Where to find the best diners in New York City
New York might be home to some of the world’s best restaurants, but it’s the city’s diners that have long earned a place in people’s hearts (and stomachs).
While diners and luncheonettes in the city are becoming few and far between – in many cases relinquishing their precious real estate to high rises – there are still plenty of places to get your fix of greasy food and colorful vinyl decor. Here are some of the best diners in NYC.
Lexington Candy Shop, Upper East Side
Chow down to a soundtrack of Heart, Bon Jovi and their ilk in the Upper East Side’s beloved Lexington Candy Shop. Continuously operated by three generations of the same family since its 1925 opening, this classic luncheonette and soda shop (which Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are known to frequent) is the place to get a malted milkshake that’s the real deal. The 'Be Nice or Leave' sign hanging above the cashier is an apt summary of the general vibe here.
Tom’s Restaurant, Prospect Heights
While its (unrelated) namesake on the Upper West Side attracts a crowd thanks to its role in Seinfeld, the Brooklyn-based Tom’s Restaurant has a devoted following in its own right. As Prospect Heights’ go-to purveyor of comfort food in all its forms – enormous pancakes, crab cakes, French toast, huevos rancheros – it’s unsurprising that the line for a seat at Tom’s can often be long. It’s worth the wait.
Waverly Diner, West Village
A hankering for greasy comfort food can strike at any time of day or night and this 24-hour diner is here to serve (and has been a favored hangover cure for West Village locals for decades). In addition to its Greek and Italian-inspired staples, Waverly Diner also offers a good range of craft beers, wine and cocktails for that boozy brunch.
Square Diner, Tribeca
Though it now seems a little incongruous set among the wealth and glamour of Tribeca, the almost century-old Square Diner is still cherished by the neighborhood’s denizens. Choose from an extensive menu of no-frills American grub like grilled cheese, pancakes and corned beef hash and eggs (they also make a mean chocolate milkshake), but be sure to hit up the ATM first, as this joint is cash only.
Big Daddy’s, Gramercy
This Park Avenue South locale is the most Instagram-friendly of the bunch, thanks to its colorful decor and elaborate milkshakes. Big Daddy’s also loves a good menu pun – dishes on offer include the Love Me Tenders, Lord of the Fries and the Brady Bunch. Make sure to arrive with an empty stomach, as the servings here are hefty.
THE FANCIER OPTIONS
For those who love the charm of a diner but would prefer cuisine that’s a little more elevated (and are happy to shell out a little more cash), you’ve got plenty of choices.
Empire Diner, Chelsea
This streamline moderne dining car on 10th Avenue and West 22nd Street is one of New York City’s best-preserved diners and also one of its fanciest (you may recognize it from movies like Men in Black, Home Alone 2, and Igby Goes Down). Despite being abandoned for a while after its opening in 1976, Empire Diner is now a neighborhood staple, where chef John Delucie dishes up twists on classic American fare, like the sourdough pretzel fried chicken and a pastrami sandwich with herbed fries.
Tucked away near the Williamsburg Bridge, Diner’s converted Pullman car was one of the neighborhood’s first reputable restaurants when it opened 20 years ago – long before all the hipster locales moved in. Though it may seem much more upmarket (which, admittedly, is reflected in the prices), there are still homages to the more no-frills side of diner dwelling and the servers scribble the menu for you on butcher paper. Come here if you like your burger with a negroni on the side.
The Long Island Bar, Cobble Hill
The shiny red vinyl booths and glimmering hat stands will transport you back to the 1950s when this institution first opened. While you could easily just limit your visit to sipping on a cocktail, The Long Island Bar is famous for its burger (which boasts two dry-aged beef patties) and fried cheese curds served with French onion dip.