A Step Back in Time at Clifton’s Tick Tock Diner

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Before there was the viral video phone app TikTok, there was the New Jersey Tick Tock — Diner, that is. Located at 281 Allwood Road along Route 3 West in Clifton, is the iconic diner known throughout the state for its consistent food, 24/7 offerings, and ever-varied clientele. The silver paneled exterior stands out amid the neighboring strip malls and stucco buildings on the busy highway, its neon glory a beacon of New Jersey dining history. Read on to learn more about this culinary classic in North Jersey. 

The History

tik tok diner clifton

In the early 20th century, as cars became more popular for both work and play, drivers found the need for roadside dining. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York were connected via central throughways, and travel among the three states became common. Drivers took routes from Philadelphia to New York directly, and they wanted to eat along the way. It was then that the rise of New Jersey diners began. With improved roads, more cars, and many working-class citizens, diners were a place where people could get a delicious, cheap meal at any time of day or night.

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Diners originated from horse-drawn lunch wagons in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1912, a man named Jerry O’Mahony began manufacturing prefabricated diner buildings in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Between the years 1917 and 1941, an estimated 2,000 diners were built out of his factory. Each building was transported by truck to its new location. For this reason, they were made to a shape that mimicked that of a trailer or train car, which is why diners are often confused as railcars.

Diners could be moved or relocated, and some manufacturers would even send a building back to the factory via truck and refurbish or redesign the interiors. These roadside restaurants became iconic for their architecture and their vast menus. This was how New Jersey became the diner capital of the world.

tik tok diner clifton

(Photo credit: Tik Tok Diner)

The Tick Tock Diner was opened in 1948 by a Greek-American who ran lunch carts at nearby office buildings. Since that time, there have been three redesigns of the famous diner. The original was built by the Paterson Vehicle Company and was a stainless steel ‘Silk City’ diner car. By 1956 the company installed a modular restaurant extension to keep up with the Tick Tock’s popularity.

Then, in 1977, a new Tick Tock was revealed, this time with big windows, accommodations for more than 200 diners, and a burgeoning market of hungry diners coming from the newly built Meadowlands sports complex. The Tick Tock diner that patrons visit today was built in Avenel and installed in 1994. The 1977 version of the restaurant was relocated to Route 40 and is now known as Mays Landing Diner.

With its retro style and classic charm, the Tick Tock isn’t just a place to eat. It’s a part of our local history. Most New Jersey natives have a diner story to tell, whether it’s during a teenage hangout, a late-night hunger run, or a place their Grandma used to take them. When Mick Jagger stopped by in 2019 for a bite before performing, he boasted on stage of his visit to the Tick Tock, saying he stopped by “for a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese with disco fries and a sloppy joe to go!” Countless celebrities have stopped in for a bite and a visit to the Tick Tock. It is one of the most famous diners in all of New Jersey.

The Vibes

The Tick Tock Diner went through a significant renovation in 2019, but it continues to honor classic diner interiors while being fresh and modern. The red vinyl bar seats are as traditional as the stainless steel siding. We suggest a visit at night, when the Tock’s neon lights are all aglow — including the famous “Eat Heavy” sign.

“Eat Heavy” is both the slogan and the motto of the diner, and it’s been emblazoned on tee shirts and even tattooed on patron’s arms. The Tick Tock Diner is a throwback dining experience. It is worth a trip through nostalgia to enjoy a few bites of Jersey history.

The Menu

tik tok diner clifton

(Photo credit: Tik Tok Diner)

After the renovation, the diner remade its classic menu, but don’t worry because everyone’s favorites are still there.  

The panko onion rings are the classic diner food, delicious for a snack or as a side to share. These heavily battered snacks will have diners dipping in ketchup and the Tock’s chipotle mayo sauce. Crisp on the outside and soft and mild on the inside, nothing says diner food like a soon-to-be-gone order of onion rings.

No matter how many times the Tick Tock remakes itself, it will never let go of the disco fries. Smothered in brown gravy and mozzarella, these potato treats will help patrons wind down from a night out dancing. 

Of course, we can’t forget to mention the “Great Balls of Fire” cheese balls, the childhood classic “Mozzarella Sticks,” and the ever-satisfying “Chicken Fingers.” Drool.

tik tok diner clifton(

(Photo credit: Tik Tok Diner)

In classic diner fashion, breakfast is a highlight of the menu. The Tick Tock will make eggs any way a person could want, in a sandwich, on a bagel, with lox or ham, or as a benedict. Diners truly can have eggs anyway. Because breakfast is served all day, people don’t have to wait for a table at brunch. From fresh blueberry pancakes to strawberry, chocolate, or buttermilk, pancakes are an ever-favorite food at the Tick Tock Diner. Fluffy and stacked with just a dusting of powdered sugar, they are worth filling up on. 

tik tok diner clifton

(Photo credit: Tik Tok Diner)

The corned beef and Swiss cheese Reuban have never looked so delicious. And this version is generous to boot. The traditional diner sandwich beloved by travelers and truckers alike is stuffed full of corned beef. It is a favorite of Tick Tock regulars.

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No one’s tuna melt is quite like the one here. This retro staple is an under-appreciated gem of a sandwich. With a side of fries and Danish Havarti cheese, diners will be eating heavier than expected.

tik tok diner clifton

(Photo credit: Tik Tok Diner)

Did we mention milkshakes? Because it might be against New Jersey law to visit and diner and NOT drink a milkshake. We suggest strawberry for its beautiful color but consider splitting it with a friend to leave room for the Tock’s cinnamon rice pudding. 

Burgers and club sandwiches are always a sure bet, but whatever the mood calls for can be found at the Tick Tock Diner.


Written by:

A Montclair girl born and bred, Eva Grall is a writer, blogger, and artist. When she’s not writing romance novels or short stories, Eva is planning creative projects for her blog and photographing flowers around town. She’s more than halfway through a gardening degree from New York Botanical Garden, loves rainy days reading with her cats, and is learning French at FIAF to earn her citizenship. Follow her adventures on her Instagram page @evagrall.


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