NYCReview

photo credit: Teddy Wolff

Golden Diner review image
9.0

Golden Diner

$$$$

New York diners, such as the ones in Seinfeld, Goodfellas, or The Muppets Take Manhattan, have a specific magic to them. They exist in an elusive space-time continuum where there’s no difference between 8am and 8pm. They’re the perfect midnight meeting spots where the only rule is that the person on their fifth coffee refill is in charge. At a diner, no one cares who you are, what you do, or why you only ordered a plate of half-sour pickles.

There’s nothing stopping you from pairing your breakfast sandwich with a beer at Golden Diner in Chinatown. Here you’ll sit next to grandmotherly white lace curtains and an analog clock that says “chicken dinner” in red cursive. Swivel stools face an open kitchen where a couple of people who are very good at their jobs make everything on flat top grills. But unlike the food at whatever comes up when you search “diner near me,” the classics at Golden Diner are updated and slightly unexpected. And in most cases, they make the original versions taste like they’re missing something.

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Much of the menu takes inspiration from Korean, Japanese, Thai, or Chinese cuisine as an homage to the history of Manhattan’s Chinatown, where the restaurant is located. Your cobb salad will have Thai basil, bean sprouts, and Thai bird chili dressing as well as extra crispy bacon and jammy eggs. It will outshine and out-heft any salad you eat for weeks. The club sandwich is made on soft white bread with a chicken katsu cutlet and creamy purple cabbage slaw. Eat it once and you’ll react to every other club sandwich the same way you react to your fiscally conservative ex’s LinkedIn updates.

It won’t take very many trips to Golden Diner to find some of your favorite comfort food in this city. But don’t get so attached to those favorites–like the BEC on a scallion milk bun or the crispy tuna melt on rye–that you miss out on the specials. It took us years to figure out that these rotating dishes, which often skew more experimental than sandwiches and salads, are where the team’s creativity shines most.

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Feel confident ordering a bunch of dishes that, on paper, seem as if they make no coherent sense paired together, like you would at any place with sugar packets on the table and a man who’s been sitting in the corner with his coffee and a newspaper since 1979. The only difference is that at this diner, you’ll want to make a plan to eat the breakfast sandwich on the scallion milk bun a week in advance—which is something no one on Seinfeld has ever done.

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Food Rundown

Chinatown Breakfast Sandwich

Your bodega BEC saw you eating this sandwich, and now it has intimacy issues. As it rightfully should. This comes on a soft scallion milk bun from a local Chinatown bakery, with melted American, more eggs than we feel comfortable knowing about, and a big crunchy hash brown.

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Breakfast Burrito

Another excellent breakfast option that we’d gladly eat at any time. The beans and crispy potatoes in this burrito make it feel substantial, but not so heavy that it’ll prevent you from solving problems or rescuing cats in trees for the rest of the day.

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Chicken Katsu Club

If you’re here to eat one thing and one thing only, make it this club sandwich. It’s everything you need to know about Golden Diner on one beautiful, green-trimmed ceramic plate. Just make sure you get it with fries and a pickle on the side.

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Chef’s Specials

Something we didn’t learn about Golden Diner until years after it first opened: Their specials are often worth ordering over your typical GD favorites. In the past we’ve had delicately-made wontons in a clarified mushroom brodo and a fiery Jamaican beef ddukbokki laced with scotch bonnet peppers. Follow Golden Diner on Instagram to stay updated on new dishes, since they usually don’t stay on the menu for long.

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Thai Cobb

Going back to other cobb salads after eating this one would be like learning how to do a perfect arabesque and then being told you have to play tree number four in Swan Lake. It’s light and refreshing, crunchy and saucy.

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Matzoh Ball Soup

This comes with a big fluffy matzoh ball sitting in chicken broth like she owns the place. (She does.) The broth also has floating carrots, onions, and celery. And now for a sentence we’ve never said before: The celery is the star.

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Tuna Melt

The grilled rye toast in this tuna melt is completely covered in butter, as if it’s preparing for a slip ’n slide during a drought. Inside the sandwich, you’ll find the perfect amount of tuna fish and a handful of salt and vinegar chips that should appear in mayo-based sandwiches more often. We can’t stop thinking about this.

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Vegetalian Hero

This sandwich will serve as an apology for all the shtty vegetarian sandwiches you may have tried in your life. It’s really substantial and filling, with thin grilled tofu skin and most of the vegetables we love so much from the Thai Cobb.

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Golden Cheeseburger

Even though we’d normally recommend any burger medium-rare, ask for this one medium so that the mushroom gochujang sauce, soft bun, and patty don’t feel too mushy together. When this thing works, it really works.

Half Grapefruit

Live a little. You’re at a diner after all.

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