Old-School Diners We Love: Jane’s Fountain in Liliha
Chop steak, old-fashioned cheeseburgers and an old jukebox that still plays old tunes.
Years ago when I was on the hunt for the best tasting, cheapest cheeseburger, my search took me to Jane’s Fountain. It hadn’t changed much over the decades. An old-fashioned diner that was more about food than furniture. Steeped in history and nostalgia. This was true then and it’s still true now.
Our journey back begins with a nighttime drive up Liliha Street, black asphalt wet with rain. Multi-colored lights reflected in street puddles. The heavy smell of moisture in the air. We get lucky with a parking spot right in front.
The fluorescent glow from Jane’s Fountain greets us at the entrance. Like a movie come to life, framed by the night. Orange seats like flames standing at attention. Cash only signs, old walls, and the scent of decades. We shake the drizzle off our clothes and step inside.
A woman who turns out to be the owner motions us to sit anywhere. We take an unoccupied booth and scan the menu boards on the walls. Quite a selection of diner staples and comfort foods. A steady stream of customers come and go, the owner offering familiar waves as the customers do the same. One group reminisces about the old jukebox, bemoaning its unplugged state. Hearing this, the owner plugs it in. Overjoyed, the group begins perusing the song selection. The most recent song is about 20 years old.
A friendly customer named Rex begin chatting with me. He’s been eating at Jane’s Fountain all his life. Since opening up in Liliha in the 1940s, he says, not much has changed. The menu board still offers the same selections from years ago. Only the prices have changed. Same soda fountain machine, from back when foam was removed when topping off drinks. No longer in service, it sits as a reminder of older times. It made the best Cokes back in the day, according to Rex.
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After thanking Rex for his insights, I return to my booth and we put in our order. Rex recommended the pigs feet soup, calling it a Jane’s Fountain specialty. For comfort food, you can’t go wrong with loco moco. A friend suggested the chop steak. And the cheeseburger, to see if it’s the same as I remember.
On this rainy night, the pigs feet soup ($14.95) is a comfort. We breathe in the aromatic steam of the clear, salty broth to warm up. A strong porkiness defines the flavor. Generous portions of meat fill the bowl, tender morsels falling off the bone.
Loco moco ($9.45) is a classic local comfort food. Although I prefer eating it for breakfast, I can enjoy it anytime of day. Steaming white rice, topped with a tasty hamburger patty. Blanketing the plate are eggs sunny side up. Everything is slathered in silky smooth gravy and satisfying.
We get the regular version of the chopped steak ($14.95) with onion, tomato and peppers. A lighter dish, it arrives steaming. The beef carries the scent of the wok it was just sautéed in, the peppers are juicy, onions crunchy. Succulent tomatoes enhance the light savory flavor.
I’ve been looking forward to revisiting my favorite cheeseburger ($6.05). What it lacks in presentation, it makes up for in flavor. A light bun nestles the patty and cheese. A slab of lettuce garnishes the burger; I take it out and eat it separately. I don’t want vegetables to interfere with my enjoyment. A secret mayo sauce highlights the flavor of the tender, glistening beef and hot, melted cheese on top. I sink my teeth in as my two favorite flavors, meat and cheese, fill my tastebuds with joy.
Finished and full, I go to the counter to pay. The owner accepts my cash and turns to a mechanical cash register behind her. No electronics, no plugs. Pushing buttons and pulling levers, she places my cash inside when the register drawer slides open and gently closes it. A bell chimes from the venerable machine to signal the end of the transaction.
Not much has changed at Jane’s Fountain. I don’t think regulars would have it any other way.
Cash only. Open Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 1719 Liliha St., (808) 533-1238