Food & Drink

The 12 Best Old-School Diners in NYC

Published On 05/16/2016 Published On 05/16/2016
Waverly Diner
Waverly Diner | Flickr/Joseph

New York City crushes the fine-dining game, but sometimes the only way to curb cravings is by visiting a classic, old-fashioned diner. There's something timeless and nostalgic about a no-frills (and no-res-required!) spot where you can order everything from fluffy banana pancakes to a classic griddle cheeseburger to a malted chocolate milkshake -- and all of it at 2am.

Convenience, fast service, and a cornucopia of menu items are the hallmarks of truly great diners, and NYC has no shortage of them. From iconic, decades-old institutions to round-the-clock neighborhood gems, here are a dozen of the city’s top greasy spoons.

Waverly Restaurant

West Village

Though it underwent a renovation and expansion in 2011, this old-fashioned, cash-only Greek diner still looks frozen in time with padded vinyl booths, peach curtains, and dark wood paneling. It offers the same familiar menu, as well, 24/7: buttermilk silver dollar pancakes, malted milkshakes, thick-cut steak fries, Italian-American specialties, and just about anything else you could want. Regulars often settle in for the extensive egg offerings (more than three dozen varieties of omelette alone), which come served in a steel skillet on a wooden board.

La Bonbonniere

La Bonbonniere

West Village

Don’t let the fancy name fool you: this cash-only dive slings cheap American eats in an unassuming setting, complete with bright blue vinyl stools and a Formica counter. A refreshing change for the posh West Village locale, it’s the place to enjoy simple-yet-satisfying food -- stacks of pancakes, omelettes anyway you like 'em, old-school milkshakes -- and maybe catch a celebrity sighting. All for only a few bucks.

B&H Dairy

East Village

Not much has changed at this tiny Eastern European diner since it opened more than seven decades ago. Step up to the counter of this vegetarian hole-in-the-wall for kosher comfort food staples: matzo ball soup, meat-free borscht, plump pierogies, cheese blintzes, and knishes. Check out the rotating daily specials, and don’t miss the challah French toast (a steal at $6.50).

Wikimedia/Christophe Gevrey

Tom's Restaurant

Morningside Heights

Seinfeld fans know that the fictional Monk’s Café featured in the sitcom was really Tom's. This Greek family-owned shop has been around since the '40s, serving solid no-frills diner fare and bottomless cups of coffee to TV show devotees, Morningside Heights residents, and Columbia students (ordering a milkshake and gravy fries at 3am is basically a rite of passage). Tom's also claims to have the best milkshake in New York; we’ll have to ask Kramer about that.

Bel Aire Diner

Astoria

Astoria is Queens' Greek capital, so it's only fitting that the heart of town boasts this grand Greek diner -- complete with mirrored walls and nostalgic neon accents -- that dates back to 1965. The all-day-and-night menu is massive, and spans everything from Mexican (huevos rancheros, pulled pork quesadillas) to Americana (chocolate chip pancake sundaes, triple decker turkey clubs), but when in Athens, do as the Greeks would: go for the stuffed grape leaves, Athenian burger on pita bread, or Souvlaki platter with all the fixin's.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Joe Jr.

Gramercy

The epitome of a greasy spoon establishment, this cozy 3rd Ave spot offers all the typical American eats, but it’s also the place to go when jonesing for a classic, diner-style cheeseburger that's ranked amongst the city’s best. Made from ground beef chuck and cooked on a well-seasoned flat top griddle, then topped with American cheese and crispy bacon on a seeded white bun, this baby is simple, unpretentious, and always satisfying.

Jackson Hole

Jackson Heights

You may recognize this place from an early scene in Goodfellas (when Paulie and Jimmy steal the truck from the diner parking lot) -- it's a quintessential Queens landmark right off the Grand Central Parkway (originally the Airline Diner built in 1952). The family-owned joint looks about as old-school Americana as you can get with buzzy neon signs, tabletop jukeboxes, and vintage vinyl booths. Dive into one of the two dozen signature “bronco" chicken specialties and a tasty root beer float, or go straight gangster with the 7oz, house-aged beef burger.

Flickr/tarnie

Kellogg's Diner

Williamsburg

Open round the clock, this Williamsburg standby offers standard diner fare in a (relatively) updated setting, following a makeover in 2008. Expect everyone from neighborhood regulars who always order the baked meatloaf to hipster night owls stopping in for post-bar- crawl burgers and mozzarella sticks. Be warned: it’s hard to resist the temptation of the dessert case, with its rotating assortment of sweets like banana cream pie, tiramisu, and Oreo cheesecake -- and the added scoop of ice cream goes without saying.

Flickr/Ben Kilgust

Cup & Saucer

LES

The classic corner diner on Canal seems to have nailed its recipe for continued success: quality food, fast delivery, and great customer service, all at a palatable price. Snag a counter seat (if you can, there’s only a dozen) for generous portions of all the greatest greasy spoon hits: eggs to order, fluffy pancakes, stacked sandwiches, or fried anything. Open daily from early morning breakfast through late lunch.

Square Diner

Tribeca

The fact that this tiny diner has survived since the '50s in its ritzy Tribeca 'hood means it must be doing something right. Charming red vinyl booths and shiny silver pervade the triangle-shaped (not square!) eatery, along with a super-extensive menu of breakfast basics, hearty salads, and killer sandwiches. The move here: get Teddy's Special Sandwich (a not-too-mayo’d homemade chicken salad and bacon melt with sharp cheddar, tomatoes, and onions on toasted seven-grain bread) and a wonderfully frothy egg cream. There’s also a 4-7pm weekday happy hour with beer, wine, and cocktails for just a few bucks a pop.

The Colonnade

The Colonnade

Staten Island

If you ever find yourself on Staten Island (hey, it can happen!), stop into The Colonnade to step back in time -- or just to peep the ’hood where Wu-Tang rose to fame. Oozing with old-school gaudiness, this family-owned-and-operated landmark is a total throwback with tried-and-true diner food. You’ll find all the expected platters, piled high sandwiches, pastas, and seafood specialities, along with hearty entrées in the “Roasts, Steaks, Chops & Birds” section of the menu.

Flickr/nycnosh

Alpha Donuts

Sunnyside

Tucked beneath the elevated 7 train platform, this beloved, family-owned shop dishes out one of the best breakfast deals in town: coffee, juice, eggs, and a donut for just $3.95 (with bacon for a buck more). In addition to breakfast, the specialty here is -- you guessed it -- donuts. From the featherlight glazed best-seller to vanilla and chocolate frosted, these daily-made delights sell out quickly during the morning rush, so get there early to ensure your favorite isn’t wiped out. Craving a cruller at 3am? Alpha’s got you covered, serving food all night long. Cue Lionel Richie.

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Megan Murphy (aka “This Girl Can Eat”) is a contributing writer at Thrillist and a self-proclaimed pro at the late-night diner order. Follow along on her culinary adventures on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

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1. Waverly Restaurant 385 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10014

It's hard to miss this neon-lit diner on the corner of Waverly Place and Sixth Ave in the West Village. The neighborhood institution has been around for years, and in 2011 it underwent a gut renovation that made the old-fashioned interior a bit more modern. It's still equipped with diner decor like padded vinyl booths and dark wood paneling and serves the same Greek, Italian, and American standards. The menu has just about anything you could want, from buttermilk pancakes and malted milkshakes to thick-cut steak fries and an endless variety of omelets. Note: it's cash only.

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2. La Bonbonniere 28 8th Ave, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

La Bonbonniere is a satisfying greasy spoon diner in the West Village that stands out in a neighborhood of upscale brunch spots for its standard and reliable comfort food. The mile-long menu of all-day American fare includes staples like burgers, French toast, waffles, and triple-decker sandwiches. Most meals cost around $10, and it’s cash-only.

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3. B & H Dairy 127 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

Not much has changed at this tiny Eastern European lunch counter since it opened up in the East Village in the '40s. The hole-in-the-wall kosher diner serves vegetarian pierogis, blintzes, and knishes, and a host of other comfort staples, like grilled cheese and matzoh ball soup. There are only a few tables and a dozen counter stools, so it's a great option for a quick solo meal. Every order with comes a piece of soft challah on a paper plate.

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4. Tom's Restaurant 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025

Tom's Restaurant probably looks familiar -- the neon sign of the Morningside Heights diner was regularly featured on Seinfeld as a stand in for the fictional Monk's Cafe. The family-owned Greek-American restaurant has been around since the '40s, serving solid diner fare and bottomless cups of coffee to a mixed crowd of Seinfeld fans, upper Manhattan regulars, and Columbia students. Tom's claims to have the best milkshake in town, and we hear the gravy fries aren't half-bad either, especially at 3am.

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5. Bel Aire Diner 3191 21st St, Astoria, NY 11106 (Astoria)

Astoria is the home of New York City's greatest Greek restaurants, so it's only fitting that it boasts the most quintessential Greek-American diner in the city. Complete with mirrored walls and retro accents, Bel Aire is a grand diner with an even grander menu of day-and-night eats. Any kind of food you could possibly crave is on the massive menu, from chocolate chip pancakes and egg creams to gyros and shish kebobs.

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6. Joe Jr. Restaurant 167 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003

The epitome of a greasy spoon, Joe Jr. serves typical American diner food and all-day breakfast. The kitchen cooks up one of the most underrated burgers in the city -- topped with crispy bacon and melted American cheese, it's exactly what a burger's supposed to be. The interior's worn formica countertops and retro diner stools match the simple menu and well-used bottles of ketchup.

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7. Jackson Hole 69-35 Astoria Blvd N, East Elmhurst, NY 11370 (Queens)

You might recognize the Queens location of this local chain diner from Goodfellas (it's featured in the early scene when Paulie and Jimmy steal the truck from the diner parking lot). It appears as its original 1952 version, Airline Diner. In 1972 it became Jackson Hole, but it still remains a few minutes away from LaGuardia Airport. The family-owned diner looks about as old-school Americana as you can get, and the food is just as classic. Its juicy cheeseburgers and loaded omelettes are the perfect just-off-the-plane food.

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8. Kellogg's Diner 518 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

Open 24 hours, this Williamsburg standby right next to the Metropolitan stop on the G (and the Lorimer stop on the L) serves standard diner fare. Kellogg's has been open since 1928, so it really has seen the neighborhood go from a warehouse wasteland to the mecca of hipsterdom. Peak hours are breakfast and late-night, and the crowd is a mix of old-timey regulars and recent transplants. Be warned: the dessert case has a rotating selection of sweets like banana cream pie, tiramisu, and Oreo cheesecake that's hard to resist.

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9. Cup & Saucer 89 Canal St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

This classic corner diner on the Lower East Side seems to have nailed its recipe for continued success: quality food, fast delivery, and great customer service, all at a palatable price. Snag a counter seat (if you can, there’s only a dozen) for generous portions of all the greatest greasy spoon hits: eggs made-to-order, fluffy pancakes, stacked sandwiches, or fried anything. Cup & Saucer is open daily from early morning breakfast through late lunch.

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10. Square Diner 33 Leonard St, New York, NY 10013 (Tribeca)

In Tribeca since the '50s, this tiny train-car diner has seen it all and remains a neighborhood go-to despite its ritzy neighbors. The menu is filled with American classics, but the speciality sandwiches, breakfast basics, and high-quality salads stand out. The interior is comfortable but not cramped with spaced out booths and counter stools. More than a greasy spoon, Square Diner stands out for its beer, wine, and cocktail offerings -- especially when they're marked down at happy hour.

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11. Colonnade Diner 2001 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10306 (Staten Island)

If you ever find yourself hungry on Staten Island, stop by The Colonnade. Oozing with old-school gaudiness, this family-owned-and-operated landmark restaurant serves tried-and-true diner food on white linen-covered tables. You'll find all the expected platters, mile-high sandwiches, and omelets, along with hearty steaks and chops. The Colonnade is open 24/7, and we can't help but think the over-the-top setting would be the perfect place for 2am mozzarella sticks.

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12. Alpha Donuts 45-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104 (Queens)

Tucked beneath the elevated 7 train subway platform in Sunnyside, this tiny sit-down diner serves a wide array of bang-for-your-buck dishes, plus destination-worthy donuts. The all-day menu features everything from three-egg omelettes and full Irish breakfasts to chicken souvlaki and tuna melts. Made fresh daily, the donuts are so light and fluffy that you almost need two (or three) to fill you up. Craving a cruller at 3am? Alpha's got you covered -- it's open 24 hours.

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