Seinfeld ran from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, dominating television ratings and becoming one of the quintessential cornerstones of ’90s culture. A “show about nothing,” the series created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld looked at the absurdity of everyday life, so much of which revolves around food. Over nine seasons, Elaine, George, Jerry, and Kramer found themselves in too many ridiculous dining situations to count. Here, now, are 25 of our favorites, ranked based on their influence on pop culture, accuracy at mirroring real life, and overall hilarity.
25. Kramer Feuds With Joe’s Fruit Shop
Episode: “The Mango” (Season 5, Episode 1).
In this episode — which aired five years before Viagra hit the market — George discovers fresh mango can serve as a virility drug. Meanwhile, Kramer learns that you can’t try to return a bad piece of fruit to a farm stand (that will get you banned).
24. The Seinfelds Miss Early-Bird Dinner
Episode: “The Cadillac” (Season 7, Episode 14).
Retirees in Florida apparently became aware of discounted meals at pre-dinner hours in the 1980s. Jerry’s refusal to force-feed himself a steak at 4:30 p.m. “to save a couple of bucks” while visiting his parents made the concept of early-bird dinners nationally known. In this Season 7 gem, it also leads to Morty Seinfeld’s impeachment as president of his condo board.
23. Elaine’s Big Salad
Episode: “The Big Salad” (Season 6, Episode 2).
22. Kramer Misses the Mackinaw Peaches
Episode: “The Doodle” (Season 6, Episode 20).
Kramer was hurt by his temporary loss of taste in 1995, but it’s likely he would be utterly devastated today. Missing out on the brief window during which a hyper-local, hyper-seasonal fruit is available may be a fate worse than death for modern eaters.
21. George Finds Dessert in the Trash
Episode: “The Gymnast” (Season 6, Episode 6).
George Costanza is a guy who is seemingly dealt an unfair load of bad luck, but so much of it is self-inflicted. The relationship fallout from getting caught snacking on a half-eaten eclair out of a garbage can is understandable, and George has no one to blame but himself.
20. Elaine’s Fast Is No Match for Coffee Cake
Episode: “The Suicide” (Season 3, Episode 15).
Whether for religious, medical, or any other reasons, fasting is an act of discipline. This episode shows that anyone who could resist a Drake’s Coffee Cake on an empty stomach possesses true mental strength.
19. Newman Tries to Eat Kramer
Episode: “The Butter Shave” (Season 9, Episode 1).
In Seinfeld’s early years, the show presented the absurdity of normal, everyday situations. In later seasons, the plot lines became just plain absurd. Kramer slathering himself in butter, falling asleep in the sun, roasting like a turkey, and becoming the object of Newman’s gluttonous eye certainly falls in the latter category.
18. Who Can Resist a Junior Mint?
Episode: “The Junior Mint” (Season 4, Episode 20).
Kramer’s take on the iconic movie theater snack: “Who's gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It's chocolate, it's peppermint — it's delicious!” If only Jerry had initially realized these facts, a surgical patient may have avoided a piece of candy falling into his open abdominal cavity.
17. George Goes Fishing for Rye Bread
Episode: “The Rye” (Season 7, Episode 11).
Again with George shooting himself in the foot. The image of Costanza fishing for a loaf of marble rye out of a third-story window is a work of art.
16. Kramer and Newman Are Amateur Salumists; George’s Food Obsession Gets Sexual
Episode: “The Blood” (Season 9, Episode 4).
Seinfeld sure knew how to pick up on the food trends of the future. These days, Kramer and Newman could supply their homemade sausages to an endless client list of trendy restaurants for their charcuterie boards. Meanwhile, George has begun incorporating foodstuffs in his lovemaking routine — not just strawberries and chocolate; we’re talking pastrami sandwiches here. It reaches the point that lunch at Monk’s gets him turned on. It’s a safe bet that today’s over-sexualized food culture would be too much for Georgie Boy to handle.
15. Frank Costanza’s Cooking Flashbacks
Episode: “The Fatigues” (Season 8, Episode 6).
Some macho chefs like to refer to their kitchens as war zones. With his traumatic flashbacks to cooking for the Army in Korea, when he once “sent 16 of my own men to the latrines” because of over-seasoned, spoiled beef, Frank Costanza would scoff at this metaphor.
14. Jerry’s Struggle to Avoid Meat
Episode: “The Wink” (Season 7, Episode 4).
Jerry worries about his masculinity when he orders “just a salad” in front of his carnivorous, pork chop-cooking girlfriend. No doubt he would have been a fan of Superiority Burger had it existed in the Seinfeld universe.
13. Kramer Goes Back to Work at H&H
Episode: “The Strike” (Season 9, Episode 10).
“The Strike” is well known for introducing Seinfeld’s audience to the Festivus holiday, but it’s also a reminder to buy baked goods at shops that hire scrupulous employees. The thought of biting into a bagel that contains Kramer’s chewed gum is revolting.
12. Jerry Is Forced Into Dinner With Bania
Episode: “The Soup” (Season 6, Episode 7).
Is there a worse first-world pain than the obligation of going to dinner with someone whose company you don’t enjoy? In this episode, Jerry is forced into two dinners because an annoying dining companion orders soup, which doesn’t qualify as a meal.
11. Kenny Rogers Roasters Opens in the Neighborhood
Episode: “The Chicken Roaster” (Season 8, Episode 8).
Before the fast-casual fried chicken trend came and went, country singer Kenny Rogers blessed the world with his roasted bird. Neon signage for Kenny Rogers Roasters nearly caused Jerry to have a nervous breakdown.
10. George and Mr. Steinbrenner Become Calzone Buddies
Episode: “The Calzone” (Season 7, Episode 20).
In the midst of a dining rut, the craving for a specific dish cannot be satisfied by any substitute. It’s hard not to watch this episode and get a hankering for a calzone.
9. The Non-Fat Yogurt Scandal
Episode: “The Non-Fat Yogurt” (Season 5, Episode 7).
A mild-mannered Rudy Giuliani exposes a supposed healthy frozen yogurt shop as a fraud, and he rides the headlines to the New York City Mayor’s office. These days, his reaction to the controversy might be a little more, um, spirited.
8. Kramer’s Coffee Lawsuit
Episode: “The Postponement” and “The Maestro” (Season 7, Episodes 2 and 3).
Kramer always has his eye on the trends, though he claims, “I set the trends, baby.” Just as Starbucks is beginning to really take off as a ubiquitous national brand, he’s pounding cafe lattes on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this leads to an accident, burns, and a hot-coffee lawsuit pulled straight from the headlines.
7. Top of the Muffin to You!
Episode: “The Muffin Tops” (Season 8, Episode 21).
Food waste is such an issue for the restaurant industry that some high-profile chefs call attention to it by serving dishes composed entirely of leftover ingredients. It’s a better effort than feeding unwanted scraps to an extremely hungry mailman.
6. Supreme Flounder
Episode: “The Pothole” (Season 8, Episode 16).
Explaining why she is going to great lengths to get a new flounder dish from a distant Chinese restaurant delivered, Elaine says, “It’s better than eating it in the restaurant alone like some loser!” Obviously, Ms. Benes might find much common ground with the authors who have penned so many essays on the thrills of dining alone in recent years.
5. Shopping for a Dinner Party
Episode: “The Dinner Party” (Season 5, Episode 13).
One of many in which the gang is out in the world experiencing constant mishaps, the episode shines a light on the unwritten rules of a civilized dinner party. Elaine, George, Jerry, and Kramer must pick up a bottle of wine to take to their friends’ party (they can’t simply grab a bottle of Pepsi, as George would prefer). That’s not enough: There must be a cake, too. But in the events that lead to the group missing out on the last chocolate babka and having to settle for cinnamon, one wonders: What kind of New Yorkers are these? Forgetting to take a ticket in a crowded bakery seems like an amateur mistake.
4. The Never-ending Wait for a Table
Episode: “The Chinese Restaurant” (Season 2, Episode 11).
This isn’t the most entertaining Seinfeld episode. It’s somewhat boring and quite frustrating, but that’s why it’s so good. Every avid diner knows what it’s like to wait around for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. As the hunger pangs increase, it can feel as though the host is skipping over one’s name because of some personal vendetta. “How much longer is it going to be?” “Oh, in about five, 10 minutes.” Twenty minutes later, the wait continues. It’s torture. Everyone would have been better off going to Sky Burger from the get-go.
3. Snickers With a Fork and Knife
Episode: “The Pledge Drive” (Season 6, Episode 3).
Here’s a wonderful look at how outrageous dining trends start. It all starts with Elaine witnessing Mr. Pitt enjoying a Snickers bar with a knife and fork. When his New York Yankees colleagues question the method, George sneers, “How do you eat it, with your hands?” By the end of the episode, everyone in Monk’s Cafe is using cutlery to consume their candy bars. Wacky food culture can come out of nowhere and become a massive phenomenon before anyone knows what happened.
2. ‘No Soup For You!’
Episode: “The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, Episode 6).
It’s one of the most iconic Seinfeld episodes, and it produced one of the series’s biggest lines: “No soup for you” is still part of American lexicon. It would be pretty easy to slot this episode at No. 1, but that would be too obvious, so it will have to settle for second-best.
Pop-up culture wasn’t really a thing back in the mid-’90s, but Yev Kassem and his insanely popular soup stand sure look familiar. The tiny space, focused menu, acutely specific rules, word-of-mouth marketing, and outrageously long lines could be found at any celebrated chef’s side project in any city across the country. And just as quickly as it arrives, it’s gone. Once his recipes become available to the public, Kassem closes up shop. After all, no self-respecting, temperamental, rock star chef would continue operating a business if it were so easily to replicate.
1. Babu Bhatt and The Dream Cafe
Episode: “The Cafe” (Season 3, Episode 7).
“The Cafe” aired on November 6, 1991, and it captured the real struggle that can go hand in hand with running a restaurant. Babu Bhatt, an immigrant from Pakistan, opens the Dream Cafe across the street from Jerry’s building. He initially serves an expansive menu of various international cuisines that have become commonplace in America, but he has trouble drawing customers. After Jerry suggests Bhatt should serve the cuisine of his native Pakistan, the restaurateur revamps his concept, but to no avail. The restaurant quickly closes.
In addition to accurately depicting the hard life of an independent restaurant owner, “The Cafe” acknowledges the ignorance and xenophobia that is instilled in some diners. “Of course, I’ve never had Pakistani food,” Jerry thinks to himself, worriedly. “How bad could it be.” As for poor Babu, he could have been ahead of his time. In 2017, an era when people everywhere are eager to try food that is traditional or innovative, as long as it’s new to them, Babu’s restaurant might have been a success in New York City.
Seinfeld remains a hit because of the universal, everlasting truths about life that it so comedically highlights. “The Cafe” is a reminder that the show is also a time capsule that looks back to an era that is quite different from today.