Top Secret New York Restaurants

Julie Besonen


New York City has many secret restaurants—many of which have turned that secrecy into a virtue. Some have no signage, phone number, email address or website, so you'll have to take your chances. In other parts of the world, such obstacles might be a detriment. Here, it's catnip. That's one way to account for the longtime success of Freemans, down a hidden alleyway, or Sakagura, a Japanese izakaya tucked inside a Midtown office building. A mysterious green door is the only clue giving away the entrance to the West Village's Hudson Clearwater. And unless you were already hip to Brad Farmerie's fabulous restaurant, Public, in NoLIta, it would be hard to know about his clandestine lounge inside it, The Daily. Same goes for David Bouley's Brushstroke, in TriBeCa, where a phenomenal sushi bar, Ichimura, is attached. In Brooklyn, the high-end Blanca is camouflaged within the funky Roberta's complex. In Queens, who would ever know the delectable and down-home Ranger Texas Barbecue was concealed inside a blue-collar bar with a different name? Take a look at our slideshow, where we give away even more top NYC secrets. 

Courtesy, Sushi Azabu

Sushi Azabu at Greenwich Grill 
428 Greenwich St., 212-274-0428, TriBeCa, Manhattan
Greenwich Grill looks like a handsome, garden-variety TriBeCa establishment, but there's another restaurant hidden within it. Head for the waiter station, swish through a black curtain and descend the stairs to a secret sushi den where reservations are required a week or two in advance. The capacity of the Michelin-starred Azabu is just 22, with three round booths for groups and four seats at the bar providing a front-row view of Japanese artists who have super-sharp knife skills. Impeccable sourcing of seafood, much of it from Japan, is key, and the menu changes depending on availability. The room is so quiet, tasteful and authentic, it's like beaming into Tokyo for a night. Everything is available à la carte, and there are also tasting menus starting at $35. The chef's omakase extravaganza starts at $100. 

Photo: Alexander Thompson

57 Great Jones St., NoHo, Manhattan
Bohemian shares a front door with the butcher shop Japan Premium Beef, but don't call and bother the butchers! They're not reservationists. The two business don't even share an owner. To get into Bohemian, it helps if you know someone to refer you, as you would for any private club. If you don't, simply stop by 57 Great Jones Street (the former address of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat) in the late afternoon and knock on the frosted glass door at the end of a narrow hallway. You may be turned away the first time or you may end up pocketing the number right away, depending on your luck. Reservations are required roughly two weeks out. Bohemian's Japanese owners also have secret restaurants in Bali, Fukushima and Nishiazabu, a district of Tokyo, so expect a jet-setting crowd. The prices are more reasonable than one would expect at this level, featuring a $58 six-course tasting menu. À la carte dishes can be shared family-style. Start with detail-oriented cocktails and move on to dreamy beef sliders and unimpeachable beef tartare (from the aforementioned butcher shop), uni croquettes, foie gras sobu and roasted branzino. If you can't get in, all is not lost: buy a beautifully marbled steak at the butcher shop and sear it yourself at home.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

New World Mall Food Court 
136-20 Roosevelt Ave., 718-353-0551, Flushing, Queens
New World Mall is well known to Flushing's Chinese population. It's time for the rest of the City to discover its underground wonders. Below the mall's giant Asian supermarket is a food court whose perimeter is lined with stalls dishing out hand-pulled noodles, Japanese sweets, Vietnamese bánh mì, Korean barbecue, Szechuan hot pots and sundry specialties from Southeast Asia. The choices are overwhelming, even when it comes to beverages: Tea Twitter or Kung Fu Tea? A milk shake made with avocado or durian? There's plentiful seating in the center at cafeteria tables, mostly populated by young Asians stopping in after school. Menus at each stall are translated into English. A meal won't cost any more than a visit to McDonald's—and it's sure to be a whole lot more interesting.

Courtesy, Nitehawk Cinema

Nitehawk Cinema 
136 Metropolitan Ave., 718-384-3980, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
From the outside, Nitehawk looks like any other independent movie house, but inside are lower- and upper-level bars serving craft beer and cocktails. Once the house opens for seating, it's a movie experience unlike any other in town. In between comfy chairs are small tables ready to hold drinks, hamburgers, and popcorn dressed up with Cotija cheese, lime and cilantro. More ambitious dishes, such as fish tacos and mushroom-sage croquettes with chipotle mayo, are well executed. Servers explain the process before the movie begins and are very discreet during the movie as they continue to complete orders.

Photo: James Knapp

No Name Bar 
597 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn
The Thai kitchen in the basement of this dark, cool shanty of a bar is so under-the-radar that the revelers drinking upstairs don't know it's there. Amazed looks appear on people's faces when fragrant, steaming noodle soups arrest their senses. Nam is the name of the Thai woman heading up the kitchen (who's also behind Am Thai Bistro in Prospect Park South). She and her team create such miraculous flavors that if today's heroes were still carried through the streets in a sedan chair, you would be sitting in one for leading your friends here. What's more, beef stew noodle soup, lemongrass seafood noodle soup, and pork with basil and sunny-side egg on rice are all under $10. In clement weather, enjoy it outside in the ivy-walled, leafy garden. Otherwise, try to grab a stool in front of the tiny kitchen. Just like the bar upstairs, there is no name, but currently it's open all day until 3am. (P.S. The team that used to cook ramen noodles in the basement kitchen is gone.)

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Taam Tov 
41 W. 47th St., 3rd fl., 212-768-8001, Midtown West, Manhattan
While Taam Tov's location is shrouded, it's not trying to be mysterious. Midtown's Diamond District is lined with men wearing sandwich boards advertising “We Buy Gold & Diamonds,” but only one among them hawks Taam Tov. He'll show you the door. Head up a worn staircase past jewelers' businesses to the third floor, where you'll come upon a kooky little takeout window. Carry on to a workaday café selling a homespun menu of glatt kosher food. Soup, such as the big bowl of Uzbek-style shurpa bobbing with tender meat and vegetables, is a meal in itself. Samsa is another specialty, a peppery, juicy beef-and-onion square-shaped pie in a pretzel bread wrapping studded with sesame seeds. Spaghetti and french fries are also available for those not tempted by the kebabs, pilafs, stroganoffs and chops.


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