Food & Drink

A Love Letter to the NYC Diner, for Its Eternal Comfort, Care & Grilled Cheeses

<strong>Waverly Diner</strong> |&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/Joseph</a>

Dear NYC diners, 

I’m sitting inside one of you right now -- the Waverly Diner, to be exact -- and I just ordered a slice of pie. Because if I learned nothing else from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, it’s that a diner is only as good as its pie. It’s a true barometer for its greatness, just like chips and salsa at a Mexican joint.

But I digress. Let me get right to the point, which is, I love you. There, I said it.

<strong>Waverly Diner</strong> | <a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/litherland</a>

I don’t even care that I said it first, you know why? Because you’ve quite literally laid your love out to me on a platter for years; you never cease to amaze me with how romantic you are.

Let me count the ways. 

You’ve seen me at my absolute worst -- I’m talking face-planting-into-a-western-omelet bad -- and you still accept me.

For one, your iconic, all-American feel just oozes right out of you like an undeniable swagger (or, like the melted orange Kraft slices from one of your grilled cheese sandwiches. One in the same, really.). Your elusive intrigue really is remarkable. Now that I live in New York, I’m just as happy to see your bright marquee lights or shady-looking entrance on a bustling corner as I am at the end of an abandoned dirt road. 

<strong>Kellogg’s Diner</strong> |&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/Tarnie</a>

In fact, my appreciation for diners has only grown since moving here, because I don’t need you the same way I once did. By “need,” I mean that as a New Yorker I’ve grown pretty accustomed to receiving almost any food items I want whenever the hell I want, without even having to talk to another human being. I hardly have to seek you out as my sole late-night option the same way I did when living elsewhere. 

Yet, somehow, I still find myself back in Kellogg’s Diner ordering a grilled cheese after a long night out in Williamsburg, or making an excuse to leave the bars early so I can house a burger at Joe Jr. before it closes.

You’ve seen me at my absolute worst -- I’m talking face-planting-into-a-western-omelet bad -- and you still accept me. 

<strong>Veselka</strong> | <a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/jennifer yin</a>

And before you say anything, no, I don’t just love you after I’ve been drinking. It’s not like that, and you know it. You can find me dead sober at Veselka any day of the week downing pierogi, and for Pete’s sake, the counter guy at La Bonbonniere knows when he sees me that I want pancakes covered with bacon and syrup, because it will cure anything that’s ever ailing me. 

You remind me that anything is possible, and not just because you represent the true culinary land of opportunity. Although that’s also true. You even let me be obnoxiously needy and order off-menu sometimes. You just get me. 

Like the city itself, you bond us together. You’re a safe place. The restaurant equivalent of AA.

Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs. The chicken pot pie order that went terribly awry, spawning a crushing bout of food poisoning. Or when I thought it was hilarious to make farting noises with the ketchup bottle, and karma made it squirt all over the table, me, and my fellow diners. And remember that time I made the monumental mistake of getting you delivered? It was awful, soggy, and sad -- and you made sure I knew that. 

That was my fault though, really. It was a reminder that when it comes to a diner, the taste of your food is contingent on those oversized plates, sticky booths, and hearing someone yell “order up.” 

You’re really tasting the experience more than anything. 

<strong>Veselka</strong> |&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/Sun Brockie</a>

People-watching is part of it too, of course. The diner clientele is certainly a melting pot (see what I did there?) of New Yorkers. There’s the late-night group of finance bros eating breakfast sandwiches and high-fiving about the girls they didn’t even come close to sleeping with that night, but claim they did. There’s the older gentleman who’s lived in the neighborhood for 45 years, sits on the same stool, and orders the exact same thing every time (meatloaf, probably). And let’s not forget the lady who doesn’t even seem to eat food at all, and instead just ingests a staggering amount of coffee while reading the New York Post cover to cover. 

Like the city itself, you bond us together. You’re a safe place. The restaurant equivalent of AA. We know we won’t be judged, and we feel comfortable to fully be ourselves. 

<strong>La Bonbonniere</strong> | <a href="" target="_blank">Flickr/Adam Kuban</a>

It doesn’t matter how many times my order is fucked up, or my water glass remains empty, or the food is sub-par -- none of it will ever diminish my feelings for you. Because what we have is a solid foundation. You’re not the hottest, coolest, or smartest restaurant in the room, but you’re the most reliable, gentle, and kind. I can always count on you. And you’ll always keep me coming back. 

Even when I hate you, I still love you. And honestly, what’s more New York than that?

Sincerely yours,

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Liz Newman is a freelance writer for Thrillist and may or may not have video evidence of that whole ketchup bottle incident. If you tweet her at @lizn813, she may even show it to you. But also maybe not.