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.