As I contemplated how to start this review about my recent visit to one the west-side’s best known restaurants, the same question kept coming to mind over and over again….What can I possibly say about Starliner Diner that has not already been said? With over 150 reviews of this popular Cuban-inspired institution just on Yelp and Urbanspoon alone, and with almost a dozen food critic and blogger reviews listed, attempting to write something new and entertaining is kind of a daunting task. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that most people who have lived in or around Hilliard have dined here at some point in the past 20 years since they opened, but I’m fairly confident in saying that they have probably at least heard about how unique and eclectic the place is. I heard about Starliner Diner when I first moved to Hilliard in 1999, and even though I have lived in the area off and on for the past fourteen years, honestly, I have never been. That is the angle from which I decided to approach this review. This was one breakfast I was looking forward to….
From the outside, the Starliner Diner looks devoid of any sort of “oomph” or pizzazz. As soon as you walk through the front door, however, those feelings are immediately replaced by surprise, and for me, a smile. I believe I even uttered a single, “Wow!”, as I stepped inside. There’s a leather sofa, American flag chairs, and lots of cool knick-knacks on the walls…and that’s just the lobby!! A man standing in the kitchen, on the other side of the waitress’ pick-up window, invited us to find our own seats in the dining room to the left.
Before we moved on, I took the opportunity to snap a photo of the doorway off to the right of the lobby, which led to the bar area. I thought that the giant fish was a nice touch.
After we picked a comfy corner table to sit at, we just sat and soaked it in for a few minutes. Elvis watched over us as we observed all of the cool clocks that looked like they were left-over props from “That 70′s Show”, or came from my grandmother’s house.
The mural on the opposite wall is very, um…interesting. Kind of sci-fi meets astronomy meets diner food. Bizarre, yet fun.
Oh, and then there’s the carousel horse hanging from the ceiling. It’s all so jumbled, but all works well together.
Our server was friendly, greeted us quickly, and brought fresh, hot coffee in custom mugs. She offered us both the regular breakfast menu and their “specials menu”. Now, from what I understand, their “specials” are the same almost every day, so why they have two menus is a mystery. The menu is a combination of Cuban, Mexican, Italian, Cajun and American fare. From the regular menu, you can order anything from normal diner food like eggs and pancakes, to more complex offerings such as Huevos Rancheros or a Cuban beef brisket omelette.
We started out with a small order of the Cuban French Toast to sample. I had read several reviews about this dish, and knew I wanted to try it. It is basically their house-made Cuban bread, diced into chunks, battered and deep fried, then dusted with powdered sugar, and served with warm maple syrup and a dish of fruit. I would have easily eaten this whole serving by myself if my wife would have let me, and if I didn’t have a whole meal coming, it was THAT GOOD! We used restraint, and only ate about half of a small order between the two of us. They do offer a large portion for a few dollars more.
Mrs. Grub Guy ordered the “Breakfast Combo” off of the specials menu. It was a mini breakfast burrito (scrambled eggs, ham, jack cheese), a mini enchilada (chorizo, refried beans, scrambled eggs), and a mini breakfast quesadilla (scrambled eggs, jack & cheddar cheese, bacon) topped with smoked chili sauce, and jack & cheddar cheeses. It was served with home fries and sour cream on the side. She said it was delicious, original, fresh, and the components worked well together.
I ordered the “Cuban Breakfast” special. Shredded Cuban pork, tortilla chips, caramelized onions, tossed in black beans, topped with two scrambled eggs, jack cheese, and queso fresco. It was served with home fries and Cuban toast. The toast was the first thing I tried, and it was excellent. The home fries were ok, but could have used some seasoning, and the “scramble” (I guess that what you’d call it) was amazing. It covered the entire plate and I barely made it through half of the serving before I tapped out. The pork was tender, the beans gave it a bit of a rustic flavor, and the smoked chili sauce and cheeses brought it all together nicely. Next time I might ask for it without the chips, as they were just soggy by the time the dish got to the table. Overall, an EXCELLENT meal.
As we were leaving, the chef offered to allow me to watch him knead and prepare the loaf of Cuban bread he was baking. I wonder if they would sell it to me by the loaf? It was so good, I would definitely pick up a couple of loaves with each visit. I’ll have to ask next time :)
There were so many different specials and options on both menus, that I can’t wait to go back and try out some of their other dishes. The food at Starliner Diner is unbelievably good, and I can see why the critics have been raving since 1994. I just can’t believe it took me fourteen years to try this place.
Starliner Diner is located at 5240 Cemetery Rd, Hilliard, OH, 43026 (Map). They are open Tuesday-Thursday, 9-3 & 5-9; Friday-Saturday, 9-3 & 5-9:30 and Sunday, 9-3. You can find more info at their website, or on Facebook.