Uncle DanMar Restaurant
5141 Saviers Road, Oxnard
$5.75- $13.95

So what exactly makes a restaurant a diner? This is the question I posed to the Internet search-engine gods after dining at Uncle DanMar Restaurant in Oxnard. It is called a restaurant, but I was getting a strong diner vibe and really loving it. While there aren’t any set criteria, most diners have a counter, are open late, serve breakfast any time of the day and serve home-cooked meals at good prices. Uncle DanMar is one of these places.

This diner — open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day — sits in the space that used to house Uncle Herb’s Restaurant, an Oxnard institution for more than 35 years. Owner Martin Herrera is trying to establish a new identity for his restaurant, yet he is sensitive to the fact that diners may miss Uncle Herb’s, which he explains in a letter to customers on the front of the menu. The main carryover is in the use of “Uncle” in the name, the unchanged interior of the restaurant, and a few recipes and classic dishes.

We went to check out the breakfast, where many a diner truly shines. Hot coffee arrived immediately, along with menus and a nice welcome from the hostess. As is the case with most diners, the menu is large, offering something for everyone: pancakes or biscuits and gravy for breakfast, burgers and salads for lunch, and barbecue ribs and liver and onions for dinner. Our server gave us space as we chatted and labored over what to order. We never felt rushed or hurried, only encouraged to enjoy.

When we asked our server about her favorite menu item, her eyes lit up as she spoke of the “crunch” of the multi-grain pancakes. But unfortunately, after we ordered them she informed us that the chef hadn’t mixed any multi-grain batter that day. So we settled for the pumpkin nut and the banana nut pancakes as side dishes to our entrees. Yes, the entrees come with a choice of toast or a stack of seven pancakes and the choice of hash browns or country fried potatoes. The pumpkin pancakes gave off the spiced aroma of pumpkin pie, and the banana pancakes looked great with slices of banana on top. Both were a bit lacking in their signature flavors (the banana and pumpkin flavors had to be searched for), but the crunch of the nuts and the texture were really nice. 

The Jasmina omelet, named after the owner’s wife, was filled with tomato, olives, bacon and jack cheese and topped with big slices of avocado and sour cream. It was large, perfectly cooked, and smooth with the gooey cheese. The soft and cooling sour cream and avocado were the icing on top. The shredded hash brown potatoes sitting next to it had been perfectly cooked on the griddle until brown and crisp. This entree was clean plate club good and so filling it would take even a lumberjack from breakfast all the way to dinner.

The huevos rancheros consist of two puffy fried eggs on a corn tortilla topped with cheese and a red enchilada sauce. They are served with warm corn tortillas and homemade salsa on the side. The salsa is what really makes this dish. Made from grilled jalapenos and tomatoes that are puréed with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro, it is dark, flavorful and clearly not from a jar. After overhearing our conversation about our love for this salsa, our server brought three little containers of it for us to take home. 

We also ordered the corned beef hash with eggs. The corned beef was salty and smooth, yet with a little bit of crunch. This old favorite is hard to beat, especially when paired with the runny egg yolk and the firm egg white. The country fried potatoes were a bit lacking in the crispy department and needed salt.

What I love about diners, and Uncle DanMar’s in particular, is that anything goes. If you want chocolate chip pancakes as your side dish to your giant omelet, that’s cool. If you want some grilled jalapenos on the side, that’s fine as well. And if you order a bunch of savory dishes and can’t resist ordering the chocolate chip waffle as a dessert to your breakfast, no one even bats an eye. Because diners are where you go to indulge, it’s OK to let loose here and eat a day’s worth of calories in one sitting. 

Uncle DanMar’s is a great place to go to get a big, satisfying and uncomplicated meal with a side dish of excellent service. And it’s a place where you can silence your hunger pangs or satiate your sweet tooth, any time of the day.                            

Allison Costa is a seasoned cook, restaurant enthusiast and lover of all things food, cooking and eating. She lives in Ventura with her family. Check out her blog at: www.venturafoodhappenings.com.