In the age of elaborate latte designs, rainbow-colored food and bizarre cross-cultural ingredient combinations, the classic diner feels akin to a lost art. Even in the city that never sleeps, New Yorkers are hard-pressed to find that middle-of-the-night dive where friends can recount their night in a sleepy haze over fries and milkshakes. Right next door to the Soho Grand, the recently opened Soho Diner is open 24 hours a day so night-crawlers can reclaim that nostalgia through the long menu of diner classics and retro-inspired space.
With pink booths, friendly waiters and warm lighting, the restaurant was welcoming even when I stepped in at the obscure 4 p.m. hour. From the yellow Formica countertops, open kitchen, neon signs and coin-operated Crosley jukebox, Soho Diner hit the nail on the head in evoking the ambiance of a diner that patrons know and love without coming across as gimmicky.
I was immediately offered a menu which included breakfast options available from 6 to 11 a.m., an all-day menu available from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and a dinner menu available from 5 p.m. onwards. The options ranged from quintessential diner favorites to modern renditions that could fulfill any palate. Feeling like comfort foods? The Montauk tuna melt ($23), malted waffle ($14) or cherry pie ($10) are sure bets. Seeking something adventurous? Burrata-filled blintzes ($14), mean green chicken wings ($16) or the vegan matcha milkshake ($14) are calling your name.
In terms of global diner staples, Soho Diner covers all its bases too. The medianoche ($17) sandwich represents Cuban cuisine, the vegan take on kasha knish ($18) brings Eastern Europe into the mix and the crispy cheese curds with hot honey ($14) pay homage to the Midwest.
Curious to try a dish I never had before, I ordered the kasha knish, and per the waiter’s recommendation, the disco fries ($14) — apparently their most popular menu item — to share with friends. The disco fries — waffle fries topped with raclette cheese and chicken sausage gravy — were a fan favorite. The toppings added a layer of decadence to the otherwise standard diner fare. The kasha knish followed the theme of marrying homey flavors with eccentric flairs. Though I had never had a kasha knish, it felt instantly familiar, the buckwheat and mushroom filling reminiscent of a warm stew. The plating, the rich yet flaky pastry dough and the tangy yellow beet mustard sauce confirmed the dish worthy of fine dining.
The one thing that holds me back from recommending Soho Diner to other college students is the pricing. Many of the entrees are over $20, and the starters, salads and soups all average at around $15. The smoked salmon platter is $32 and the California salad is $24, both of which seem overpriced, especially for a college student. That being said, with the attentiveness of service, commitment to the diner aesthetic and quality of the food relative to average diner grub makes it a worthwhile indulgence if you are ever in the South Village.
One thing that stuck with me as I left Soho Diner was the variety of customers the restaurant drew. Some came alone to grab a sandwich as they worked from their laptop at the counter, friends met up to split a slice of apple pie, businessmen talked shop over drinks and a father and his two toddlers — who knew the waiters on a first-name basis — clamored over the jukebox. In many ways, Soho Diner is an upscale take on the archetypal diner etched into the foundation of American dining. But most remarkably, it seems to represent a common ground for New Yorkers alike to cherish diner cuisine.
Email Divya Nelakonda at [email protected]