10 Top NYC Restaurant Experiences

From no-frills budget fare to a special meal to remember forever, TravelMuse’s editor shares her top picks for authentic and memorable New York City dining.

When people I know plan a trip to New York, the question I get asked more than any other is, “What restaurants do you recommend?”

As someone who loves to eat out—anytime, anywhere, any cuisine—I understand why they ask, but it can be a mighty tough question to answer. Several variables must be considered, such as cuisine preferences, neighborhood, atmosphere and budget, for starters. There are some dining experiences, however, that just shouldn’t be missed during a visit to New York. Below are a few of my favorites.

Old New York

Katz’s Delicatessen. Jewish deli. Open since 1888, this is one of the last of the few remaining classic New York delis, and it’s being threatened by gentrification. Sublime pastrami; quirky atmosphere. Don’t lose the ticket you’re handed when you walk in as you’ll need it to get out. Order at the counter and scrounge for a table, or sit at one of the usually available seats along the wall for waiter service. Get a plate of pickles! Sit back and soak up the atmosphere that seemingly hasn’t changed since World War II.
Lower East Side. 205 E. Houston at Ludlow, tel. 212-254-2246, www.katzdeli.com.

Caffe Reggio. Old World Italian café. Long for the days of Greenwich Village filled with artists, writers and philosophers instead of yuppies? Bring your journal and Sartre and spend some time here, especially since most of the other iconic European coffeehouses in the neighborhood have closed, including Le Figaro Café. Reggio serves deliciously fresh and surprisingly affordable dishes. Nothing on the menu is more than $7.50, and the $6 paninis come with salad. The prices have barely changed since my first visit more than 20 years ago. Cash only.
Greenwich Village. 119 MacDougal St., tel. 212-475-9557.

Worthy Hot Spots

Momofuku. Inventive Asian; named after the man who invented ramen. Owner David Chang is New York’s favorite chef-du-jour and was named 2008 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: New York City. He has three Momofuku restaurants: Noodle, Ssäm (my favorite) and Ko (the newest, which I have not yet visited). Fine noodles, succulent pork, the freshest available ingredients all around.
East Village, all three locations. www.momofuku.com

Spotted Pig. Gastropub; English and Italian. Fantastic Roquefort burger; definitely try the restaurant’s signature dish, gnudi (ricotta dumplings with pesto). Even though the space nearly doubled a couple years ago, unless you have a reservation, expect a long wait. I’m looking forward to owner/chef April Bloomfield’s new venture, The John Dory Restaurant, opening later this fall in the nearby Meatpacking District.
West Village, 314 W. 11th St., tel. 212-620-0393, www.thespottedpig.com.

Special Occasions

Le Bernardin. Seafood. One of New York’s finest eateries with flawless seafood and service. A new classic that hopefully will be around for decades. Splurge on one of the tasting menus.
Midtown. 155 W. 51st St., tel. 212-554-1515, www.le-bernardin.com.

wd-50. New American. Chef Wylie Dufresne makes food chemistry fun. He plays with people’s expectations of taste, texture and presentation for an unforgettable meal. The tasting menu is the way to go here too, or if $140 is too steep, dine elsewhere but come in for the three- or five-course dessert tastings ($38 and $48, respectively).
Lower East Side. 50 Clinton St., tel. 212-477-2900, www.wd-50.com.

Perennial Favorites

My top pick for this category, Balthazar—consistently excellent after more than 10 years in business—is covered by Laurie Bain Wilson in her 7 Family Friendly Restaurants article, and several of my usual runners-up have closed in the past year due to skyrocketing rents, a sad fact affecting far too many worthy places. Still, there are plenty of great remaining options.

Landmarc. French/Italian bistro. Every dish I’ve had here (original Tribeca space, haven’t yet tried the new uptown outpost) has been fantastic. Sweatbreads and moules frites are faves. Its more casual sister restaurant in the Village, Ditch Plains, recently changed its menu (why, oh why, did you drop the bowl of bacon?!) and upped its prices, but is still one of the best casual places in town for free Wi-Fi with your anytime eggs and coffee.
Tribeca and Columbus Circle in the Time-Warner Building. www.landmarc-restaurant.com
Greenwich Village. 29 Bedford St. at Downing, tel. 212-633-0202, www.ditch-plains.com.

Blue Ribbon Sushi. Japanese. Aside from the sashimi always being fantastic and the omakasi creative but never over-the-top, I love this place (and others in its mini-chain empire) because of its late hours: The kitchen is open until 3 a.m.
Greenwich Village. 119 Sullivan St., tel. 212-343-0404, www.blueribbonrestaurants.com.

Brooklyn Hangouts

I have to take a little editorial liberty and tout my home borough—not just because I live there, but because the food scene is the best it’s ever been, and getting better.

The Farm on Adderley. American. Organic, locally sourced ingredients; fresh, simple dishes, excellently prepared. The Arctic char, trout and burger are wonderful. Fantastic fries, cheese plates and rosemary focaccia served with a lavender- and herb-infused olive oil. Garden seating available.
Ditmas Park. 1108 Cortelyou Rd., tel. 718-287-3101, www.thefarmonadderley.com.

Bar Toto. Italian. Many items are imported directly from Italy, which are used to create incomparable paninis and pizzas, antipastos and bruschettas large enough to feed two. Do not miss the sublime chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut gelato trio for dessert.
Park Slope. 411 11th St., tel. 718-768-4698, www.bartoto.com.

Destinations: New York City

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat

User Comments

Revised Review - Landmarc I have updated comments for Landmarc. 1) The restaurant does not offer glasses of wine, but rather half bottles with a low mark up, starting at $20. This is great for those looking to share and order different labels to try with a meal. Not so good for someone looking to have just one glass. 2) The dining room is very noisy. 3) Had dinner there last night and was very surprised to find the quality of the food did not live up to that experienced during my previous visits. The service is still good and the portions remain plentiful, but the pork shop was on the dry side and the sweatbreads were bland. Accompanying sides were slopped onto the plates, and the brown sauces used for both dishes were too similar. I'm hoping this was just a one-off bad night...

Cool, Donna, can't wait to read it KF

Overhyped restaurants Funny you should ask ... that's what is the focus of my weekend TravelMusings blog post.

Which restaurants in NYC are most over-rated? Which ones don't live up to the hype?

Brooklyn The Farm and Bar Toto are fantastic. Never had a bad meal at either place.