Only The Best: Eating & Drinking in New York City
I lived as a full-time resident in New York City for just over 11 years. In that time, I was many different people. I lived in more neighborhoods than I care to count and I worked a plethora of jobs, from temp to waitress to copy director at Vogue.
But one thing has been consistent since I arrived: My voracious appetite for the city's best food and drink. In my humble opinion, NYC offers more culinary knockouts than any American city, with the best food, service, and atmosphere to boot.
I've been compiling this list for months, partly for myself and also because I get asked often by friends and tourists where they ought to visit when they come into town. Behold: My personal scrapbook of favorites. The spots that I, a devourer of food and appreciator of great experiences, have made note of over the last decade.
For fancy drinks...
Mother of Pearl, East Village.
You're going to want to snap pics of this decor. Same owners as Death & Co. and Cienfuegos, and it has a great vegan menu & cocktails. If you love a Palm Springs Tiki Bar vibe like I do, you'll be pleased.
The Beekman Hotel, Tribeca.
Featuring some of the most gorgeous interiors I've ever seen in my life, this bustling downtown cocktail bar and restaurant is worth Uptowners taking a trip south. And obviously the cocktails are amazing, too.
Same people as Elsa, the love-of-my-life cocktail bar on Avenue B that has since shut down. Beautifully made, expertly crafted cocktails + a damn fine cheese plate in a high-ceilinged, white-walled space.
The Happiest Hour, West Village.
Great decor, fun (and delicious cocktails), and reportedly good food.
Maison Premiere, Williamsburg.
Tourists have seen to it that no local will ever step foot inside this bar again, unless it's a rainy Monday night in February. But if you have the constitution to be told by a red-lipped woman dressed in faux 1930s garb that it will be a 3-hour wait, then give it a shot. They serve the best Old Fashioned I've ever hard in my life. Plus, the raw bar is amazing.
Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, Upper East Side.
Even if you don't see a show here, you gotta go have a martini or something. It's iconic.
The Topaz, Bushwick.
Head bartender at Elsa, who also helped set up Ramona (above), opened his own place in Brooklyn. Great cocktails, great staff, and great vibes all around.
The Bar Below Rye, Williamsburg.
It's got the same amazing Old Fashioned as the restaurant upstairs, but in a cocktail bar setting. The bar is the kind of dimly lit space that makes you feel as if all time stands still.
Desnuda, East Village.
Go for the tequila drinks and the mezcal, but stay for the free truffle popcorn at the bar.
Achilles Heel, Greenpoint.
If you're looking for a cozy, seemingly off-the-beaten path bar, this is your vibe. It's an intimate atmosphere with great cocktails. Try the punch.
Cotton Club, Harlem.
To be fair, this isn't really a cocktail bar. But it's a legendary spot where you can hear some damn fine live jazz. I went on a date years ago and had the time of my life. And I didn't even get a cocktail. I got a whiskey on the rocks.
For a low-key experience...
Mable's Barbecue, Williamsburg.
For a Mississippi girl, this BBQ spot is as close to home as I can get in NYC.
Dive bar with pool tables, High Life, shot specials, etc. I once saw a pretentious-looking actor from Gossip Girl there, but most of the time, it's just normal drunk people.
Blue Collar Burger, Williamsburg.
It's not Shake Shack, because I love a Shack Burger as much as the next girl. But Blue Collar is similar in arrangement and comes with a sexy special sauce.
Rockaway Beach Surf Club, the Rockaways.
Unless it's summer, you probably won't go here. But if you happen to be in NYC in the summer, get your butt on the A train (or find a friend with a car) and go to the Rockaways. Fall asleep in the sand, eat a veggie burger at Rippers and most definitely eat fish tacos at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club.
Brooklyn Crab, Red Hook.
New Yorkers rejoice anytime they are presented with the opportunity to drink beers outdoors, among vast spaces, while the sun sets on a gorgeous day. The menu isn't terribly extensive, so just get the crab if you can. When in Rome, you know?
Blockheads Burritos, all over.
Hungover? Need a cheap lunch? It's not California-style Mexican food by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a good-enough wrap, burrito, or quesadilla when you need it.
Wilma Jean, Carroll Gardens.
Chef Rob Newton formerly owned and helmed the kitchen at Seersucker, a Brooklyn locale known for elevating southern food in an eclectic manner. He closed it, to great sadness on my part, and opened Wilma Jean, a no-fuss fried chicken joint. R.I.P Seersucker, but this fried chix is good.
The Drift, Williamsburg.
This newly opened dive bar is owned by the same people who own The Commodore, a kitschy NOLA-from-1980s-themed bar that I boycotted years ago due to terrible treatment by both the staff and its patrons. But I've always like The Commodore's food, drinks, and general vibe, which has thankfully been passed on to their sister bar, The Drift. Even better, The Drift had boiled peanuts (a very rare find in NYC)!
For date night (with the girls or the boys)...
Olea, Fort Greene.
Epic tapas, great wine, chill, easy vibe.
The Water Table, Greenpoint.
I wouldn't go for the food, but for a NYC dinner cruise, it's not bad. The boat docks in Greenpoint, which means the majority of tourists won't brave the way. It's on a historic World War II boat, and was one of the funnest "touristy" things I've ever done in my own city.
Great cocktails, great food, great service, great atmosphere. Rye always gets it right, all the time.
Birds and Bubbles, Lower East Side.
You read right: Champagne and fried chicken. Chef Sarah Simmons of City Grit opened this place on the LES and it is, hands down, some of the best fried chicken I've ever had in NYC.
I go way back with this wine and cheese bar , so it's dear to my heart for several reasons, but mostly because it's never too loud or crowded. It's perfect for a glass of rosé on a sunny Saturday afternoon and equally as lovely for a glass of red at happy hour.
Tasty wine, yummy cheese plate, friendly staff, cozy decor. It's so new that it's not yet crawling with people who annoy you.
Locanda Verde, Tribeca.
Pasta! Pasta! Pasta! Think: dimly lit space with an abundance of dark wood, a bustling atmosphere, and outstanding food. It can be a bit of a scene, so make a reservation.
Missy Robbins (Obama's favorite chef) opened this spot just blocks from my old apartment. Call it serendipity or a mild obsession, but I love this place. Simple pastas, beautiful cocktails, extensive wine list, and top-notch service are the name of the game.
Buttermilk Channel, Carroll Gardens.
Yeah...more fried chicken. But the rest of the menu is just as good. It's usually pretty busy, so plan accordingly.
Monkey Bar, Midtown.
Monkey Bar is probably more reputable as a watering hole for high-profile professionals, but I, personally, went on a date there. With a high-profile professional. It's kind of legendary, we had oysters, and it all felt as swanky as it intends to.
El Almacen, Williamsburg.
So much to say about this spot. It's one of the most unsuspecting restaurants off the Bedford L and has been for years. The tourists, the entitled assholes, and the developers have managed to stay away. The servers are all gorgeous in this effortless Argentinian way, the food is exceptional, and there is almost never a wait to sit (unless you go at peak dinnertime with a party of 6+, of course). My advice? Order the spinach/cheese/corn empanadas, ceviche, avocado fries, churros, and of course, steak. Yeah. All of it.
Frankies Spuntino, West Village or Carroll Gardens.
I always get the Lambrusco, a crostini, and a pasta. It's like religion.
This is one of those spots that's always been popular, and grew increasingly so with the Billyburg Boom. I think the brunch is better than dinner, but no matter when you go, the Bloody Mary's are always spot-on and the burger will never disappoint.
Situated at street level of the Wythe Hotel, Reynard--if you go at the right time--is surprisingly low key, which is a stark contrast from the hotel's rooftop bar, The Ides. Soaked in natural sunlight during the day, the space is airy and elegant. The food is fresh and the drinks are consistently good.
Concord Hill, Williamsburg.
Oh, sweet local brunch. This space used to be Sel de Mer, an awesome little spot that my husband and I would frequent for brunch and dinner. When it became Concord Hill, however, we were all but unaffected. The way they prepare their cold brew coffee, even though I'm pretty sure it's just Grady's, makes it taste like a coffee milkshake, and my all-time favorite dish is the Loco Moco. The breakfast sandwich is not to be scoffed at, either.
Brooklyn Star, Williamsburg.
It's your typical "down home, southern-inspired" Brooklyn restaurant, but it's always good and even during weekend brunch, it's manageable. Whether I order ham steak at brunch or a dinner of country fried steak, this place always gets me where it matters--in the gut.
Le Barricou, Williamsburg.
From the same peeps at Maison Premiere, this place is best known for brunch. (Get there early.) They serve fantastic Bloody Marys, a jaw-dropping Croque Madame, and you can't really go wrong with just about anything else on the menu.
The General Greene, Fort Greene.
I used to frequent this place when I lived in Ft. Greene several years ago, but it's not lost its charm. I remember the coffee being excellent and the baked eggs always a winner.
The Smith, East Village.
I think The Smith is overpriced and maybe overhyped, but I have to admit it's quite a brunch experience (especially during a hangover). I've always been cured by a Bloody Mary there and some fries, the chips and blue cheese dip, a hot cup of tomato soup, or any number of sandwiches. I've never felt rushed, either, which is a quality deserving of praise in the world of NYC brunch spots.
For Cheap Eats...
Nice Green Bo, Chinatown.
Scallion pancakes and soup dumplings for under $10. Need I say more?
El Diablo Taco Truck at Union Pool, Williamsburg.
They have queso! Do you know how hard it is to find good queso in New York City? Grab a beer from inside and chill outdoors with a quesadilla.
La Bella Mariella, Williamsburg.
Of all the late-night pizza joints I've frequented (which is a lot), this is one of my favorites. All the slices are good, but the Grandma slice is particularly worthy of note.
The Coffee Shops...
Petite Shell, Upper East Side.
The mini croissants and iced coffee on tap are enough to get you there, but the airy decor will make you want to stay.
Smith Canteen, Carroll Gardens.
Owned by Rob Newton (Nightingale 9, Wilma Jean, Black Walnut, and formerly Seersucker), the King Restaurateur of the Carroll Gardens/Downtown Brooklyn area. This cozy coffee nook offers sandwiches, small bites, and coffee/tea. I like to get the Berkshire Ham & Cheese sandwich and a cup o' joe to go.
Beaner Bar, Williamsburg.
If you're looking for a neighborhood vibe, you've found it. At any given hour, you'll find locals posting at the bar eating a breakfast taco, drinking coffee and reading the paper, or just killing time and chatting with the barista. They serve Counter Culture coffee, but with a secret twist (no, it's not booze).
Mud, East Village.
The food's not bad, but the coffee is the reason to go. Let them make it for you--with real milk and real sugar. Iced or hot, it's some of New York's best joe.
For Healthful Goodness...
By Chloe, SoHo.
I'm not vegan (far from it), and this is the best vegan fare I've ever had. While I imagine everything on the menu is good, the veggie burger, the artichoke dip, and the mac n' cheese are all something to write home about.
The Juice Press, all over.
There are several locations of this vegan "deli" and juice bar. The Pico de Gallo salad and Clean Green Protein smoothie are my go-to picks.
Peacefood Café, Union Square/NYU.
I only ate here once, to be fair, but I was impressed, nonetheless. This is a great spot if you're looking for good vegan food without the crunchy-granola atmosphere.
Dimes, Lower East Side.
Wheatgrass margarita. I know, it sounds like a contradiction, right? That's the m.o. at Dimes. The food is clean, but delicious. It's trendy, but relaxed. There's almost always a wait, but it's worth it if you've got the time.
Lil Frankies, East Village.
I've just never had a bad meal here. The pizza is consistently good, the pasta is comforting, and even thought it's near 1st & 1st (the center of the universe) it's managed to maintain a neighborhood kind of vibe.
Kesté, West Village.
You can just tell the ingredients are fresh. I've only popped in a handful of times, but the pizza here is never a disappointment.
Two Boots, all over.
Two Boots is not unique to NYC, but it's been one of my go-to joints for whole wheat crust.
Emmy Squared, Wiliamsburg.
I didn't know that "Detroit-style pizza" was a thing until I knew Emmy Squared. Seemingly all the pizza is pretty good (I am pretty content with plain ole pepperoni), but if you're gonna branch out, try The Emmy.
Artichoke, Union Square + Washington Square area + High Line area.
There was a time that I only frequented this tiny pizza joint around 3 a.m. The line would stretch out the door and down the block, and I'd wait, drunk and hungry. Now that I've largely retired from late-night Manhattan escapades, I go during the day to relish my slices sober. Be prepared that you may only be able to stomach 1 slice if you get "the Artichoke." However, the other slices are equally as good and potentially less likely to give you an immediate heart attack.
Vezzo, Murray Hill or Posto, Union Square-ish.
There isn't much to the atmosphere. The pasta is fine and the salads will get the job done. But the thin crust pizza at these sister restaurants is what keeps me coming back over and over again.
Di Fara Pizza, Midwood.
I had to include this joint because it's one of the oldest, most popular pizza places in New York. Be prepared for a trek (unless you live in lower/middle Brooklyn) and be prepared to wait in line. Expect the ingredients to be fresh and that Domenico DeMarco, the founder and elderly gentleman who will cut fresh basil over your pie with his scissors, will be there making the pies.
I mean, go if you must. Is the pizza good? It is. Is it worth waiting three hours on Wednesday to sit? No. But in my mind, nothing is. If you can snag a seat or you're willing to wait, then yes, the food is very good.
For the Tourist who wants to "eat like a local" but only kinda...
PJ Clarke's is an NYC institution. Will be a mix of locals and tourists.
All of the Momofuku restaurants are good if you like modern iterations on Chinese food. They are all David Chang restaurants, so you can't go wrong.
Parm has very good Italian sandwiches; there are three locations.
Monkey Bar (see "Date Night") is a high-end, kind of legendary spot.
The Smith (see "Brunch") is great for brunch, lunch or dinner. I've only been to the downtown location, but I'm sure midtown is great.
Sarabeth's for brunch or lunch is a bit touristy, but very good. There are lots of locations.
One Last Thing...
My favorite ice cream in all of New York City is at a little stand called Uncle Louie G. Their chocolate peanut butter and their chocolate chip cookie dough flavors are, to this day, the best ice cream I've ever had.