Empire Diner is one of those restaurants where I didn’t know anything about the food but knew I had to eat there. Part of this was simply because of how interesting the place looks. On the corner of 22nd street and 10th avenue, it’s a small, squat, retro building with chrome detailing the looks like a relic from old New York. The other reason was because I had heard that Amanda Freitag, well-known for being a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, had recently taken over the place. And I love me some Chopped.
Empire Diner doesn’t just look cool. After doing a little digging, I’ve learned that it’s historic too. It was constructed in 1946 from an Art Moderne dining car made by Fodero Dining Car Company. It was then later abandoned, refurbished in 1976 (which is when the Empire State building on its roof made its first appearance), closed in 2010, and then reopened at the beginning of this year thanks to Freitag.
Today, it feels both friendly and chic and serves food that strikes a similar balance as “elevated diner” food. For example, they serve a burger, herb omelette, patty melt, buttermilk pancakes, and grilled cheese, but don’t expect any of that to be some mass-produced blah food. Not here! The food is made fancier and the prices reflect that too.
To start, my friend and I shared the feta sticks with honey and black mission figs, which you can probably guess are a riff off of mozzarella sticks, and they were simply delightful. Crispy, salty, and gooey–they definitely weren’t your average greasy cheese sticks that leave you taking out all of the cheese from the breading in one bite. And they were made even better by the complement of the sweet drizzle of honey and juicy fig.
I surprised myself by ordering the Chef’s Cobb Salad as my entree. Whattttt…me ordering a salad as a meal?! Yeah, weird. I know. BUT before you start questioning everything you ever knew about me, I have to point out that 1) Cobb salads are the nonsalad lovers’ favorite. You know why? Because they come with bacon, blue cheese, and avocado, and that’s a killer combination on anything. 2) This cobb salad came with DUCK CONFIT. Even better.
My plate was beautifully arranged and left me stuffed. I don’t even think I was able to finish it all. I think it’s time I just accept that yes, eating a majority of or only vegetables can fill me up. Sorry I ever doubted you veggies.
When the weather is nice, Empire Diner has outdoor seating, but I recommend sitting inside at a booth or the bar to not only really experience the retro diner interior, but to also feel like you’ve transported back in time if only for one meal.
Feta sticks, chef’s cobb salad
210 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011