Times Square Diner
Times Square Diner may not exactly remind you of the famous NYC attraction, but it's full of retro charm. It's dimly lit, rather messy, and teeming with bygone relics like in-booth jukebox players and original Hamilton Beach milkshake blenders.
Located on Wilson Heights near Downsview station, the exterior looks clean and inviting, red ceramic tiles dot the outside and gooseneck lamps give it a kitschy throwback vibe.
Open since 1950, owner/chef Peter Roubos took over in 1998 with his wife Sandra, after previously operating Tummy Tickler's which closed down after rent skyrocketed in the (now) tony Bayview Village mall.
But I didn't come here for decor lessons; I came for a cheap and cheerful lunch, and so did a small horde of other mid-day noshers. Packed at noon on a Sunday, we snagged the last booth (that had a working light) and were greeted by our waitress in seconds. We sensed a slight hesitation, we hadn't been here before and it showed.
The menu reads like typical diner choices; liver and onions, hot open faced sandwiches, burgers and a pretty decent breakfast menu. Clocking the retro blender on the way in, we ordered the strawberry milkshake ($4.95).
A hyper pink concoction that is supremely sweet and solidly thick it was a total meal killer. As soon as we gulped it down we realized it may have been more prudent to order it as a dessert.
The Jumbo Hot Dog ($3.95 + $3.25 for a side of fries) was a meaty ample sized dog nestled in a sesame seed bun. A side of fries gives you a daily veg (potatoes count, right?). The jumbo-ness lived up to its name and the wiener was juicy and satisfying. Resisting the urge to be salacious here, it was a damn fine hot dog.
Moving onto leafier options, the BLT ($4.95, lead photo) comes stacked with your standard ingredients on lightly toasted bread. The bacon is the real deal here, with several strips of it cooked just right, not too crispy, and not too chewy. Since it is almost like a salad in and of itself, we paired it up with more crispy fries ($3.25) but you can opt for a chef's salad for $5.25.
Poutine is a magical dish, and I'm a sucker for anything drenched in gravy (looking at you RoFo). Times Square's poutine ($5.25) is a platter size portion, and while the fries and beef gravy are both spot on, the lack of proper curds holds this dish back from being a great poutine.
Banquet Burgers ($7.25) are always a diner fave, and the burger here was the best bet. The patty is slightly loose; you can tell it's homemade and not frozen. Covered in an excellent cheese to bacon ratio, this burger is enough to make me come back again, and again. The sloppy gravy fingerprint on the plate just made it seem even more special.
With everything being in house made, Peter and his team make honest good food. He beams with pride when I ask him about his diner, and the husband and wife team make a perfect salty-sweet combo that keeps his loyal flock returning for breakfast, lunch or dinner.