Photo by Valen Lambert | Inside the Samoa Cookhouse featuring their classic checkerboard tablecloth.

The great Humboldt diner crawl


by Valen Lambert

In a Western world fraught with the tasteless chrome of modern design (AKA gentrification), we seek refuge in vestiges of the past. That’s why nothing hits home more than the timelessness of a good ol’ fashioned diner.

Americans love diners; besides baseball, rock n’ roll and the worst gun violence in the world, it’s a sliver of culture we can really call our own.

What does it take to be a diner? I can tell you it is not looking like the nauseating drab that is Toni’s. What they need is a waitress who is certainly going to call you hun. They need to serve eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and pancakes. They need to have the worst coffee you’ve ever had in your life. The food is always mediocre at best and the interior design needs to look like the inside of a 1970’s old folk’s home, or the kind of retro where you’d expect Elvis to walk out of the bathroom at any moment. 

Deb’s Great American Hamburger Co. – 5/5 stars

Tucked away in the 1,500 person town of Redway, just a 5 minute drive from Garberville, lives Deb’s Great American Hamburger Co. If you ever really want to wow a hot date or need a moment of respite on your heinous commute to anywhere south of Humboldt county, this is the place to go.

Walking in, I could tell it’s the kind of spot that serves as a living room for locals. A little boy was running around while his parents watched a show on their laptop. In the corner were several arcade games where two guys drank beer and cussed over a deer hunting game. Then there was me, bent over a slice of pie. 

It’s got faded black and white checkered floors, and the walls are adorned with tacky Betty Boop memorabilia and pictures of motorcycles. It’s got classic American breakfasts and dinners. It’s wonderfully retro; the ghost of an American past. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to a Twin Peaks diner around here. If you need a muse to write a Tom Waits song, this is the place. 

Kristina’s – 5/5 stars

Kristina’s is a place you can’t miss, resting right at that sharp turn as you drive the 101 north, just before that shady strip through downtown Eureka. It’s got an inviting pink exterior and abundant booth and bar seating that makes it look hauntingly empty on a quiet night. It lies more on the old-folks-home side of the design spectrum, but just a tad saucier with pink neon lights, red accents and funky carpeting. 

Here, you can eat a classic diner breakfast anytime between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., or go crazy and get some New York steak and scampi for dinner. My waitress didn’t call me hun but she was wearing 4-inch platform knee high goth boots and that was good enough for me. 

Samoa Cookhouse – 6/5 stars

Dear reader, I am saving the best for last. In the odd little town of Samoa lives the revered Samoa Cookhouse, which has literally been in business for 150 consecutive years. It was originally an old dining hall that fed 500 mill workers at a time but opened up to the public sometime in the 1960’s. 

It’s a huge red building overlooking the bay that always has stray cats lurking around outside. Inside is a massive cafeteria layout with plaid tablecloths and old logging equipment adorning the walls. They even have a little museum where you can eat amongst rusty old chainsaws and other ambiguous logging paraphernalia.

Their only menu item is a breakfast, lunch or dinner special that changes everyday of the week that they serve family style. You can eat breakfast until you pop and it’ll only be $14.25. To my luck I landed on their sausage, scrambled eggs, and homemade toast special, but I was weak, and barely made it through two rounds of their perfect diner breakfast. 

When this world gets a little too shiny for you, when the fluorescent lighting of the classroom starts to burn a hole in your brain, when TikTok starts digging your personality into a grave, you can time-travel away from all your problems in the dusty neon lights of Humboldt’s diners.

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  1. Lisa Pettitt Lisa Pettitt Tuesday, February 21, 2023

    I love the descriptions of the ole home town feel and the warmth with anyone in there that smiles at you as you come in. Also that’s a deal for that meal too. Enjoy

  2. Debbie Robertson Debbie Robertson Wednesday, February 22, 2023

    Samoa cookhouse is the best!!
    Eat there every time I visit the coast. The museum is of interest as well. Takes you back to the old days. Food is served family style.

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