9 NYC Restaurants You Have to Try
A Travel Channel editor picks her high-end to affordable favorites in New York City right now.
Whether tucked into 5-star hotels or in the hipster depths of the East Village, these hidden gems are worth the trip to experience some of the city’s best, most innovative food. Whether you are in the mood for an atmospheric French boite or a trip further afield to a Long Island City gem, these picks will keep you busy on your next trip to NYC.
Prepare to have your mind blown with Tuome's combination of ambiance, food and a heavy infusion of hip at this stealth spot that has garnered raves from Zagat, The New York Times and Eater. Tuome is fine dining with an East Village rock-and-roll edge and a playlist of Tom Petty, Zeppelin and the Stones that make it feel like a party at your coolest friend’s apartment.
Laid back but on-his-game accountant-turned-chef Thomas Chen is all about white-table touches but with a hip, unpretentious vibe and a memorable mix of food blending Chinese and contemporary American influences. The servers know their stuff but seem more like the coolest people in your yoga class than the typical overexplanatory foodie fetishists. Like so much at this creative, intimate spot, disadvantages become advantages: the lack of a liquor license doesn’t keep Tuome from concocting some of the most incredible wine and sake-based cocktails around. Fire in the Sky rivals any mixology-centric bar’s craft cocktail star, a spicy mix of sake, Thai chili and yuzu juice for the perfect balance of spice and sweetness.
You’ll want to start with the kind of appetizer that quickly knocks that chip off your shoulder about having tried every variation of a deviled egg under the sun. Chen’s egg white is panko-coated and deep fried, full of umami and not to be missed. A bowl of sautéed eggplant elevates this ubiquitous veg to new heights and octopus served with a kind of brown butter and potato mousse siphoned out tableside is an opportunity to congratulate Chen for his work in person. An Asian-infused comfort dish, the chicken with porridge in a savory berth of rice is congee-meets-risotto heaven. There’s only one dessert on offer (sweets are not Chen’s thing): Chinese beignets. I highly recommend you go for it even if dessert is not your thing; this is a supremely decadent take on beignets with a goat’s milk caramel sauce served in a squeeze bottle to make you master-of-your-own-portion and a smear of tart citron marmalade to cut the milky sugar rush.
A tiny but very memorable sushi spot in the West Village, Neta is destination-dining for sushi lovers. The plain exterior and unassuming minimalism inside can fool you into thinking this is a run-of-the-mill spot. But perfectionism is a constant here, with attentive service and extraordinary care in preparation and ingredients to justify the high prices. Sit at the counter for the best view of the precise work done in the kitchen helmed by a slew of chefs and a very attentive manager working in impressive coordination considering the cramped space. The omakase menu is recommended for the variety of surprising, unique, perfectly harmonized dishes. Menu highlights include a refreshing daikon salad that operates as a palate cleanser between the succulent seafood dishes or as a refreshing starter. The nama yuba seafood salad is a thrilling play of textures and flavors with scallop, crab and salmon all in the mix and the toro tartar and osetra caviar with grilled toast is the kind of jewel-of-the-sea richness that makes you sad when it’s gone. By all means don’t miss the exceptional uni porridge: a blend of highbrow ingredients and lowbrow comfort. And though we didn’t try it, our very animated waiter, a kind of humorous sidekick to the communion-serious chefs, said the fried chicken was his favorite. Next time.
Like being transported to Paris, this atmospheric West Village bistro is a great pick for some beloved French classics and wood-fired steaks. Boucherie chef Jerome Dihui is a veteran of another classic NYC French restaurant, Pastis and the Art Nouveau aesthetics here are a mix of bistro standards with a grand New York twist. The cavernous space features a traditional behind-the-bar mirror that has gone Times Square supersized and the exposed duct work gives the spot-on Francophile space (including the requisite tiny tables) an industrial vibe. An impressive selection of house cocktails centered on absinthe do justice to this idiosyncratic licorice spirit. Nailing that uniquely French blend of perfect, fresh ingredients and an artist’s touch, the salade d’auvergne with candied walnuts, a piquant Fourme d’Ambert and delicate greens is a memorably bright starter along with a well-executed steak tartare topped with a tiny quail egg. The trout almandine and steak frites au poivre are just the kind of solid renditions you’d expect at a high-end Paris bistro. The buzzing crowd both inside and at the café tables on the sidewalk make you feel in the center of the action.
4: Casa Enrique
An unexpected Michelin-star rated, postage-stamp sized Mexican restaurant in Long Island City—what some are calling the “new Brooklyn”—with a lively bar scene, Casa Enrique is a definite reservation-required local hot spot. Service is great and the crowd is fun and chatty, maybe because they know they are about to experience some of the most satisfying Mexican in the NYC metro area. Expect solid standards like chunky hguacamole with house-made totopos and amazing seasonal cocktails like a watermelon mojito. Authenticity is a big deal here, with intense regional flavors like the incomparably earthy, rich, fragrant mole de piaxtla full of intense spice notes that will transport you directly to Chiapas (chef Cosme Aguilar’s hometown) but you’ll only have to go one subway stop from Grand Central Station to get this authentic taste of Mexico.
5: Taukeman New York
This hip, tiny Long Island City spot just one subway stop on the 7 train from Manhattan is definitely worth the trip. The avocado and poke bowls are especially well-executed and craveable (you may feel compelled to stop by one more time on your way to LaGuardia). Taukeman's poke bowl features pickled vegetables, potato salad, fresh tuna and avocado and the ramen bowls are notable too, all served up in a compact but beautifully designed space. A small coffee bar featuring Parlor Coffee beans is ornamented with a wooden Japanese fishing boat. At the front of the restaurant is a mini-international grocery with items including artisanal, Brooklyn-made goods, matcha tea and Kewpie mayonnaise for sale. The spot gets bonus points for lo-fi style: water is served in enamel metal cups and the eclectic menu offers donuts, peanut butter cookies and other comfort food options for dessert or just a snack. The space features rotating shows of local artists and a low-key cool vibe that makes it a favorite local hangout. Founded by Japanese expat friends, this is one of those consummately NYC spots I know I will put on regular rotation.
6: Empire Diner
This beautifully Art Moderne retro metal diner has stood on this spot in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan since 1946. The Empire Diner has weathered changes in food fashion, countless owners and chefs but finds itself in the solid hands of chef John Delucie who offers up a fitting menu of new classics (hello poke bowl) well-suited to this vintage gem. Globe light fixtures, subway tile and a bright, hip ambiance make the space as much a pleasure as the food.
You can’t go wrong with the basics here, which bring a foodie flourish to diner classics. The wedge salad loaded with tiny chopped-salad portions of avocado, lardons, slightly charred grape tomatoes and pickled onions crowning an enormous slice of iceberg sounds easy, but is a feat to pull off. The subtle blue cheese dressing never overwhelms this flavor medley and the enormous steak knife planted in its center is both witty and the perfect answer to this big mountain of green. And then there’s the burger: fans won’t be disappointed with this tower of two beef patties ably supported by aioli and house made pickles. Another clever take on one of the consummate American cakes, the coconut cake with caramelized pineapple is a fun, neat square (so coconut commands almost every forkful) of coconut cake like a snack cake packed by a dream mom in your lunch. And because hard-boiled New Yorkers of yore probably also needed a stiff drink now and again, this revamped cocktail bar has some big city power players like mezcal on the cocktail menu. The Bolt Bramble is the perfect blend of that smoky spirit, along with Ancho Reyes, cassis and fresh berry goodness to make you feel all is right with the world.
7: Red Rooster
A huge part of the Harlem foodie renaissance, Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson’s sophisticated Southern spot on Lenox Avenue is a new classic serving up the kind of satisfying salt and butter and cracklings goodness that makes the impromptu dancing to the hopping live band all the more necessary. Southerners craving a homey fix won’t be disappointed by Red Rooster's cornbread so dense and rich, it rivals a pound cake and luscious mac and cheese better than your mother ever made (because she never enlivened it with brie or Gouda, for one). If you’re aiming for over-the-top fun, try the Fried Bird Royale for 2, a full-sized bird presented in its original glory before being whisked away for serving that comes with mac and cheese, biscuits and spicy honey. If it’s on the menu, don’t hesitate to order the jerk catfish with black beans, as satisfying a dish as they come. Street corn and Samuelsson’s mother’s meatball recipe define Red Rooster’s South-meets-global style where an equally diverse clientele makes everyone feel right at home.
8: Bedford & Co
Cozy and unpretentious, Bedford & Co is that rare low-key restaurant where service is fine-dining top-notch. Tucked inside the Renwick Hotel. Bedford & Co has the vibe of a clubby, chummy British pub. The restaurant advertises its attention to detail right off the bat with its sommelier and manager cruising the dining room on a regular basis to ask about customers’ meals and a waitstaff that can tell you about the ingredients and preparation top to bottom. The cocktails are definitely worth a sip, especially the feminine but powerful Parasol, a perfumed blend of vodka, Lillet and St. Germain. The small plates are some of the stars of the show here, spotlighting the wood-fired oven. Don’t miss the smoky wood-grilled oysters and the fried artichoke appetizer with an aioli you won’t even need and a solid steak tartare. Desserts are also notable, ranging from a homespun raspberry cheesecake in a jar to a bracing, flavor-packed lemon basil sorbet.
Part of Sauvage's charm is the shock of the unexpected. Perched on a fairly nondescript Greenpoint, Brooklyn intersection adjacent to McCarren Park, nothing prepares you for the gorgeous tiled floor, café curtains, craft cocktail vintage Paris bistro vibe (with a Brooklyn edge) inside.
Aesthetics are an obsession at this visually precocious spot from the Eighties-meets-Constructivist graphics of the website to the Vienna-meets-Paris vibe of the restaurant itself boasting what, I have to add, may be the most gorgeous bathrooms in New York. The team of co-owner and proprietor Joshua Boissy and designer Michael Smart of Urban Aesthetics makes this spot a must-stop for lovers of understated but spot-on design.
Every detail of Sauvage is exquisitely curated, from the caraway-flecked bread that comes with a delicate sliver of radish and whipped, salted house-made butter to the Art Nouveau teacups and artisanal sugar cubes that accompany your after-dinner tea and coffee. When a firefly made its way into the restaurant, adding its tiny flashing light to the magical glow of the hand blown glass chandeliers, for a moment I thought that had been orchestrated too. Some really unique cocktails served up at the French walnut bar play up the restaurant’s Europhile and cocktail pedigree (the Sauvage team is renowned for their destination-cocktail spot, Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere): try the refreshing Bitter Storm Over Ulm which sounds like Guy Maddin’s next film. It’s a surprisingly refreshing, subtle blend of piquant lemon and rich anise and the fruity punch of Macvin. A flavorful Amish chicken dish served up in a vintage enamel pot is comfort food at its finest. And don’t miss the local favorite, silky cavatelli with chunks of peekytoe crab to hunt out of the luscious sauce. Even those who usually skip dessert will want to save room for the complex chocolate tart whose sweetness is cut with smoked salt and a side of rosemary cream you’ll want to eat by the spoonful all by itself.