Here’s why this American highway staple is the most underrated restaurant chain in the nation
Everyone knows Waffle House.
Driving along the interstate in the southern United States, the simple block letters emblazoned on iconic yellow signs tower over the landscape, beckoning to all travelers. However, the shabby and unassuming exteriors do little to instill confidence in the culinary abilities therein.
Waffle House is often known as the late-night haunt of those who are not of sober minds — the last resort of drunken revelers and bleary-eyed workers searching for a bite before the sun rises.
It’s easy to write off Waffle House. However, on a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, we decided to give it a shot — not drunk, not high, just hungry.
Waffle House was founded in 1955 by Tom Forkner and Joe Rogers in Atlanta, Georgia. Today, the chain has over 1,800 locations in 25 states. As with most Waffle Houses, the outside appearance wasn’t much to look at — but we were more interested in what’s inside.
Inside, Waffle House has a classic diner feel. Subway tiles, vinyl booths, and the ubiquitous jukebox lend a comforting timelessness. The chain avoids jumping on the latest dining trends — no raw wood or industrial lighting fixtures here.
We could hear the food sizzling on the griddle as we cozied into our booth. We could have even hopped the side and poured the waffle batter ourselves — our waitress didn’t have to leave the kitchen to take our order and deliver it steaming hot.
It should come as no surprise that Waffle House can serve up a mean waffle. Make no mistake, this is no Belgian waffle — it’s a staunchly American take. It’s soft and fluffy, but not too thick, close to a pancake in texture but still maintaining the crucial grid of the syrup-collection system.
The sausage is typical diner fare: served fresh, a good complement to the eggs, but nothing to write home about.
The eggs are cooked to order — in this case, over easy — and we had no complaints. The toast is what one would expect: crucial for sopping up yolk, but nothing special. The hash browns, however, are a different beast entirely.
When it comes to hash browns, you’ve got options. Feel free to order them: smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped, and country — or, if you’re feeling really feisty, “All The Way.” We went with smothered and covered, and it was … incredible. An extravaganza of potato, cheese, and sautéed onions.
For those not well-versed in Waffle House lingo:
smothered = sautéed onions
covered = cheese
chunked = hickory smoked ham
diced = grilled tomatoes
peppered = jalapeño peppers
capped = grilled mushrooms
topped = chili
country = sausage gravy
We almost didn’t order the steak melt, but our affable waitress said it was one of her favorites and not to be missed. Thank god we listened. We’ve thought about this melt every day since — the gestalt of its harmoniously greasy, cheesy, perfectly tender, and masterfully toasted creation nearly drove us to tears.
We went in dreading yet another greasy spoon experience. We left certain in the knowledge that we had just eaten one of the best meals that American chain restaurants have to offer. So should you be a weary traveler on a Southern interstate and see that blazing yellow sign, do not turn away; go forth and feast upon the smothered, covered, and griddled beauty.