Let’s start at the very top. Two Michelin-starred Atera does a $300 18-course tasting menu that starts to feel like good value when you realise Danish head chef Ronny Emborg has overridden American tipping culture and included service in the price. Sit up at the counter to watch his laser-focused team do alchemical things with hyper-seasonal ingredients.
The Polo Bar
Scenesters have been clamouring for tables at Ralph Lauren’s place since it opened in 2015. The owner clearly likes his restaurants to be like his clothes – crisp, classic and with a touch of the country club, The Polo Bar exudes A-list appeal. A level above the main dining room, the bar itself is the place to be. Dress up and enjoy, if you can win the battle for a reservation.
New York does Italian so well. For Murano chandeliers, white tablecloths and general mid-century glamour, Sant Ambroeus has accrued four restaurants, three coffee bars and a gelateria in NYC since it moved over from Milan in the 80s. The relaxed restos offer delicious salads and a general ladies-who-lunch feel that draws in a fashion crowd. Perfect for people watching.
Husband-and-wife Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito have earnt a Michelin star for Don Angie by taking Italian-American cuisine to the next level. Head over to the West Village for pasta, meatballs and more adventurous dishes in an elegant, marbled setting. Bad Roman is a fun new sister establishment with some wild interiors.
Greenwich Village’s Carbone is an A-list take on the Italian restaurants that dominated the New York scene back in the middle of the last century. It continues to draw in the celebs of today – including Rihanna and the Biebers – with its period interiors, sense of theatre and traditional ‘red sauce’ cooking taken to the next level. The meatballs are unmissable but so are the spicy rigatoni vodka and veal parmesan.
Loud, busy and utterly charming – Bar Pitti has been around since the 90s and continues to seduce today. From the lasagna to the lobster, dishes are classic Italian – take a table on the terrace to give yourself the best chance of a classic New York celeb sighting.
Gemma is the in-house trattoria at the Bowery hotel, offering seasonal comfort food in an easy, faintly rustic atmosphere. Open from early morning, the heavily wooded and Parma yellow room comes into its own as the light fades – as well as pastas, pizzas and other Italian staples, there’s a late-night menu featuring hangover-neutralising burgers and egg sandwiches.
On a corner site in SoHo, King is the simple, exposed-brick neighbourhood Italian of your dreams. The menu changes daily – look out for the odd southern French influence creeping into the likes of lapin à la moutarde with lentils and watercress leaves. An inventive cocktail list rewards experimentation – we wish we could start all our meals with a Demeter Daisy (vodka, curaçao, lime, cucumber and vermouth).
Dark, loud and with lots of hot pink accents, Dirty French is a place to have fun. From the oysters bourguignon to the duck rillette and steak au poivre, it offers timeless brasserie fare – with the odd contemporary concession like tuna tartare. Start with a drink in the garden courtyard of the hotel’s Lobby Bar before taking your evening up a notch.
Another hotel restaurant, Cathédrale makes a splash with its vaulted ceilings and statement sculptures. It’s sceney enough for Heidi Klum to host Halloween parties, with an open kitchen turning out excellent French-Mediterranean dishes.
La Mercerie is a super luxe take on an all-day bistro-café from classically trained French chef Marie-Aude Rose. Within Roman and Williams Guild’s flagship interiors store in SoHo, it’s an ode to humble French cooking – you’ve never had a salad niçoise like Marie-Aude’s.
In the swirl of Manhattan, The Odeon is a rare constant. Martinis, oysters, steak frites – it mastered the New York brasserie experience decades ago and continues to deliver perfection on a daily basis. Oh, it’s also where the cosmopolitan was invented.
The man who launched The Odeon, Keith McNally, relaunched another of his famous restaurants a few years ago. The Pastis now in the Meatpacking District has all the Gallic flair of the original – and even some of its fixtures and fittings. C’est chic.
Jody Williams has built a mini-chain of Buvettes that spans world cities from Mexico City to Seoul – you might recognise the name from the Notting Hill outpost. New York’s Buvette is the original, where Williams defined and refined her ‘gastrothèque’ concept. The atmosphere is relaxed and the food is note perfect – from the ratatouille to the coq au vin, the dishes are familiar… but better.
Frenchette is an exemplary New York brasserie from Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, who learnt their craft under Keith McNally at Balthazar. The escargots and the entrecote are both here – and both wonderful – but there’s also some contemporary French cooking to set the heart racing. Look out for the poussin à la diable with polenta, turnips, Zephyr squash and Espelette brioche.
Elegant, Michelin-starred Le Coucou is an old-school French delight with a thoroughly modern open-kitchen setup. Chef Daniel Rose has cooked in Paris and he’s brought the classics back him. Beef tartare with Kristal caviar, pike quenelle with lobster sauce, ‘tout le lapin’ – this is a place to go all out.
For a wholeheartedly American take on steak, Hillstone on ritzy Park Avenue offers prime slabs of USDA beef alongside comprehensive sushi and salad menus. Just don’t order your steak ‘well done’ – they might ask you to leave before you’ve had a chance to enjoy the moody, masculine ambience.
Tucked beneath Brooklyn Bridge at the end of a cobblestone driveway, the Michelin-starred River Café is a romantic spot for seafood good enough to take your attention away from its unique waterside views. With magnificent flower arrangements and live piano music, it’s the kind of place that can elicit impromptu marriage proposals.
For good food and good vibes, Avra Madison is a name to know. At the bottom end of Central Park, this buzzing trattoria that attracts the chicest of New Yorkers for big group suppers and date nights alike. The crispy eggplant and zucchini chips with tzatziki are a must-order.
Chef Enrique Olvera made his name with Pujol in Mexico City and his reputation has only grown since he opened Cosme in the Flatiron District. This Michelin-level Mexican is chic, expensive and worth the investment. Its bar does five takes on a margarita – try the ‘Cadillac’ – and it’s even got ‘Mexican Coke’ for soft-drink connoisseurs.
Laser Wolf is a Philadelphia import that’s landed on the roof of Brooklyn’s Hoxton hotel. Head up for Manhattan skyline views and Israeli kebabs cooked over a charcoal grill. Alongside some great steak and chicken options, the harissa-dressed tuna skewers and the grilled aubergine with fried green tomatoes stand out.
Staying in Brooklyn, Planta is a vegan restaurant where tofu – rather than any processed meat replicator – is king. Its Manhattan sister Planta Queen specialises in Asian-inspired vegan, but the menu at Planta is truly global, from the Thai lettuce wraps to the spaghettini carbonara (smoked tempeh, mushroom bacon, cracked pepper, almond parmesan).
For something very special, go downtown and put yourself in the hands of third-generation sushi chef Kunihide Nakajima, who offers a ten-seat omakase experience at Nakaji. You won’t know what you’re getting until you arrive, but there will probably be some sea urchin and you will definitely be looked after by a master of authentic Edomae-style sushi.
BondST does high-end Japanese in a SoHo-style brownstone. Taylor Swift and Gigi Hadid have both been known to enjoy this dark, intimate spot with its low-key interiors and impossibly good sushi. Afterwards, head round the corner to The Nines for a martini.
In low-key surrounds, the husband-and-wife team behind Atoboy are exploring a new kind of Korean cuisine – putting the small side dishes known as ‘banchan’ at the centre of an affordable prix fixe menu. Even in New York you’ll struggle to find other places offering flavour combinations like yellowtail, kombucha, seaweed and watermelon radish.
Ignacio Mattos is building a mini empire of classic New York eateries. In a famous location like 1 Rockefeller Plaza, you could mistake the Uruguay-born chef’s Lodi for a tourist trap. It’s not. The pastries are great in the AM, and evenings revolve around a short and sharp northern Italian menu. Seek out Altro Paradiso in SoHo to try Mattos’s take on a trad Italian neighbourhood restaurant.
They do great hand-made fresh pasta and chicken parm at this unassuming family run joint in Nolita. But if you’re only here once, you have to try the pizza. Rubirosa’s pies are so big they’re delivered to your table on their own platforms. Book as soon as slots open two weeks in advance – and order the vodka pizza and a cold beer.
Just off Bowery, Forsythia is a top spot for fresh, house-made pasta. In a functional trattoria setting, the carbonara is an eternal joy – though it’s the agnolotti with braised short ribs, duck jus and chive that regulars rave about the most.
Missy Robbins has helped some high-end kitchens hold onto their Michelin stars in her time. Today, she runs two outstanding Italian casual diners in Williamsburg. Misi is great but we’re here to talk about its older sister Lilia. In an old garage, Robbins turns out wood-fired Italian classics worth travelling for.
Mercado Little Spain
Another Euro option for you: beneath the High Line in Hudson Yards, the Adria brothers of El Bulli fame are among those behind Mercado Little Spain. This indoor market is a warren of excellent and authentic restaurants, bars and kiosks – try La Barra for tapas, Lena for Basque-style steaks or Mar for seafood.
Dame is a pop-up that’s gone brick in Greenwich Village. Great English seafood – yeah, there’s fish and chips but you might also find raw scallops with peas and rocket – is matched to fun wines and a disco soundtrack. They’ll even do you a Pimm’s.
Birds Of A Feather
Over in Williamsburg, Birds of a Feather does spicy Szechuan dishes and large sharing plates in a simple setting. There’s some serious pedigree in the kitchen: the duo behind it won a Michelin star for Café China in Midtown.
SoHo’s Pinch Chinese has also made it into the Michelin Guide. Superb soup dumplings are the house speciality – choose from pork, chicken and seafood – and you’ll find great crispy duck and dan dan noodles here too. The wine list’s also excellent.
The Handpulled Noodle
Up in Harlem, The Handpulled Noodle is a no-frills place celebrated for its dumplings, but leave room for its ding ding noodles, which don’t really look like noodles as you know them. In fact, the restaurant itself describes them as ‘super addictive mini Chinese gnocchi’.
You might have seen Ivan Orkin on Chef’s Table. He’s the New Yorker whose ramen was so good he opened two restaurants in Tokyo. Find out what all the fuss is about at Ivan Ramen on the Lower East Side – we’d go for his signature triple pork triple garlic mazemen.
Rule Of Thirds
Sitting between Brooklyn warehouses, Rule of Thirds is a sprawling place for Japanese-influenced sharing plates. The signature dish is Buddhist duck served in three courses: breast lettuce wraps, scorched thigh rice and bancha bone tea.
Russ & Daughters
When nothing but a bagel will do, try Russ & Daughters. It’s been doing them for more than a century and offers an array of smoked, cured and pickled fish options – as well as roe and caviar.
Leon’s Bagels is an excellent new-school option in Greenwich Village. Bagels are hand-rolled daily – if you’re in a hurry, grab a classic lox sandwich (scallion cream cheese, lox, tomato, onion and capers) to go at its takeout window.
La Esquina is a lively, no-frills taqueria serving up great Mexican at three locations handily spread across Downtown, Midtown and Uptown Manhattan. Menus run from salads and grain bowls up to meaty tortas, and everything tastes better with a Mexican Coke.
Nolita’s Thai Diner is exactly that. Count on classic dishes like crab fried rice and phat tai stir fry in a fun retro setting that goes big on bamboo and rattan. If you’re passing through early, the Thai tea babka French toast with Thai tea butter and salty condensed milk is an unusual delight.
On the Upper West Side, Maison Pickle is another retro-cool option. French dips – beef baguettes with pan-scraped jus and big dill pickles – are the stars of the show, but the menu of comforting American classics extends to sweet treats like key lime pie and blackout chocolate cake.
12 Chairs is an easy-going Israeli café with bases in SoHo and Williamsburg. Even if you’re not in one of those neighbourhoods, the hummus alone is worth the trek. The rest of the menu travels the world, from Yemenite chicken soup to Moroccan fish and Tunisian-style niçoise.
The Pickle Guys
The Lower East Side used to host hundreds of pickle sellers. Today there is only one. In a no-frills space lined with dozens of pickling barrels, The Pickle Guys soak every fruit or veg you could imagine – from watermelon and pineapples to okra and sprouts. For a taste of old New York, try the fried pickles.
New York pizza joints have to be good to survive and, wandering the city, you’ll rarely be too far from one. Joe’s Pizza is a name to know – as well as the Greenwich Village original that Joe himself opened in the 70s, it has grab-and-go outposts across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Morgenstern’s in Greenwich Village is a great ice cream parlour, offering classic homespun flavours like apple pie or butter pecan alongside more daring options like chai lemon caramel or raspberry black sesame. The team has also just turned its original Lower East Side site into Bananas, which is all about dairy-free soft serve.
The Little Cupcake Bakeshop
The Little Cupcake Bakeshop is our pick for a little afternoon pick-me-up (alright, sugar hit). Ignore the cutesy exterior – there are serious baked goods inside. The melt-in-the-mouth red velvet, the pistachio grape jam or golden vanilla cupcake, the banana chocolate coconut cookie and the caramel pecan cheesecake… All wonderful.
Anyone coming from London will already know how well the Aussies do brunch. In NYC they are proudly represented by Dudley’s. As well as the usual eggs and avo, this cool corner hangout spot on the Lower East Side offers an array of salads and bowls.
Two Hands has also got an Australian accent. At sites in NoHo, Nolita, Tribeca and Williamsburg, it’s got what you’re looking for – whether that’s a breakfast burrito or an açai bowl. The coffee’s on point too.
Banter is another Aussie-style place with a patio, Alongside the great coffee and egg-based staples, it throws in some wellness drinks and healthy salads – though it’s also got bloody marys if you’re taking the day in a different direction.
Maman is a reliable chain of French-influenced bakeries dotted around New York and along the East Coast. Its SoHo flagship hides a peaceful garden where you can enjoy a gentle start to the day – and a full brunch menu.
Clinton Street Baking Co.
Clinton Street Baking Co. is an indie place on the Lower East Side that’s rightly known for its stack-em-high blueberry pancakes. Savoury options on its all-day brunch menu include a choose-your-fillings omelette served with hash browns and sourdough.
Danny Meyer’s Israeli all-day café Daily Provisions has four outposts on Manhattan and a fifth set to open in Brooklyn in summer 2023. Signatures include the Lumberjack – bacon, egg and cheese in a maple cruller (which is a bit like a twisted doughnut).
Beneath a big skylight, a statement marble bar defines the pretty main space at Sisters in Brooklyn. Behind the scenes, the kitchen team uses organic meat and local produce to meet and exceed brunch needs from French toast to fried chicken sandwiches.
From the group behind Carbone and Dirty French, Sadelle’s does classic New York deli dishes from smoked-fish bagels to omelettes. In vintage surroundings in SoHo, its expansive brunch menu also features oysters and a host of salads.
Edith’s Sandwich Counter
Edith’s Sandwich Counter has built its reputation on two items in particular: a standout bacon, egg, latke and cheese sandwich; and its Iced Café slushie (cold brew, tahini, oat milk). Enjoy them both at its outdoor seating or grab and go.
The Butcher’s Daughter
The Butcher’s Daughter bills itself as a ‘vegetable slaughterhouse’. In other words, it’s a veg-focused café and juice bar with a weekend brunch menu that spans smoothies to sweet bakes to a jackfruit-based ‘crab cake’ benedict.