Is there a name for this kind of restaurant? Searching Google, I can't find any synonym of restaurant. I've tried to search for images of unluxurious restaurant, small restaurant or mundane restaurant, with no satisfactory result. The restaurant I'm looking for is small, not so clean and definitely not a place that high class people go to eat.

It can be a house:

cheap restaurant in a building

Or lie on a side of the street:

enter image description here

20 Answers 20

up vote 126 down vote accepted

"Hole in the wall"?

Here's the definition from Oxford Dictionaries:

hole in the wall 1. chiefly North American A small dingy place, especially a bar or restaurant

Another definition from English Daily:

Definition A small, simple place, particularly a shop or restaurant

Example Let's go to the Italian restaurant on Smith Street. It's just a hole in the wall, but the food is excellent.

Etymology This phrase has been used since the early 1800s. A 'hole' is an empty space, and a 'wall' is part of a building. So a 'hole in the wall' is a simple, undecorated space in a building.

Note that today it is almost always used about food establishments; less so about shops.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:19

In the UK (and apparently in the USA according to Wikipedia) we often use the term 'greasy spoon cafe' (or just 'greasy spoon') to refer to a small, grubby, generic eaterie of the not-salubrious kind.

The name "greasy spoon" is a reference to the typically high-fat, high-calorie menu items such as eggs and bacon. The term has been used to refer to a "small cheap restaurant" since at least the 1920s [my italics]

www.wikipedia.org

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:19

A dive is any run-of-the-mill, local operation whose culture/decor is far below socially accepted norms. The term comes from dive bar, where a dive is essentially the same thing, except for eateries. Dives typically are unkempt, cheap, lined with buffets, and keep their restrooms locked.

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    Dive is my first though – WernerCD Sep 22 '15 at 5:16
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    +1 This is a very informal usage of "dive" as a noun, though referenced in several online dictionaries as such, for example: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dive – Boaz Sep 23 '15 at 10:50
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    Must admit I've only ever heard "dive" used for late night drinking places, not daytime eating places – user568458 Sep 23 '15 at 21:45
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    @user568458 Surely you don't doubt the authority of Guy Fieri. – Casey Sep 24 '15 at 21:38
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    The question is tagged "single word request" and this is the best single word answer. – jhocking Sep 25 '15 at 17:39

Just for the sake of completeness, one more term that would fit would be Mom and Pop (or Ma and Pa) Restaurant.

Mom and Pop would refer to the fact that it is a local establish (not a chain) and was often the case back in the day, literally owned and ran by a local couple. They are typically unfussy establishments with a focus on comfort food/"home cooking" as many of the recipes would have been from the family itself.

In England, I have heard them referred to as:

  • 'caff's, as they are a bit too down-market to earn the title café. I reckon that the expression would be understood throughout the UK.

I agree with others:

  • 'greasy-spoon': provides lots of calories for little expense, perfect to fuel folks who do hard physical work.

  • 'local café': small place, with a bit of charm and character and fewer calories.

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    +1 for the distinction between a "caff" and a cafaaayy in BE – Some_Guy Sep 22 '15 at 10:23
  • Yep it's definitely a caf. – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 25 '15 at 10:35

How about a joint?

  1. Informal. an establishment of a specified kind, especially one where people meet for eating, drinking, or entertainment. "a burger joint" Google

or

  1. Slang a. A cheap or disreputable gathering place: "The tavern is ... just a joint with Formica tables, a vinyl floor, lights over the mirrors" (Scott Turow). b. A building or dwelling. c. A prison. Often used with the. Free Dictionary

A descriptor one could use to convey the idea of it being very small, run and operated by one or two staff is mom and pop added to place or joint.

A diner is an inexpensive restaurant. Often they serve basic American food, but the cuisine varies regionally, and in some areas the term is used more broadly to include restaurants emphasizing Greek and other European fare. See Wikipedia.

There's also the slang word dive (see urban dictionary), which emphasizes the uncleanliness and cheapness of the eatery, and it can also refer to hotels and bars.

Both of these words are employed in the name of the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, where the host visits small, independent restaurants and evaluates their food.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:19

In India such a place is called 'Dhaba'. Many Indian colloquial words have been accepted as it is in English language. I think 'Dhaba' is one such word which describes the kind of place described by the querent; strongly deserves to be assimilated in the language. Another name for such roadside cheap eateries in India is 'TAPARI'

I'm originally from Detroit, MI, and I've heard the term D.F.L. (short for 'dirt floor lounge') used more than twice.

Grease pit is descriptive of some places I've dined in the past. It creates a mental image similar to those in your question.

Also, roach coach could be used for a food truck or trailer with a less-than-spotless appearance or reputation.

Otherwise, any of the posts that suggested dive, greasy spoon, dump, hashhouse or hashery all would seem to fit the bill nicely.

The answers cafe, bistro, luncheonette, lunch counter or hole-in-the-wall fail to imply sub-standard cleanliness. They could all be used to refer to a rather nice, clean establishment without causing insult to the proprietor.

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    No one has suggested grease pit, I think it's a wonderful expression. First time I've heard it. – Mari-Lou A Sep 22 '15 at 7:42
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks, I must have dreamt I saw it mentioned. I updated the answer accordingly and appreciate your comment! ;-) – MrWonderful Sep 22 '15 at 18:36
  • +1 for "greasy spoon" - the name of choice for that type of place when and where I grew up (1960's Midwest). Incidentally, the "greasy spoon" was frequented by truck drivers - they always knew the where there was the best and cheapest food! – Kristina Lopez Oct 7 '15 at 14:37

If the place is mostly open during the day, it might be called a luncheonette or lunch counter.

The Spanish (via Italy) cantina is increasingly popular in British and US English

Snack bar

This fits if it's small, informal, basic, you go up to the counter to be served (which looks right for the photos shown), meals can be either taken away or eaten on basic seating provided, and it serves a basic form of whatever is considered convenience food, locally - snacks and light lunch-y meals. Seating can be indoor, outdoor, or both, and it can be anything from a permanent building to a mobile truck or a beach bar.

The key characteristic is, it's informal, basic, and people go for the convenience and location, not for the quality of the food. It would normally be near a busy location like a main street, a market, an attraction, or a business district, and would usually be only open during daytime.


Cambridge Dictionaries:

a ​small, ​informal ​restaurant where ​small ​meals can be ​eaten or ​bought to take away

Collins Dictionaries:

a place where light meals or snacks can be obtained, often with a self-service system

Wikipedia:

an inexpensive food counter... [or sometimes] a small café or cafeteria. Various small, casual dining establishments might be referred to as a "snack bar" ... Snack bar may also refer to: ... a small café or "greasy spoon" style restaurant ... a lunch counter [among various other uses]

Lego: (seating sold seperately)

enter image description here

  • actually, these restaurants don't serve snacks – Ooker Sep 24 '15 at 13:14
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    "Snack bar" isn't literal, like how cafes aren't just for coffee. As the examples show it's also used for places serving light lunch-like meals. – user568458 Sep 24 '15 at 15:07
  • how do you define a light lunch-like meal? – Ooker Sep 24 '15 at 15:46
  • The sorts of things canteens and lunch counters serve. Something you'd eat for a casual nothing-special lunch that's cheap enough you can eat it every day and small enough you'll have no food coma in the afternoon. Similar to fast food but without the implication that it's one of the fast food chains. Whatever the local equivalent is of a small burger and fries, or a sausage sarnie, or a panini, or a small bowl of pho or ramen, etc etc. – user568458 Sep 24 '15 at 16:31

In Puerto Rico they are called kiosks. There are a chain of famous ones in Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico (simply called the Luquillo Kiosks).

Luquillo Kiosks

Granted some have been upgraded over time, and are less run down then others.

Your first picture looks like a "Hash House", which means an inexpensive restaurant, but not so cheap as the one in the picture.

"a cheap café or restaurant" (AmE, slang) TFD

As for your second picture, it's difficult to come up with a good answer as occupation of a sidewalk for commercial purposes isn't allowed in both the US and the UK. One might call it an "outdoor dining-place". But if you want a fixed phrase, I suggest "a street stall" or "food stall". (see picture)

enter image description here

food stalls in Mexico.

How about eatery. To my mind restaurant implies a level of quality - Table cloths, table service and not fast food. Eatery could mean any establishment that serves food. So you could refer to a 'cheap eatery', 'pavement eatery' or a 'hole in the wall eatery'.

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    Unbelievably, though eatery was mentioned several times in comments, you're the first to offer it as an answer. – Hot Licks Apr 14 '16 at 3:10

In the english-speaking world there is probably quite a diversity of names for an 'unluxurious restaurant'. Here in Derby UK there are some small cafes in an indoor market that I would never eat at! They smell unpleasant and look dirty but are surprisingly popular (and cheap). If I'm being polite I would call them a cafe (never a restaurant) - but otherwise a greasy spoon (also used in US - see above).

How about hashery?

Dictionary.com defines it as:

A restaurant or lunch counter, especially a small or cheap place.

Plus, I believe it's better sounding than most of the ones I'm looking through over here.

It's a "fly restaurant", as in it might be pretty good but hygiene and decor might not be their top concerns. There might be a few flies buzzing around.

Credit Eddie Huang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bfL3QE2BpI

How about beanery?

A cheap restaurant.

Origin of beanery: 1885-90; Americanism; bean + -ery: so named from serving baked beans as a chief dish

Collins American Dictionary

An inexpensive restaurant with no regular menu and no table service. The menu changes according to availability and food is prepared in large batches rather than to order.

Urban Dictionary

That jerkwater town doesn't boast a single descent beanery. M-W

There is a good beanery near the station where nice julienne and lasagne are served.

GREASE JOINT: A cowboy term for a restaurant, which he also calls a beanery, feedbag, grub house, nose bag, or eat-and-get-out trough.

Dictionary of the American West

DORIS THE DOMINATRIX: “You have been wicked and you're in terrible danger." RAOUL: “ So is everyone who eats here.” Susan Saiger, disguised as a blind nun with second sight, warns Robert Beltran while he eats in a dingy, dirty Mexican beanery.

Eating Raoul (1982, Barrel)

Arthur went to Boston he rented a little hole in the wall and opened up a little restaurant. He called it Jack's Beanery.

Dad and Me

Columbo has favored several different chili joints over the years, but he keeps returning to "Barney's Beanery", the place where we first saw him chowing down on chili in the second "Columbo" pilot movie, Ransom For A Dead Man

Columbo's Chili Habit

Ngram

  • What is the difference between this word and other answers? Is it only used widely in a particular country? – Ooker Apr 14 '16 at 10:59
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    I've heard of all the others but not this one. – Mitch Apr 14 '16 at 11:15
  • Even though it perhaps precluded (or brought about) the term urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=beaner, that term has taken on significantly racist tones in at least some parts of the US, and so it doesn't seem a great choice. – JeopardyTempest Apr 14 '16 at 13:06
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    Even leaving the racist tones aside, I would assume a beanery only serves cheap American-style food, whereas a hole in the wall could serve any type of cuisine. – Peter Shor Apr 14 '16 at 13:15

What about "noshery", from the Yiddish word "nosh". Nosh is both a verb and a noun to eat (verb to nosh) and the food itself (tasty nosh - noun). Noshery was in common usage between the wars up until the late 1960's. A noshery was always a simple eatery, rather noisy, often serving staple Ashkenazi food at reasonable prices to a largely local Jewish clientele. The eponymous "Noshery" (or was it Nosherie?) was just such an eatery in London's Soho during the 1950's and '60's, just a few doors down from another establishment calling itself the Windmill where off-topic activities were on show.

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