Short Order: Starliner Diner

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

The address may have changed but the stars still align for Starliner Diner.

When my husband and I moved out of our 1914 bungalow in Clintonville for a bigger house in the 'burbs (a second bathroom! closets!) to make room for a second kid, we worried how the change might affect us. Would we-could we-still be cool?

A similar fear may have struck Starliner Diner fans when they heard their favorite Cuban-inspired breakfast dive would be packing up 20 years of kitsch and moving to a more respectable spot in historic Old Hilliard.

Would the walls still be covered with celestial murals and 1970s-era gold clocks? Would the menu still include those amazing fried plantains that have been caramelized, almost charred, and so gooey that they stick to your molars like Starburst chews? Would the plantains be served with a ramekin of fresh salsa dressing that both cools and adds heat?

Would a board behind the hostess stand advertise specials like a Cuban Omelet stuffed with tender beef brisket and drizzled with smoked chili sauce? And please tell me: Can I still get a bowl of impossibly light French toast cubes that are made from Cuban bread and only need a kiss of syrup?

We were relieved to find during a recent Saturday morning visit that the answer to all those questions is yes.

Previously a post office and dance studio, the building is a small brick box on a cute, walkable street lined with lamp posts and big baskets of pink flowers. Sunny yellow umbrellas brighten a street-facing patio.

Just like old times, the foyer was standing room only.

Inside, it feels less grimy. The air isn't heavy with 20 years of pan-frying chorizo and vegetables.

Happily, that's about the only thing ?that's changed.

Breakfast is Starliner's specialty, but the Cuban roast chicken is worth a trip for lunch or dinner. The bird is crispy and tangy with vinegar and topped with a few meltingly soft onions. Get it with a Mexican beer like Pacifico.

Bottom line: The move across town hasn't diminished any of Starliner's appeal, and the food hasn't changed a bit. And that's a very good thing.