The Art of the Jersey Diner.

“Keep calm… there’s a diner nearby.” -Anonymous

The New Jersey Diner. The cultural touchstone of an entire state. For generations, the diner has provided sustenance and solace to the residents of my oft-maligned home state. Be it milkshakes at the end of a high school date, brunch after church, or a 2:00 am stopover for a burger and fries on the way home from the bar, the diner is the place to eat and relax. Pennsylvania may have its cheesesteaks, New York might be the center of the universe, and Delaware might be a tax-free shopping haven, but New Jersey can hold its head high for many reasons, not least of which is its diners. Other states might have small eating establishments called diners, but none of them compare to a New Jersey Diner.

During our travels, my wife and I have compiled a list of what makes for a New Jersey diner. What follows, then, is our criteria for a traditional New Jersey diner. From the waitress who addresses you as “Hon,” to the counter seating, to the words “family owned” emblazoned on the voluminous menu, there is no diner like a Jersey diner. So sit back, pour a cup of coffee (preferably Lacas-brand, for Jersey Diner authenticity), and enjoy!

A Tour of the Jersey Diner:

Exterior of Tops Diner in Newark, NJ.
In its earlier beginnings, diners were built in New Jersey and shipped to locations across the nation. Owing to the humble origins as pre-fabricated buildings, a true Jersey diner should have at least some chrome and/or stainless steel on the exterior. Tops Diner in Newark, consistently voted one of the best diners in the state (as well as the nation), certainly meets this criteria!
Counter in diner with seven seats. A cake is in a display dish on the counter, along with menus and condiments.
As you enter, you’ll be seated, most likely by the owner or a member of the owner’s family, who also serves as the cashier. Along the way, you’ll pass the counter. Some diners seat only a few at the counter, others will easily have double-digit seating. Regardless, there is always a counter in a Jersey diner.
Menu opened- left side page says SAUTEED SPECIALITIES. Right side page says STARTERS with list of appetizers.
Another hallmark of the Jersey Diner: a menu that spans multiple pages, encompassing many different types of cuisine. Mozzarella Sticks, Tex-Mex Egg Rolls, and Thai Coconut Shrimp, all on the same menu? Yeah.. you’re in a Jersey Diner.
Menu from Mastoris, open to "Our Story." Two rolls are on the table, along with beverages.
As you peruse your menu, your waitress (Jersey diner servers are, almost invariably, female) will come by, greet you as “hon,” and take your beverage order. A word about alcoholic drinks at a diner: there are two sides to the great “bar” debate. Technically, a diner can have a bar (such as at Mastoris, pictured here). However, in my opinion, a true Jersey diner doesn’t serve alcohol.
Counter and kitchen pass of Lucille's luncheonette.
Jersey diners are, almost always, family owned and operated. And diners are some of the most welcoming places! My Dad is a retired minister, and during his lengthy career, he would often criss-cross the state to visit church members who were in hospitals or were shut-in their homes. Invariably, he’d grab lunch at a diner, and it got to the point that he was on a first-name basis with the servers in what felt like half the diners in the state!
Waffle and bacon on white plate, with orange juice and coffee in cups.
At a Jersey diner, you can get breakfast anytime you want. And unlike diners I have visited in other states that typically close after lunch, Jersey diners are open until at least midnight, and many operate around the clock.
Cup of black coffee on table, with small dish of creamers beside it.
A word about Jersey diner coffee. It’s invariably from a company called Lacas, and I’m pretty sure it’s the most amazing coffee on the planet. If you drink it before the meal, it’s fairly mediocre, as coffee goes. However, if you take a sip as you eat, the combination of salt and grease from your food activate the super-secret elements within the coffee, making it taste absolutely fantastic by the end of the meal. That’s my theory, at least.

 

Cheeseburger, french fries, and coleslaw on a white plate.
The heart of a good Jersey diner is the griddle, and a good test of the griddle is a burger. Is it tasty, properly cooked, and surrounded by yummy sides? If so, you’ve got a winner.
Cuban sandwich on a plate, with fries.
Over the years, Jersey diner menus have expanded to account for the growing tastes of customers. Even something like the Cuban sandwich, which has grown in popularity, can regularly be found at a Jersey diner. Stir fry? Sure! Taco salad? Absolutely! Diners try to keep up with the times by adding more even pages to the menu!
Stuffed tomato with tuna salad, lettuce, and coleslaw.
One secret advantage of the Jersey diner is our fresh fruit and produce. They don’t call my state the Garden State for nothing. Did you know that New Jersey is the second largest producer of peaches in the United States? 2,596 farms across the state, comprising 232,500 acres of farmland, grow some of the best tomatoes, cranberries, asparagus, spinach, and apples in the country (via the 2018 New Jersey Agriculture Report). It’s easy to make a great stuffed tomato when you’re working with top-shelf ingredients!
Milkshake in a glass on table.
Any good Jersey diner can whip up a delicious milkshake… and bonus points if the waitress gives you the mixing cup with the extra milkshake so you can top off your glass!
Display case with numerous cakes, cookies, pies, and cupcakes.
“All baking done on premises.” Most diners, no matter how small, pride themselves on their desserts, and often have them displayed at the front of the restaurant. Too full after you finish your meal? Take some to go!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Jersey diner. Given the number of times in this blog that I have mentioned stopping by a diner to eat, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to give you this brief tour. Before wrapping up this post, however, I wanted to give a few updates, automotive and otherwise.

Updates:

View of Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes playing hockey.
“Let’s go Flyers!” My wife and I are both hockey fans, and we were fortunate to be invited by friends to attend a game between the hometown Philadelphia Flyers and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. It was an awesome evening!
Two books. On left, "The Vagabonds" by Jeff Guinn and on the right "Car Crazy" by G. Wayne Miller.
If you are looking for some automotive-related reading material, I have a couple recommendations. For Christmas, my in-laws gave me “The Vagabonds” by Jeff Guinn. It is the story of the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, and their numerous road trips across America. It is an honest account of these two men, and captures their genius and accomplishments, but also lays bare their faults and biases. “Car Crazy” is a history of the earliest days of the automobile in this country, and is eminently readable. If you’re looking for a taste of automotive history, I’d highly recommend both books!
Table covered with car care products including waxing pads, microfiber cloths, Meguiar's Leather Care, Meguiar's Carnuba Wax, Meguiar's Natural Shine protectant, Meguiar's Smooth Surface Clay Bar, and Meguiar's Two-Step Headlight Restoration.
Beautiful weather over the past few days meant I finally had time to give my Accord a proper wash, wax, and detailing. This was my arsenal for the day-long cleaning project.
Two photos: top is of cloudy headlight on 2012 Honda Accord, surrounded by yellow masking tape. Bottom is same headlight, but clearer.
Over time, ultraviolet light from the sun causes plastic headlight covers to become cloudy. Aside from detracting from the car’s looks, it also reduces the effectiveness of the headlight beam. Enter the Meguiar’s Two-Step Headlight Restoration Kit. My father-in-law gave me a kit for Christmas, and I was finally able to put it to good use. I was thrilled with the results! One more treatment in a few months should make the headlights look completely new.
Interior of 2012 Honda Accord coupe.
There is cleaning, and then there is detailing. Detailing the interior took several hours, and generous applications of Meguiar’s Interior Detailer, Meguiar’s Leather Care, microfiber cloths, Q-tips (seriously), and lots of vacuuming. While I take pride in my car cleaning abilities, if you’d like to see how a professional truly restores a car to a showroom-ready state, check out the latest post on the automotive blog Drive to Five. Watch the video entitled “Integra Part 5” to understand the lengths to which a pro will go to deep clean a car. If you’re a car care nerd like me, it’s a fun video to see!
Exterior of 2012 Honda Accord.
For the first time ever, I used a clay bar on my Accord’s paint. A treatment administered before waxing, you rub the sheet metal with a specialized bar of soft clay that absorbs the impurities that are adhered to the paint. It helps to restore the original finish of the car, and makes the wax apply better to the finish. It was a lot of work, but I am thrilled with how the Accord looks!
Car odometer reading 151022 TRIP A 245.8.
150,000 is now fading into the rearview mirror, and the Accord keeps racking up the miles without complaint. My mom recently gave me an article from Consumer Reports entitled, “Make Your Car Last 200,000 Miles,” and it was reassuring to see that I follow all of the recommendations in the article. “Buy a Safe, Reliable Vehicle” – Check. “Stick to the Maintenance Schedule” – Check. “Don’t Skimp on Parts” – Check. “Know What to Watch Out For” – Check. “Keep Your Machine Clean” – Check, Check, and Double-Check!

Thanks for coming along on this non-road trip detour to the diners of New Jersey! We will be back on track with new automotive adventures in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

‘Til next time.

5 thoughts on “The Art of the Jersey Diner.

  1. This was one of my favorite posts in a long time! All that amazing food. I want to thumb through the menu and order a few different entrees. You made the right choice with that waffle, “hon.” Haha. Also, nice work on that headlight resto! (And thanks for the YouTube plug!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And there is always The Dish, right in Highland Park — not a diner, but the same kind of food, very friendly people, and lots of opportunities to see friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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