Red swivel seats look into the bustling kitchen and cozy red-upholstered booths surround the inside of Mil’s Diner, which is so perfectly timeless that no one has any real idea how long it has actually been in business. Co-owner Teri Lane spent 18 years as a waitress before she and Anthony Camacho bought the establishment in January.
Sitting in a corner booth for her regular lunch appointment with seven friends, customer Sharon Traubenik told San José Spotlight she has been dining at Mil’s for more than 30 years.
“It really has not changed much since I first started eating here,” she said. “The food is consistent, and everything I have ever had here was good. Today I ordered the mushroom burger with cheese, and it is wonderful.”
Mil’s is the kind of place where you can sit down and order your food without ever needing to look at the menu. You know they are going to have tender country-fried steak and eggs with hash browns or four-egg Denver omelettes. You know they are going to have patty melts served on thick slices of grilled rye bread. You know the fries are going to be hot and the milkshakes are going to be cold, thick and creamy.
Louie Perivoliotis owned Mil’s for 26 years before retiring late last year. He had several people interested in buying the place before Lane and Camacho made an offer.
Lane said Perivoliotis’ only response was, “What took you so long?”
Since taking over, the two have made few changes aside from a new front door sign, bathroom renovations and new lighting.
“Everyone wants to put their stamp on things to make it their own,” Lane said. “But I didn’t feel the need to really change anything. I mean, we have won ‘Best Breakfast in Milpitas’ 27 years in a row—how can you beat that?”
Instead of making any major renovations, keeping that consistency in the quality of food and service was a priority.
“(Perivoliotis) was a great cook and a great teacher,” Lane said. “But he never measured anything. When he made soup, he would just say, ‘Add a little of this and a little of that.’ So we started videotaping him instead of trying to write everything down, and then they watched those videos until they were sure they got everything right.”
So Lane and Camacho carefully replicated Perivoliotis’ approach to the menu, maintaining flexibility to tweak the menu to fit every customer’s whims. The business has loyal customers—Lane estimates about 80% are long-time regulars.
“This has been a home for so many people,” Lane said. “I’ve had women come in here in labor needing to get their last meal before they go to the hospital. I’ve then watched those babies grow up, and now they’re bringing in their babies. We had one person tell us last week that he had been here four times in a row, and he said that we were stuck with him now.”
The menu’s approach to food is classic American diner cuisine prepared right. Take the chicken and waffles. While some otherwise food-savvy people might praise the over-breaded and greasy dish as it’s prepared by famous chain drive-thrus, the chicken at Mil’s is moist and perfect with a thin coat of crisp seasoned flour that has been cooked to a golden brown, then served piping hot and drizzled with honey.
Lane’s favorite breakfast option is the tender London strip, topped with sautéed mushrooms and served with three eggs, hash browns and toast. There are blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles and a make-your-own omelet option with more than 30 choices, including chili.
The lunch menu is not to be overlooked and includes homemade soups, salads, half-pound burgers and a wide variety of sandwiches, including a savory Monte Cristo with turkey, ham and Swiss cheese layered between slices of French toast.
“It is a comfortable place,” Lane said. “It’s not pretentious. There’s no fancy food, but I can guarantee there is good food and there is great service. And there are always good feelings here, too. I may not remember your name when you come in, but I know what you want to eat, and I know you are going to leave happy.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].