When dining in New York City, you want a sure thing, time and money being what they are. Luckily there are thousands and thousands of amazing restaurants lining our streets—but finding the right one can be a lot of work. To save you from doing all that research, we’ve charted a course to the 81 most essential spots. You’re welcome.
The winds have shifted in the dining world, with focused, personal restaurants grabbing diners’ attention away from international celebrity chefs. These days, bragging rights belong to those who have had Missy Robbins’ spaghetti with lemon and pine nuts at Lilia, in Williamsburg, and Dan Kluger’s crunchy zucchini fries with lemon-Parmesan dressing at Loring Place, in Greenwich Village. King, in Soho, is another fantastic bistro; its European-inspired menu changes daily.
Other chef-driven endeavors include Michelin-starred Uncle Boons for killer Thai food (don’t miss the green mango salad), Noreetuh for vibrant Hawaiian (get big-eye tuna poke and pineapple upside-down cake) and Estela for anything Ignacio Mattos happens to be crafting. At plant-based Dirt Candy, Amanda Cohen is a wizard when it comes to vegetables. And is there anything Andrew Carmellini can’t do? The highly respected chef is consistently putting out great food at a clutch of cosmopolitan restaurants: Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette and Little Park, each of which has its own distinct personality.
Upland, in the Flatiron District, is Justin Smillie’s domain, showcasing his California heritage. The crispy duck wings and ricotta gnudi are transcendent. At Tanoreen, in Bay Ridge, Rawia Bishara and her daughter, Jumana, turn out spectacular Middle Eastern fare, including out-of-this-world hummus, fattoush, falafel and kibbe.
No doubt you’ve heard of David Chang, of Momofuku fame. His talented crew of unsung chefs do the work at his Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko (featuring a ritzy tasting menu) and the intimate Ko Bar, serving great drinks and an evolving menu of surefire items like sourdough crepes and cold fried chicken. And if you haven’t heard of Flynn McGarry, you should know his restaurant Gem, a tiny sensation on the Lower East Side, presenting a multicourse menu in a dinner-party setting.
Also on the Lower East Side are exciting yet unassuming spots: Contra, with a New American tasting menu (and a Michelin star), and Wildair, a natural-wine bar with small plates like beef tartare with smoked cheddar and maitake with stracciatella.
French food is making waves again. Frenchette, in TriBeCa, was among the biggest openings of 2018, manned by Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, the original chefs at Balthazar (which is still a thriving and trendy bistro, by the way). A few blocks away is La Mercerie, a gorgeous all-day café inside the Roman and Williams Guild store where chef Marie-Aude Rose cooks classic Gallic dishes. Meanwhile, her husband, Daniel Rose, wows diners nearby at the elegant Le Coucou. In the Financial District, Keith McNally’s high-end French brasserie Augustine is a lovely experience. And the adorable café Buvette, in the West Village, is always packed for good reason.
The New Yorker magazine declared the West Village’s Via Carota “New York’s Most Perfect Restaurant,” not just the most perfect Italian restaurant. No reservations are accepted but the food alone, including the cacio e pepe pasta, is worth the trouble. Chef Jody Williams of nearby Buvette and partner (in life and business) Rita Sodi (behind I Sodi, a fine Tuscan trattoria close by as well) are magic together here.
In fact, the City has many terrific Italian restaurants. Others worth singling out include Rubirosa Ristorante for handmade pasta and pizza (the tie-dye version is all the rage); Danny Meyer’s Roman-focused Maialino; and two of Michael White’s stellar spots: Osteria Morini dishes out specialties from the Emilia-Romagna region; and the luxe Marea boasts a seafood-centric menu. For a special night out, open your wallet for the spicy rigatoni vodka at Carbone, which serves classic Italian-American specialties in an old-school setting.
High-end Mexican-inspired food is on fire at Enrique Olvera’s elegant Cosme, which appears on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. His more casual Atla, in Noho, a sunny, all-day eatery with lighter fare, is also top-notch. Then there’s Alex Stupak, who adds his own twists to tacos (such as pastrami with mustard seed salsa) at a growing empire of Empellón locations. Los Tacos No. 1 has two buzzing outposts, in Chelsea Market and Times Square, with another opening soon at Grand Central Terminal—and we defy you to find better carne asada or adobada anywhere. Brooklyn also sports two premier Mexican spots, Oaxacan-leaning Claro (get the yellowfin tostada) and the upscale Oxomoco (crazy-good pork cheek carnitas).
Around the Globe
Kish-Kash introduced diners to delicate hand-rolled Moroccan couscous with fish or braised kosher meats, a passion project from chef-restaurateur Einat Admony (of Taïm and Balaboosta). In Brooklyn, a lot of love went into Sofreh, showcasing Nasim Alikhani’s Persian home cooking. The same could be said of Cobble Hill’s La Vara, from wife-and-husband team Alex Raij and Eder Montero. Their tribute to Southern Spain celebrates the Jewish and Moorish influences of the country. The Mediterranean is well-represented all over the City, including by Flatiron’s Kyma, a glamorous Greek spot specializing in simply grilled fish. In the same neighborhood is the festive Cote, a Korean-American steakhouse. Korean-food fans should also know about Atoboy, a lively NoMad destination with an innovative prix-fixe menu of banchan-style dishes.
Never Going Out of Style
It’s easy to imagine returning to French-American bistro Minetta Tavern, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen or Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem a decade from now and finding them as magical as they are today. Their accomplished food and high energy make them all-stars. And we’re going to predict that Danny Meyer’s New American spot Manhatta, with sweeping views of the City, and Existing Conditions, displaying mastery of cocktails, fried cauliflower and shrimp sticks, will have similar staying power.
Those looking to splurge may start at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, still worth every dollar—exquisite seafood in a serene setting never gets old. The gifted chef/co-owner Daniel Humm is what keeps Eleven Madison Park at the top of gourmands’ bucket lists worldwide and with three Michelin stars since 2012. Restaurant Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s luxurious old-world French establishment, remains beloved, as does Danny Meyer’s The Modern, an unassailable contemporary American restaurant housed at The Museum of Modern Art. Aquavit proffers carefully crafted Nordic specialties, a cuisine that has particularly enjoyed its moment on the world stage.
Best in Brooklyn
It’s hard to go wrong with dining in Brooklyn. A welter of awesome restaurants has added to the borough’s cachet. It’s tough to choose but standing head and shoulders above the rest are Olmsted (duck liver mousse, dry-rubbed scallops), St. Anselm (grilled steaks), Bernie’s (throwbacks like baked clams, wedge salad and chicken paillard) and Llama Inn (elevated Peruvian-style numbers).
Both Paulie Gee’s and Lucali continue to turn out epic pizza in intimate settings. Be prepared for a wait, though it’s worth it. Roberta’s is brilliant at pizza, too, and so much more, including the bountiful salads and singular pasta dishes.
For pit-smoked barbecue, Red Hook’s Hometown Bar-B-Que can beat out brisket or pulled pork anywhere. On the opposite end of the food spectrum, Maison Premiere is incredible for oysters and cocktails. Defy low-carb diets at Runner & Stone, serving excellent breads and pastas, and Four & Twenty Blackbirds—nobody bakes better pies (salted caramel apple is most bewitching) than the Elsen sisters.
Best in Queens
Queens is a patchwork of multicultural neighborhoods. Many restaurants are humble, founded by immigrants from all corners of the world bringing authentic cuisines. We can’t get enough of the dumplings at Dumpling Galaxy in Flushing, whose streets are lined with a plethora of Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Korean spots.
Then there’s Long Island City, home to Mu Ramen. If you’ve ever questioned what’s the big deal about ramen, this place is a game changer—anything but ho-hum. Also in the area is Casa Enrique, an elevated Mexican restaurant boasting a Michelin star, and M. Wells Steakhouse, cofounded by Hugue Dufour. His Caesar salad and dry-aged porterhouse for two are the definition of bold.
Astoria has long been famed for its classic, crowd-pleasing Greek establishments, but if you have time for only one, head to the nautical Taverna Kyclades for grilled octopus, calamari and traditional pan-fried cheese.
Whether it’s your first visit to New York or your hundredth, it’s fundamental to hit the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen for pastrami on rye—and/or Barney Greengrass for what the late Anthony Bourdain deemed “the best breakfast in the universe” (scrambled eggs with caramelized onions and Nova Scotia salmon, along with a plain bagel). Bourdain also cherished Keens Steakhouse, established in 1885, a standout when it comes to lusty T-bones, creamed spinach and hand-cut fries. In Brooklyn, the venerable Peter Luger Steak House (founded two years later) also ably fulfills carnivorous needs with its juicy porterhouse.
If freshly shucked oysters, cherrystone clams and chowders are your priority, Grand Central Oyster Bar is a grand experience. In Harlem, soul food is supreme at Amy Ruth’s, which serves smothered chicken, collard greens and baked macaroni and cheese.
Tribeca’s The Odeon defined restaurant nightlife in the 1980s heyday of Jay McInerney’s novel Bright Lights, Big City. It still rules for bistro fare and a cool crowd. Similarly, Gramercy Tavern and Gotham Bar & Grill continue to flourish. So does Tom Colicchio’s Craft, which is a contender for the best braised beef short ribs and scallops.