There are some strange things about Grandma’s K & I Diner. The location, for instance. There’s a recycling plant across the street, the glinting bales of scrap metal catching the eye as you turn into the parking lot. Abandoned buildings and urban blight abound. Then there’s the restaurant’s exterior: a ramshackle barn of a place, dirty white with red candy-cane stripes. It looks like it might collapse at any moment, and it is certainly not inviting. But the inside is strikingly at odds to this impression—walk in and you’re in a warm, cozy diner straight from the set of Twin Peaks. The wood walls are decorated with antiques and yellowing newspaper clippings; trucker caps hang from nails in the ceiling beams, and the staff is all smiles.
There’s also the usual pancakes and pancake-like things—French toast and waffles—to choose from, all of which can be ordered with two eggs and bacon or sausage for $6.75. I went with the French toast, which had a slightly crispy batter and pillowy interior, just as one would hope for. It came with hash browns, which were surprisingly delicate and soft in the mouth. Watch out for the bacon, though. It’s the kind that turns to powder when it so much as touches the tongue.
I ordered the quarter Travis ($6.75), one step up from the “wimp Travis” on the lowest rung of the scale. When the beastly thing came I wanted to run away—it’s basically a giant pile of fries with something mysterious and meaty lurking underneath. Fortunately, an excavation through the potatoes revealed that the Travis is at its heart a red chile ground beef burrito smothered in green chile, cheese and lettuce. It’s the same mild, but flavorful, red as in the carne adovada, and it works well to give the beef a bit of interest without really setting it apart as anything special. The green chile, on the other hand, is a perfunctory touch, and honestly I could hardly taste it. And the fries? They’re your standard diner fries, crispy and warm, but really just an empty-caloried obstacle between you and the burrito. In fact, if this burrito sounds appealing, I’d suggest skipping the Travis altogether and instead choosing the burrito plate ($6-$8.75). It’s the same dish—it even comes in full, half, quarter and eighth sizes, like the Travis—but without a bunch of goddamned fries in the way.
Of course, finishing any size of the burrito plate won’t land your picture on the wall, so consider your goals before ordering.
Grandma’s is a pleasant little joint in a part of town that could stand a few more such homey destinations. The food varies in quality, but the kitschy atmosphere and the excellent carne adovada ensure that it will have a place on my breakfast rotation. And the full-sized Travis will always have a place in my nightmares.