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A central location for plotting a hit in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; the forlorn backdrop in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. As quintessential as a cha chaan teng is to Hong Kong, the classic diner is an indispensable staple of American culture, serving as a touchstone in pop culture and a familiar greasy spoon for the masses. The blueprint to comfort food, a conventional diner menu will leave you chuffed with its hefty fare and decadent sweet treats. For a taste of America in a space that’s always inviting, check out these classic diners around Hong Kong.
A visual love letter to retro Americana, the interiors of this roadside diner host a jumble of quirky collector’s items dotted all around, from the genuine 1950s Seeburg jukebox perched on a tabletop to the mosaic of vintage road signs tacked to the exposed brick wall. Get competitive over an old-school arcade game tournament on one of their Galaga machines with a loaded chocolate milkshake ($68) in tow!
Aside from plating up well-loved favourites like the dime burger ($149) that’s built on a chunky Angus beef patty, meat-free choices like the smash burger ($159) with Impossible meat and the Cauli-bombs ($68) with smoky veganaise are available for herbivores to get their share of the good stuff, too. Unafraid to put a heart-attack-inducing spin on loaded burgers, their quadruple-stacked Skyscraper ($349) and signature skirt burger ($189)— featuring a gargantuan blanket of caramelised melted cheese—are well worth a try (if you dare).
The Diner, Shiu King Court, 4–8 Arbuthnot Road, Central | (+852) 2798 8219
Its moniker a hat tip to the US sitcom Happy Days, Al’s Diner is a slopeside eatery with a street-facing view of Soho that hearkens back to a by-gone era of sock hops and jukebox jams. Its modern update means an added tinge of neon lights above, and jello shots aplenty. Retaining its place as a familiar watering hole, eager party-goers may recognise its previous iteration in bustling Lan Kwai Fong.
Besides a rotation of juicy flame-grilled burgers and thick sandwiches with flavoured malted shakes ($78) as a worthy accompaniment, you will also encounter a slew of dishes that could have easily been plucked from an old home economics textbook. Opt for the meatloaf served drenched in gravy with a side of fibrous greens and the humble chicken Parmesan—just a few items that will certainly inspire an odd sense of nostalgia for a nuclear family-inspired American meal that you never knew you wanted.
Al’s Diner, Shop A & B, 9–13 Shelly Street, Central | (+852) 2521 8714
Tangential to the diner is the beloved New York-style deli, a made-to-order gourmet pantry that spotlights cold-cut meats, fresh cheeses, and more. It must be admitted that this chophouse veers towards delicatessen more so than a typical diner, but their array of hearty eats is certified to satiate any hankering for comfort food.
A patterned mosaic floor appears as you would expect, but Formica tabletops and vinyl banquettes are replaced with swanky chandeliers and cushy green couches, like a posh repackaging of your standard Art Deco-inspired diner. Established in 2001, it is said that Main St Deli is one of the first to bring to the city iconic items such as the Cuban sandwich ($145) and latkes ($88), which showcase the seamless melding of immigrant cultures within America’s melting pot—not unlike the marriage of influences in Hong Kong’s local cuisine! Keeping with the classics, their three-decked Reuben sandwich ($265) and buffalo chicken wings (starting from $95) are also excellent.
Main St Deli, Lower Lobby Level, 8 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2132 7898
Born out of the simple desire to celebrate breakfast—it is the most important meal of the day, after all—this fresh take on a North American diner brings a touch of lightness to the usual carb-loaded culprits, without compromising on satisfaction. Staples like the bacon-and-cheese-topped country brunch skillet (starting from $82) or the steak & egg hash skillet (starting from $105) loaded with homefries may be bestsellers still, but there is now an additional range of health-focused selects, like the healthy honey pistachio & raisin waffle ($82)or the herbed veggie skillet (starting from $75). Cheat day or not, this welcoming joint is always a great stop to refuel for the day.
Going north of the United States and towards the North Point District in Hong Kong, here lies a restaurant that directly references the Canadian variant of an all-American diner. Wedged amongst a residential building along the main thoroughfare, this inviting little hashery is filled with upbeat rowdiness and unpretentious food. Glowing neon signs and a plush toy moose head mounted on the wall make for a playful contrast against the black-and-white-tiled floor, the end result oddly evocative of a stopover you would encounter on the road.
Succulent burgers oozing with cheese like the delightful back bacon cheeseburger ($80) and heaping mounds of loaded fries are doled out on paper plates and passed around giddy groups of friends. A particularly rare find in Hong Kong, their sloppy joe ($78) is a bun worth rolling up your sleeves and loosening your belt buckles for, whilst their mushroom poutine ($41) will wipe you out—in a good way, of course.
Visit on a Tuesday to test your limits with their discounted buffalo wings ($3), which are available with a purchase of any beer. If you are still feening for meatier bites than what’s available at The Big Bite, check out their sister restaurant The Big Bite Flame-Grill, which brandishes a more steak-centric menu.
The Big Bite, Shop 4B, Kar Fu Building, 196–202 Java Road, North Point | (+852) 2327 3263
Whizz back to the days of 1950s America by stepping into this charming, wood-panelled caboose. Ticking off every archetypical box on the checklist—bright neon signage, comfortable booth seats, smiling staff in candy-striped hats—this self-proclaimed “all-American diner” emanates a warmth that calls to the welcoming aura of the typical diner, where guests from all walks of life can stop by and have a fulfilling meal or cheeky snack with no pretence.
Fill up on their made-to-order smash patties, with a side of beloved nibbles like smoky BBQ chicken wings ($88) or jalepeño poppers ($78). A bite of the American cheeseburger ($98), fresh off the grill with a dollop of their secret Circus sauce, is a mouthful like no other, best enjoyed alongside a creamy signature candy shake ($78).
Burger Circus, 22 Hollywood Road, Central | (+852) 2878 7787
Although Morty’s prides itself on carrying the torch for American deli traditions—presenting an emphasis on signature smoked and cured meats—its rotation of orthodox New Yorker sandwiches as well as the general ambience offer points of reference to the classic American diners of the Big Apple. Both of its storefronts boast broad windows painted over with the shop’s name and logo in retro gold lettering and a lunch counter that’s perfect for lounging with an ice-cold draught (starting from $75) in hand.
Aged over a 45-day process, the beef used is painstakingly seasoned and slow-cooked to perfection under ideal conditions, making for top-notch options like the classic smoked meat (starting from $108) on rye, or the signature Reuben sandwich (starting from $130)—with a generous pile of piping hot fries and pickles, of course.