New York's Top Restaurants
E. B. White, that eloquent chronicler of New York, once proclaimed that anyone wishing to live here should be “willing to be lucky.” That’s still good guidance for locals—and anyone planning to eat out in the city.
Start by embracing this stroke of good fortune: T+L’s curated list of New York’s top 30 restaurants, where a memorable meal is guaranteed, whether you’re a veteran of the ever-evolving dining scene (and it’s always a scene) or a first-time visitor. You’ll find New York to be a more interesting, varied, and exciting dining destination than it was even a few years ago.
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The first new rule is that you should be prepared to trade some old-school formality for a lot more fun. Call it the Momofuku Effect or the democratization of fine dining, but serious food doesn’t necessarily mean starched white tablecloths and refined service anymore. There’s a new breed of quirky, often-diminutive, market-driven neighborhood joints where the music is turned up loud, the tables are packed tight, and the chef’s ambitions are free-range.
In a city with crushing rents and constant competition, it’s heartening to see these smaller, edgier, more personal restaurants get the big play they deserve. One consequence of this enriched dining environment is that you should be ready to take the subway or hail a taxi to Brooklyn. The borough next-door has gone from culinary afterthought, restaurant-wise, to a necessary stop on any adventurous eater’s itinerary.
If you’re hankering for pork, you’ll find it here in all its multifaceted glory. The pig is still having its slow-cooked, indulgently fatty moment (and we New Yorkers are okay with that). We’re also awash in one-off spots that give the star treatment to other cult foods like meatballs, artisanal donuts, and a Neapolitan fried pizza. The good news: you can zero in on what you want to try and make a wandering tasting menu of the city.
Of course, some things never change. At the top of the food chain, New York’s super-chefs continue to teach their European counterparts how it’s done: competitive quality, exceptional service, and high but—relative to the Michelin-starred European temples of gastronomy—humane prices. Supply and demand also still rule. Weekends will be crazily crowded, and cozy restaurants with no-reservation policies require strategic timing or patience.
This is New York, one of the greatest eating cities of the world by any standard. Count yourself lucky indeed.
Hard as it may be for homesick Catalonians or proud Basques to admit it, the best Spanish restaurant in town is run by a guy from Vermont named Seamus. With weathered brick archways, a well-utilized brick oven in the back, and a tight bar up front with great rounds of golden tortilla and short glasses of cider on tap, the space feels like it’s been here forever—and fans of Seamus Mullen’s exuberant interpretations of Spanish classics (head-on langustinos, arroz a la plancha with Iberico ham and snails) hope it will be.
It’s like a fairy tale of unlikely culinary discovery: the graffiti-festooned cinder-block garage in hardscrabble Bushwick that houses a pizza oven, an organic garden tended by bearded hobo gourmands, a radio station somewhere on the premises, and a once-in-a-while tasting menu that’s among New York’s most inventive. Best of all: it’s a true story. Get on the L train and get in line for great pizzas and other rustic fare from the wood oven, or call ahead to reserve a spot for Carlo Mirarchi’s multicourse adventure.
The wood is pretty, the lighting just right, but what’s truly striking about the room here is what’s missing. Nothing flashy, zero funky culinary riffs or visual clutter to distract you from the delicate details of the freshest raw or gently cured fish on rice, which is precisely the point of sushi. In a city that eagerly embraces each successive wave of Japanese imports (ramen! izakaya! robata!), Sushi Yasuda remains the ideal long-running, low-key place to celebrate sushi as it’s meant to be eaten.
Danny Meyer—the suave, smiling mastermind behind Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and other enduring New York classics—turned a concession for a hot dog and hamburger stand in Madison Square Park into an unexpected chain of burger joints (expanding recently to Dubai). Along the way he converted an unsuspecting dining public into worshipful Shake Shack fanatics willing to put up with long lines for quality burgers on grilled pillowy-soft potato buns, frozen custard, and cheese fries. Get in line and taste what the fuss is about.
English chef April Bloomfield conjures the spirit of a rumpled, lively London gastropub in this cramped, cozy, altogether charming mess of a space in the far West Village. There’s cask ale on draft, little plates of devils on horseback, and chicken liver toasts at the bar—or settle in for a full meal of pig’s ear salad, a richly satisfying sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi with brown butter, and a burger with a loyal following.
A Montreal-style Jewish delicatessen in the hometown of Katz’s and Second Avenue Deli? Oui, bubbala! Skip the imported bagels and focus on the main event: smoked meat (cured and smoked brisket) piled high in sandwiches or nestled among the cheese curds in a plate of poutine. Smoked-meat heads, take note: Brooklyn-based Mile End has recently expanded its empire across the river with a new sandwich shop in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood (53 Bond St.).
In Ye Olde Days there was New York–style pizza. It was available by the floppy, foldable, roof-of-your-mouth-scalding slice on every corner from the Bronx to the Bowery, a fixture of city life as common as yellow taxis. Then came the Great Neapolitan Pizza Invasion of the 2000s, and the city was overrun with credentialed pizzaioli and their billion-degree wood ovens and single-serving, puffy-crusted, wet-at-the-center Margherita pies. The craze shows no sign of slowing, and while there are plenty of worthy competitors (Forcella, Motorino), this West Village stalwart is our pick for your crash course in the authentic Naples style.
The pictures on the wall—framed caricatures and fading portraits of the playwrights, pugilists, and boulevardiers who made this 1930s saloon their headquarters—recall a bohemian, freewheeling Greenwich Village long past. Happily, Keith McNally of Balthazar and Pastis fame preserves the memory of place while making the food—a tightly edited menu of well-aged steaks and muscular French fare—better than it ever was.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Chef-impresario Dave Chang now counts high-end Momofuko Ko, Noodle Bar, Milk Bar, and Má Pêche among his expanding mini-empire. But it’s Ssäm Bar that best exemplifies Chang’s deliciousness-without-borders style of menu eclecticism: kimchi salad with apples, bacon, and maple labneh; artisanal Kentucky hams and spicy tripe; a whole pork butt to be shared with friends. All to be devoured in a narrow, hard-edged (all bar seats and benches), and chaotically packed space you’d never forgive if your meal wasn’t unerringly so damned good.
This is the classic, the unrefined original from which all steakhouses descend. It’s best to think of a dinner here as participation in a timeless urban experience, from the unforgiving lighting, the unadorned tomato and onion salad, salty slabs of grilled bacon, and saltier service, to the delivery of the gigantic sizzling porterhouse and coffee with schlag (whipped cream) at the end. At 125 years old, Luger has its off days, sure, but then who doesn’t?
Just south of the chaos of the Meatpacking District, Wallsé is a small outpost of Austrian sophistication. The elegant dining room—crisp white tables over dark floor, Adolf Loos–designed Thonet chairs, white brick walls dominated by Julian Schnabel’s outsize portrait of chef-owner Kurt Gutenbrunner—all point to this being a grown-up treat. The chef’s light hand with native dishes, such as braised rabbit with quark spaetzle and oxtail goulash surrounding bread dumplings, warms up the place.
We do love Jody Williams’s sweet, expertly curated, and dollhouse-scaled taste of idealized France in the West Village. It’s a perfect respite from any day, whether you pop in for a coffee break while shopping along Bleecker Street, a solo lunch of croque madame, or a hunk of cheese and a glass of rosé with a book at the bar. Then again, why not make an evening out of sampling the small plates menu and ample wine list with friends.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
One of the toughest reservations in New York is also one of the most unlikely Michelin three-star establishments anywhere. First, it’s inside a gourmet grocery on an otherwise bland Brooklyn block. Also it’s composed of just 18 seats, arranged around a small kitchen, with a constellation of gleaming copper pots hanging overhead. At the center of this small stage, César Ramirez and his efficient technicians conjure a parade of dishes, upward of 20 courses a night—precise and playful, sumptuous and serious, and above all, memorable.
Eleven Madison Park
A Swiss-born chef. A menu listing one ingredient per course. An airy high-ceilinged room. If this sounds like a recipe for brainy, boring perfectionism, the reality is, happily, far from it. Chef Daniel Humm and GM Will Guidara have fashioned an experience built on the notion of a dialogue—between server and guest; between chef and seasonal produce; between the restaurant and its surroundings. The dishes change frequently; the consistency does not. The warmth and playfulness are sure signs of a confident chef. Certainly this is the only kitchen within the top 10 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants that would start and finish a meal with a riff on that lowly New York coffee-shop staple: the black-and-white cookie.
Pok Pok Ny
Andy Ricker is a Vermont native who fell in love with the food of Chiang Mai and northwest Thailand, opened a slew of restaurants in Portland, OR, and was named the James Beard Best Chef of the Northwest in 2011. So who better to raise the bar (and spice level) of Thai cooking in NYC with a just-opened outpost of his wildly successful Pok Pok in Brooklyn, plus a wings-centric bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The cooking is authentic but doesn’t forgo the personal touch: one tasting note on the menu reads “Another beer please. And more sticky rice.” Yes, please.
The able and multitalented Jean-Georges Vongerichten picks up the farm-to-table locavore zeitgeist and runs with it, resulting in a menu to make Californians envious: a whole wheat pizza with Jersey tomatoes and milky homemade mozzarella; kale salad sharpened by serrano chiles, lemon, and mint; and Maine lobster roasted in the wood oven. All this brought to you in a space cramped Manhattanites wish was their living room. The restaurant, all honeyed woods and warm lighting, occupies a space inside the posh ABC furniture store.
When the Ethiopian-born Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson bought a town house in Harlem, he knew his new neighborhood needed a restaurant and watering hole worthy of its storied past. So he decided to build it himself. The result is a swinging mix of multi-culti comfort food (fried “yardbird,” cured meats with lingonberry jam, and fish tacos), with live music downstairs and lots of bourbon at the always-jumping bar upstairs. The vibe and clientele are every bit as fun, diverse, and stylish as the chef himself.
Torrisi Italian Specialties
Canned tomatoes line the shelves, and a beatific portrait of the young Billy Joel gazes down on the room. But Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone’s small storefront restaurant is not the hipster grocery it seems. The menu (two of them actually, in seven or 20 courses, $65 and $150 respectively) offers a paean to the flavors and spirit of the neighborhood—Italian, Chinese, with hints of the Jewish shops of the Lower East Side—remixed and reimagined by guys with serious chops. For the expertly concocted deli sandwiches they used to serve here at lunch, head next door to Parm, their open-all-day extension.
Andrew Carmellini (also behind Tribeca’s buzzed-about Locanda Verde) hits all the right notes at this platonic ideal of the American bistro: oysters, fried chicken with honey and butter–soaked biscuits, a towering sandwich of fried soft-shell crab and kaffir-curry sauce. Easygoing, bustling, and well-designed, it’s the kind of corner restaurant every corner wished it had.
There’s a certain sense of calm that washes over you on entering this hushed, immaculate temple of haute seafood. The dining room and salon have benefited from a recent makeover and are now as worldly and polished as the telegenic, silver-haired chef Eric Ripert. Impeccable classics like Dover sole with brown butter make it clear why many call this the best (non-sushi) fish restaurant in the world.
Relax, the art at MoMA will still be there tomorrow. So will the museum’s gift shop and the rest of Fifth Avenue’s canyon of retail and the rest of your must-see list. Slow down. Treat yourself to a nice meal in a restaurant of subdued sophistication, a polished place where the city’s edges are smoothed over and everything’s in its right place. Or as it’s known locally: a Danny Meyer restaurant. The Modern has views of the sculpture garden, and the menu is all French-inflected suave goodness, but the real allure here is its sense of civilized escape.
The dining room is plushly appointed with velvety seats and heavy crimson drapes; the library bar is a glowing split-level imbibing bibliophile’s dream with a well-curated collection of books and pretty girls drinking coupes of cocktails with names like Satan’s Circus (rye, Thai bird chile–infused Aperol). In other words, there’s very little not to like about this sumptuous new hotel restaurant/bar/social scene complex from the boys of Eleven Madison Park (Daniel Humm and Will Guidara).
Fatty Cue West Village
Zak Pelaccio is a shaggy, pork-loving genius whose food takes elements of laid-back locavorism, the slow-smoke traditions of southern BBQ, and the sweet, spicy, fermented goodness of Southeast Asia and cobbles together a witty, funky, and yes, deliciously fatty style all his own.
Nobody delivers the full-on French haute luxury experience quite like Daniel Boulud. From the second you step through the revolving door through the lavish onslaught of beautifully finessed (but never fussy) courses to the final bite of the last warm madeleine you thought you couldn’t finish, a visitor to Boulud-land finds himself expertly cosseted, regularly delighted.
There’s a hippy, trippy kind of rough-hewn beauty to this Williamsburg outpost from Taavo Somer (Freemans, Peels). Exposed beams and brick everywhere and cut firewood piled high in triangular pods against one wall. The warm, handmade, rustic lodge aesthetic matches the inventive dishes on the constantly changing menu.
Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria
The original Il Buco a block away started life as an antique shop and evolved into a homey, well-loved trattoria. This operation is purpose-built for multitasking: a café, a bakery, and a provisions shop in the front dispense espresso, artisanal sea salts, and house-cured salumi for takeaway or casual lingering. At the back, a dining area with a perfect little menu of perfect takes on Italian classics like bucatini cacio e pepe and porchetta. If they added rooms upstairs, there’d never be a reason to leave.
What would you get if you took a bunch of disparate elements of what makes eating in this city great and packed them into one tight space? Something like Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng’s lively New Yorkified Chinese spot, Red Farm. Crisp-fried lamb dumplings and an egg roll made with Katz’s pastrami concocted in a wood-beamed, white-walled urban farm setting—there’s a lot to like about this fresh remix.
The dining room feels as buttery-rich and glamorously indulgent as a plate of chef/owner/unstoppable force Michael White’s justly fetishized pasta. Is that a whole wall of glowing Egyptian onyx behind the bar? Yes, it is. The place is an elegant tribute to the fish and seafood of Italy. Save room for some of that pasta, but that shouldn’t stop you from ordering a few of the sea urchin toasts, topped with a melting cover of lardo. Let me repeat: sea urchin with lardo.
Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo—known collectively by the Brooklyn culinary cognoscenti as “The Franks”—hold court at this hipster-Germanic bistro in the borough’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. Big plates of choucroute and sausages, a charming room of dark wood and soft lighting, and creative cocktails (try a minty-medicinally sweet Waterfront) explain the long waits and devoted followers.
What’s an opulent, defiantly out-of-step-with-the-times 50-year-old French classic like this doing on a list of places to eat now? Well, in addition to representing the last of a breed of New York restaurants like La Côte Basque and Le Pavillon—places that defined the midcentury, strictly Francophonic ideal of fine dining—La Grenouille just rocks in its own impeccable way. Put on a tie, order a plate of rognons de veau with mustard and Cognac, and celebrate this survivor with a round of soufflés for the table.