The West Side Diner is worth checking out for its gleaming Art Deco ambience even if you’re not hungry. Colorful porcelain tiles flowing from walls and across the floor, the row of red-topped stools along the counter standing guard like sentinels, the glinting stainless steel back wall trying to make you squint with its sunburst pattern.
The place is on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the Modern Diner in Pawtucket. History is an important part of the discussion, because the first diner in the country was established in Providence — a few blocks up Westminster Street, in 1872.
If an animate object could have an identity crisis, this classic 1947 Kullman diner car certainly would. Over the years it’s been called the Top Hat, Armand’s, Krystal’s, Squire’s, and El Faro when it closed in 1999. After extensive renovation by its new owner, developer Jon Özbek, it was moved from near Eagle Square and tentatively named Poirier’s Diner before West Side Diner was settled on. It’s being operated by local restaurateurs Michael Arena and David Penta, who also run the Seaplane Diner in Providence.
The place has been expanded to have a sizable dining room out back, but we wanted to have our lunch and a few days later breakfast in the car section, of course. It’s open for breakfast and lunch only, which I’ve always seen as the most thankless time slot in all restaurantdom — as in earliest hours (they open at 6 am) and lowest tips, since the bills aren’t as high as at dinnertime. So bear that in mind when you eat here, and tip generously.
It’s not open for dinner, but when we came midday there were a half-dozen “Hot Plate Entrées” available for those with hefty appetites. Still cheap eats, though, $7.99 to $10.99, the latter for veal Parmesan and pasta. There is also the diner standby franks and beans, plus chopped sirloin, the poor-man’s steak — but upscaled to a half pound of flame-broiled Angus under mushrooms and gravy.
Johnnie chose the turkey dinner from that array, since the guest of honor was oven-roasted. White meat only, but not at all dry as you may experience at Thanksgiving. Nicely herbed stuffing. For her two sides, she chose veggies and mashed potatoes, the former a pleasant sauté with chunks of fresh tomato and the latter red bliss. She was, in fact, thankful.
There are a half-dozen burgers and more than a dozen sandwiches, from grilled ham and cheese ($5.79) to Buffalo chicken ($7.99) and a six-ounce choice ribeye ($9.99). In addition to my beef stew, which was the soup of the day ($2.69/$3.99) and had more chunks of beef than potatoes, I had a sandwich special: pulled pork ($7.99). I was glad I’d ordered extra barbecue sauce on the side because there wasn’t any on the roll enclosing the mound of tasty shredded meat. That was because juicy coleslaw was served atop the meat before I placed it alongside. The french fries were coated before frying for extra crunch. Satisfied again.