This NYC Eatery Is Reinventing the Classic American Diner

Inside Chinatown's Nickel & Diner and the chicken soup everyone's talking about.
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Blue Food nickel & diner nyc

Situated on a bustling corner in NYC’s Chinatown, Nickel & Diner‘s storefront isn’t quite what one would expect. For starters, a Chinese-inspired pagoda motif spans along the exterior of the establishment, cleverly concealing what’s inside: a classic diner, with a modern twist.

Nickel & Diner may not be the most traditional version of a diner, but its ambience and menu of reimagined classics certainly play the part. We caught up with Selwyn Chan and Ivy Tsang, Partners and co-founders of Nickel & Diner, now that they’re a few months in (the spot opened in October) to get the scoop on everything from the decor to the food—we even got the recipe for their famous Ricotta Dumpling Chicken Soup.

Blue Food diner banquette

What was the inspiration behind the decor of the space? 

The inspiration of the space was drawn from the golden era of classic diners and five and dime department store lunch counters, with a heavy influence by the Art Deco period of the ’20s and ’30s. Our design was executed with contemporary flair and a streamlined palette that extends onto the exterior of the building as well.

Blue Food nickel & diner restaurant

Anything else you can tell us about the design?

We knew we needed to have a long, dramatic dining counter, with booth seating directly across from the counter. Linear details and patterns are echoed throughout the space to subtly evoke the streamlined Art Deco influence. Coffee is also ubiquitous when you think of diners, so to highlight our premium coffee program, we devised a virtual stand-alone cafe area at our main entry with a full service coffee bar and cafe seating.

How does the classic diner experience translate to the menu?

Nickel & Diner takes an eclectic approach to new American cuisine, with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. We don’t offer an exhaustive number of items on the menu, which can often be found at traditional diners, but rather a well-balanced approach curated by our chef, James Friedberg. Our breakfast, lunch, and brunch menus reflect Chef Friedberg’s take on many diner-inspired dishes, and the dinner menu is where he is able to showcase his new American cuisine. The dishes are beautifully composed yet offered in an informal and comfortable, diner-inspired setting.

Blue Food nickel & diner interior

The chicken soup is definitely an interesting take on the classic. How did this come about? 

Chef Friedberg’s approach to the menu draws inspiration from the surrounding neighborhoods of Chinatown, Little Italy, and Soho. The chicken soup is a clear example of this. Made from scratch with the freshest ingredients, it offers a perfect balance of a quintessential chicken consommé, together with housemade ricotta dumplings, and a hint of fresh ginger and dill. The appearance of the ricotta dumplings in the soup initially evokes a classic matzo ball soup—another traditional New York City diner staple.

Blue Food nickel & diner coffee counter

What’s the story behind the coffee bar?

Apart from complementing the dining, our coffee program has been designed to stand on its own. In fact, the main entry at Nickel & Diner is designed as a virtual stand-alone full service coffee bar. We also have an exciting beverage and cocktail program in the works and hope to offer sidewalk seating in time for the summer.

Blue Food kale cashew bowl nickel & diner

Kale Cashew Bowl

4 Servings


  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese mustard powder 
  • 1 pound dry black beans
  • 1 pound farro
  • 1 pound red quinoa
  • 1 bunch thinly sliced asparagus
  • 1 bunch french green beans
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 cups cashews, toasted and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated on micro plane
  • 1 pound baby kale or substitute with other tender greens such as spinach or chard
  • 8 ounces butter

To make the sweet potato puree Cook potatoes whole in the oven at 375F for approximately one hour or until tender. Scoop out the cooked potato and discard skins. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

1) Dice all the vegetables into small cubes. Quickly sauté in a pan with 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Transfer vegetables to a sheet tray or large plate to cool.

2) Cook the grains separately in lightly salted boiling water until tender (about 10-15 minutes each). Cool the grains in a large bowl. Then mix the grains together.

3) In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the cashews and garlic. Toast gently for a few minutes until butter starts to foam.

4) Add vegetables and grains into the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in kale until slightly wilted.

5) Serve vegetables and grains with sweet potato puree, a poached egg on top , and a few slices of ripe avocado.

Blue Food nickel & diner chicken soup

N & D Chicken Soup

Serves 4


  • 2 whole organic chickens
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 medium carrot, quartered 
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seed
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

Ingredients for Dumplings

  • fresh ricotta (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 5 pounds Durum flour

Directions for Chicken Soup 1. Rinse and dry chickens, remove breasts, and reserve.

2. Remove drumstick and thigh, and cut in half, separating the thigh and drumstick. Roast bones and legs in the oven at 375F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Add to stock pot with just enough water to cover the chickens. (Add approx. 3 to 4 quarts water in a 8 quart stock pot). Bring to a simmer and skim all the fat.

3. Add vegetables and simmer for 2 to 3 hours until flavor develops. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and season to taste with sea salt.

Directions for Ricotta Dumplings 1. Combine all ingredients except flour with a wooden spoon until smooth. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag.

2. In a single layer, make a bed of flour with about a quarter of the total portion. Pipe the cheese mixture into rounds about the size of a golf ball.

3. Completely cover the balls with more flour and repeat the process to create multiple layers, as necessary. Store in the refrigerator for 36 hours. After this period, sift the dumplings with a metal sieve to remove all the flour. Cook in salted boiling water until dumplings float to the top.

For the garnish 1. With the reserved chicken breasts, cook the chicken breasts (skin on) in a sauté pan, until the skin is golden brown. Transfer to the oven and cook for 4 to 6 minutes at 375F, until cooked through. Cool and remove the chicken skin, and dice the chicken.

2. Combine 2 to 3 cooked dumplings into the chicken soup broth. Add the diced chicken into the soup.

3. Wash leeks and dice. Cook the leeks in salted boiling water until tender (3 to 4 minutes).

4. Garnish the soup with the diced leeks, chopped fresh dill, and some minced ginger.

Read more:

NYC Restaurants With Secret Outdoor Gardens • Downtown NYC’s Hottest New Grocery Store • Breakfast for Lunch and Other All-Day Recipes From Jack’s Wife Freda

Published on April 17, 2017

Anna Kocharian Avatar

Anna Kocharian


Anna has a penchant for travel, fresh flowers, and books. You can usually find her on some sort of culinary adventure, seeking the best burgers or waffles in the city.