You have close to 25,000 choices when it comes to eating on the island of Manhattan. The chances that you'll end up at the same place twice in one week by coincidence probably aren't so great. So when I hit the button to confirm Saturday evening reservations at Empire Diner for post-Whitney date night, the last thing I was expecting was an email to pop into my inbox from somebody saying, "Let's meet at Empire Diner in Chelsea."
I picked Empire Diner for a few simple reasons. For one, I'm a sucker for Art Deco anything. I just wanted to see how it looked this time around, with what I believe are the fourth owners since I've lived in NYC trying to class the joint up but not too much. Two: I love the High Line. I realize I picked a Saturday night in July to walk it, but I also realized that of the half-dozen times I've gone up there, almost all of them have been in colder months so I could avoid the tourists, so the trees and plants weren't all green and colorful. And you know what? It wasn't that bad. Sure, some tourists like standing in the middle of what is essentially a single lane with hundreds of people behind them as they take a selfie, but good for them (no, seriously, don't do that. I'm just trying to be nice). Third, after walking around the Whitney for a few hours (the Calder exhibit made me tear up a bit), I wanted something nearby and low key. I didn't want to deal with Meatpacking District crowds, didn't want to schlep to the West Village; nearby was key and that fit the bill. And having gone there for a pleasant breakfast (omelette was nice, fluffy, had lots of flavor, but the biscuits the place seems to be so proud of were pretty subpar. Honestly could have snuck in Popeye's biscuits and I'd have been happier.
But I'm digressing. Let's jump back to Saturday night. We're sitting outside, it's nice and chill, not hot out for a late-July evening, and I want a burger. I want a burger because I read that Eater piece about why you shouldn't order burgers when you go out (and, to be fair, it brought up a few smart points. There are way too many bad burgers out there), and it's not so much that I wanted to prove it wrong, it's that I didn't want it to be right. I've been having a little rough patch when it comes to burgers lately. After two bad experiences in a few months, I had to knock P. J. Clarke's off my list of favorites in the city, and almost walked out of a place that supposedly has one of the best new burgers in the city because it was seriously just that bad. Those things made it felt like I was having a burger crisis and I needed something, anything, to change the course.
The Empire Diner burger, I should say, isn't going to change your life. There are very few meals in this world capable of doing that. What I will say is that I needed a hero, and those two patties, so filled with flavor, dripping with cheese, and hardly as messy as I would have imagined (bonus: it comes with fries. I'm sick of this trend where you have to buy fries separately when you get a burger or a sandwich, same goes with pickles). All in all, I was happy. I ordered a second glass of the rosé they have on tap, then got into a cab and slept well knowing I can still get a decent burger no matter what I think or anybody says.