Downtown Diners Doing Things Differently
Once a part of the fabric of New York City, many of the city’s iconic old-school 24/7 diners have vanished. But not all hope is lost. Classic greasy spoons like Waverly Diner and Tom’s Restaurant may close earlier these days, but they’re still slinging burgers and hash browns and pouring hot coffee into white mugs. Then there’s the newish breed of diner that has been cropping up around town over the past several years, offering retro vibes and menus of nostalgic comfort fare with playful and flavorful twists. Below, we’ve rounded up our downtown favorites that are doing things a little differently, from an oft-packed Thai diner in Nolita to a laidback 24/7 Latin diner on West 14th Street.
Chef-owner Sam Yoo takes “classic diner dishes with a twist” to a whole other level at this hip and homey joint, which is tucked under the Manhattan Bridge and open daily from 10am to 10pm Sure, you can order a killer tuna melt and to-die-for fluffy honey butter pancakes, but much of the menu takes inspiration from Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine. The egg and cheese breakfast sandwich is served on a soft sesame scallion milk bun from a local Chinatown bakery; the vegan grilled cheese comes with a cup of kimchi tomato soup; and the green tea coffee cake is made with matcha and hojicha. Additional mouthwatering-inducing must-orders include the Korean fried chicken wings, the Thai cobb salad, and the very popular chicken katsu club. Go on and enjoy an excellent soju cocktail or three–just be careful when getting up to leave if you’re sitting on a swiveling counter stool.
123 Madison St; T. (917) 472-7800
Insanely long lines of customers have been spilling out onto Chinatown’s narrow Doyer’s Street since this cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style diner, opened its doors in the spring of 2023. If you’re a fan of perfectly pillowy pineapple buns and sensory overload, then the wait is well worth it. Once your mahjong tile-covered table is ready, you’ll descend a neon-lit staircase and enter a trippy retro space where the menus are packed with Hong Kong comfort food classics, like salted egg yolk lava-stuffed french toast, curry fish balls, and a variety of baked macaroni casseroles. When at a cha chaan teng, ordering a milk tea is a must. But maybe leave the crazily cute dessert that features a little teddy bear made of ice soaking in a bathtub of coconut milk and colorful jellies to the TikTok influencers and those 12-and-under.
18 Doyers St; T. (347) 997-3380
As its name implies, this perpetually packed 65-seat eatery in Nolita serves Thai classics in a kitschy diner-like space from the team behind the Michelin-starred Uncle Boons (RIP). The standouts are endless, but if it’s your first time here, order something from the all-day breakfast category, like the house egg sandwich with cheese, sai oua herbal sausage, Thai basil, and wrapped in buttery roti. If you have a sweet and semi-savory tooth, go for the babka French toast, infused with Thai tea and served with a saucer of salty condensed milk. Perhaps their most raved-about dish is the Thai Disco Fries, a mountain of crinkle-cut fries smothered in massaman curry and topped with peanuts and cilantro that’s so good you just might dream about it.
186 Mott St; T. (646) 559-4140
Coppelia is one of the last standing 24/7 diners in NYC. That’s reason enough to love this casual and colorful joint. But the Latin American comfort fare from chef Julian Medina is also excellent—and reasonably priced! Conveniently located on West 14th Street, some of the offerings on the massive menu include pancakes, burgers, breakfast burritos, and to-die-for huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. If you find yourself in a sweet and salty mood, consider the waffles with sweet tea-brined fried chicken and Latin spice syrup. Craving a flavor-packed sandwich? You can’t go wrong with Coppelia’s classic Cubano or Media Noche. If main courses are more your kind of order, there’s plenty to satisfy you here, from chicken and rice to steak frites to a Peruvian-style beef short-rib stir fry. Don’t forget to order a café con leche.
207 W 14th St; T. (212) 858-5001
Follow fashionable locals and guests of the Soho Grand Hotel into this modern greasy spoon, located inside the hotel and open daily from seven in the morning until midnight. Outfitted with roomy salmon-colored booths and retro light fixtures, the menu is filled with old-school diner staples like burgers, eggs, pancakes, fruit plates, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads, and more. Stay for dinner, and you’ll find larger entrees, from shrimp and grits to steak to rigatoni bolognese. Also on the menu are plenty of vegan options, including grapefruit brûlée, banana pancakes, and a cheeseburger made with an Impossible Burger patty and vegan cheese. Oh, and don’t get us started on the dreamlike vegan matcha milkshake. Then there’s the head-turning cocktail menu, which offers everything from non-alcoholic restorative tipples to an excellent espresso martini made with Jack’s Coffee espresso that will fuel you up before hitting the town.
320 W Broadway; (212) 965-3011
WORDS Alex Catarinella