More female chefs than ever are doing the heavy lifting in kitchens across New York City. In Staten Island, hardworking grandmothers run the show at Enoteca Maria. Lidia Bastianich stays in the game at Felidia, Becco and the Eataly megastores, while Carla Hall fries up fiery, southern-style chicken at her namesake restaurant in Brooklyn. In the West Village, Julieta Ballesteros recently opened Tavo, which features gutsy, Latin-inspired cuisine. See below for 10 other chefs who are making the restaurant industry less of a boys club.
At a string of Manhattan venues, Einat Admony blends global influences into dishes that reflect her Israeli heritage. The fast-casual Taïm offers a vegetarian menu of crunchy falafel, browned fries with saffron aioli and smoothies in flavors like date-lime-banana. Its Nolita location (the original branch is in the West Village) is next door to Balaboosta, an inviting, full-service restaurant serving creamy hummus, short ribs with lentil crust and lamb pappardelle with spicy almonds. Admony’s talents also shine at Bar Bolonat in the West Village—a welcoming Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spot whose menu includes chickpea gnocchi and wild mushroom pasta with Persian garlic.
Aquavit, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Midtown, has long been a calm, Nordic sanctuary. Sweden’s Bengtsson, who took over as executive chef in 2014, is shaking things up in the kitchen; her work mixes culinary tradition with vivid artistry. At dinner are three prix-fixe menus featuring a seasonal range of seafood, game and absolutely stunning desserts (Bengtsson started out at Aquavit as executive pastry chef). Her crisp-skinned duck breast with elderberries and mushrooms is especially divine. Those who want a lighter, more casual experience might gravitate toward the bar menu, which offers gravlax, charcuterie and delightful Swedish meatballs with lingonberries.
Bloomfield, a native of Birmingham, England, has a meaty resume. The Spotted Pig introduced the gastropub to New Yorkers. Then came the dark, stylish Breslin and the John Dory Oyster Bar, both in the Ace Hotel. She shows her love of Mexican food at Salvation Taco and her mastery of burgers at Salvation Burger. She’s also behind a whole-animal butcher shop and café, White Gold, on the Upper West Side. There, co-chefs Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest are equally hardcore. The clever, no-nonsense Bloomfield works nonstop, authoring cookbooks (A Girl and Her Pig, A Girl and Her Greens) and opening other restaurants from California to Cornwall.
Carrot sliders on carrot buns are an example of how Amanda Cohen gives individual vegetables their moment in the sun at Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side. The chef-owner prefers to call it a vegetable restaurant rather than a vegetarian one, and keeps the focus on fun, with a convivial bar scene and comfy white chairs facing the open kitchen. Grilled and smoked broccoli hot dogs, zucchini takoyaki balls and corn cake with popcorn ice cream hold appeal even for meat eaters. Cohen does not eschew butter, eggs or cream, but vegans do have several dairy-free options.
Prune is an elfin East Village space with an outsize reputation, on the short list of food lovers worldwide. Gabrielle Hamilton, a James Beard Award winner and best-selling author of Blood, Bones and Butter, shares chef duties with her wife, Ashley Merriman (ex–Waverly Inn). They’re rigorously detail-oriented—and their food, while not flashy, is always delicious. Iconoclastic dinner items range from parmesan dumplings in capon broth to family-meal-style stewed chicken and rice. Prune’s brunch is legendary, and rightly so. Their eggs benedict, with lemony hollandaise, is among the best anywhere, as is the spaghetti a la carbonara with eggy, peppery sauce and browned cubes of pancetta.
Sara Jenkins’ pasta tastes like home, only better. Fresh herbs, toasted bread crumbs and wild fennel pollen enliven sauces at Porsena, her mellow East Village trattoria. There’s comfort in knowing the wilted escarole salad with hot anchovy dressing and baked lasagna will always be there; it’s also invigorating how she changes things up with weekly menus devoted to various Italian regions. Jenkins spent part of her childhood in Italy and is the daughter of Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a well-known food writer, so simmering ragùs are second nature to her. Next door’s Extra Bar is hers, too, as is a Mediterranean restaurant in Maine, Nina June.
A master of multitasking, Alex Raij has two young children and runs four small restaurants with her husband, Eder Montero. Two are in Chelsea (El Quinto Pino and Txikito) and two in Cobble Hill (La Vara and Tekoá). All are deeply felt tributes to regions of Spain. El Quinto Pino features tapas like blistered peppers with sea salt and sea urchin sandwiches; Txikito has Basque salt cod croquettes and octopus carpaccio. In Brooklyn, La Vara celebrates the intersection of Jewish and Moorish influences in southern Spain (seafood paella, stuffed rabbit loin); Tekoá, a casual coffee shop, adds Syrian and Turkish accents to egg dishes and sandwiches.
Missy Robbins was an art history major who found her true calling in the kitchen, cooking on the East Coast, in Chicago (at Spiaggia, a favorite of the Obamas) and in Italy. After 20 years or so of keeping her head down and working for others, she is flourishing at her own restaurant, Lilia, a contemporary Italian spot that opened in Williamsburg in 2016. She excels at pasta, wood-grilled swordfish and house-made mozzarella on toasted garlic bread with bottarga. All of her dishes, in fact, are intensely flavored and intelligently thought out.
Acclaimed chef Enrique Olvera oversees four creative, high-end restaurants in Mexico, and depends on chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes for the day-to-day running of Cosme, his chic spot in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Soto-Innes, who is still in her 20s and has been cooking professionally since she was a teenager, knows how to butcher a cow as well as whip up guacamole. Look for beauteous renditions of uni tostada with bone marrow salsa, lobster with ginger sauce and brown butter, and family-style duck carnitas. Soto-Innes’ talents are not going unsung: the James Beard Foundation named her Rising Star Chef of 2016.
Jody Williams and Rita Sodi
Before Jody Williams and Rita Sodi paired up and opened the thrilling Via Carota, they had—and still have—their own fantastic little restaurants in the West Village. Williams’ Buvette is a beguiling, all-day, Parisian-style bistro (with a branch in Paris, too). Sodi’s I Sodi is a fashionable, relaxed Tuscan trattoria with limited reservations. At Buvette and Via Carota, there are no reservations at all—so timing is everything. Go in the early evening or late at night to avoid a wait. At Buvette, tuck into intoxicating coq au vin and cassoulet; at Via Carota, you can’t go wrong with grilled artichokes, Meyer lemon risotto and juicy grilled chicken.