Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer went to Monks Coffee Shop all those years for a reason: diners are comfortable. A great diner is the opposite of stuffy without being a dive; it’s where people feel at home when they eat. And for many New Yorkers, the neighborhood diner is situated in psychological space firmly between the office and home.
But finding a good diner is like finding a good tailor: It takes time, and trust develops over many visits. You want a place where you can hang comfortably with friends and strangers, where you can recharge your battery. You want a go-to restaurant, a place that’s always your back-up plan and the perfect spot for a post-drinks nightcap.
At great diners, the menu is as familiar as it is long — a list of omelettes and turkey sandwiches and chocolate sundaes — and good diners never run out of what you want, even if what you want is breakfast for dinner. The best diners never seem to close; their neon signs serve as beacons into the wee hours of the morning.
By all of these standards, the Silver Star Restaurant (1236 Second Avenue, 212-249-4250) is not just a good diner, but an excellent one, and it’s been serving the neighborhood of the Upper East Side since 1965.
Greek immigrant Spiridon Katsihtis is the fourth owner of the Silver Star, and he’s been operating the joint with his two brothers for the last 12 years. Located on the corner of 65th and Second, the place looks a lot like other diners around the Upper East and West Side, and that is a good thing. Windows face out onto the street; a long counter with stools runs the length of the front room. To get into the main dining room, you’ll need to walk past a large dessert case, and once you sit, you’ll find the single TV is always switched to The Hallmark Channel or The Shawshank Redemption on TBS.
The clientele here is a mixture of old Jewish couples, students, young Jewish couples, people with caregivers, and families. A lot of families. Perhaps that’s because there are more than 200 dishes on the menu, which means the kids can get sundaes while the parents get veal marsala.
As you decide where to sit, know that service at the Silver Star is very good at a table and utterly fantastic at the counter. At the counter, only a few feet separate you from Donna and John, the acting maître d’s of this place. They’ll treat you like royalty.
Like any good neighborhood diner, most regulars never order; their usual order just comes. Quickly. I haven’t lived in the neighborhood for over a year, but the staff still remembers to bring A1 sauce for my well-done hash browns.
If you’re not a regular, though, you should note that the secret to ordering here — and at any diner, for that matter — is to be specific. Don’t go for an omelet with onions and cheese, order it with Swiss cheese and well-done onions. In the mood for some of the best soup in the city? Order the chicken and orzo (available on Tuesdays only) and ask for more chicken than orzo. Speaking of soup, the house made avgolemono soup, a Greek specialty made of lemon and egg, is worth the subway ticket from Brooklyn alone. Available on Wednesday, its broth is sublimely flavorful, edged with the sharpness of the lemon.
Like so many diners, the Star can be overpriced if you’re not careful. If you stick to breakfast items, and swim past the seafood specialties, it’s easy to get out for $15 a person. Otherwise, be aware that the bill can rise quickly. “It ain’t cheap, but people don’t always come to a diner for their food,” one regular said.
It’s still worth slipping into The Silver Star for a good meal and some New York comfort.