Featuring extensive menus and extended hours, New York’s diners are welcoming and cheap crowd-pleasers. From Veselka to Tom’s, Culture Trip recommends 10 classic Manhattan spots.
An average of 13 diners close each year, according to Riley Arthur, who has photographed nearly all those that remain in the five boroughs for her Instagram account, Diners of New York. Approximately 419 diners are left in New York City, but these mainstays have been disappearing at a clip.
Diners are a Manhattan staple thanks to their (generally) cheap menus that feature breakfast and lunch staples served at any hour. These unfussy eateries offer diverse dishes, from pancakes at Tick Tock Diner to Veselka’s pierogies. Take a moment to plan your visit to these 10 classic diners in New York City.
Opened in 1997 and located across the street from Penn Station, Tick Tock Diner is the largest in New York City. The Midtown location (there is also one in Clifton, New Jersey) can accommodate 280 customers 24 hours a day. The menu is 14 pages long and runs the gamut from classic buttermilk pancakes to jumbo half-pound hamburgers and super salads. The portions are large, so come with an appetite.
Soho Diner is a modern homage to the classic diner. It opened in December 2019, but looks to the past for inspiration in the diners that native New Yorker chef Ken Addington grew up eating at after church. “In a bygone era, diner food was generally pretty unhealthy, a slapped together meal that you’d fill yourself up with while you were with company,” he said. “I think the difference with us is that we’re trying to take the diner vernacular and upgrade it a little bit.” The 75 items that compose the menu at this 24-hour joint include a vegan kasha knish, blintzes with burrata in place of cottage cheese and, of course, a tuna melt with cheddar cheese on an english muffin.
Since 1925, the Upper East Side’s Lexington Candy Shop has been owned and operated by three generations of the same family. Claiming the best milkshake in the city, an 80-year-old, green Hamilton Beach mixer gives this vintage soda fountain’s ice cream its special, smooth frothiness. The booths lined with hat racks, the old-fashioned menu board above the luncheonette counter and the original signs outside give this throwback location a real 1940s ambiance.
This West Village cash-only haunt has a modest storefront emblazoned with vintage Coca-Cola signs. It’s the greasy American classics on offer – ranging from burgers and ham-and-cheese sandwiches to pancakes and an omelette with hot dogs in it – that have kept this diner open since the early 1930s, but doesn’t hurt that most dishes cost less than $10.
A short block from the Spring Street subway stop, there stands a hidden gem in the stylish SoHo neighborhood. Three restaurants hide inside the unassuming facade of La Esquina. On this excursion, choose the casual Corner Deli taqueria and enjoy the simple yet artfully prepared tortas, tacos and intriguing Mexican-influenced cuisine. No trip to the stomping grounds of Beyoncé and Karlie Kloss is complete without devouring the delicious elotes callejeros, or grilled corn smothered in cotija cheese, chili powder and mayonnaise.
Situated near Columbia University, Tom’s Restaurant is a beloved pilgrimage spot for Seinfeld fans as its exterior was used as a stand-in for the sitcom’s fictional Monk’s Café, where Jerry and company would often meet. Owned and operated by the same Greek-American family since the 1940s, Tom’s cuisine does not pretend to put on airs. That said, a creamy milkshake, dense slice of traditional cheesecake or a comforting stack of pancakes makes this Morningside Heights landmark worth the trek.
The original Odessa Café and Bar opened in 1965, closed in 2013, then rose like a phoenix though its expansion as the simply named Odessa. Opened in 1994 in Alphabet City, this old-school Eastern European diner is open 24 hours, serving up Ukranian specialties such as pierogies, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage as well as typical diner classics, banana pancakes and belgian waffles.
Ambling into Veselka after a night out in the East Village is a time-honored late-night tradition in this lively neighborhood. Open 24/7 since 1954, there is no better place to find comforting plates of goulash, kielbasa, borscht and more familiar options like mac and cheese. However, the most rewarding experience results from ordering all the pierogi varieties, from cheese to seasonal blueberry, and arguing with your dining companions over which of these savory Ukranian dumplings reigns supreme.
Evoking a classic Manhattan feel, this historic stand-alone diner sits amid towering office buildings in one of the most prolific financial districts in the world. Menu prices and the half-lit “Diner” sign outside its entrance have changed little since 1962, with the former providing inexhaustible choices, from overstuffed baked potatoes to the oversized Reuben and triple-decker BLT sandwiches – without even mentioning the 44 types of burgers. Or enjoy a cup of joe while reflecting upon the endlessly energetic and continually evolving Manhattan landscape outside the window.
Blintzes, bagels and benedicts (in California, lox or classic varieties) make up the eight-page menu at this family-owned Hell’s Kitchen diner and restaurant. Opened in 1988, it is said that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld first discussed the show that would become Seinfeld here. Breakfast is served anytime during its 24/7 operating hours, as well as Greek and Italian dishes.