There's nothing quite like a dive.
That's how celebrity chef Guy Fieri views the food universe. Sure, Fieri, a California restaurateur-turned-Food Network favorite (The Next Food Network Star, Guy's Big Bite, Ultimate Recipe Showdown), can probably afford to eat out these days in the fanciest of establishments. But he prefers places with character -- or, better yet, that are run by characters -- where the cooking is hearty, the atmosphere gritty and the lines always out the door.
The spiky-haired Fieri, himself no small character, pays homage to such places in what is arguably his best Food Network series to date, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The show's simple philosophy?
"If it's funky, we'll find it," says Fieri, who explains that he searches for restaurants that serve "real" food ("I don't care if it's just a chili dog, but let it be a righteous chili dog"), and those that have a story behind them.
We sat down with Fieri on a sweltering morning during the 2008 South Beach Wine & Food Festival -- he was kind enough to offer us a towel so that we could wipe our brow -- and asked him to name a few favorites among the dozens of diners, drive-ins and dives he's profiled.
Here are his picks:
2500 S.W. 107th Ave., Miami, Fla.
Puerto Rican cuisine in a luncheonette setting.
"A nondescript joint, run by a family," says Fieri.
But the food?
It was so good, says Fieri, "I just about lost my mind."
The menu is heavy on seafood, but the house favorite is the mofongo, a dish made with mashed fried plantains and any number of additions, from pork to chicken.
3132 Magnolia Ave., Knoxville, Tenn.
Yes, pizza in Tennessee -- in a decades-old establishment run by Greeks, no less.
But Fieri says it shouldn't be so unexpected: Greeks are among the best cooks around, known for their expertise in running diners.
At this Knoxville establishment, "Everything they make, they make from scratch," Fieri notes. And in case you're not in the mood for a pie, they're equally known for their -- you guessed it -- Greek salad.
Mike's Chili Parlor
1447 N.W. Ballard Way, Seattle, Wash.
A Seattle fixture since 1922.
"They put chili on spaghetti, chili on [hot] dogs, chili on grilled-cheese sandwiches," says Fieri.
To top it off -- no pun intended -- it's not your everyday chili. "It's more like a meat sauce," explains Fieri, adding that it's made from a secret recipe.
Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge
2519 Marshall St. N.E., Minneapolis, Minn.
Don't let the name scare you: This place is "a real funky joint," converted from an old motel and coffee shop, says Fieri.
The food fits the spirit, from battered and deep-fried hot dogs ("Red Rockets," they're called) to a Hawaiian-inspired pizza with rum-soaked raisins.
202 Stage Rd., Pescadero, Calif.
The restaurant takes up about "three quarters of the town," says Fieri, noting that the 104-year-old eatery has a "humongous" garden where they "grow everything from berries for the pies to artichokes for the dips."
Plus, they make a cioppino, the popular California seafood stew, that Fieri promises is "to die for." ("And I'm a cioppino junkie," Fieri adds.)
2019 South Wood Ave., Linden, N.J.
This eight-stool Jersey diner has special significance for Fieri since it's the first location the series ever shot.
Plus, Fieri is a diner fanatic: "You pack everybody in there, they cook right in front of you," he explains of the appeal of such eateries.
As for this one, he doesn't wax poetic about a particular dish or two so much as the impossibly small setting, replete with a cramped basement where the roasted turkey is prepared.
Such places, Fieri concludes, are all about "a love affair with food."