When diners walk through the doors of 15 East, it becomes clear that they are about to have a unique, cultural experience. The restaurant is adorned with dark and minimalist décor that reflects a mysterious ambience. The staff, however, exudes a completely different attitude: executive sushi Chef Masato Shimizu loves teaching his guests about the fish he serves and the tradition behind each dish. The Michelin-starred Shimizu uses only seasonal products from the Union Square Green Market to build the restaurant’s à la carte and tasting menus.
Since its opening in 1982, Arturo’s has been one of the most authentic Italian restaurants in the city. The coal oven pizza has garnered a cult following, and Neapolitan pizza lovers should look elsewhere. Thick, crusty and bold, the pizza ironically mirrors the restaurant’s mish-mosh of staff and locals, who sit at the bar and tell stories about old-time New York while eating an entire pie in one sitting, nightly. Everyone seems to be named Tony. Even better, there’s a piano stringing out tunes—make sure to clap.
Serving inventive and elegant Italian, Babbo is the Batali/Bastianich restaurant. Northern Italian fare is traditional in technique but not necessarily in ingredients, which tend to come from Union Square Farmer’s Market as much as Italy. Simply, you cannot go wrong with anything pasta. Babbo’s wine list is extensive and offers delicious value bottles. Note reservations must be made weeks or months in advance and only the bar is reserved for walk-ins.
West Villagers were sad to see beloved Chez Sardine go, but trusted that the owners would reinvent the space with a similar concept. Following two weeks of renovation, Bar Sardine opened its doors, and while their signature pork and unagi hand rolls have disappeared, a few staples like the delicious cod fritters made the cut. As the new name would indicate, Bar Sardine is a neighborhood watering hole, with beers on tap, a lengthy wine list and craft cocktails (which, I’d say, are the best in the city.) And while the food menu is short, you can be sure that each dish is spectacular.
Thompson Street isn’t Little Italy proper but it boasts some of the city’s best old-school Italian restaurants, including coal fired pizza at Arturo’s and hand-made pastas from Lupa (an original Batali/Bastianich venture). The brainchild of Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi (of ZZ's Clam Bar and Parm), Carbone is old-school Italian-American at its grandest, and most expensive. Located in the old Rocco space (with the original sign to boot) and serving throwback specialties like Baked Clams, Lobster Fra Diavolo, and Veal Marsala, the restaurant is traditional in its Italian-American pomp and circumstance, complete with white tablecloths and copious amounts of red sauce.
Charlie Bird demonstrates farm-to-table in an even simpler way, with a small but focused menu. A happening scene is punctuated by the neighborhood celebrities.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Long gone are the days when Cesar Ramirez’s 18-seat chef’s table was a BYOB operation, whispered about only by certain BK culinary types who hoped fiercely to keep the secret. They could not. Chef’s Table is now a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, and reservations book six weeks in advance. For committed foodies, it’s an incredible experience thanks to the intimate dining space and the chef’s nightly sense of innovation. The twenty-something tasting menu (which changes daily) is priced north of $200, and there is a well-edited wine list.
The team behind cozy and cool Soho restaurant Cómodo opened their second venture, on Fort Greene's neighborhood-y main street, Dekalb Ave. Also following a Latin American–inspired taste, the kitchen focuses on meats and veggies cooked on charcoal grills (in both the indoor, asado style as well as outside clay ovens). There is a gorgeous outdoor space in the back as well as a sunny, greenhouse-like atrium, a particularly charming seating option for delicious weekend brunches.
Contra doesn’t look like much at first, hidden behind an unmarked storefront and with sparse interior décor. But since opening in 2014, the restaurant has been receiving high praise. The simplistic spot focuses on the cuisine, serving one five-course tasting menu that changes daily depending on what’s fresh. The bar has an à la carte menu, but the way to go is with the set menu, which, at only $55, is an absolute steal.
Blending traditional Mexican flavor with local ingredients, Cosme serves such contemporary cuisine as duck carnitas, sliced raw Hamachi and sweet potato flan in sleek, minimalist interiors. The dining room features natural wood tables, potted plants and dim lighting, which reflect the innovative, beautifully presented dishes.
One of New York’s most celebrated culinary temples, headed by star chef Daniel Boulud, this restaurant was designed by Adam Tihany (of Per Se and Le Cirque fame). The dining room and bar area look fresh and inspired, while still preserving such beautiful original details as 18-foot coffered ceilings, balustrades and arches. Special touches include large modern chandeliers with handmade Limoges tiles, a series of large contemporary art works by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés, and circular banquettes that help create intimate dining spaces.
The French menus are inspired and include often-changing, three- or six-course prix fixes and à la carte dining. The sleek bar area, complete with comfortable sitting areas is a great spot to order a night cap and dessert, though one insider avowed that at Daniel, sticking to one course requires a lot of discipline.
At Amanda Cohen’s vegetarian restaurant, any dish can be made vegan, but don’t be deceived – the menu is not only for juice-cleansing health nuts. With appetizers like southern hush puppies, comfort food is abundant, and everything is beautifully plated. While some dishes may sound a little too “earthy” for some (kale matzo ball soup and onion chocolate tart), they’re delicious; Cohen’s Lower East Side spot has been earning rave reviews since opening in 2008.
Opened in 2014 by the team behind Carbone and Parm, Dirty French delivers modern French cuisine in a vibrant dining room at the Ludlow Hotel. The see-and-be-seen bistro on the Lower East Side is packed on any given evening, with well-heeled patrons clamoring for a taste of the Moroccan-accented dishes, like a decadent, Peking duck–style chicken and crepes for two (served with many accouterments) and the exquisite complimentary bread: freshly-baked pita is served with herbed fromage blanc. When diners include the recently spotted Martha Stewart, you know you’re at the right spot.
Eleven Madison Park
Opened in 1998 by restaurateur-extraordinaire Danny Meyer, the restaurant was not an instant hit, rather it tried out several incarnations before fully growing into its potential. Foodies attribute this transformation to the immense talent of chef Daniel Humm, who arrived at Eleven Madison in 2006 and has won every accolade since. Frank Bruni awarded the restaurant four stars in one of his final reviews for the New York Times, acclaimed food writer Alan Richman wrote his final pieces for GQ about the restaurant and Humm took home the James Beard Award for Best New York City Chef in 2010 and the Michelin guide awarded it three stars in 2012.
Eleven Madison is the perfect combination for gourmets who are looking for a big-night-out (or a big lunch out) in a grand setting that is not in Midtown, as Le Bernardin or Per Se are. Strictly speaking, the food is French-inspired, but Humm also dips into molecular gastronomy and in the course of a meal, diners are in for many culinary surprises, especially in the slew of creative amuses that amaze and overwhelm in technique, flavor combination and taste. The wine list is well-edited and service is among the best in the city. The staff at 11 Madison is professional but warm and everyone speaks about food and wine with knowledge and passion that cannot be faked.
Despite the seemingly endless array of pizza joints studding Brooklyn, foodies are loyal to Emily, which is adored for its delectable pies like the Colony (red sauce, homemade mozzarella, pickled chilis, pepperoni, honey) and the Emily (white sauce, pistachios, mozzarella, honey, truffle sottocenere). Opened in 2013, the Clinton Hill joint has also gained cult status with burger lovers: Emily serves theirs on a pretzel bun and topped with charred onion, melted cheddar and a special “Emmy sauce.” Go early: there are a limited number of burgers served each night.
Estela is the new gem for winos and foodies in the Nolita area. Recently written about in Food & Wine Magazine as having one of the best (and most affordable) wine lists in the city, the restaurant has a menu that combines the simplicity of market-driven cuisine with a level of fine dining. A Blue Hill Stone Barns alumni beverage director and a James Beard Award-nominated chef make Estela the place to be.