- Insider talked to chefs about their favorite and least favorite things to eat at a diner.
- Chefs suggest ordering diner-style home fries, pancakes, and milkshakes.
- You may want to skip out on ordering soups and pasta sauces from diners, since some chefs say they are normally not homemade.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Diners are known for their no-frills menus and indulgent comfort food, but not everything at your local greasy spoon may be worth sampling.
Here are some of the best and worst foods to order at diners, according to chefs.
Ordering the eggs Benedict is a good way to test the skills of a diner’s cook.
Nick Liberato, chef and host of the Netflix show “Restaurants on the Edge,” told Insider that his typical diner breakfast order almost always includes eggs Benedict.
“Eggs Benedict is a true test to see if a diner can execute perfectly poached eggs. I’m especially looking for the hollandaise sauce on top to have a nice tang from the lemon juice,” said Liberato.
If you love hollandaise sauce but don’t like your eggs poached, try asking your server if you can order a dish of it to pair with a different egg dish.
Pancakes are a sure-fire winner at just about any diner.
Liberato told Insider that there’s no better place to dive into a hot stack than at a diner.
“Pancakes are a very safe choice at just about any diner [since] they’re really hard to mess up. Major plus if they bust out the Canadian or Vermont syrup,” said Liberato.
Though it’s hard to go wrong with any flavor of pancake, Liberato recommended ordering some with sliced banana, chocolate chips, a knob of butter, and a drizzle of syrup.
Home fries and hash browns seem to always taste better at a diner.
Chef Heloise Blaure told Insider that griddles are actually the best way to make home fries and hash browns – but most people don’t have a large, restaurant-style griddle in their kitchen.
“Griddles allow for a maximum balance of soft and crispy. You just don’t get the same effect with a frying pan at home. Even the worst diner usually has better home fries than the ones you’d make in your kitchen, even if you’re a decent cook,” said Blaure.
Home fries are whole pieces of fried potato, whereas hash browns are shredded potatoes that are often formed into patties.
If a diner menu simply says “fried potatoes,” ask your server to specify which style is on offer.
It might be tough to replicate a thick diner milkshake at home.
There’s just something about the thick, creamy texture of a diner milkshake that’s hard to replicate at home – and Blaure said this decadent texture is usually due to the diner’s special mixing equipment.
“As long as the diner has a restaurant-grade milkshake mixer, their shakes are going to be better than whatever you could make at home. Plus, you might get your milkshake in a fun, retro glass with the excess served in a cold, metal mixer cup,” Blaure told Insider.
Diners are known for having supremely delicious pies.
Chef Judy Joo told Insider that anyone with a sweet tooth should check out a diner’s pie selection before even considering another dessert.
“Most diners will showcase a wide array of amazing pies in a refrigerated case with rotating flavors. Apple pie a la mode with vanilla ice cream is the best bet,” said Joo.
Joo added that truly old-school diners will often offer sweet pies with a cheddar-cheese crust, which are not to be missed.
Disco fries are a filling meal or side dish.
Disco fries, said to be named after their popularity with late crowds that are coming home from nightclubs, are sort of an Americanized rendition of Canadian poutine.
The classic version of the dish features french fries smothered in brown gravy and mozzarella cheese.
“Always order disco fries with cheese and gravy – so delish and absolutely classic. No diner experience is complete without a bite of this addictive dish,” said Joo.
Disco fries are particularly popular in New Jersey diners and can sometimes include toppings like gruyere cheese, mustard powder, sour cream, and mushrooms.
Some diners create fluffy scrambled eggs with pancake batter.
- Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
Chef Dirk Tolsma of EPIC Steak in San Francisco, California, told Insider that he never passes up the chance to dig into a pile of diner-style scrambled eggs.
“I always order the scrambled eggs. If they’re doing it right, they add a little pancake batter to fluff the eggs up and add a little sweetness,” said Tolsma.
If you want to try this diner trick at home, you can try adding a tablespoon or so of fresh pancake batter to whisked eggs before scrambling to give them some lift.
A tuna melt toasted with bacon grease is an indulgent choice.
If you’re looking for a true lunchtime indulgence, Tolsma recommended trying a tuna-melt sandwich prepared diner-style in bacon grease.
“For lunch at a diner, my go-to is a tuna melt. I love when they toast the bread in the leftover bacon grease,” said Tolsma.
Even if tuna isn’t your thing, you can try asking if the kitchen staff can cook a different sandwich bread or toast in the grease left on the griddle.
Pair an open-faced turkey sandwich with gravy and a pile of fries.
Chef Ed McFarland of Ed’s Lobster Bar in New York City told Insider that a simple turkey sandwich with gravy is the best lunch dish you can get at a diner.
“Customers should always order the open-face turkey with gravy and fries. It’s the perfect comfort meal and, as a bonus, you can dip your fries in the gravy,” said McFarland.
On the other hand, soup may be one of the worst dishes to order at a diner.
- Shutterstock/Ezume Images
Although diners may have a reputation for cooking from scratch, Blaure told Insider that it’s actually rare to find a diner with cooks who prepare their own soup.
“Unless soup is one of their specialties, most diners just use the canned stuff. Soups and chili take too much time and effort for diners to make a new batch every day, so they usually don’t bother,” said Blaure.
If you’re determined to order soup, Blaure recommended pairing it with a grilled-cheese sandwich, which she said are usually pretty tasty at diners.
Pasta with red sauce is usually a pretty poor value at diners.
Just like soup and chili, a good tomato sauce takes a fair amount of preparation.
But Blaure told Insider that the fast-paced nature of a diner kitchen may mean the sauce on your pasta isn’t homemade.
“If you order a plate of spaghetti or a bowl of ziti, be prepared for it to come dressed in store-bought sauce. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but you can get better meal for your money by ordering something else,” said Blaure.
Salads are usually not a diner’s forte.
If you find yourself searching for a relatively light meal at a diner, you may be tempted to order up a salad.
However, Liberato told Insider that you’re usually better off skipping a diner’s greens.
“One thing I would stay away from is a diner salad. They’re usually precut with some mass-produced dressing that’s not made in house,” said Liberato, who added that sometimes the lettuce may not be that fresh.
Seafood at a diner may not be the freshest.
Unlike more upscale restaurants, smaller diners may not be sourcing freshly-caught fish each morning for their dishes.
And so, Liberato cautioned customers against ordering seafood at diners.
“Seafood at a diner is a bad idea. It’s unlikely to be fresh-caught and a lot of diner seafood is probably deep-fried to cover up how terrible the quality really is,” said Liberato.
Though properly frozen and prepared seafood is generally safe to consume, you may get more flavor for your money at a diner by sticking with turf rather than surf.
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