There's a natural tendency for some of us who live in New York to think of some very famous restaurants as lame. Your aunts and uncles want to go there, rubes propose to each other there ,and they are seldom written about in the food press. But that doesn't mean they're not great.
It's immense popularity (tops in Zagat, year in and year out) Union Square Cafe has tended not to change much over the last decade. The service is Danny Meyer hospitality at its best, and the food is never less that solid, if not especially edgy or interesting. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why so many people continue to go there. It's hard to get a reservation, but eating at the bar is a great way to enjoy the place without committing to a whole trip.
Mario Batali's flagship hasn't lost its fastball; its vivid, ballsy take on Italian food continues to constantly change and impress.
It's outrageously expensive, yes, and stuffy to the point of farce, but if you want to experience great high-end northern Italian food the way the world knew it back in the day, you simply have to go here.
I don't mean to sound stuck-up, but pay no attention to what anybody here says about the Carnegie Deli. One guy complains because he didn't like the macaroni and cheese (!) and other because it's too touristy. Here the deal: the Carnegie Deli IS touristy. It IS expensive. You are not coddled by the wait staff. But it is the Federal Reserve of deli. You go in and order a juicy pastrami (code for fatty) and you will get greatness, every time, and in copious amounts. Don't get combination sandwiches, which are ludicrous, and don't get macaroni and cheese. Get pastrami sandwiches and extra bread. Eat. Take some home or share. And then thank your lucky stars that this place exists.
Lidia Bastianich is best known as a celebrity chef, whose TV show helped teach America to cook Italian food. Felidia is her flagship restaurant and what's little known and less appreciated is just how regional the cooking is here. The Bastianiches originate in Italian Istria, the northeastern most part of Italy, an area that owes as much to Croatia and Austria as to Italy per se. You won't find dishes dominated by spicy peppers or tomato sauce here; this is a more refined, singular cuisine and that's what I value about it the most.
This big-box homage to the red sauce restaurants of your gets dismissed by many for its comically oversized portions, which seem designed to feed whole families of refugees.
Too often derided for its preposterously beautiful view and identity as a romantic nirvana, the fact is that The River Cafe has always been and remains one of the very greatest New York restaurants.
Along with Keens, Sparks, and Peter Luger, this is part of the Classic Quartet of old-time New York steakhouses, and by no means the worst. The room has an intimacy not to be found in its rivals and the thick, narrow strip steaks are of uniformly high quality and the wine list is sweeping. The cost is high but not too much for a unique restaurant such as this one.
This midtown tourist restaurant has exactly one thing to recommend it, but it's worth putting up with the place's cheesiness to get to it. This is the New York branch of the original Alfredo's in Rome where Fettucini Alfredo was invented. And this is probably the best fettucini alfredo you'll ever have. It's just noodles, cheese, and butter (no cream) but the way it's presented and served just make it really special.
It's most famous for its miso black cod and, I guess, its influential ceviche, but Nobu has an immense and varied menu and a level of service that is criminally undervalued.