FAIRFAX, Va. In a previous century, the 29 Diner in Fairfax was a regular late night destination for my friends and me. We’d find ourselves there several times a week after night of food service work.

Even in those days, the diner was an anachronism – just a sliver of old Fairfax, when Northern Virginia had just about completed the transition from the sleepy outskirts to part of one of the country’s major metropolitan areas. 

Resilient restaurant

Back in 2014, I learned that 29 Diner had closed, but that proved to be temporary. New ownership came in and updated the menu to include on-site barbecue. At the new 29 smoked food now means barbecue. Back then, it meant that old woman with the long silver ponytail at the stove with a lit cigarette in her mouth.

My first visit in a generation came on a recent Saturday evening. We were in the city of Fairfax and looking for a family friendly location with outdoor seating. When I realized 29 had it, I figured, why not? 

Like a lot of restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to pivot. Outdoor seating in the front parking lot is the most conspicuous change and a welcome one. Along with visiting in daylight, the experience was quite different than my earlier days. Dining al fresco is always welcome, so I’m delighted with the opportunity.

Service and menu

Running on a skeleton crew, 29 had a single server and perhaps two cooks. The waitress was personable and as or more efficient the olden days. Our party included our three kids (ours plus a friend) and did not get restless.

The food was an upgrade over the 20th century. Two of us had barbecue pork which while not being fresh out of the smoker was tasty with tasty sauce. The BLT received praise, as did the hamburgers. The fries were shoestring now and not as greasy as in the olden days. Pepsi is still the fountain choice.

Inside and out

In addition to outdoor seating, there were American and pride flags and a “welcome Afghan refugees” sign. An antique truck was also parked outside.

Inside, the classic stainless steel Mountain View diner remained in tact. I think the booths may have been replaced, but overall it looks as it did in the 1990s and probably, the 1960s. If not the 1940s. The songs on the old jukebox have changed but the YCJCYADFTJB sign remains.

Getting there

The 29 Diner is located on US 29/50 (Fairfax Blvd) westbound just west of VA 123 (Chain Bridge Road). There are no turns from eastbound US 29, so you may have to go around the block coming and going.

Currently, the diner closes at 9 p.m. – check ahead before going.

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