Photo: Roland Tanglao
NEW JERSEY IS THE DINER CAPITAL of the world. This trip covers the state pretty extensively, so you probably want to stretch it out to around three or four days.
White Mana Diner, Jersey City
Start your trip in Jersey City at White Mana Diner, a landmark that originally opened as a pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, New York. The circular building, which kind of looks like a fast food-serving UFO, moved across the Hudson in 1946 and has been frying hamburgers ever since. The sliders are legendary here. If you take a seat by the counter you can watch the whole grilling process: the sliders are cooked on the left side of the grill, then are moved to the center to keep warm till one is ordered, then the cook slides then slides them over to the right to be served up. Order a strawberry milkshake to complete the experience.
TOPS Diner, East Newark
The ten varieties of freshly whipped cheesecake are reason enough to make a stop here, but TOPS has all of the classic diner eats (burgers, omelets, and mozzarella sticks) as well. Quality grub such as Country-Style Chicken — which is free range, by the way — as well as veggie options like kale and quinoa salad, are where it’s at. Probably why TOPS is considered one of New Jersey’s best diners, and is… well, tops. (sorry, had to do it).
Summit Diner, Summit
Word on the street is that Ernest Hemingway was a regular here at one point. Summit dates back to 1929 and is New Jersey’s oldest diner. About as classic as a diner gets, a visit here is like a time-warp, what with its rail-car style digs complete with wooden booths and a checkered floor. The place hasn’t changed all that much since it opened — besides maybe a bathroom renovation. There is no website and the menu is a board on the wall. Take a seat by the old-school counter where you can watch your bacon, egg and cheese sliders being grilled before your very eyes. They do not accept cards, so make sure to bring cash.
Frank’s Deli and Restaurant, Asbury Park
When a place serves as the setting for a Bruce Springsteen video, you know it’s a New Jersey landmark. The family-run eatery has been a go-to shore spot since 1960 and has served everyone from rock stars, cops, politicians, punks, and celeb chef Anthony Bourdain. They make a killer pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich — probably the best in the state. So order that with some fresh squeezed orange juice and you’re set.
Bruce’s favorite, by the way, is the turkey club.
Mustache Bill’s Diner, Barnegat Light
The diner opened in 1959 and was bought by owner Bill Smith in 1972. Smith has been sporting a mustache since his senior year of high school, hence the name. The chrome exterior and walls, Coca-Cola signs, and well-worn counter gives the place a 1950s retro vibe. FYI, if you ask for a mustache-shaped pancake they will make it for you, even though it’s not on the menu. Also, their omelets are the bomb. And they should be: Mustache Bill’s received an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation in 2009. The diner is cash only and is closed during the winter season.
Maria’s Luncheonette, Atlantic City
Open for breakfast and lunch, it’s the perfect spot to kill that hangover after a night of gambling and clubbing. Breakfast is served till close (3pm), so you can roll in at 2:30 and order a French Toast Deluxe, which comes with eggs, fries, and a choice of meat. Set in a narrow building, the diner is hidden from the boardwalk and keeps it real with its very stripped-down no-nonsense digs. Come early as it often gets crowded.
Ponzio’s, Cherry Hill
One of the oldest restaurants in Cherry Hill, family-owned Ponzio’s has been around since the 1960s, and remains a staple South Jersey gathering place. Ponzio’s serves hoagie salad (yup), in addition to things like green bean fries, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, and cannoli. If you’re in the mood for some adult beverages, they also have a full service bar, so go ahead and order a dirty martini with your roast prime rib.
The Americana Diner, East Windsor
End your trip at The Americana Diner, about a twenty minute drive north of Trenton. But don’t come here thinking it’s just your run-of-the-mill Jersey diner. Gorge yourself on grass-fed beef, house-baked bread, and cage-free brown eggs, or one of the more creative menu options, like jerk chicken lollipops. The overall style of the place is pretty modern, but the kitschy and borderline cheesy 1950s furnishings makes it a fun place to hang out before getting back on the road. Also, there is a full bar so you can booze it up by ordering a cana martini with your kimchi burger.