Where to find the best diners in New York City

Mar 29, 22
Where to find the best diners in New York City

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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.

Two women wearing coats sit on vinyl-covered stools at a diner counter in New York City
Settle in at one of New York City's historic diners © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

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.

A photo of a diner on a corner in New York City, with neon signs and fire-escapes visible.
Cure that hangover at Waverly Diner, open 24 hours © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

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.

A view of a table with blue and red vinyl chairs sitting in front of a menu board at Big Daddy's in New York City
Enjoy some punny dishes at atmospheric Big Daddy's © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

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.

People stand inside a warmly lit New York City diner; its windows are open and the external wall reads "DINER" in large art deco lettering
Try out some elevated diner staples at the glam Empire Diner © Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images

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.

Diner, Williamsburg

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.

A head-on image of a bar/restaurant on a New York City corner, with signs reading "Bar," "Restaurant," and "Long Island Bar"
Try the famous burger at the Long Island Bar © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

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.

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