10 a.m. - 10 p.m. seven days a week
Set in the Meat Packing District a mile or so south of downtown, the Vertical Diner is a recycled space with a comfortable retro-post-punk vibe and uncompromising vegan diner-style food. A large part of the success of this place, for me, is that it doesn’t feel preachy about its do-gooder agenda. Say what you want about vegetarians, but being vegan requires a pretty obsessively strict set of principles. However, Vertical Diner doesn’t radiate any angry or groovy moral attitude. It feels like an artsy diner from the ‘80s in a big city like Kansas City or San Francisco. The excellent servers look the part, too. It is punk, clean and cool—I could see hanging out here daily if I were a teen (and had a lot of money). Its version of everyday food makes a good case that one can become a vegan and still be happy about going to the diner.
I like this place. I really like this place. It isn’t a coffee shop, but it has the relaxed atmosphere of some of my favorite joe-joints. The slow exhalation your seat makes as you sit seems to say, “What’s the hurry, Bub?” and with excellent music smartly picked from Slacker Radio, the air itself seems filled with narcotic reveries from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The servers are nice and punk and won’t put up with any weirdoness, which is just right for a place like this. Homey diners always attract eccentrics and strife-stirrers, probably for the same reason they attract me—they feel safe and warm.
Ambience aside, I like the food here, too. The menu doesn’t bother to tell you it isn’t meat or eggs or cheese, etc., it just assumes that you are hip to the fact that everything is not just vegetarian, but vegan. Does it mean anything that the menu is written in the language of the meat-eating world? Although some of my vegetarian friends have their own opinions about that, I merely see it as a way of submerging the politics of veganness—yes, this is a vegan diner, but in here you’re just preaching to the choir.
For starters, I tried the Tender Tigers ($6.00), a “fried chicken tender” (i.e. wheat meat on a stick) with an excellent vegan ranch dressing. The Nacho Mama ($8.75) is a tasty option, too.
The Taco Salad ($9.50), with its delicate tangy cilantro-lime dressing, makes a delightful lunch. The mixed greens give it a more urban feel than ordinary iceberg would, and give the dish a bit of class. Chicken Biscuit Pie ($8.75), the Vertical version of chicken pot pie, consists of garden vegetables in a delicious sage-finished gravy topped with a biscuit. And the gravy is to die for. Really ... how do they do it? It’s a little sweet, like much American food is now, but that makes it taste better—doesn’t it?