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A Visit to Jersey City's White Mana, a Diner Relic of the 1939 World's Fair

Robert Sietsema visits the aging diner on a quiet afternoon, for sliders, cheap sandwiches, and a heap of disco fries.

Biblical and Quranic scholars can't agree on what manna was, except that it looked white and flakey and fell from the skies overnight to be gathered as food by the exiled Israelites the next morning. Implying that burgers are the 20th-century equivalent of manna, a diner specializing in them opened as a pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. White Manna's distinctive circular structure was manufactured by Paramount Diners of Oakland, New Jersey, and referred to at the fair as "the diner of the future." Well, the future is now, and the original structure sticks out like a sore thumb in an obscure corner of Jersey City near a nest of highway interchanges surrounded by auto repair shops, cut-rate furniture stores, and dodgy, short-stay motels.

The flying-saucer-like building moved across the river in 1946, menu still intact, and has been frying 3,000 burgers a week ever since. Miraculously still hand-patted from fresh — not frozen — ground beef, the burgers ($1.12 each) are smallish and delish, somewhere between White Castle and McDonald's in size. Standard garnishes are fried onions, dill pickle chips, and ketchup. Cheap and small sandwiches such as ham and BLT are also available, as are fries dressed with melted cheese food product and brown gravy, known in Jersey as "disco fries." The food is good, especially for the price, and it suggests what serving sizes must have been like 80 years ago before we all got supersized. Here is a collection of photos of White Mana — the loss of the second "N" is said to be a sign painter's mistake — taken a few days ago. 470 Tonnelle Ave, Jersey City, NJ, (201) 963-1441