New York City is flush with top-rate fine-dining restaurants, but even we highbrow Gothamites like to trade white-linen tables for weathered Formica from time to time. Enter: the diner, those all-day havens of squeaky leather booths, sizzling flattop grills and stick-to-your-ribs comfort fare. From the best bagels in the a.m. to fried chicken in the p.m., these are the best diners in NYC.
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Best diners in NYC
This cash-only, all-hours establishment is a stubborn holdout of the old-school Village—after all, the West Village now ranks among NYC’s priciest ’hoods. While the nearly 40-year-old restaurant has undergone some renovations over the years, the Waverly still touts its colorful neon sign, retro dark-wood paneling and a long list of greasy-spoon U.S. standards, including jaw-busting triple-decker sandwiches, thick, meaty burgers and slurpworthy milkshakes. Whether you’re up early before work or coming in after a night spent clubbing, the highlight of the menu remains the tried-and-true eggs, cooked to your liking and served right on the skillet.
A Brooklyn institution since the 1930s, Tom’s staying power can be attributed to several factors, one of which is the free coffee and bites passed out to the long line of folks waiting to be seated (small acts of kindness go a long way when you’re hungover and hangry). The eclectic interior, full of kitschy paintings and strings of lights, will make you feel like you’re in a classic black-and-white film. On top of that, in the food department, Tom’s really goes a step beyond the garden-variety diner. Ye olde flapjacks are served here in a sweet-corn–studded, whole-wheat variety as well as a lemon-ricotta version, or you can indulge in—wait for it—chocolate-cake French toast and some of the best egg creams in town.
You may not be able to tell from the outside, but this nondescript diner has been the borscht-dishing savior for many a sozzled East Villager. Opened in 1965 as a café and bar, Odessa expanded in 1994 to include a restaurant next door. The original wing of the diner closed in 2013 due to a rent hike, but the spirit of Odessa is alive and well in those 1994 digs. Owned by first-generation Greek immigrant Mike Skulikidis, who purchased the dive from a Ukrainian friend, the restaurant is now known for its wonderfully tacky decor—gotta love those gauche framed landscapes—and a vast list of diner fare that’s accented by Eastern European favorites like potato pierogi and meat- or veggie-stuffed cabbage. That’s right, hot and fresh pierogi 24/7.
The king of Queens diners is this stainless-steel Art Deco beauty. Owned by the Dellaportas family—the patriarch, Archie, first acquired the diner after immigrating to New York in 1972—the restaurant is now a legend in the borough. Like many Greek-owned diners, the 24-hour establishment punctuates its menu of oversize burgers and fried foods with home-cooked specialities from the homeland: Spinach pie, moussaka and pastitsio are notable favorites. In fact, in true diner fashion, there are roughly 920 items on the menu, so you should be able to find something you like.
New York is a bona fide diner destination, but the Garden State wasn’t nicknamed “the Diner State” for nothing. New Jersey has the highest concentration of diners in the world because the (former) Kullman Dining Car Company and other in-state firms manufactured the prefab units, most of which didn’t get very far. This burger-centric Jersey City icon and its sister Hackensack outpost, White Manna, were both opened by Louis Bridges, who bought the original diner at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. (The slightly different names are the result of a sign-maker’s spelling error.) Mana’s distinctive octagonal building—with the cook in the middle of the room—was even named a local landmark. Now, seven decades later, the immigrant-owned, around-the-clock restaurants are still known for their griddle-seared patties cloaked in molten cheese and crowned with steamed onions—a couple thousand of ’em are wolfed down a week.
For over 40 years, Williamsburg’s 24-hour standby has been known for a highly varied clientele, depending on the time of day and day of week: office workers and day laborers sidle up to the counter for lunchtime wraps and salads by day while the bar- and concert-going crowds cram into booths for burgers and finger foods by night. Halloween at 4am is a particularly captivating time for a visit, when the diner is packed to the seams with costumed revelers looking to cure the drunchies. Not to miss on the veritable tome of a menu is a house burger—amped up with bacon, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and sautéed onions—and one of the house confections (cheesecake, tiramisu) displayed proudly in a rotating case.
Established in 1972, this diner touts its titular offering of burgers with the slogan: “36 Ways to Serve Burgers.” A hop-skip from NYU’s sprawling Greenwich Village campus, find undergrads and village locals scarfing down those patties—including innovative takes like the Santorini Burger (sauteed spinach, feta cheese) or and the Pizza Burger (pizza sauce, melted mozzarella)—washed down with endless refills of coffee. Ironically, it’s a fairly larger diner that’s not particularly cozy by any means, but hey, we love it anyways.
Billing itself as “The Largest Diner in New York City,” this 280-seat colossus has catered to the Midtown commuter crowd at Penn Station across the street (there’s also a location in Clifton, New Jersey). Opened in 1997, the restaurant sticks true to traditional, gut-sticking diner fare that’s complemented by items from Italian, Greek, and Tex-Mex canons. In true diner fashion, breakfast is an all-day offering and includes: over a dozen omelet preparations, farm eggs any style, and Belgian waffles.
This over half-century-old diner’s neon sign is a shining beacon amidst the towering gray facades of the Financial District, beckoning weary suits to its temple of all-day comfort food. Breakfast is the forte here, along with 40-something varieties of burgers—including Buffalo, Mexican, BBQ, and Greek—to the worker bees perched on its original metal stools. Curiously, it’s one of the few remaining classic stand-alone diners in town, and it’s not letting go of tradition anytime soon.
It doesn’t get more old-school than Square Diner, a 1000-square-foot, train-car style joint that’s been feeding the increasingly moneyed TriBeCa neighborhood for over a century. Opened in the 20s, the diner was constructed by the famed Pullman Dining Car Company, and is now a legitimate historical artifact—and filming location for the likes of television’s Daredevil and Gotham—complete with stainless-steel trimmings, red-vinyl cushions, and glass-block windows. On the food front, popular orders include the hamburger, ham-and-cheese sandwich, and homemade carrot cake.