I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn about Tina’s Restaurant, the best $5 hangover breakfast in Brooklyn, from an ex. Back then, we’d stumble our way in after nights of early-20s partying and stare at our phones (we didn’t like each other very much) while housing heaps of hash browns. We’d occasionally say things to one another like, “Last night was fun” and “Do you want more coffee?” but all the while thinking things like, “Why are we doing this?” and “Can you dump someone who hasn’t ever officially agreed to date you?” Despite this rocky introduction and long after the guy was gone (read: blocked and reported), I kept going to Tina’s in Bushwick, sharing it with friends and new boyfriends alike, because a good, cheap breakfast is something even the messiest breakup can’t spoil.
Before I tell you any more about Tina’s, you have to understand one fundamental fact: You do not go to Tina’s for brunch. You go to Tina’s for breakfast. There are no dainty $15 mimosas or avocado toasts to be found; Tina’s hardly stands out among the chic eateries and vintage shopping that’s readily available in the surrounding area. In a city where even bagels have to have gimmicks (do we really need green ones for St. Patrick’s Day?), finding an unpretentious place to sit down and enjoy oil-soaked hash browns and eggs with friends is a rarity. And considering it sets you back $40 just to leave your house, finding anything, let alone an entire meal, that costs $5 is unheard of. I wish I could tell you that Tina’s was a secret—a hidden gem that I’m generously sharing with you, the good people of the Internet—but, no. In the land of low-level influencers, aspiring bloggers, and freelance DJs, a $5 breakfast can only stay secret for so long, even if there’s no wifi.
Finding an unpretentious place to sit down and enjoy oil-soaked hash browns and eggs with friends is a rarity.
Tina’s is one of those places that just begs for you to have a “regular” order. In the three-plus years I’ve been going to Tina’s, I have never diverged from the following: two eggs over easy with coffee, rye toast, sausage, and hash browns. If you manage to get there before 11 a.m. (which, considering I usually reserve Tina’s for my most hungover, roll-out-of-bed days, I rarely do), the coffee is unlimited and free. If you don’t, breakfast will still only cost less than $10. If the wait is too long (and, to be fair, I have waited more than an hour for eggs before), there are ample muffins available for purchase to hold you over. I recommend corn. Oh, and I should mention Tina’s is cash only. But honestly you probably should have guessed that already.
It’s not merely the cheap hangover fix that brings me to this place nearly every week. Tina’s, with its blue-collar sensibilities and basic menu, reminds me of my dad. While I was growing up, my dad and I always clashed over food. (Also causing clashes: literally everything.) To say he has bland taste in food is an understatement. A Cuban boy who grew up in Union City, New Jersey, my dad has somehow fallen into the “ketchup is spicy” category of person. Don’t believe me? His favorite restaurant is Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel. Sit with that.
While I obviously appreciate the simple pleasures of eggs, bacon, and toast, my tastes are significantly more adventurous than my father’s. When I was a kid, I was always lobbying to try the new, exciting restaurants in our area, which, in northern Virginia, usually meant whatever new sushi place had just replaced the old sushi place that went out of business. Whenever my family decided to go out to dinner, a battle would ensue between my dad and me over where to eat (“where to eat” falling under the category of “literally everything”), and being that he controlled the car and the credit cards, he’d usually win. Inevitably, we’d end up somewhere like Tina’s. As much as I may have wanted to complain (at 15, I’d become a master of the art), it’s hard to get mad at a dad who’s letting you eat pancakes for dinner.
Which is why Tina’s feels like the type of place where I could bring my dad. The type of place where he’d scarf down his breakfast in an instant (avoiding the ketchup), marvel at the price, and feel completely at home not with the clientele but with the staff. The delightful old-school servers here always seem totally caught off guard by the influx of bearded men with buns and septum piercings swarming their humble establishment from approximately 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Tina (or a woman whom I assume to be Tina) is always there, frantically seating guests, pouring coffee, and doling out eggs. Being that my dad is a Jersey boy, the ball-busting that Tina and her staff members engage in would probably feel like a family reunion to him.
Tina’s is a place that, frankly, doesn’t belong in the Brooklyn of 2019.
I want to be clear, though, that this in no way implies that the staff at Tina’s isn’t friendly. They’re about as friendly as you’d imagine the staff of a Brooklyn diner to be, which is to say, they’re extremely friendly. As a customer, you’re always “honey,” “dear,” or “sweetheart,” the favorite monikers among my very, very Jersey family. (And if you don’t believe in our Jersey bona fides, a 1995 family portrait, in which we’re all wearing cheetah print—and which appeared in our church newsletter—should serve as proof enough.) Sure, you might have to wait 40 minutes for that stack of pancakes, but there’s an unlimited amount of coffee and good conversation to be had while you wait. The food will come when it comes.
The best part about eating at Tina’s is that it feels like it’s out of another world, a world that my dad and his close-knit group of buddies (referred to as “The Dirts” by those who knew them back when) would probably call their glory days. Tina’s is a place that, frankly, doesn’t belong in the Brooklyn of 2019. A no-frills establishment with a menu that violates just about every diet known to man, it feels like something from a Brooklyn that I’ve personally never lived in, but that my dad would probably recognize. A movie version of Brooklyn with thick accents and Eye-ta-lian grocers. An entire borough with a chip on its shoulder. It’s a Brooklyn that couldn’t be bothered with a three-hour Bloody Mary–laden gossip sesh masquerading as a morning meal even if it could afford one. (Which it can’t.)
Sometimes I worry about how long a place like Tina’s can last in the Juul-scented Brooklyn of today, but then I remember that as long as there are 20-somethings with hangovers to nurse, the $5 diner breakfast will live another day. Which is great, because I really do need somewhere to take my dad the next time he visits.
Alise Morales is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn. She is the news and politics editor at Betches, where she writes the Betches Sup newsletter and cohosts the Betches Sup podcast. Follow her on Twitter (@AliseNavidad) and Instagram (@pandalise).