Nat's Early Bite Coffee Shop
14115 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys, CA
Review by Diana, Wraith6, ScarletManuka
If you are lucky, the big mug reads "NAT'S" and you're in a tiny strip mall in the middle of this Los Angeles semi-suburb. There are other shops in the strip mall, but they seem to be shut. On Sunday morning, the waiting line goes out the door, and people with dogs and babies in strollers circle. We watch big SUVs and overpriced sports cars jocky for space in the little parking lot. But despite the line, the wait is not usually longer than 20 minutes. This is a diner, after all, and turnover is brisk. Low prices mean a lot of customers are needed to keep it financially afloat.
There are booths and tables, and the tired waitress comes and takes your order quickly. There are always specials, including stuff like spicy chorizo scramble, or eggs benedict supreme (when asked what makes it supreme, the waitress curtly said, "asparagus." Doesn't sound like much, but it was very good), and they offer the big mugs for sale, as well as their speciality apricot pineapple jam. The Sunday morning we were there they had one pint left! And no mugs!
They make "like homemade" muffins -- meaning they aren't the big things with domed tops that grace food magazines. There are the cupcake-looking things with the flat tops in the muffin papers. They are dense, moist, filled with fruit and stuff your mother should have made for you. But of course, a place like Nat's would somehow do a more perfect and comforting job of it. We had bran and blueberry and something else ... We remember their hash browns were superlative. All the food is made fresh to order, so there is a bit of a wait to get it to the table.
The food is comforting -- good without calling too much attention to itself. That's actually a brilliant strategy, in that you don't linger too long. Table turnover, remember? The bill came to about $10 per person, including lots of coffee, superlative "supreme" breakfasts, extra hotcakes for the table, and the bottle of jam. The waitress was efficient and the busboys unobtrusive.
A note about busboys ... the owner apparently started as a busboy here, and worked up the ladder to head chef. When the time came for the original Nat to retire, the former busboy bought the place. You know he must love the place. The food is fresh, too.
They do take credit cards, but like most diners, you get up and pay at the cash register, which was right next to the "pass" -- a window with a broad ledge onto which the short order cooks would pile the plates of food and holler for a pick up. The waitresses would run past and pick up the food, and it would be replaced by even more plates. It's interesting that the kitchen is not a separate room where the staff had to walk in and out through double-hinged doors. It's a room built within the room, and the staff never goes in. That's kind of amusing, actually. Nothing to hide, and no pretense.
It occurred to us that in LA, there isn't a "restaurant district" and people have to drive 40 minutes to get anywhere anyway. So why not put a good diner in a mostly-closed strip mall in a residential neighborhood? The people will come, whether they be from the 'hood, or if they'd driven a while to get there. If you are a good, honest value place in Los Angeles, it seems the people will find you. After all, what else is there to do in this town but cruise around looking for decent, good places to eat??
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