To track Crazy Otto's Diner back to its roots, head west. Follow Grand Army of the Republic Highway through the Arapaho National Forest, past Grand Junction, and past whatever's happening in southern Utah. Then angle southwest through Las Vegas, skirt the Mojave National Preserve, and stop in Lancaster, California.
It's there that Otto's grew to dominate breakfast in the Antelope Valley, tying itself to the rhythms of the city through acts like offering free food to people sitting in certain seats when the train would go by and rattle the restaurant. It's the kind of place that tries to make the world's biggest omelet — and has, twice actually, the second time in 2002 when 200 people took 6.5 hours to cook 34,000 eggs, 500 pounds of bell peppers and 200 pounds of cheese into 1,850 square feet of omelette au fromage.
In tribute, the train promotion continues in modified form at the new location on Centennial Boulevard, and the restaurant's impulse for excess is present, too, informing humongous portions. Our server went so far as to confidently assert that we only wanted a half-order of the signature avocado omelet ($12.50/full), clearly failing to consider my late-night eating addiction. But a pale-yellow egg baby did plop, and my mouth did drop, and the heavens did open and rain down gobs of (brown) mashed avocado and bits of bacon so smoky I burped them for hours. All in all, a win for humanity.
We reluctantly passed on the awesomely named Crazy Otto's Burgermeat omelet, and went straight for the Machaca and Eggs ($11.99). Pounds of the eggs, shredded beef, tomatoes, onions and peppers came piled on a round plate and topped with a thick layer of oozing cheddar. It was obviously an out-of-control breakfast burrito, so I requested a giant tortilla, and ate accordingly. The meat tasted a little old, but the overall effect was legit. Plus, it came with a side of three soft biscuits smothered in a medium-body gravy with sausage flecks. A side.
Lunch was even better than breakfast. It's a time when the men are men, the women are women, and the burgers are really good. The Hickory Mushroom Cheeseburger ($9.99) missed the medium mark, but made up for it with a half-pound meat patty tasting like fire underneath plump mushrooms and a sticky, sweet barbecue sauce. The incredible onion rings on the side ($1.75) are made in-house and taste sweet and savory, like a county fair corn dog.
The Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich ($10.50) arrived on a chewy, toasted roll packed with strips of top sirloin, onions, peppers and Jack cheese, and that roll held up well under the steamy deliciousness. Less structurally sound was a textbook turkey melt ($9.50), whose roast-y slices of turkey meat layered with grilled onions and spiked with acidic tomatoes destroyed the bun on the way to instigating edible bliss.
At the end of the day, it's just a diner, open for morning and afternoon eating, but probably unavailable for saving your soul. (Plus, if we're counting, it's technically a chain.) But Crazy Otto's has the right feel, the right attitude to make it all work. The service is as fast and friendly as you would hope pre-sunrise, and the food makes you feel cared for. Can't ask more than that.