The Dining Car Diner – Philadelphia – Review
While the Dining Car had been on my “to-try” list for a long time, I didn’t try it until I realized that it was around the corner from the yoga class I attend regularly. So, one Wednesday night after yoga, my mom and I headed to the Dining Car for a late-night meal.
The Dining Car is located in the Torresdale neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia. The diner shines bright amongst its strip mall neighbors, both literally and figuratively. You can see the Dining Car’s silhouette outlined in red neon lights as you cruise down Frankford Avenue towards the restaurant.
After your eyes recover from the blinding lights, you’ll notice the Dining Car’s futuristic, metallic facade. The wonderfully tacky diner design continues inside, where you’ll see red vinyl bar stools and art deco lighting. I’ve only seen diners like this is movies, so it was a cool site to witness in person.
In typical diner fashion, the Dining Car is cash only and open 24 hours. The bakery in front of the restaurant, however, is not open at all hours, so come when the sun is up to take their baked goods home.
[Appetizer] French Onion Soup
I’m a sucker for French onion soup ($5.50), so I had to try the Dining Car’s rendition. Their version was tasty, but not the best I’ve ever had. The bread tasted like it was seasoned with Vegeta, a Yugoslav spice blend that my grandma uses on everything. I doubt Vegeta is on the Dining Car’s radar, so they might have just used garlic bread. The cheese that covered the soup was particularly difficult to eat. It took a lot of chewing power to get through the cheese pancake. While gruyere is the traditional soup used in this dish, I believe the Dining Car used mozzarella. The onions were thinly sliced and nicely caramelized, but could have been more flavorful.
Our meal came with a free bread basket, which while a nice tradition, wasn’t necessary. Half of the bread basket’s contents were cinnamon rolls. The contents tasted store-bought.
[Entree] Chef Larry’s Famous Chicken Croquettes, featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
The Dining Car’s chicken croquettes ($8.75) were featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so I had to try them. I’d previously only had croquettes at Spanish restaurant Bodega, so I thought they would be similar. Whereas Bodega’s croquettes were small and round, the Dining Car’s are large and pointy. The dish came with two croquettes served with mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as a choice of two sides. Since my mom and I were sharing the entree, we each got a plate with one croquette on it.
The outer layer of the croquettes were delicate and crispy. The croquettes were filled with soft minced chicken. The chicken had the same texture as the mashed potatoes, which while insanely impressive, was confusing for my mouth. The chicken didn’t have a distinct flavor, so it felt like I was eating a plate full of mashed potatoes. If I were serving the dish, I probably would have paired the croquettes with a fresh, crunchy side dish to add textural variety.
[Side Dishes] “Orange Carrots,” Corn, & Mashed Potatoes
The side dishes that we chose, corn and “orange” carrots, also added to the mushy texture of the meal. We were told that the orange carrots were sliced carrots glazed in an orange sauce. I have had homemade versions of this dish, and they’ve been lovely, which is why I decided to order this side in the first place. The Dining Car’s orange carrots tasted like they were glazed in a sauce made of orange Starburst. It was vile so we opted for two sides or corn instead.
The corn was steamed and lightly buttered. It reminded me of school lunches, where I was oftentimes served corn.
The mashed potatoes had that distinct made-from-the-box flavor. Come on Dining Car! Diners are supposed to serve homemade comfort food! The gravy was also pretty bland. Guy Fieri inflated my expectations beyond where they were supposed to be. The other Triple D-recommended restaurants I’ve been to have been satisfying, but this time Guy got it all wrong.
Because my mom and I were sharing the croquettes and we weren’t sure if this would be enough for two people (it was), we also ordered a side salad to complement the dish. It was nothing special, but added a nice freshness to the meal.
[Dessert] Hot Apple Pie with Vanilla Sauce a la Mode
We ordered hot apple pie with vanilla sauce a la mode ($5.35), in hopes that their pie selection would be good. The pies are displayed in a glass case behind the counter. While the croquettes were sub-par, this apple pie was yummy. The crust was probably flaky – I say probably because everything was swimming in ice cream so it was difficult to tell. I also have no idea what the vanilla sauce tasted like because my melting vanilla ice cream got in the way. The apples were baked the perfect amount. They were soft but still had some density to them.
The service was good. Our waitress asked us if we needed anything many times throughout our meal. We had to ask for refills on our water though. Our waitress had no problem with switching our orange carrots for another helping of corn.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, I didn’t understand the hype behind the Dining Car. While the restaurant looked cool, there are plenty of cheaper and better quality diners in Northeast Philadelphia. Check out my review of the Corner Cafe for an example.
8826 Frankford Ave. (Torresdale)
Philadelphia, PA 19136
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