[Update, 12/11/2020: The Governor has suspended indoor dining beginning December 14.] Restaurants are as integral to New York City’s character as its sprawling subway system and public parks. For locals, favorite spots often feel like an extension of the home, and for visitors, eateries offer a way to soak in the City’s culture. So when restaurants closed in March, the five boroughs became noticeably less vibrant. Over the summer, however, delivery, takeout and outdoor dining became a critical part of the City’s recovery. Now, as restaurants open for indoor dining again, NYC is entering a promising new phase.
Diners should expect a host of precautions if they decide to partake. Currently, restaurants can only be filled to 25 percent capacity; tables are spaced 6 feet apart; menus are often available through QR codes scannable via smartphone; air purifiers have been installed in some establishments; and masks are required when patrons aren’t eating or drinking. Should the trends continue to be encouraging, indoor dining capacities could increase to 50 percent before the start of the new year. (Meanwhile, the City has allowed restaurants to remain open for outdoor dining year-round.)
Here are some of the best open restaurants across New York City to once again have guests dine indoors.
Whether it’s fresh tortillas or handmade pastas, immigrant-owned restaurants across the City’s most northern borough offer a rich array of cooking that often flies under the radar. La Morada, a Oaxacan eatery in Mott Haven, is owned by an undocumented family who have been vocal about immigrant rights. They have garnered rave reviews for dishes like tlayudas (a toasted tortilla that’s almost like a pizza) and their moles.
Along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx’s Little Italy, Enzo’s is an intimate spot where you can find comforting Italian red-sauce classics with large portions perfect for sharing. Many of the restaurants surrounding Enzo’s are part of the Piazza di Belmont outdoor dining program that closes off traffic on weekends so restaurants can entertain more guests.
At Com Tam Ninh Kieu in Fordham Manor, you’ll discover authentic Vietnamese cooking that’s difficult to find in a city full of stellar Asian restaurants. NYC’s Vietnamese population is smaller than the various ethnic communities that have opened the many Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants here over the years. But their pho broth rivals any of the best noodle soups around.
Over at Papaye in Fordham Heights (there’s another location about 20 blocks to the south), you’ll find excellent Ghanaian cuisine—a rarity in NYC. The popular spot is run by a family that has been serving up rich stews and an impressive whole fried tilapia served with banku (a ball of dough made from cassava and fermented corn) throughout the pandemic.
La Morada and Enzo’s also have outdoor dining.
NYC’s most populous borough has long been the go-to destination for hot new restaurants. One of 2020’s buzziest openings, courtesy of the guys behind Williamsburg butcher shop the Meat Hook, has been Cozy Royale. The convivial spot, just a block from the store, serves up Appalachian dishes like fried pork steak and whimsical snacks like pickled bologna.
A ways south, in Prospect Heights, Sofreh offers Persian fare, seldom seen across the five boroughs. Don’t miss the traditional ash stew brimming with whole wheat noodles and fresh herbs. Indoors, the airy space looks like it could be an all-day café in California.
A few subway stops away is Mo’s Original, located in Prospect Lefferts Gardens’ Caribbean community. Here, Japanese and Jamaican flavors converge in a number of ramen dishes, such as a spicy miso broth with smoked chicken.
While the list of trendy restaurants in Brooklyn is long, the borough remains a great place to track down singular dishes like the ones offered at Tong in Bushwick. Its menu of authentic small plates, such as spicy beef tartare with toasted rice, draws inspiration from common Thai after-school snacks.
All the Brooklyn restaurants above also offer outdoor dining.
It’s difficult to keep track of the all the restaurant openings in Manhattan, even during a challenging year for New York’s many restaurateurs and chefs. But mainstays like Tribeca Grill turn out fan favorites—the mustard-glazed pork and the jumbo lump crab cake are always dependable orders—that keep devoted diners coming back for years.
A similar level of refined cooking and emphasis on quality service can be had at Harlem’s Clay, which offers seasonally inspired dishes in a former jazz club.
Long-standing classic Katz’s Delicatessen, on the Lower East Side, began offering delivery and outdoor dining for the first time since opening in 1888; now the team is welcoming back customers who wish to sit indoors while enjoying the deli’s legendary pastrami.
For Singaporean street food that shows off the wide-ranging tastes of many New Yorkers, Gramercy’s Laut Singapura serves dishes like chili crab and rendang beef that helped its sister restaurant, Laut, garner a revered Michelin star.
All the Manhattan restaurants above also offer outdoor dining.
The most sprawling of the five boroughs, Queens is arguably the City’s most diverse as well. In Jackson Heights, for instance, residents speak more than 150 languages. Locals there love the fluffy cornmeal cakes from Arepa Lady, which are affordable and part of the restaurant’s root-for-the-underdog story; owner Maria Cano was a judge in Colombia before she left the country in the 1980s because of intense violence from drug cartels.
There are also countless Indian restaurants in this area, but if you head west toward Long Island City, you’ll encounter Addã, which has received national acclaim for its modern-yet-authentic take on regional Indian dishes like lotus root kofta.
Trek east to Flushing for some of the best Chinese food in the City. Nan Xiang Long Bao’s delicate soup dumplings command long lines, especially on weekends.
The Freakin Rican in Astoria has also made its name with one dish: pillowy pasteles that are like tamales, with a mashup of taro, green plantains and kabocha squash nestling hearty pork shoulder.
All the Queens restaurants above also offer outdoor dining.
Passengers stepping off the St. George side of the Staten Island Ferry should take time to explore the borough’s unexpected culinary treasures. There are a handful of exceptional Sri Lankan restaurants within a short distance of the ferry terminal, but Lakruwana in Tompkinsville is the place where you’ll want to order a green chili-spiked kothu roti (a popular street-food dish where flaky flatbread is often stir-fried with eggs and spices) or a salty-and-sour lassi (a yogurt-based drink).
Less than a block away at Vinum, you’ll find a more upscale menu that allows you to bounce between small plates, such as the venison carpaccio, and more substantial dishes like a rustic lasagna—all perfect to pair with a bottle from the extensive wine list.
Over at Mar Mar in West Brighton, the Syrian menu showcases some of the most popular dishes—from a fatoush salad to kibbeh (cracked wheat dough that’s filled with spiced meat and onions)—of the Levant.
You can’t go to Staten Island without sampling Italian restaurants. For a casual outing, hit Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern in Port Richmond, a decades-old restaurant known for its thin-crust pizzas.
All the Staten Island restaurants above have outdoor dining.