Studio Diner

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

The 1950s are only a 15-minute drive from campus. Studio Diner, located on Ruffin Road in Kearny Mesa, is a gleaming, kitschy neon eatery you can’t miss along a street of muted office buildings. As if its giant aluminum presence weren’t enough to attract the curious passersby, the diner is situated on the lot of San Diego’s only television and film company, Stu Segall Productions — a 20-acre sprawl where gems like “Veronica Mars” have been captured.

Once through the chrome doors, hungry diners are all taken back to a time when we were as American as apple pie. We have the option of grabbing a quick bite to eat at the lunch counter, where we can interact with waiters and cooks, or, patrons can sink into comfy booths whose dim lighting and maple paneling create a retro-glamour dining experience.

While Studio Diner has all of the flashy throw back appeal, it has none of that Hollywood ’tude — waitresses are all smiles, and plates hit the table in a jiffy. The restaurant also maintains a hometown ease through events like annual chili cook-offs.

Many period-themed restaurants invest so much effort in decorating and devising clever dish names that they neglect the quality of their cuisine — this is fortunately not the case with Studio Diner. Yes, there’s a cute menu — the salad section is called “Mom Said, ‘Eat Your Greens’” and the desserts fall under “Go Ahead…Bake My Day” — but the food is in no way overshadowed by its cutesy labels.

Studio Diner specializes in old-fashioned comfort that will surely stick to your ribs — including classic favorites like Monte Cristo sandwiches, Sloppy Joes and grilled pastrami reubens. The diner not only transcends time but also coast, offering East Coast favorites like New England clam chowder, lobster rolls and authentic Ipswich clams flown in from Massachusetts. For ambitious eaters, nostalgic desserts like Black Cows, peach cobbler and mountainous banana splits feed four to six people that could easily leave satisfied.

Portions and quality are reflected in Studio Diner’s prices: appetizers go for at least $8 and the cheapest malts and shakes will run at about $6. For those who decide to indulge in a rare and steamy plate of fried Ipswich clams, be prepared to pay nearly $20. Also, because lunch time offers the most appealing items on the menu, the restaurant’s Web site warns patrons to avoid the lunch rush on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and that the diner accommodates group functions of 50 at all times except these.

For a wholesome and hearty throw back meal, Studio Diner, open 24 hours, packs just the right blast from the past.

Erik Jepsen/Guardian