the confines of a kitsched-out greasy-spoon across this great nation. “I have a friend who hates diners,” May shares. “‘Why would I go somewhere and order scrambled eggs when I can make them at home?’ he says. Although my favorite diners serve great food, it’s not really about that. It’s about the well-worn vinyl booths, the servers that have worked there for decades, the friendly (and unfriendly) faces of the local community, the greasy breakfast served all day alongside the strongest coffee you’ve ever tasted, and so much more. A classic diner is more than a restaurant. It’s the center of its own universe.”

Strong words! Probably fueled by strong coffee! You can find his eight favorite diner spots below, and pre-order What’s for Breakfast? here. And if you’ve got a week’s worth of vacation days you’re desperate to use, you can access the route for the Official Dent May Diner Tour of America here. I’m sure there are plenty of Waffle Houses between Vegas and NYC.

Astro Family Restaurant (Los Angeles, CA)
How can I begin to pick a favorite Los Angeles diner? There are many quintessential options to choose from, but Astro has two important things going for it: It’s open 24 hours, and it’s right down the street from Zebulon. Astro wins out because I’ve been there the most, and I like the people I run into when I go there.

Joe Jr. (New York, NY)
I first fell in love with classic diners during my ill-fated run as an NYU film student back in the early 2000s. Joe Jr. sadly closed in 2009 due to a landlord dispute. Confusingly, another Greenwich Village restaurant called Joe Junior is still in operation, but the old Joe Jr. on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street is where I learned everything I know. I even took my parents there on Thanksgiving Day.

Ajax Diner

Ajax Diner (Oxford, MS)
Diner purists may challenge me on this selection, as Ajax doesn’t even serve breakfast and yet…“diner” is right there in the name. I ate here probably a thousand times during the 10 years I lived in Oxford. Now when I’m visiting basically anywhere in the tri-state area, I’ll drive hours out of the way just for their mind-bending Southern staples like country fried steak, broccoli rice and cheese casserole, and jalapeño cornbread.

Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge (Las Vegas, NV)
Once again, Peppermill might not seem like your typical diner. Its famously kitschy neon-lit retro decor reads more like a disco nightclub, but it indeed serves diner staples (and more) 24 hours a day. Next time you’re coming down from a depraved night of losing your entire life savings on the Strip, do yourself a favor and settle down in one of their iconic purple and turquoise booths. The food is almost as good as the people-watching.

Camellia Grill (New Orleans, LA)
New Orleans is my favorite city in the world, and Camellia Grill is my favorite diner in New Orleans. What really sets this place apart is the friendliest people of all time behind the counter. (RIP to the legend Marvin “Word” Day). Don’t miss their world-famous pecan pie.

Silver Skillet (Atlanta, GA)
Truth be told, I only went to the Silver Skillet once, but I can pay it the ultimate compliment: I loved it so much, I bought a T-shirt. As a Southerner, there are favorite menu items that I miss out on in some areas of the USA. Grits and biscuits, for example, are both on point here. Can’t wait to return.

Billy Reed’s

Billy Reed’s (Palm Springs, CA)
Bill Reed’s is what I’d call an “upscale” diner. It’s great for breakfast, but also works for dinner and cocktails. The antique furniture, stained-glass lamps, and floral wallpaper make you feel like you’re stepping back in time to a Palm Springs which, quite frankly, doesn’t exist anymore. 

Waffle House (multiple locations)
I like to joke that I’m soon retiring from music to open California’s first Waffle House franchise, but am I even joking? You haven’t truly seen America until you’ve experienced the transcendent weirdness that is Waffle House at 3 a.m. I’ll take my hash browns scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, peppered, and capped.