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Kitsch apart, it's classy all the way....

The hottest hot dogs. The yummiest omelettes. The greatest French-fries ever. Mouthful? Claims or the dishes? Just drive down to The Diner at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre to know first- hand if all this adds up to a great eating experience, suggests <145,4>SUMITRA SENAPATY....


The All-American Diner at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi beckons the food lovers with its elegance and authenticity.

NOSTALGIA IS what it used to be with the just opened All-American Diner at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi -- A Great American Food Experience with a 1950s retro decor and bustling atmosphere, topped with generous calorie laden portions. The Diner is splattered with enough `50s and `60s memorabilia that you may wake in the middle of the night trembling at Lucille Ball's chuckles or break out into cold sweats at hearing yet one more of the King's greatest hits.

Yet we've got to admit the kitsch is cute. The friendly, Elvis side-burned waiters are well-versed in bringing a smile to the face as they deliver great soda fountain malts, cherry, chocolate and vanilla cokes mixed to order, and that gross coloured but wonderful Spicy Smoothie. As the great oldie collection blares from the antique jukebox, the busy kitchen whips up an assortment of burgers. The ultimate is The Classic Double Decker Burger topped with double cheese, lettuce, tomato, braised onions and gerkins. Those not interested in burgers can choose fish, chicken or vegetable preparations served with real mashed potatoes or American fries, soup or salad with garlic bread. B.L.T, the classic bacon, lettuce and tomato toasted sandwich is also available at The Diner. Prices being reasonable, the kids will like it here.

Are reservations necessary? ''Yeah, right.''

The American Diner is an icon and eatery tradition that is much revered in some circles. In some ways a revival, The Diner was born when a guy named Walter Scott began to offer prepared food from a converted horse-drawn freight wagon way back in 1872. His lunch wagon was an immediate success, which thousands of others improved upon and copied. At IHC, the red and black neon sign glows for the better part of the day, as does the `7 to 12- Open' Diner itself. Once inside, you discover there is indeed a real diner inside, complete with shiny stainless steel, tile and marble countertop, ''oldie'' music, and lots of signage, collectibles and artwork from Marilyn and Betty Boop days gone by. A hostess seats you, and you confront a typical diner menu with lots of bright artwork. Service is downright casual, and the food is done up perfectly, and in such generous quantities that I am unable to navigate through everything. It's fresh, high- quality fare, and there is a lot of attention to the details of what would otherwise be just another quick meal.

How about a hot dog for lunch? This all-American celebration of those fabulous and phenomenally popular little sausages in their soft little buns is an all-time favourite. Whether you like your dog with mustard, chili and cheese, or with the ''works,'' this is sure to please. With breakfast items being available throughout the day, you can get eggs any way you want them, anytime you want them -- omelets have three eggs and toppings of your choice. Or tear into a juicy burger cooked under a hubcap and topped with bacon, cheese, chili or egg. Chili Dog, a racy but tasty hot dog, is dressed with mustard, relish, onions and Chili Corn Carne. Wash it all down with an old-fashioned shake, malt or float.

The best hot dogs ever. Also, the best French-fries ever. Cut right in front of you -- no frozen potatoes here. If the crowd has beaten you to it, don't expect to sit down, unless you bring the hot dogs back to your car. Don't expect to order anything but hot dogs, cheese dogs, hash brown, cheesecakes and shooters. Don't ask for ketchup, either. That would just be wrong. Staff at the American Diner believes in loading on the fries! The smell when you walk in is just to die for. Undeniably an American original and the true hot dog aficionado's choice for best dog around.

The nostalgia touches are true kitsch, but they do brighten up the place. The American Diner is a place in transition, though clearly the owners know where they want to take it. But in a lot of ways, they are already there. When the hostess asks me how everything was, I know that she really wants to know, and I know that when I say "okay'', I really mean it. But just make sure that the good eats and good services keep on coming. They're the real stars that make it seem like the old days -- whenever that was.

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