Seeing as everyone’s a critic in the age of Yelp, New York City’s newest—and most-booked—restaurants always have to be at the top of their game. The pressures are high and so are diners’ expectations—and, luckily, the City’s restaurants rise to the occasion. Behold our guide to the 77 most essential eating experiences right now, from the hottest chefs to a few old favorites that still get it right night after night.
High Street on Hudson is a striking Philadelphia-born concept where baked goods, killer sandwiches and a nightly New American tasting menu are the draws. A prime location near the Whitney and the High Line doesn’t hurt. That also happens to be where you’ll find Santina, a beauteous, glass-walled Italian spot that’s all about fresh seafood and Tuscan chickpea pancakes. Also on the radar below 14th Street is the sublime Italian “gastroteca” Via Carota (get the juicy grilled chicken with lemon vinaigrette) and its adorable French sister, Buvette. Quality Eats, on Greenwich Avenue, is a lively new-school steakhouse featuring inexpensive cuts, a delicious patty melt and great cocktails. And if it’s Wiener schnitzel you’re dreaming of, slip into Freud, a soothing Viennese tavern on LaGuardia Place.
Burgers, Birds and Fish
Elsewhere in the City, burger acolytes line up nightly at Salvation Burger, a saloon in Midtown East helmed by the dream team of chef April Bloomfield and restaurateur Ken Friedman—whose Spotted Pig and Breslin have been packing them in for years. Noreetuh, in the East Village, has turned up the heat for Hawaiian food, especially the phenomenal monkfish liver torchon and sea urchin tagliatelle with spicy cod roe. In Little Italy, the nautically minded have been hooked by Seamore’s, a wonderful fish spot. If you can’t get into Seamore’s, try for Pasquale Jones, across the street, firing up masterful pizzas and pork shank (from the same owners as SoHo’s Charlie Bird, another Italian gem).
Pasta lovers are overjoyed to see Missy Robbins (ex-A Voce) in the open kitchen at Lilia, a Williamsburg trattoria occupying a former auto body shop. Another choice destination in Williamsburg is Llama Inn, where gifted chef Erik Ramirez crafts elevated Peruvian fare. Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich are the titans behind La Sirena, an Italian masterpiece in Chelsea’s Maritime Hotel. For a less splashy yet still-stellar evening of Italian-Mediterranean fare, you can’t go wrong with Hillary Sterling’s deft cooking at Vic’s in NoHo. Justin Smillie (ex-Il Buco Alimentari) knows his way around Italian food too, but now he’s focusing on his California heritage at Upland, the best thing going on Park Avenue South.
Other chefs generating excitement right now include Enrique Olvera reimagining Mexican specialties in the Flatiron District at Cosme and Danny Bowien putting his own spin on Szechuan at Mission Chinese Food in Chinatown. Ignacio Mattos is wowing everybody at the creative, stylish Café Altro Paradiso in SoHo—and don’t forget his dynamite little pub, Estela, in NoLIta.
Vegetarian and Veggie-ish
A recent harvest of vegetarian-vegan-vegivore restaurants has been so winning that meat eaters happily hit them too. At Andrew Carmellini’s Little Park in TriBeCa, fish and chicken play supporting roles to wonderful seasonal vegetable medleys. John Fraser’s Nix, near Union Square, is 100 percent vegetarian, but he mixes it up at Narcissa in the East Village, where main courses range from carrots Wellington with bluefoot mushrooms to lacquered duck breast with kumquats. Also in the East Village is Avant Garden, where chefs compose innovative vegan dishes, and the fun little Superiority Burger, a joint where everything is vegetarian and much of it “accidentally vegan.” By Chloe and Dirt Candy, both downtown and both helmed by female tastemakers and cookbook authors (Chloe Coscarelli and Amanda Cohen, respectively), have made plant-based feasting a real treat.
Delis and Appetizing
Lately people have also been kibitzing about the resurgence of Jewish deli favorites at places like Sadelle’s in SoHo, where bagels, cheese blintzes and whitefish salad get deluxe treatment. The Lower East Side’s Russ & Daughters Cafe is delightful for smoked salmon, chopped liver and pickled herring. The storied Katz’s Delicatessen and 2nd Avenue Deli are no slouches when it comes to pastrami, nor is a newer little deli in the East Village called Harry & Ida’s where “Pop’s” pastrami sandwich is boldly smeared with anchovy mustard. Mile End Delicatessen sports branches in Boerum Hill and NoHo and is most famous for Montreal-style cured and smoked beef brisket on rye. And whenever you find yourself near Union Square, Lincoln Center or Bryant Park, be sure to pick up a loaf of chocolate babka from Breads Bakery. It’s not just the best in the City—it’s the best in the world.
Korean, in Koreatown and Beyond
Not long ago, novel Korean cuisine started making waves far beyond its traditional NYC home in Koreatown (where there are still, naturally, many outstanding restaurants). More or less on the neighborhood's borders, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong and Her Name is Han feature crowd-pleasing seafood pancakes and succulent short ribs. Across the river, cap off a family-style barbecue at Insa in Gowanus with karaoke in one of their party rooms. Oiji, in the East Village, is more of an upscale bistro where crunchy Korean fried chicken and honey butter chips are must-have items. David Chang’s Momofuku empire might be described as Korean-ish. His latest marvels are the East Village's Fuku, for spicy fried chicken sandwiches, and Chelsea’s Momofuku Nishi, where everyone swoons over the ceci e pepe—peppery noodles slicked with fermented chickpea paste.
For the High Rollers
Planning to splurge? The tony Polo Bar, courtesy of Ralph Lauren, looks like one of the designer’s glossy magazine ads. Its menu features classic roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and “Ralph’s corned beef sandwich” with melted Swiss on marble rye. The Flatiron District and NoMad are thriving with luxury establishments like the British-themed Clocktower, the multi-starred Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, where chef Daniel Humm and partner Will Guidara achieve the epitome of opulence. Nor is it small potatoes to eat at the Alsatian-style Gabriel Kreuther, the Gallic-themed Vaucluse, the modern European bastion Bâtard and the New American Betony—but satisfied diners know they’re well worth the price. For special occasions or generous expense accounts, paragons like Le Bernardin, Benoit, Aquavit and The River Café remain tours de force.
All over the Map
Brooklyn is awash in freewheeling restaurants and ambitious chefs, so it’s hard to go wrong in just about any of the borough’s neighborhoods. The places generating the most buzz at the moment include Faro (health-oriented Italian), Le Garage (French with global accents), St. Anselm (steaks), Prime Meats (take a guess), Pies n’ Thighs (fried chicken and southern-style pies), Pok Pok Ny (insanely good Thai street food), Roberta’s (pizza paradise) and the aforementioned Lilia and Llama Inn. Long Island City in Queens has also become a dining hot spot. Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis helped put it on the map with the gutsy M. Wells Dinette inside MoMA PS1 and the unorthodox M. Wells Steakhouse, which serves Caesar with smoked herring dressing and a stack of pork chops with seaweed and anchovy butter in a giant rehabbed garage. Then there’s Mu Ramen, which serves some of the most mind-blowing noodle soups in town. And haute, Michelin-starred Mexican spot Casa Enrique has lured gastronomes across the East River since 2012. Harlem, in Upper Manhattan, is happening these days too, thanks to Marcus Samuelsson’s dashing Red Rooster and his humming diner, Streetbird Rotisserie. The Cecil is a swanky spot for African-inspired cuisine via Alexander Smalls and executive chef Joseph Johnson. Another great place to get a feel for the historic neighborhood and its artsy locals is relaxed bistro Maison Harlem.
Oldies but Goodies
Our tip sheet can’t neglect time-honored friends that never let us down: Keith McNally’s Balthazar, the excellent Japanese at Nobu, esteemed and friendly Keens Steakhouse, Grand Central Oyster Bar, The Odeon, Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar & Grill and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill. The ‘21’ Club has also retained its relevance in the 21st century, with a lightened-up American menu and live music jazzing things up on Monday nights.