Edmonton’s classic 50s style family diner
review by Analea Zimmermann
This week I had the pleasure of revisiting an old favourite, Route 99 Diner.
Seven years ago, I made my first visit to the diner with my dad. Some of my fondest childhood memories with my father involved us making a weekly trip after my Saturday morning swim practice at the Kinsmen Sport Centre. Whether it was enjoying the shredded breakfast potatoes, the salty feta in the Greek omelette, or the creamy hot chocolate, Route 99 always seemed to hit the spot.
Having not being back to my favourite location in a few years, I decided to experience it in an entirely different way, by straying away from my usual order and going with my partner Bryan instead (sorry dad!).
The diner’s location at 8820 99 Street places it just off the hustle and bustle of Whyte Avenue. Unlike most Edmonton restaurants in proximity to Whyte, Route 99’s exterior is less than trendy and hip. It instead looks well-worn and provides clues to its visitors that this location has been enjoyed by many in its past years.
With a faded red exterior and yellow pinstriping under the retro Route 99 font, pulling up to the diner feels like a teleportation into The Frosty Palace diner from Grease.
Parking around the building can be tedious and limited, as it boasts only 20 spots in the lot itself. Thankfully, the lot and parking spots in nearby residential streets are free, but the ideal parking in front of the diner is usually snatched up.
The entrance to the diner is up a slight curb with no visible ramp for wheelchair access, potentially making it difficult for anyone needing mobility assistance.
For those of you who have never been to a diner, Route 99 would be a model example of the stereotypical vintage interior.
As we stepped into the diner I immediately spotted the retro airplane wing hanging from the ceiling, which automatically transported me back to my 12-year-old self. The various street signs and license plates on the wall, coupled with the 50’s style red leather diner booths and wall to wall headshots of celebrities from Elvis to Sinatra, top the list of the diner’s most noticeable features. I was met with a rushing wave of nostalgia that made me even more excited for what was to come!
The atmosphere of Route 99 is warm and inviting, opening up to the exposed kitchen and the three chefs who have been at the location since my first visit all those years ago. Not only were the chefs the same, but we were welcomed by the same waitress who offered me a gourmet caramel bacon milkshake five years ago (I remember her vividly as that milkshake still tops the best dessert treat I’ve ever had). We were encouraged to seat ourselves at any clean table, and were reassured that they had all been sanitized for COVID precautions.
After we briefly sat down and took an extensive look at the 6-page breakfast and lunch/dinner menus, our waitress greeted us with a welcoming smile, offering coffee to warm us up from the cold. Her efficiency was greatly appreciate, as she took our orders right away so we could get some food into our starving stomachs.
We had heard about the “Farmers Breakfast” from our friends, boasting ham, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, 3 eggs, 2 pieces of your choice of bread (sourdough, rye, or white), and a pancake, all for $14.50. We decided to add an egg, share the plate, and order more if we were still hungry.
Although we settled on the Farmer’s Breakfast I couldn’t help but notice the variety of dishes that would cater to anyone’s taste buds.
For breakfast the diner offers everything from veggie omelettes to meat on pancakes. The ‘munchies’ portion of the menu expands into Mediterranean style dishes including hummus and pita, as well as tzatziki with veggies.
For more health-conscious guests Route 99 boasts an extensive salad menu that are definitely not your average bowl of spinach (Cajun Chicken Caesar for only $15.00. Yes, please!).
If you’re there to indulge in diner comfort food like Bryan and I, the menu is rounded out with a variety of pies, pizzas and pastas.
After chatting about the experience so far, Bryan mentioned that he loved how authentic the diner felt. When I asked about the ‘authenticity’ of Route 99, he explained that he loved the way the waitresses called everyone “dear” or “honey”.
Along with this, the smell of bacon grease from the open kitchen made him feel excited for his meal, and finally the interior transported him to Pop’s Soda Shop in Archie Comics. The coffee was hot, the booths were comfortable, and we were excited for what was to come.
After a short 10 minutes, our food started rolling out. Although we knew the meal was big enough to share, we could have never imagined what was to come. With a pancake 2 inches thick and the size of a dinner plate, coupled with four pieces of each of the meats, we were in for a treat!
After dropping the food off for us, the waitress suggested we get an extra plate and enjoy the hashbrowns with some hot sauce for a bit of kick. I was so happy she knew what I needed before I even did, as the additional plate and sauce made the meal much more enjoyable.
Every item on the plate was steaming hot, perfectly salted, and exactly what you would want out of a diner. Covered in grease and butter, the flavour was impeccable and the dish was exactly what you would expect from comfort food.
Bryan and I made it through the bulk of the plate by mixing our sunny side eggs in with the hashbrowns and putting it on our sourdough.
However, once we made it to the pancake, we decided we could not push through any more. We sat and talked in the inviting atmosphere of the diner, sneaking refills on coffee from our waitress when our cups were low.
After an hour and a half at the diner, we decided to free up the booth for the growing, physically-distanced line of people out front in the cold.
For only $21.50 we were able to get an entire breakfast with food to take home, as well as two coffees with unlimited refills. We definitely got a bang for our buck.
Although the food at Route 99’s food is exceptionally priced, always hot, and eaten without complaint, its authentic diner experience and inviting staff are the reason I am always coming back for more. I can’t believe I was away for so long, but I’ll be back soon!
Route 99 Diner
8820 99 St
Sunday – Thursday: 10:00 AM – 9:30 PM
Friday – Saturday: 10:00 AM – 10:30 PM