Diners, especially in the Tristate area, evoke memories like few eateries can. The nostalgia associated with diners could be weekend breakfast with your family when you were a kid or late-night romps for tuna melts, disco fries, and milkshakes after the bars have let out.
Either way, your local diner likely has a place in your heart, and it’s about time it got some shine. So, grab your bacon, egg, and cheese with one hand and use the other to flip through this roundup devoted to showcasing Westchester’s top diners.
Port Chester; www.eugenesdiner.com
At a time when you rarely see a new diner open its doors, Chef David DiBari dared to do just that. Eugene’s Diner is an anomaly from all the rest in that it is a diner that really isn’t. With its 1970s décor, complete with knickknacks from a bygone era adorning its walls, Eugene’s is an all-purpose diner. DiBari — known by nearly all of the 914 for The Cookery and The Parlor — wanted to do something out of the box that, like all of his restaurants, has a strong connection to his past. “Every restaurant I do is a part of me,” DiBari says. “Eugene was my grandfather, and we’d visit diners every week after that painstaking hour of church.”
DiBari is aware that Eugene’s is different in a chef-driven sense. They make everything in-house, from the condiments to the sausages and even the array of cakes that entice you as they revolve on the old-fashioned cake display. He’s also aware that his concept of an upscale diner — which also serves dishes like dry-aged “minute steak”; fluffy, Japanese-style soufflé pancakes with foie gras; and custardy yolks atop butter-griddled milk bread and caviar — may take the public a little while to connect to.
“We always put passion before profit, and once people get that it’s about eating serious and having fun, they’ll catch on and be a part of it,” he says. “I always expect harsh criticism from those who are stuck to what they thought something was 35, 40 years ago, but I want to retrain them to have open minds.”
“Eugene was my grandfather, and we’d visit diners every week after that painstaking hour of church.”
You can get a classic breakfast plate here. You can pair your “all-day breakfast” with a pre-batched cocktail on tap. You can even order your waffles, if you choose, with a giant marrow bone and scoop that salty, fatty goodness in the nooks, along with maple syrup. In other words, Eugene’s is what you make of it.
What it’s about for DiBari is serving good food and a community vibe. “You may want salt-and-pepper eggs or fries, but you may want caviar, and that’s up to you; you don’t have to have it, he says. “I think of a diner as culture, diversity, and that establishment where all walks of life come together.”
Vasilios “Billy” Michialis was born into the diner business. “For me, this isn’t even work; it’s life,” he says. The life he cites began with his grandfather, who came to America by way of Greece, worked as a dishwasher, then cook, and was able to save enough money to open his own coffee shop in the Bronx, called Roxy’s.
Michialis — a third-generation diner operator — is a co-owner of Ardsley Diner with partner Spiro Argyros. Located in a strip mall, Ardsley Diner’s green upholstered booths and chairs, the multicolored tile work with “Burgers Salads Shakes” in retro lettering, and the long service-counter seating all hark back to an earlier time, despite being barely 5 years old.
The menu reads typically, with a lengthy list of breakfast plates, wraps, milkshakes, salads, and a literal smorgasbord of sandwiches, but typical it is not. It’s all fresh, never frozen, and nearly everything is made in-house, because, as Michialis puts it, “Times have changed, and people today are more health-conscious.”
“I could never see myself doing anything else. I love people; I love talking to people. It’s an awesome experience.”
While Ardsley Diner may not have a signature dish, it’s heralded for its gyros, salads, and flame-broiled juicy burgers engulfed in American cheese, which, by the way, use Pat LaFrieda beef.
For breakfast, don’t overlook the thick, yet light and fluffy, waffles (batter not from a box mix) topped any way you’d like, from the simplicity of butter and syrup to Nutella and ripe strawberries. If you have room for more sweets, grab a hunk of house-made baklava to go.
If you’re not near Ardsley, Michialis also owns Bella’s Restaurant in Tarrytown and the newly opened Roxy’s Diner Bar & Grill in Port Chester, an homage to his grandfather’s coffee shop that features a full-service restaurant with brick-oven pizza and a bar.
As for Michialis, he continues to enthusiastically carry on his family’s legacy. “I could never see myself doing anything else,” he says. “I love people; I love talking to people. It’s an awesome experience.”
Episodes of Seinfeld would often begin with scenes at the fictional Monk’s Café, the Upper West Side diner where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were regulars. Since this is a feature on diners, a Seinfeld-esque introduction to this history lesson seemed appropriate. Therefore, à la Jerry himself, the question is:
So, what’s the deal with Greeks and diners?
A 1996 article in The New York Times, titled, “The Kaffenion Connection: How the Greek Diner Evolved,” by Edward Levine, once touched on it. Basically, it states that in the early 20th century, quite a few Greek immigrants arrived in the United States and with them came the concept of the kaffenion — a coffeehouse where they’d gather to socialize and play backgammon or card games. Because they’d spend so much time in coffee shops, the progression for Greek immigrants to work in one was the logical next step. They’d save money, work their way up, and eventually buy or open one of their own. Introducing food was inevitable, and that’s how it morphed into the Greek diner as we know it.
Bill Livanos, one of the owners of City Limits Diner, said this is essentially how his father, John, got started in the restaurant business. “Some Greeks didn’t have many skills, so they started here by working in luncheonettes,” he says. “My father was a merchant marine on a ship, then he got a job with the help of a relative at a luncheonette as a dishwasher, got promoted, bought his own spot in Queens, sold it for profit, and kept opening more.”
Sharing similar sentiments about his family history is Vasilios Michialis of Ardsley Diner. “Of the group that left Greece years ago for a better life, most came over on merchant ships, and they’d work as cooks or dishwashers,” he says. “My grandfather started it in my family, then my uncle did it. He saved enough money, opened his own diner, and hired all his brothers to work there. In Greek culture, food is life. Family and food.”
Until recently, Greg Katsaros owned two of Mamaroneck’s most popular diners: Mamaroneck Diner and BLD Diner. As of May 2020, Katsaros sold Mamaroneck Diner to focus on BLD and the redevelopment in the village of Larchmont.
“The rumor earlier this year was that BLD would get knocked down,” he says. “I own the surrounding properties and talked to an architect to attempt to bring some life into the area. We considered a lot, like moving the diner, or putting a variation of it in the bottom part of an apartment building or even moving it to another part of Larchmont to fill up the empty spaces here.”
Whatever the final plan, Katsaros assures us that BLD will be a part of Larchmont, much like the diner business itself has been a fixture in his life. Katsaros — whose father was an electrician by trade — got started working in diners when his uncle brought him in to work weekends. He liked it so much that he ultimately attended the New York Restaurant School.
“I always thought I could do good, simple food, a smaller menu, so I’m not wasting food, and keep everything fresh.”
Instead of the fine-dining route, Katsaros chose to help out his family, who opened Mamaroneck Diner in 1980. BLD, though, was a homecoming of sorts. “My dad and uncle owned it in 1979, sold it, and I opened here; it’ll be nine years in September,” he says.
BLD’s menu mantra is “cleaner, fresher,” and there’s not a menu the size of a Webster’s Dictionary. “Diners get a bad rap, which in many cases is deserved,” he says. “I always thought I could do good, simple food, a smaller menu, so I’m not wasting food, and keep everything fresh.”
Freshness is best exemplified in BLD’s pressed paninis, sandwiches, and massive salads, all of which are local favorites. You’d also be wise to scan the menu for diner anomalies like a baked sweet potato stuffed with dates, walnuts, and funky Gorgonzola with a honey drizzle, a dish inspired by the fast casual Spudnik in Savannah, GA. But there’s plenty of eggs, pancakes, and all that jazz that makes for a busy weekend breakfast service, plus enough fried mozzarella sticks and chicken wings to satisfy your late-night munchies.
If you mention Star Diner to anyone who lives or works in the general area of Downtown White Plains, they typically respond with something like, “Oh yeah… love that place!” Star is a 24/7 O.G. greasy spoon that, the staff will tell you, has been open since the 1930s.
In a space the size of a large bus, this cash-only quick stop churns out eggs any style, home fries, burgers, and all the diner classics you can think of, plus a 16-deep “menu” of specials that hang on inkjet printouts above the counter. Some of those blue plates are old school: Think ham steak and eggs, fish and chips, sausage and peppers on a wedge, along with franks and beans.
You can’t go wrong at Star Diner, but the gyros are stars in their own right, with ripe tomatoes and crisp, green romaine lettuce, each stuffed with a good amount of meat and plenty of creamy tzatziki, which will surely drip out of the pita, the way it’s supposed to. If a breakfast sandwich is more your speed, however, make sure to pile home fries, ketchup, and hot sauce on that bad boy.
Finding a seat at Star Diner during peak times can be tough because, as mentioned, it’s not very big, yet you’ll feel at home among city locals and restaurant industry folks grabbing a bite after the bars close or the medical professionals from White Plains Hospital across the street having a quick nosh on their breaks. One thing’s for certain, though: They don’t make ’em as nostalgic as Star Diner anymore.
Having debuted in 2015, DD’s Diner joins the ranks of Eugene’s and Ardsley Diner among the dearth of new diner launches. Owned by diner veteran Dimitrios Kitsios (who presides over Eldorado Diners in Scarsdale and Elmsford), DD’s, like Eugene’s, is more of an upscale eatery, with the classic diner fare available, too.
General manager Karla Monroy tells us that DD’s is very much a local’s, family-oriented type of place, though it’s worth the trip if you’re anywhere nearby. “It’s a family environment here,” she says. “Customers become family because people in the neighborhood come in weekly, and some come in every day.”
Helping to bring in the customers is an emphasis on presentation and freshness, as everything is made on the premises. Popular grub at DD’s starts with its fresh-ground, handcrafted burgers, like the Cowboy (grilled bacon, cheddar, caramelized onions, and smoky barbecue sauce on a toasted potato bun) and the N’awlins (topped with split-grilled spicy sausage, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers, and creamy Cajun sauce on brioche). Wraps and paninis are popular, as well, but DD’s gets lots of cred for its cast-iron-baked, breadcrumb-topped mac ’n’ cheese with shells, so each mouthful gets that burst of gooey cheese trapped in the pasta. Earning high marks besides all of the above is DD’s buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, served with slaw and mashed potatoes and gravy.
“Customers become family because people in the neighborhood come in weekly, and some come in every day.”
Often, DD’s busts the diner mold completely, with specials like a chicken- fried oyster sandwich, grilled rib-eye steaks, and maple-glazed roasted chicken. Specials are abundant here for weekend brunch, so keep that in mind if you’re doing that whole family- or friends-brunch-crew thing.
At any diner, a heaping order of something that’s the perfect storm of crunchy and greasy is mandatory. Here are the top three most comforting fried sides encountered during this diner adventure.
Giant onion rings at City Limits Diner
Using the largest Spanish onions attainable, City Limits separates each softball-sized onion into rings that get a thick coating of seasoned breadcrumbs. One order of these mega-rings will easily feed a table of four. A single onion ring also shows up on its intimidatingly stacked Smokehouse burger.
Mozzarella sticks at Star Diner
Ask any chef or bartender what they order at this 24-hour diner, and mozzarella sticks are always in the mix. Each stick arrives at the table unbreached, so you’re not eating hollow fried breadcrumbs because some of your cheese fell into the fryer. These are whole and gooey inside. Pro tip: You get only five hand-breaded cheese sticks, served with a sidecar of chunky marinara sauce, so a second helping may be necessary.
Disco fries at Eugene’s Diner & Bar
The fresh-cut fries at Eugene’s get a serious upgrade with the additions of a homemade cheese sauce and a rich beef gravy. Disco fries, when done right, are always better than plain old fries and ketchup. Devour ’em at happy hour (weeknights, from 3 to 6 or 9 to close) to save a few bucks and pair it with a $6 draft beer.
White Plains; www.citylimitsdiner.com
If you’re looking for a place that helped revolutionize the modern diner, look no further than City Limits. With City Limits, the Livanos Family — who own the lauded Moderne Barn in Armonk, along with a trio of NYC spots — had the foresight to see that patrons could use a classier-than-average diner that wasn’t stuffy but somewhere in between.
“It’s still similar to when we opened,” says second-generation owner Bill Livanos. “We were always chef-driven, with lots of culinary-school graduates. My father started in the diner business in Long Island and Brooklyn. We wanted to stay in the business but also wanted to reinvent what a diner was. We’re true in the spirit in that we serve breakfast all day. You can’t call yourself a diner if breakfast isn’t served all day.”
And it is. The most popular breakfast items, according to Livanos, are the scratch-made pancakes and waffles served with Vermont maple syrup, never that fake, store-bought stuff. That burst of freshness you’ll taste is a bit of orange and lemon juice in the batter.
To run down the entire dictionary of a menu at City Limits is a tall order, but rest assured: The majority of everything is made on the premises. They simmer their own stock and bake their own pastries; they’re even smoking salmon.
Whether you’re in the mood for a piled-high burger topped with a giant onion ring (that you’ll have to unhinge your jaw for) or a healthy Oriental chicken salad, City Limits will take care of you. “A diner is supposed to be inviting to everyone; businesspeople, families, everyone meets here,” says Livanos.
Mount Kisco; www.mtkiscodiner.com
When Frank Georgiou opened Mt. Kisco Diner 25-plus years ago, it was, according to his son, Harry, “a classic diner.” If you’re one of MKD’s 65,000 Instagram followers, you know it’s morphed into something completely different.
While classic tuna melts and the like still thrive at MKD, the diner experiences a flood of admirers from local and afar who pack the place at peak times and weekends for its more extreme, highly Instagrammable offerings.
“We changed with the times,” Georgiou says. “Now it’s next-level comfort food. We started with a mac-’n’-cheese-and-chicken-cutlet wrap and the Godfather (a penne-alla-vodka-and-mozzarella-sticks wrap), then we started deep-frying them, and it continued from there, with cereal-themed milkshakes and penne-vodka-chicken tacos.”
Mt. Kisco Diner embraces its status as a diner that’s different, with no intention of slowing down. Georgiou mentioned that they’re constantly working on new creations, which will soon include a few new shakes, like Oreo cheesecake and cannoli (the milk-and-ice-cream blend is manageable, by the way, even if you take the hunk of cake on top to go), plus something called the Gladiator, with thin-sliced roast beef, caramelized onions, bacon, and mac ’n’ cheese on a wedge. But in staying with the times, Georgiou and staff know they have to cater to the health-conscious folk, so vegetarian bowls will be unveiled.
“We’re starting to use the hashtag #DinerNotADiner because we’re different,” Georgiou says. “We’ve gotten to a status level that’s about bringing your cheat day here, and we’ll satisfy those needs.”
Andrew Dominick is a Norwalk-based writer who helps run the popular food site CTbites in addition to being a regular contributor to WM, Hudson Valley Magazine, and The Valley Table. He likes exploring the restaurant scene in his spare time and will never pass up visiting a brewery or a cocktail lounge, and because balance is important, you’ll otherwise find him at the gym or teaching martial arts.