Like Napster, Nokia, and the guy we saw last week taking a Citibike onto the East River ferry, Diner is a pioneer. This tiny spot inside a dining car underneath a bridge was one of the first excellent restaurants to open in WIlliamsburg. And if you haven’t been back recently, consider it your duty to do so.
We’re not just assigning you a meal at Diner because it’s a classic – we’re telling you to come here because, after many years, it’s still truly great. The burger alone is worth traveling for, and the rest of the menu feels like what would happen if someone went to the farmer’s market, came home, drank three negronis, got some sort of divine intervention, and started throwing stuff onto plates. It’s interesting, fun, and most importantly, really f*cking good. The same goes for brunch, which is just as impressive as dinner, if not even more so.
But no matter when you eat here, it always feels like an event. For one, it’s in an actual dining car. So if you run out of things to say to your date, you can casually ask what she thinks the 19th century petticoat-wearing train travelers would have to say about the tattoos and cutoffs crowd that now fills the space. (Actually, please don’t, that’s a terrible icebreaker.) Also, while it’s a pretty big dining car, it’s still a dining car – with low ceilings, narrow walkways, and very little room for privacy. The people-watching here is second to none.
Beyond the setting, Diner also has a signature party trick: the servers scribble the day’s offerings directly onto your butcher-paper tablecloth. Turns out you don’t need menus when you have the kind of staff who can make a two-minute illustrated food monologue something you’re actually excited to witness. By the end of it, your server might be squeezed into your booth with you, helping you plan your order. It’s over the top, kind of intense, and the type of thing that, anywhere else, would feel awkwardly forced. But at Diner, it’s all part of the magic. And the magic is still going strong, more than 20 years after opening.
So actually, this restaurant isn’t really like Napster or Nokia or even that guy who’s probably going to get caught by the Citibike police. Diner isn’t just a pioneer – it’s here to stay.
They put the smaller stuff on the left side when they’re writing out your menu. These things are different every night, and generally feel and taste like things you would make in your own kitchen if you knew what you were doing in the kitchen.
This is the bigger stuff – meats and fish. The people behind Diner also own Marlow & Daughters, a butcher shop, so you can trust that pretty much any meat they’re serving is going to be great.
The burger is the one thing that’s always on the menu, and that’s because theirs is better than most others in this borough, and therefore on this planet. It’s simple: just a thick but not too-thick patty, sharp cheese, and a soft bun – and you don’t need anything other than that. Except the fries. You need all of the fries. They’re perfect.
They change up the bread and meat in this, but no matter the combination, you can pretty much expect one of the best breakfast sandwiches you’ll ever encounter. Prepare to be forever disappointed in your go-to BEC after eating this.
Pancake is misleading. This is really more like a flattened-out buckwheat muffin that’s covered in sweet sour cream and tons of blueberry compote. It’s not too sweet, and exactly what you want to eat with a strong cup of coffee. Get it as an appetizer.
This is a brunch power order: a big piece of brisket, a couple of eggs, some potatoes, and salsa verde. Order it and feel like you’re doing Saturday morning better than everyone else.