The location: Ryan's Mom's Diner.

Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. A somewhat rowdy, blue-collar diner.

Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. In Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Q. When did we see it on the show?

    A. Only once, in Episode 21 (of season three), "The Dawn Patrol", when Ryan goes to Albuquerque to find his estranged mother, and invite her to his high school graduation.

    He finds her working in this diner. Ryan sees her through the window, but then sees her flirt with a biker/customer and (knowing her history of taking up with abusive men) changes his mind about inviting her.  Eventually, Ryan comes around, when he finds out that the biker is actually a nice guy.

    While at the diner, Ryan also meets a cute waitress named Chloe, and they have a brief fling at his hotel.

Q. What is it actually in real life?

    A. An actual old diner (complete with a juke box and a biker following), but far from Albuquerque.

Q. Where can I find it in real life?

    A. It's actually "The Original" Saugus Cafe, an historic diner located up near Six Flags' Magic Mountain, at 25861 San Fernando Road, in Santa Clarita, CA.

    The Saugus Cafe is happens to be the oldest operating restaurant in Los Angeles County; it's been in business since 1887. It was open 24 hours a day as far back as at least 1938, and still is today. First known as "The Saugus Eating House" it was originally located in the baggage room of local depot (the Saugus Train Station). In 1905, it moved to its current location.

    That's near Magic Mountain Parkway. The cafe is on the same street (San Fernando Road) as some of the early "Chino" locations in Sun Valley, such as the car theft scene from the pilot episode - but it's 17 miles northwest of Sun Valley.

    Here is a map link with the exact location. And here is an aerial photo (looking west) from Live Local.

    If you happen to be in the area, you could drop by for lunch. (Ryan meets Chloe in the second booth to the right of the door.) But be aware that this isn't Spago - it's a real, down-to-earth diner that may be a little rough around the edges.

Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?

    A. This one wasn't easy. Since I'd never been to Saugus, I didn't recognize the place. For all I knew, the diner might have really been in Albuquerque.

    Fortunately, I had a few clues to go on.

    First, there is a very brief shot of the diner's window, with the writing on the window reversed. By capturing the image and horizontally flipping it, I was able to make out the name "El Viejo Saguaro" on the window. That didn't help much. But it did register when I later turned up the town of Saugus...

    Next, I was able to spot a street number just outside the door, in a scene where Ryan is leaving the diner.  Freeze-framing it revealed the partial number 258-?-1.

    But in another shot from the show (see the top photo), I could see the green sign of a Building Supply company across the street (out the diner's window), next to a railroad crossing signal. So I went through the various businesses with "Building Supply" in their names, that were located near railroad tracks (which turned up a surprising number of matches), then matched up aerial photos with the screenshots. When I found the right building supply company (it was Stock Building Supply, on San Fernando Road), I did a Google search for restaurants & bars in the immediate area, and the Saugus Cafe turned, up right across the street, exactly where it should have been. A check of its address revealed the expected street number: 25861. Then I compared online photos of the diner to the screenshots from the show - and they matched.

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