UPPER WEST SIDE — Ask any Upper West Side diner employee what foods they serve and they’ll say “everything.”
Ask “what’s good here?” and they’ll answer “everything.”
That’s why diners are such a staple of the neighborhood. The local greasy spoons that offer voluminous menus of affordable dishes double as the personal kitchens for many local residents.
DNAinfo New York took a stroll through 40 blocks of the Upper West Side to bring you these underappreciated jewels of the neighborhood.
The Manchester Diner
At Broadway and West 108th Street, the Manchester Diner has been slinging hash for locals for a decade. Employee Socrates Sellas, 35, of Pelham Bay, explained why the eatery was so vital to the neighborhood.
“Why are [diners] important? People gotta eat,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of people, with their working schedules, they have to run into a restaurant, grab something to eat. Sometimes they don’t have time to cook at home so, come to your local diner and eat.”
Sellas recommended the specials and, of course, the burgers.
“The beef is really good and they’re really juicy, close to 10-ounce burgers," he said. "The fries are delicious.”
Out of the diners we surveyed, this spot between West 101st and West 102nd streets on Broadway was the most authentic artifact of a time gone by. It’s been open for about 45 years. Everything from the vintage barstools at the wooden lunch counter to the hanging portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley create the feeling of a neighborhood time warp. What’s most redeeming about its lack of frills is that there’s nothing manufactured about this nostalgia. It’s as old-school as it gets.
One of a diner’s greatest charms is its familiarity with the local customers. At the Metro Diner on Broadway between West 100th and West 101st streets, catering to regulars is a specialty.
“People need to come to a place where they can relax. We try to have the same help all the time,” said Metro Diner manager George Bouzalas, 48, who is also a neighborhood resident.
“They enjoy themselves for a half-hour and then go about their business. We’re personable. We tend to their needs and they like it.”
The Manhattan Diner has been in existence for more than 20 years, known for some of those years as the Key West Diner. It's owned by Frank Fopis, who also owns the Metro Diner just up the road. The greasy spoon between West 94th and West 95th streets on Broadway was renovated just two years ago, but retains its characteristic charm with bright red booths, an intercom ordering system and a number of mouthwatering desserts on display.
It’s all about ambience at the City Diner between West 90th and West 91st streets on Broadway. The sleek marble-topped tables, plush booths and Art Deco décor of the eatery make for an atmospheric meal. The menu isn’t as lengthy as your typical soup-to-nuts diner, but all the important classics are there.
Located right across the street from what used to be known as Needle Park, the Utopia Diner has weathered the radical transformation of the Upper West Side over the past 30 years. When owner George Costa originally opened the spot at West 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, its name might’ve been an interesting juxtaposition to the drug addicts of the neighborhood.
“Utopia is a Greek name of the land that will never exist,” Costa said. “As we are Greek, we had to pick a Greek name and nobody at this time has the Utopia name. Now, you go online and there are hundreds of thousands — hair salons, etcetera. Everybody is now using Utopia.”
His restaurant currently caters to the more upscale local residents with simple, affordable dishes so enticing that a number of famous faces have turned up — Harry Belafonte, Michael McKean and Fred Armisen among them.
“People know you here,” said local resident and patron Matt Paldy, 48, who has been eating at the Utopia Diner several days a week for the past 12 years.
“They know what you’re going to eat. They have the coffee ready,” he said. “I usually order the soups or a veggie burger, or eggs. I mix it up. Gabriel Byrne comes in sometimes, sits in the back. I do sometimes say, 'Hi.' ”
Old John’s Luncheonette
Just around the corner from Lincoln Center, this intimate diner on West 67th Street at Amsterdam Avenue has all the requisite staples of a diner but with the atmosphere of an understated upscale restaurant. It’s a great place for respite in the hubbub of a busy neighborhood where every Starbucks is overcrowded with laptop warriors.