I eat at a lot of places and I love many of them, but only a few can truly be said to be on my short list of favorite restaurants. These may not be the best, but they are the ones I personally love the most.
Sometimes called the Mecca of deli, Katz's is more accurately the Dome of the Rock of Deli: the sanctum sanctorum, the source and shrine of all that deli means in America. Go for the mystique -- but stay for the pastami.
It looks too modern to be old, but in fact this is one of the oldest bars in New York; it's been refurbished, but the ghosts are still there, along with the steak and shrimp cocktail.
Still, to my mind, the defining New York restaurant, Gramercy Tavern is the crown jewel in Danny Meyer's restaurant group, partially as the result of chef Michael Anthony's amazing greenmarket cooking, and partially because of its incredible service, great cocktails, and Nancy Olson's superb dessert program. One caveat: the front room is all air and color and excitement, and the back room is a drab dungeon.
Some people would say that Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop, a quaint and picturesque throwback lunch joint hard by the Flatiron building, is overvalued because of its atmospheric value. Those people are idiots. It's not possible to overvalue Eisenberg's which is a lifeline to an older and better New York which is rapidly vanishing. The people are equally wrong who say that they make a great pastrami sandwich (they don't) or tuna sandwich (likewise.) They make a great Eisnenberg's experience. I only wish it were a private club, like Soho House, so that only those of us who love it would be allowed to go there. But, sadly, anyone can come and get a piece of chocolate cake (incredible), a cheap cup of coffee (not so incredible), or a glass of U-bet chocolate mik (incomparable.)
It's a touchstone for cheap-eats mavens because of its outrageously cheap (and outrageously good) stuffed buns, but the real attraction here ought to be the char siu (Cantonese roast pork) which is the best in Chinatown by far. Look out, too, for the rare "flattened duck," which looks exactly like it sounds; although the regular Cantonese roast duck is excellent, this version, semi-cured and concentrated, brings it to another level.
The eternal debate lingers: Wo Hop or Hop Kee? The two restaurants are in fact almost indistinguishable, and to make matters even more confusing, they are right next to each other on Mott Street. If pressed, I would say that Wo Hop does the classic Cantonese-American dishes better, and Hop Kee the (slightly) newer dishes, like spicy salt pork chops, or black bean crabs. Neither restaurant can really be said to cater to Chinese customers, but there is a legendary Chinese menu unavailable to English speakers. Bring a translator!
For all its asian inflections and supremely elegant simplicity, the food at Le Bernardin is potent to the point of richness -- a testament to chef Eric Ripert's vision and balance. Service is impeccable and the sommelier, Aldo Sohm, the best in the country.
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.
Daniel is a hard restaurant to characterize. It's probably the standard by which all Michelin 3-star food in New York is judged, when service, atmosphere, wine, and everything else is taken into account. The food is precise, globalist, and executed with the very utmost extent of French technical skill. But from a purely culinary point of view, I always found it somewhat disappointing. When they do the kind of glorified Lyonnais or country French food Daniel Boulud does better than anybody else, the place is unbeatable; but too often I feel that there is no real point of view. Flavors and traditions jump from course to course, and you are left without a real sense of where the kitchen is coming from -- which is not to say the food isn't delicious. But it always seemed a little overconceived and perhaps a little overelaborate. That said, this is probably the ultimate New York restaurant experience.
To me, this West Side restaurant is the quintessential Chino Latino joint, with great ribs, great chuletas (pork chops) and fabulous egg fu young.
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.
Yes, it's in the middle of nowhere. Yes, you have to wait a million years while owner Dom DeMarco painstakingly makes his pies one at a time. And yes, the pizza costs more than the crap sold on every corner. But these are masterpiece pies, unique in the world, and the standard by which all other pizza is judged. Live with it.
Get it straight: there isn't a better, more straight-forward chef in New York than Marco Canora, whose restaurant is utterly committed to simple, perfectly prepared season food of the very highest order. Also, don't miss out on pasta, which is the open secret of Hearth's greatness.
Swanky, modern, and electric, with a power crown and really first-rate American seafood, Lure is the jewel of SoHo, and one of the best restaurants of its kind in the city. The perfect place for a hot date or power lunch.
Turkish food guru Orhan Yegan created this casual restaurant as a platform for his homey, understated cooked dishes, but it's the mezes that steal the show, brilliantly simple and dressed with just some lemon and olive oil.
Joey Campanaro's little gem of a restaurant is still one of the preeminent examples of a great New York neighborhood restaurant. The room is supremely cozy and romantic and the food simple but flawless. The burger, served only at lunch, is one of the city's very best.
When asked, as I often am, for my opinion on the best steakhouse in New York, I often hem and haw. The meat may be better at Minetta Tavern, the sides at BLT Prime, the atmosphere (and nothing else) at Peter Luger. But for the overall package of flawless service, great meat, and by far the loveliest and most relaxing room of any steakhouse I know, the answer is surely Porterhouse New York. Here's a tip: go have a steak sandwich and an Old Fashioned at the bar, during the day. It's a great NYC experience.
The world's largest menu, served by the world's grumpiest man, Shopsins is a New York legend, and the food actually lives up to the myth. Kenny Shopsin is actually as hostile as everyone says, but he is a true master of American vernacular cooking, and his menu is truly staggering: there are nearly 800 items on it, and practically every one is good.
Pretty the much the perfect New York neighborhood restaurant. It's hidden away on a curving sidestreet in the west village; it has a perfectly preserved art deco decor; a great drink program; and, most important, one of the best chefs in New York, if not the country, in the criminally underrated Harold Moore. It can get noisy though, so come for an early dinner.
Star chef Michael Psilakis aimed to take Greek food into the American mainstream; and with Kefi to some extent he succeeded. It's always crowded and the fine food and modest prices are obviously the reason why. If there were more Kefis octopus might be as popular as veal.
The Cypriot restaurant has a lot going for it. But the best pork souvlaki I ever had is the main thing. Trust me. Run don't walk.
April Bloomfield broke out of The Spotted Pig's gastropub mold in this equally robust but more ambitious eatery.
Here's what there is to say about Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken. It is far and away the best in New York, and always has been. The chef-owner stands, every day, behind an immense iron pan the size of roulette wheel, and cooks each piece until it's perfectly light gold, well-seasoned, and as light as a feather. It costs almost nothing. But there are two downsides: it's only truly great for a fifteen minute window, and the place is a long, long way from most of Manhattan. It's well worth the trip though.
What started out a loving tribute to Italian-American food from two talented young line cooks has morphed under their genius into a true culinary destination, a French Laundry for the Sunday Gravy set. No reservations.
Talented, ballsy, and not afraid to experiment, the young eponymous chef is making as big a contribution to his generation's dining scene as his famous father did twenty years ago.
This tiny East Village hole in the wall pulls off a comfort food hat trick unmatched in New York City: a world-class hamburger, a top flight pizza, and a grade A fried chicken. The pork chop is pretty good too. The only thing missing is hard liquor.
Former Per Se chef Jonathan Benno brings his precision and brilliance to the famously informal food of Italy. It should be a mismatch, but both sides benefit from this odd marriage, and Benno's commitment to changing the menu from region to region adds another level of interest. A truly special restaurant.
Michael White, arguably New York's preeminent Italian chef, has done four-star seafood at Marea, Northern Italian at Alto, and French-Italian at Ai Fiori, but his heart will always be in the meaty ragus and robust pastas of emilia-romagna, the spirtual home of Osteria Morini. Its pastas are dense and rich, festooned with cream or meat sauce, and as often as not butter too. The grilled meats are superb, and the cured ones even more so. A big selection of area wines, including 8 different Lambruscos, goes with it.
Michael White's venture in haute provencal cuisine -- some Italian, some French -- is a culinary triumph, albeit in a somewhat sterile city. The room is big and quiet though, and makes a great spot for an elegant, sunlit breakfast.
The city's most skilled and ardent supporter of Spanish food is surely chef Seamus Mullen, and this tribute to the fire-roasted pleasures of Astorios, in the country's northern part, his greatest accomplishment.
Known best for its Montreal version of pastrami, "smoked meat," I like Mile End even better for its fabulous charcuterie board and an even better hot dog. Just make sure to get it without all the gunk on it.
It's rare that a sequel surpasses the original, but Alimentari is the Road Warrior of restaurants, an expanded and improved tribute to rustic italian food that is bigger, better, and more ambitious than its original. The salumi by itself is worth coming for, but stay for the porchetta and short ribs.