I eat at a lot of restaurants. So after a long slog of dining out downtown, I’m desperate for a break. A break from the carefully curated decor, overwrought interpretations of European peasant fare, and the ironic hipsters who deign to serve my dinner. Talk about #FirstWorldProblems. The roots of my crankiness are a potent blend of middle-aged digestion issues (I get heartburn at the drop of a hat), perennially too-tight pants, and a chronic introvert’s desire to play hooky so I can roll up my sleeves and project-cook at home (this year it’s brioche, pickles, and fruit jams).
But there is an antidote, and that’s the diner—more specifically, a west side diner lunch with my favorite 5-year-old wingman. Whether we’re splitting a turkey club in the back booth under the “chandelier” at Stephen’s Old Village Restaurant in Cheviot, or fighting over the last flaky crumbs of a spanakopita from Sebastian’s (once you taste griddled filo, you’ll never go back), we’re in our element: kicking back with crayons and coloring sheets, lemonade, and iced tea. And while Santorini easily has some of the best coffee in the city, what really bowls me over every time is the casual and genuine hospitality. As soon as we nab a booth or tuck in at the counter, we’re welcomed warmly, and immediately feel at home. My son high-fives a police officer sitting on the stool next to us (for real, Norman Rockwell) and our waitress wears Nikes and yoga pants, as opposed to the selvedge denim and bespoke utility aprons that have become so orthodox in OTR. At a west side diner, I too am a run-of-the-mill Midwestern mom eating a Greek salad with her son. And while the produce isn’t necessarily heirloom and they don’t have kombucha on tap (if they did I might never leave), these little havens don’t just feed the populace, they nurture their community. When it comes to unpretentious comfort + food, the west is the best.