The 1950s decor isn't the highlight of Bertha’s Diner. It isn’t the creative twist on diner standards, either. Nor is it the cozy atmosphere or its walkable Hertel Avenue location. The diner's unique appeal relies on all of these, which have made it a Buffalo favorite.
Blink and you’ll miss Bertha’s, nestled next to North Park Theatre on the bustling shopping strip. Its tiny interior makes for busy weekend mornings, so get in early to get a seat. It’s also cash-only, but an ATM by the door bails out forgetful patrons.
The menu serves up classic diner standards with a twist, like the Elvis Waffle we encountered on a recent weekend menu. A golden Belgian waffle is served with banana slices, chocolate and peanut butter chips and whipped cream ($9.95).
The James Dean special is a bit outside the Cheap Eats purview at $10.95, but shell out an extra buck. This ham and cheddar cheese-filled waffle, topped with two eggs any style is worth it.
For the sweet tooth, the cinnamon roll waffle ($5.25) looks straight out of Pinterest and tastes even better. Four mini cinnamon rolls baked in a waffle iron and drizzled with whipped cream makes a great breakfast appetizer for sharing.
Big appetites will love Sean’s Garbage Plate ($10), which lives up to the menu’s promised “pile of goodness.” The plate comes loaded with crispy home fries, ham, sausage, bacon, peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs. Drizzle a little hot sauce over the pile and you’ve got a belly buster. Toast comes at an extra $2, but unless you’re running home, you won’t need it.
The weekday menu – posted on the wall next to each booth – features all of the standards, including all-day breakfast. Much like the weekend specials, several unique items appear. The Dennis ($9) with bacon, eggs, cheese and a chorizo-stuffed hot pepper on sourdough toast, will satisfy spice fans.
Sitting Pretty ($6.25) features two eggs grilled into the bread, topped with cheese for an open-faced sandwich that tastes like home. Grilled homemade blueberry banana bread ($3.25) caramelizes lightly, making a beautiful dessert-like breakfast.
On the lunch end, Bertha’s burgers weigh in at 5 ounces, with the exception of the Big Bertha Burger ($10.50), which features two patties. For lighter appetites, a 3-ounce cheeseburger with fries ($4.75) or fries and a milkshake ($7.95) make a diner classic a little bit lighter.
Wraps (all under $7.50) come in roast beef, chicken finger, egg salad, tuna, sautéed veggies, grilled chicken and Caesar styles. Any of the house, spinach, or Greek salads can be ordered as a side salad for $3.50.
Regulars swear by the fried bologna steak ($5.35), which comes with cheese, peppers and onions and optional bacon. I never turn down bacon, and here, it adds a smoky, umami element that elevates the classic bologna to an entirely new level. When I was a kid, my dad made fried bologna as a special treat and now that I know what cholesterol is, I understand why. At Bertha’s, it’s worth an extra lap around the block.
Whether you live down the street or swing by before a Hertel shopping spree, Bertha’s is one classic Buffalonians will want to visit. From specials to standards, every appetite will find something to love at Bertha’s.
1430 Hertel Ave. (836-3100)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Gluten-free options: Yes
Must-try: Weekend specials, fried bologna, banana bread