Diners are right up there with all of the things you’d expect to find in NJ, like boardwalks by the beach, saltwater taffy, shopping malls and great views of Manhattan. And it goes without saying that diners are probably some of the best joints to visit with kids – loud, crowded, cheap and charmingly unsophisticated. Plus, diverse menus mean that everyone can order exactly what they’re in the mood for (which basically means less complaining and whining for tired parents!)
So how do you distinguish a great diner from a so-so one? All of the joints below stand out from the pack for a number of reasons. Maybe they’re family-owned and operated (doing everything with just a little extra love), maybe they take the time to make everything from scratch or maybe the food is just that darn good! Read on for our pick of diner favorites for NJ families:
Mustache Bill’s Diner (Barnegat Light, NJ)
This “down the shore” institution in Long Beach Island is a favorite of both year-round locals and seasonal tourists. Situated on the water, insiders know this is the place to come for an early morning hot meal before a day at the beach, or for a cozy retreat on a rainy afternoon. Breakfast is king at Mustache Bill’s and you’ll find traditional American food, but done from scratch and done with extra love. Favorites include almost any kind of pancake they serve up (such as banana walnut and blueberry), French toast, a sizzling potato skin omelet and the beloved creamed chipped beef. Kids will go crazy for the pancakes made in special shapes (like a lighthouse or fishing boat) and you can even get your short stack served with a fried egg in the middle and dotted with berries! Mustache Bill’s has received some pretty big accolades in recent years, from being featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to winning an “American Classic” distinction by the James Beard Foundation, but the place has remained true to its old-school roots (even though the wait may be a little longer these days!) Please call 609-494-0155 for more information and hours (which vary by season).
The Tops Diner (East Newark, NJ)
Located in an industrial looking part of East Newark, it’s easy to drive right past Tops Diner, but don’t make that mistake! A favorite of students at nearby Rutgers University, this is the kind of joint where you’ll see a plate of awesome looking food whiz past you on a tray and plopped down at the table behind you, prompting you to ask, “What did you order?” All of the standby favorites are delicious, such as the overflowing Greek salad, choose your own omelets (which are served well into lunchtime) and slices of sweet pie that the locals swear by. But the most standout dish on the menu has got to be the red velvet pancakes. What kid (or adult for that matter) wouldn’t want fluffy red pancakes sprinkled with chocolate chips and served with cream cheese frosting? Yum! If you’ve got an especially big appetite that day, order up a hearty burger like the “Brooklyn” (Swiss cheese, caramelized mushrooms and onions) or the “Memphis” (topped with Cheddar cheese, BBQ pulled pork and coleslaw). Please call 973-481-0490 for more information.
Brownstone Diner (Jersey City, NJ)
Locals know that it’s better to hit up this Hudson County favorite for dinner instead of battling the Sunday morning crowds. Pancakes rule the roost and you’ll find two whole menu pages dedicated to inventive (and kid-friendly) combos like PB&J and Chocolate & Peanut Butter. Brownstone is also known for its pancake wraps, which are so ridiculously huge, you just might want to share the “Country Breakfast Wrap,” which consists of a hotcake stuffed with scrambled eggs, sausage and potatoes. Although people get pretty jazzed about the ‘round the clock breakfast here, it would be a mistake not to try other menu items – the Greek platter is superb and overflowing with grape leaves, squares of tangy feta and super thick Tzatziki sauce. Desserts are rumored to be pretty good too, but most customers say they just don’t have the room! The family-run Brownstone Diner has been in business for over 30 years and definitely has that warm, everybody’s welcome type of feeling – a great place to bring the kids or out of town guests when you’re too tired to cook. Please call 201-433-0471 for more information.
Oakland Diner (Oakland, NJ)
Oakland Diner has a classic Route 66 type feel and a pretty well-rounded menu that includes breakfast, Panini sandwiches, Greek food and even crepes. Oakland residents love the diner’s hometown feel and it’s also a perfect pit stop if you’re traveling along 287 in Northern Jersey. Customers rave about the “Belgian Blast Eggs” (two eggs on a crisp waffle with bacon or turkey sausage) and the “Banana Nutella Crepes.” The homemade ½ pound burgers are also pretty popular (try the Miami Burger or even their vegetarian option) as are the Panini sandwiches served on fresh Ciabatta bread. The kids menu includes the usual chicken fingers and mac & cheese fare, but if your little one decides on the PB & J French Toast, watch out - you might find yourself stealing bites of this rich and comforting updated classic. Please call (201) 337-1262 for more information.
Tick Tock Diner (Clifton, NJ)
At first glance, Tick Tock Diner might seem like the classic New Jersey diner experience. And in some ways it is – family-run by 3 brothers, food served well into the night, even a big sign out front that screams their motto, “Eat Heavy.” And make no mistake, Tick Tock offers some pretty classic Jersey eats, such as “Disco Fries” (French fries topped with gravy & melted cheese), a “Jersey Shore Burger” (Beef patty topped with mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce!) and eggs served up just about every which way. But those who really know and love the place choose favorites you might not expect to see at a diner: made from scratch chicken parm, a falafel burger with hummus and avocado and sautéed jumbo shrimp over risotto. Health conscious parents will appreciate that vegetarian items are plentiful and clearly marked on the menu. Kids will go crazy for the “Black & White” milkshake made with rich chocolate syrup. Please call 973-777-0511 for more information.