Downtown’s favorite micro-eatery develops a deliciously Southern split personality.
From the minute you squeeze into the Welcome Diner and claim a seat at the bright red counter, you become an appendage of the restaurant itself. Since the 200-square-foot eatery has only nine stools and just a sliver of space behind the counter for the servers and cooks, everyone gets pretty chummy. Before long, diners are swapping stories and singing along with the classic rock piped in through a lone speaker on the wall.
Built in 1945, the classic roadside diner spent 25 years parked on Route 66 in Williams. In 1980, it was moved to its current location at 10th and Roosevelt streets in Phoenix, but stood vacant until 2004, when it reopened as the Welcome Diner, serving egg breakfasts and the like.
You might already know the story of this culinary shoebox. But are you aware of its impish Southern split personality? In February, Jenn Robinson and Michael Babcock put their Old Dixie’s Southern Kitchen food truck on blocks and took over the diner, dishing out seriously fine country grub inspired by Babcock’s travels in the South. The tidy, New Orleans-inspired menu boasts red beans and rice with andouille sausage, mind-scrambling sandwiches, gravy-smothered poutine and inspired nightly specials. Most ingredients are locally sourced from an all-star array of Arizona purveyors, including The Meat Shop, Schreiner’s Sausage, McClendon Farms and Hayden Flour Mill.
Buttermilk biscuits are king here, so I opted for the Kilt Lifter-braised pork sandwich ($8), a feast of tender, beer-kissed pork shoulder served on a dense biscuit, slathered with a tangy Carolina mustard sauce and red cabbage slaw. The fried chicken sandwich, a hefty tower of tender chicken breast wrapped in a crispy crust and served on a browned buttermilk biscuit, can be topped with sharp cheddar cheese, smoky bacon or thick pork sausage gravy ($7-$9). It’s almost impossible to consume in one sitting, but if you do, you probably won’t have room for house-made double-crust blueberry pie ($6).
Other options include the half-pound Welcome Burger, deemed the best burger my dining companion has ever eaten, served with hand-cut, skin-on French fries ($11.50-$12.50 depending on burger toppings); and watermelon salad ($10), a mixture of cubed watermelon, heirloom basil, mint, arugula, goat cheese and red onions bathed in a light honey-lemon dressing.
The diner has a full liquor license and serves the best Hurricane ($8) you’ll ever knock back out of a red plastic cup. Whenever someone orders the fruity rum drink, the server shouts, “I’ve got a Hurricane!” – which is met with whooping and hollering from everyone assembled. Nightly specials include veggie burgers with fresh ricotta cheese ($11.50); catfish po’boy ($9.50); a shrimp sampler with collard greens steamed in sweet vinegar and red beans and rice ($14); and other spur-of-the-moment creations.
After a visit to the diner, you’ll leave with a satisfied belly, a handful of new friends and admiration for a staff that puts out the welcome mat for everyone. One can only hope the schizophrenic old diner stays this way.
Old Dixie’s at Welcome Diner
Address: 924 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-midnight Tuesday-Sunday
Highlights: Fried chicken sandwich with cheddar ($7); Welcome Burger with bleu cheese and bacon ($11.50); Hurricane ($8); watermelon salad ($10)
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