So there's Astro Diner on Fletcher, and a sister restaurant named Jan's. Both are named after the owners' daughters Jan and Maria, except that Maria was nicknamed Astro, so there you go. And don't confuse Astro Diner with either of the two Astro Burgers on Melrose and Santa Monica. Stay with me.
During the morning Astro is like any other diner: waitresses in tight skirts, hurrying about with plates heavy with pancakes and other breakfast sundries. The seats are a comfortable green like the chlorophyll gum one used to get from machines in Howard Johnson's restaurants.
At night, which is when we usually go ("it's after eleven, I'm dressed like crap. Astro? Astro."), and that's when they have an unusual waitstaff. I'm not talking punk haircuts and tats; that's just L.A. I mean there's an older gentleman with heroically Grecian-formulaed hair and an impossible-to-place accent; a vivacious cha cha girl with pigtails who still looks like she's down to party; a shy older Asian lady who you have to be a little patient with. There is always a frail man perched cross-legged at the bar, whose relationship with Astro is uncertain. A little basket of Melba Toast (!) packets and crackers will be placed on your table for mysterious reasons.
What cements Astro as one of our late-night spots is the music. While Brite Spot plays Dylan, Hendrix and Doors, Astro plays those '70s Caucasian soft-rock love songs that are so embarrassing yet so slick*. Many's the time that I heard something and ran home to write it down so I could buy it and complete my yacht-rock lifestyle.
Ahem. Proceeding: the food is very solidly coffee shop, and nothing far beyond what should be expected. Brilliant? No. Reliable? Yes. There's a bit of Mediterranean, a hint of Mexican, a shrug of Italian, some vegetarian, a few healthy options (meaning chicken breast and cottage cheese, I'm afraid) and you should probably concentrate on their salads, burgers and sandwiches. Your salad will somehow always have fresh lettuce (I ask for it without beets, and dressing on the side).
The turker burger passes, but may need a couple shakes of Tapatio (there's always condiment bottles on your table). There's also a Gourmet Sandwich: ham, swiss, tomatoes and onions grilled on sourdough, and Astro does the slightly-buttered-and-toasted thing properly. The Riviera is turkey and bacon with avocado and tomatoes, also grilled on sourdough. The Monte Cristo is what you'd expect: ham, turkey, jack cheese dipped in egg batter and grilled. The milkshakes don't come with that wonderful cold metal tin from which you try to spoon out ice creamy goodness without spattering yourself, but they're good enough.
* Examples? I don't mean ABBA, Starland Vocal Band or Air Supply. That's too easy. I'm talking about Paul Davis' "I Go Crazy" and Jay Ferguson's "Thunder Island." I mean Walter Egan's "Magnet & Steel." Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right." Marty Balin's "Hearts." I know my AM Gold.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Late Night/24 Hours )
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