NYC’s Best of the Best: Classic Spots from My City Days

Editor’s note: I lived in the city from 2009 to 2016, so these suggestions represent that time of my life and may be a bit outdated! For my fully up-to-date recs, click here. 

It’s been two years since I left New York City. I spent 8 years “cheking” out new restaurants and bakeries daily and have over 600 restaurant review blog posts on here to prove it. Since I still get requests about where to eat from my NYC friends and more importantly from my Texas friends and new friends, I decided to write a post about where I make a point to eat and visit when I go back. These are my special places, and I hope you enjoy them, too.

EAST VILLAGE/LOWER EAST SIDE

  1. Prune – My type of dining always includes a whole fish, creative vegetable sides, good wine, and an easy going yet informative staff. Prune’s pink outlines, handwritten menus, and small quarters create a European dining experience and a place you wish you could keep secret.
  2. Lil’ Frankies – The first place I ever had burrata (which is flown in from Italy) and honestly, still the best burrata I’ve ever had. Good for big groups and pizza eaters.
  3. Momofuku Ssam Bar – My favorite place for sardines on toast and banana leaf roasted fish. Gotta get the pork buns.
  4. Russ & Daughter’s Cafe – I thought I could do with the pastrami smoked salmon I buy at Trader Joe’s now living in Austin. Man, once you eat the fresh gravlax here or really any Jewish deli in NYC, you’re smoked salmon is trash. Come here for the fish platters and Babka French Toast.
  5. Wildair – A natural wine bar with lots of plates to choose from, and the best bread. No reservations.
  6. Katz’s Deli – Does it even need an explanation? Pastrami sandwiches on rye. The chicken noodle soup is actually really good too as well as the yellow cake with chocolate icing whether you are there at 12 p.m. or 3 a.m.
  7. Petee’s Pie – This is the best pie I’ve ever had in my life. I accidentally chose the vegan and gluten free berry option, and I will choose that one every time due to it’s perfect crumb.
  8. Sugar Sweet Sunshine – I come here for the cake in a cup not a cake slice. This way I can eat it with a spoon and each bite is a perfect cake to icing ratio. I also love the puddings from peanut butter to pumpkin.
    ***Cervo’s – A new restaurant I tried in 2018, that is now at the top of my list. Also, natural wines, but the best whole mackerel I’ve ever had along with calamari, radishes, shisito peppers, etc.
Momofuku Ssam Bar

MEATPACKING DISTRICT

  1. The Standard Grill – A fun spot for outdoor drinking and oysters.
  2. CATCH – My favorite scene and be seen spot with fantastic sushi, cantonese lobster, music, and cocktails.
  3. Santina – Nice healthyish option for brunch before heading to the Whitney or Highline.
  4. Barbuto – While JW chicken is the most famous roast chicken in town along with their kale salad, it’s the garage style door and corner restaurant on Washington Street that makes it so quaint. If you go for lunch, get the pizza. The dough is so good!
  5. Ample Hills at Bubby’s – I spend a lot of time walking around to all my old ice cream and cookie haunts at least to say hi and pop in for a scoop or maybe even just a sample! (oops) Go for the munchies here. 

WEST VILLAGE

  1. Quality Eats – For some reason, this affordable steak centric spot has my favorite octopus with lentils. Love the humor in the design and the ice cream cake sundaes.
  2. Carbone – While I don’t visit this restaurant on every visit, I know you are looking here for my faves so this is one you can’t miss. Looking to be impressed and also impress others, this is my #1 spot to tell you to go. The old-school service, best veal parmesan, and close but separate dining rooms create an experience you’ll never be able to recreate.
  3. Blue Ribbon Sushi – My favorite sushi in NYC because you can get that sushi/sashimi combo plate and the Japanese wooden decor and simple booths create a slick atmosphere. It’s always easy to snag for lunch, and if you want a dinner res for a big crew, go to the lower east side location in the Sixty LES Hotel.
  4. L’Artusi – This is probably collectively the entire city’s favorite modern Italian. Tucked in a cozy West Village street, the menu is split into exactly the way you want to eat: a nice crudo to start, vegetables, pastas, fish, and meat. It’s almost like an Italian steakhouse with all the courses. Make sure to get your res as close to a month in advance as possible. I saw Mike Myers here once.
  5. Minetta Tavern – Early or late night, this Keith McNally spot in the middle of Greenwich Village is hoppin’. Just like all his restaurants, it feels flirty with the tables close up on each other and dim mood lighting. The black and white checkered floor and alfresco style walls make it sexy for a date or just cool enough for business. The main point in coming here is for the burger though, so don’t leave without it.
  6. Cookie DO– The bakery that started the edible cookie dough craze across the country. It’s still the best one on the market. Go for the sweet and salty and get a vanilla ice cream scoop.
  7. Dominque Ansel Kitchen – The famous pastry chef has two bakeries and this one is my favorite. The chocolate chunk cookie and granola win my heart.

***A spot I had never been before now love is Meme for a casual walk-in Mediterranean dinner and wine.

SOHO/NOILTA

  1. Balthazaar – Classic France in the middle of SoHo, you’ll see all kinds of Europeans here as well. Oyster towers, bread baskets, and pungent French onion soup. It’s quite lovely at Christmas time as well and a great place to duck into while shopping.
  2. Black Seed Bagel’s – My favorite bagel in the city because it is not as big as your head. I like the doughy-ness and they do fun collaborations with other restaurants in town.
  3. Estela – Sure President Obama ate here, but more importantly I lived across the street for 4 years. Every plate and bottle of wine looks thirst quenching. Order the mussels escabeche on toast,  lamb ribs, ricotta dumplings. Be sure to say hi to the GM, my pal Andrew Lawson!
  4. Ruby’s – This small cafe is inundated by Australians, and the menu is untouchable. Just what you want no matter if it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I love all the salads, and rice bowls such as Shrimp Avocado, Crispy Rice Bowl with Haloumi and a Fried Egg; Bronte Burger with their special Sweet Chilli sauce and then the Green Eggs bowl with spinach, kale, peas, avocado, and salsa verde for brekkie.
  5. Rubirosa – For when you’re looking for a sit-down pizza restaurant that also has gluten-free crust, this is the jam. Known for it’s Vodka Pizza, I appreciate their meatballs more as well as their well composed salads, pastas, vegetables, and secondi selections for those who might not be into the ‘za that include Chicken Parm, 24 Day Dry-Aged Strip, Steak, Branzino, etc.
  6. Prince Street Pizza – The perfect late night pizza slice or square is known to make vegetarians eat pepperoni (I’m looking at you Hyo Jin!). Somehow, every time I come back to visit we get there right after 2 a.m. once it’s closed. Why aren’t they open until 4?
  7. Sadelle’s – For an elegant bagel, lox, and matzo ball soup brunch that you’d imagine the queen having, this is for you.
  8. Shuka – Best for either dinner or brunch, the Mediterranean and Israeli flavors explode in your mouth with mezze like Fried Halloumi, Crispy Cauliflower, Za’Atar Fries, and dips like Beet Tzatziki, and Labne. All the vegetables and items with dates are a winner, and obviously get the shakshuka for brunch. If you want to let them take the evening into the kitchen’s hands, they do a selection of dips, mezze, kebabs, dessert for $54. WOW!
  9. The Dutch – The gorgeous bar in the center of the dining room makes it feel communal and neighborly. The windows looking right out onto Prince Street so you feel like you are outside almost. I prefer brunch over dinner, and always get the Turkey Sandwich with avocado.
  10. Uncle Boons group dining– I owe this restaurant everything for transforming me into a curry lover! The decor feels like you could be in the movie Jumanji, and it emits that New York cool design factor and excitement. They have awesome options for and I actually hosted a bachelorette party dinner here because of that. My favorite dishes are: Mee Krob with Crispy Cauliflower, Khao Soi, Massaman Neuh with Boneless Beef Rib, and Rotisserie Chicken.
  11. Sweets by Chloe – This cute vegan bakery has a lot of cookies, breads, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, muffins, and cupcakes. I love the chocolate chip banana bread.
  12. ACME Downstairs– For dancing after midnight

CHELSEA

  1. City Cakes – These are my ride or die guys. Head downstairs into the shop which you might miss if you aren’t looking out for it. Give Marc a “what up from Chekmark” and go about your day with your half-pound chocolate chip cookie.
  2. Cookshop – My all time favorite brunch dish in NYC, is the Cookshop Scramble. The most perfect buttermilk biscuit with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.

FLATIRON

  1. ABC V – Jean Georges vegetarian spot in his trifecta of ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina makes a unique breakfast. Maca-Cacao energy shakes, chia bowls, dosas, are all available. The best order, however, is the Kitchari which is a traditional Indian dish with yogurt, vegetables, mint, turmeric, and fermented carrot.
  2. Gramercy Tavern – Treat yourself to the 3-course tasting menu or grab a seat at the bar for a drink, a burger, and a casual menu. The fresh flowers alone make this spot special.
  3. Upland – This dining room is worth a million bucks. Of course in the Stephen Starr family, the cozy booths, bright green tiles, and jars with preserved lemons line the perimeter of the restaurant. Expect to indulge in Pizzas, Little Gem Salads, Pappardelle, and Roasted Proteins.
  4. Bread’s Bakery– Go for babka and cookies

***For a places to grab a casual lunch head to Hu Kitchen, Momoya Sushi, The Little Beet, Made Nice, Hill Country Chicken, Inday, or Cha Cha Matcha for some tea and soft serve. Also, a little further east is Studio at The Freehand hotel. Their breakfast pastries rule, and the hotel is gorgeous!

Gramercy Tavern

TRIBECA

  1. Restaurant Marc Forgione – Anytime someone asks me where to spend their money on a special meal, I say Forge. Every dish is outstanding, you never feel robbed, and it’s cozy with wooden tables instead of white linens and tasting menus which I am not a fan of. Start with the Kampachi which has a sechuan button and something I promise you’ve never had anywhere else in NYC or on your tongue. My favorite fish dish from any restaurant in the world is here, the Rose Halibut en Croute with hazelnuts, cauliflower and PROPOSAL SAUCE. Yup, so many women proposed to chef Forgione after they tried this he had to rename it. End the fabulous meal with the 10 minute chocolate chip cookies.

BROOKLYN
My favorite thing in the whole world that I do no matter what, is to walk the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side/Nolita to one of my favorite restaurants in Williamsburg. I walked this bridge for exercise or to get to this neighborhood so many times when I lived in NoHo. It’s a breath of fresh air, great views, and a memory I will always take with me.

  1. Lilia – There’s a reason you can’t get a table at this wood-fired Italian fare and homemade pasta house, but more importantly you must. Set those Resy reminders on their app and find a way in. Also, try to eat with as many people as possible or befriend your neighbors because every single thing on the menu is worth it! Cacio e Pepe Fritelle, Homemade Mozzarella with Lemon, (skip the cauliflower), Grilled Blowfish Tails, Lemon Spaghetti, Sheeps Milk Cheese Filled Agnolotti, Black Bass with Salsa Verde and the homemade gelato are the 7 (YES SEVEN) dishes you cannot live without.
  2. Westlight at the William Vale Hotel – Best rooftop spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.
  3. Marlow & Sons – The first restaurant I ever ate at in Brooklyn. It taught me simplicity, peacefulness, and happiness all through my plate. Real food with just a little bit of olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper go a long way. Tasty as can be and about one of everything.
  4. Roberta’s – The spot that put Bushwick on the map. Heritage Radio tapes out of here, and lunch is an easy way to get in. I actually prefer it because the Sweet Potato with Fried Egg, Kale, Jalapeno and Chimichurri might be even better than their famous Bee Sting Pizza with Mike’s Hot Honey— only half kidding.
  5. Peter Pan Donuts– The best cake doughnuts also happen to be all the way out in Greenpoint.

***Misi is another new spot (from Missy Robbins of Lilia). If you are just trying to get after her pasta and roasted veg, go here! If you prefer other dishes and want a larger selection, head to Lilia.

PRE-THEATER–

The dining in the theater district is quite terrible. I get this question the most. I recommend eating somewhere in Flatiron early like Gramercy Tavern and then scoot up to your show just in time. While not everyone will make a move like this, here are the few I do recommend in midtown:

  1. Sushi Seki Times Square – Quality sushi and a light meal when you are eating early to make a show. It allows you to save room for dessert after the show!
  2. Joe Allen’s – This place is a classic and always packed. My mom took me here in high school, and it feels very classic, old-time New York City. Bricks  and theater posters line the walls, and the waiters all seem to have the thickest New York accents. Pretty sure I had escargot here for the first time.
  3. Cafe China – A little out of the way, but worth the extra 15 min walk so you can have a memorable Chinese meal. I love this place!
  4. Magnolia Bakery– At least crab a pint of banana pudding! It’s by Radio City Music Hall. Even though Sex & The City made their cupcakes famous, I only go for the pudding, bars, and pies.