Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the New York City Greats.
New York is undoubtedly a restaurant city. In a place where most people live in small apartments with even tinier kitchens, restaurants aren’t just a convenience—they stand in for New Yorkers’ living rooms and backyards, giving residents spaces to gather outside their homes.
While there are restaurants on every city block, there are some that make such an impact on the city’s culture that it’s hard to imagine New York without them. Some have been around so long that they’ve become synonymous with a cuisine or neighborhood, such as Grand Central Oyster Bar and its 100-plus years inside its namesake train station. Some are newcomers that immediately expand the restaurant landscape, like Rangoon’s singular approach to Burmese food in Brooklyn. And some, like Harlem’s Red Rooster, support their community as much as their community supports them.
These are the qualities that make up The Greats: a list of 23 restaurants, ranging from laidback to dressed up, that define what it means to eat, live, and love in New York City.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (Hell’s Kitchen)
This tasting menu restaurant launched in a space attached to the grocery store with which it still shares a name (Brooklyn Fare) on Schermerhorn Street in pre-development Brooklyn. Its unorthodox location, combined with chef César Ramirez’s luxurious, truffle-laden menu at a fittingly high price point, forced recognition that the borough could finally compete with Manhattan’s fine dining restaurants, earning it three MICHELIN stars. It has since relocated to Manhattan, but the experience is the same—an expensive ticket that pays off in plates of uni, lobster, and a front-row seat to watch the chef at work.
Dining at the restaurant: The best seat in the house is at the chef’s counter, where you have an immediate view of the action.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout.
Combining the service standards of a fine dining restaurant, the meticulous sourcing of a steakhouse, and the flavors of Korean barbecue, Cote is the quintessential modern MICHELIN-starred NYC restaurant. Expertly trained servers grill house-aged beef on custom tabletop grills which diners then eat with pickled vegetables and lettuce, all while enjoying the restaurant’s stellar list of wines, often offered in large format bottles.
Dining at the restaurant: Cote is open for indoor dining, as well as outdoor dining in private cabanas that are decked out with the same tabletop grills used in the dining room.
Takeout: Much of the restaurant’s menu, along with a few comfort food specials, are available for takeout and delivery via Cote’s website. The restaurant also ships meal kits nationwide.
Grand Central Oyster Bar (Midtown East)
There are few restaurants more iconic than Grand Central Oyster Bar, located in New York’s equally iconic Grand Central Station, sharing the building’s glorious scale and dramatic vaulted tile ceiling. With U-shaped lunch counters spanning end to end in part of the room and red-checked tablecloths covering wooden tables in the dining room, the place feels like it did when it opened in 1913. And while the clientele might dress differently now, all come for the reasons people have for a century: a quick bowl of chowder before exploring the city, or a dozen oysters and a cocktail before catching a train home.
Dining at the restaurant: Grand Central Oyster Bar offers two distinct dine-in options: its main dining room seating or the Saloon, accessed through swinging half doors, and a space for private and semi-private dining for up to 120 guests.
Takeout: Takeout orders can be placed on the phone.
Hearth (East Village)
Hearth, with its single word name, unadorned East Village dining room, and farm-to-table philosophy, helped usher in an era of other ingredient-driven dining rooms after opening in 2003. But Hearth’s faithfulness to simple Italian cooking, along with its excellent service, has ensured that it outlasted almost all of them. If you’ve had bone broth lately, a nutritional powerhouse experiencing a recent rebound, thank Hearth’s chef, James Beard Award-winning Marco Canora, who serves up the healing liquid in a to-go cup here. The restaurant’s appeal lies in its consistently excellent food: the cacio e pepe polenta is freshly milled, the beef and ricotta meatballs are grass-fed, and the vegetables are green market fresh.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining, as well as outdoor dining in its heated huts.
Takeout: Ready-to-eat dishes are available for pickup or delivery via the restaurant’s website; Hearth also offers frozen meals and provisions such as the restaurant’s soups, pasta kits, French bread pizzas, and “laptop dinners” that include a main and two sides to reheat at home.
Ivan Ramen (Lower East Side)
You may recognize the name Ivan Orkin from Netflix’s Emmy-nominated series Chef’s Table, which tracked his obsessive pursuit of perfect noodles from his time in Tokyo to his opening of Ivan Ramen on the Lower East Side. Orkin’s odyssey has paid off; his noodle shop is consistently listed as one of the city’s best for both its technical execution of the dish and the sheer variety on its menu. Diners can choose from six different types of ramen, differentiated by broth, as well as equally delicious sides and starters such as steamed pork buns and Japanese fried chicken.
Dining at the restaurant: Ivan Ramen is currently accepting reservations for heated outdoor seating in the restaurant’s backyard as well as inside the restaurant.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available via the restaurant’s website; Ivan Ramen also ships ramen kits nationwide.
Red Rooster (Harlem)
James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson once claimed, “…restaurants are the soul of a neighborhood,” a belief that drove him to forgo fine dining and instead, open up a community-focused soul food spot in Harlem in 2010. From a menu that nods to the neighborhood’s culinary history to the space he made for local artists to showcase their work and local musicians to play, Red Rooster always went beyond just serving food. When the pandemic struck, Samuelsson immediately partnered with World Central Kitchen, chef and humanitarian José Andrés’s non-profit, to serve free meals to anyone who needed them. Now that the restaurant is back to business as usual, New Yorkers can once again head uptown to enjoy the famous yard bird—aka fried chicken—deviled eggs, and other comfort food favorites.
Dining at the restaurant: Red Rooster is open for indoor dining, as well as outdoor dining on the restaurant’s heated and covered patio.
Takeout: Takeout is available via the restaurant’s website, and delivery is available via third-party apps.
Smith & Wollensky (Midtown East)
In a town dripping with beloved classic steakhouses, Smith & Wollensky stands out. Everything about the restaurant exudes vintage luxury, from the presence of a doorman to the white-coated servers to the menu of pitch-perfect steakhouse fare such as a full raw bar and sides like creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin. And of course, lots of beef, which is what really sets Smith & Wollensky apart: The restaurant’s dry-aging expertise is still the gold standard, often imitated but never duplicated. Come hungry and order the beloved 26-ounce prime rib, along with several martinis to wash it down.
Dining at the restaurant: Smith & Wollensky is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Order dine-in favorites for pick-up or delivery via third-party apps, along with special S&W dinner packs for two, a romantic date option featuring entrees such as prime rib, prime dry-aged Colorado rib steak, or lemon pepper chicken, complete with sides and dessert.
TAO Downtown (Chelsea)
To many, TAO Downtown resembles a Vegas nightclub. But it might be more accurate to say that many Vegas nightclubs actually resemble TAO—the hybrid club and restaurant pioneered the genre and exported it all over the world. Now, TAO is the place to have a night, whether it’s for bachelorette and bachelor parties, birthdays, or other celebrations. The restaurant is equal parts show and service, with tables tiered into steps on one end of the dining room so diners can survey the scene below them while enjoying potstickers and Peking duck. Those who want to continue the night can head to the nightclub, hidden in the same building, where hopes of celebrity-spotting and high-priced bottle service have helped TAO become one of the highest grossing restaurants in New York.
Dining at the restaurant: TAO Downtown is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available via third-party apps, featuring special offerings such as Tokyo fried chicken boxes and sushi platters.
The Odeon (TriBeCa)
The Odeon has been an anchor for Lower Manhattan since it opened in 1980, long before Tribeca was a trendy neighborhood. The restaurant has weathered the ups and downs of several recessions, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and now a global pandemic, all while remaining a symbol of downtown cool that counts celebrities as regulars. It is, in the truest sense of the word, timeless—providing a stylish and comfortable room (its French bistroesque interiors influenced restaurant design for decades) to enjoy comforting bistro classics such as frisée salad and roast chicken while doing some of Manhattan’s best people watching.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining, where sidewalk tables are equipped with rain-proof awnings, wind barriers, and heaters.
Takeout: The Odeon’s menu is available for takeout and delivery through the restaurant’s website.
The Smith (Multiple Locations)
When The Smith opened in the East Village back in the aughts, it didn’t scream “future chain.” And that’s exactly what makes this mini-chain so endearing, even after its expansion within and beyond New York City. The menu, which at dinner includes everything from a solid burger to a pot of mussels to a blackened pork chop, is reliable, reasonably priced, and served in a well-designed room. It works for client lunches in Midtown, after-work drinks in NoMad, pre-theater dinners near Lincoln Center, and weekend brunches in the East Village; all reasons why it’s become a vital part of New York dining life.
Dining at the restaurant: The Smith offers indoor dining, as well as heated outdoor dining at all New York locations.
Takeout: Order the restaurant’s popular vanilla bean French toast or mac and cheese to enjoy in the comfort of your own home, for pickup or delivery, via The Smith’s website.
Casa Mono (Gramercy)
Long a standout when it comes to a reliably excellent meal in the Union Square vicinity, Casa Mono has been turning out consistently superb tapas since 2003, with rave New York Times reviews and a MICHELIN star to prove it. The kitchen, led by longtime chef-owner Andy Nusser, whips up classic small plates that will transport you to Spain—think pan con tomate, bacalao croquetas, razor clams a la plancha, and topnotch jamon iberico. Larger plates are equally delightful, be it something more traditional such as fideos with chorizo and clams or unique combos like bone marrow served with smoked trout roe, horseradish, and everything bagel spice. End on a sweet note with the crème brulée-like crema Catalana con buñuelos, a rich caramelized vanilla custard trimmed with deep-fried bay leaves.
Dining at the restaurant: Perched on a pretty corner of Irving Place, Casa Mono’s relatively small space feels lively and larger thanks to sidewalk seating, big retractable doors that afford great indoor-outdoor setup in warmer months, and a buzzy open kitchen with bar seating.
Takeout and Delivery: Takeout and delivery are available directly on OpenTable and third-party apps.
Katz’s (Lower East Side)
As that unforgettable scene in When Harry Met Sally demonstrated, the enormous Jewish deli sandwiches at Katz’s promise a deeply pleasurable experience. Since 1888, the Lower East Side institution has sliced up peppery pastrami and corned beef served alongside properly sour pickles and well-executed standards such as matzo ball soup, crispy latkes, and noodle kugel–capped off by its signature gruff counter service. The restaurant is vital to both Jewish and NYC culture.
Dining at the restaurant: Katz’s occupies a bare-bones, fluorescent-lit corner space that looks untouched by time (don’t worry, it lends charm). Walk in, grab a ticket—don’t lose it!—and order at the counter. Be sure to tip your carver, for which you will be richly rewarded.
Takeout: Katz’s offers pick-up and delivery via many third-party services, as well as on its website, including family-style spreads for two to six people.
Veselka (East Village)
This beloved Ukrainian all-day cafe in the East Village serves some of New York City’s greatest varenyky, pierogi-like Ukrainian dumplings stuffed here with traditional fillings such as potato, meat, or sauerkraut and mushrooms, as well as unique options like bacon egg and cheese or short rib. Other Eastern European staples are must-orders, too, such as stuffed cabbage and perfectly sweet-meets-savory borscht—even better with a generous dollop of sour cream, which will turn the deep red beet-based soup a pretty bubble gum shade of pink. Open from early morning until at least midnight daily, there is lots of classic diner fare to consider, too, such as generously portioned breakfast platters.
Dining at the restaurant: Since Veselka doesn’t take reservations, expect lines at the ever-popular spot, particularly on the weekends around brunch time. Queues are even longer than usual as diners have been flocking here to show support for Ukraine amid the country’s ongoing political crisis.
Takeout and delivery: Takeout and delivery are available via third-party services.
Jing Fong (Chinatown; UWS)
It’s hard to beat this Chinatown stalwart, opened in 1978, when you’re craving a Sunday morning dim sum feast. Stellar shumai, pork buns, rice rolls, pan-fried turnip cakes, and other irresistible treats dished out from carts zoom between big tables in an opulent banquet hall-type space, and the frenetic energy is half the fun. Primarily catering to walk-ins, as with most dim sum halls, you can also request a reservation at either location via email.
Dining at the restaurant: The massive 800-seat second floor Elizabeth Street outpost shuttered in early 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Luckily, a new 110-seat location opened its doors in December 2021 just a couple blocks away on Centre Street. Further north, Jing Fong’s Upper West Side location ensures uptown gets its dim sum fix, too, albeit in a comparatively mellower atmosphere.
Takeout: Delivery and takeout are available via the restaurant’s website.
Jing Fong – Chinatown
Jing Fong – UWS
Dhamaka (East Village)
Tucked in Essex Market’s glossy 2.0 version, Dhamaka calls its dynamic menu “unapologetically Indian” fare that’s provincial in focus. The team behind Dhamaka, James Beard Award-nominated chef-partner Chintan Pandya and restaurateur Roni Mazumdar, are also behind Adda Indian Canteen in Long Island City, loved for its tandoori selection and curries. Here, you’ll find dishes rarely seen in NYC, such as the macher jhol, or baby shark with turmeric, ginger, tomatoes, and gurda kapoora; a special-order dish consisting of goat kidney and testicles with red onion and pao; or Indian slider rolls. Other highlights include tabak maaz, a cumin and fennel flavored lamb stew, ragda pattice, a spicy-sweet potato patty, and goat belly kabobs.
Dining at the restaurant: Dhamaka is dine-in only, with indoor and outdoor seating, with a 90-minute seating limit for parties of up to four and a two-hour limit for five or more diners. Consider pre-ordering the popular rabbit feast if you go with a group.
Takeout and delivery: The restaurant does not offer takeout or delivery.
Kappo Masa (Upper East Side)
Celebrated chef Masa Takayama’s fifth fine-dining destination, Kappo Masa, opened in collaboration with art world kingpin Larry Gagosian, is suited for special occasions. Let the kitchen choose for you with the nine-course $350 chef’s tasting menu or sushi omakase, which comes with 15-18 pieces for $245. Or, choose your own adventure by going a la carte, starting with the menu’s chilled section, opting for toro wasabi ceviche or deep sea snapper ponzu, and warmer picks such as spicy dancing shrimp or roasted sea urchin served on the half shell. For the main event, mix and match from the meat-focused hibachi grill section, various fried rice dishes, and sushi. For a taste of the Masa mini-empire on a (relative) budget, the two-course bento box lunch special ranges from $42 to $98 depending on entree choice; there’s also a $195, 13-piece lunchtime omakase.
Dining at the restaurant: Situated in a posh subterranean space next to Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue, Kappo Masa offers indoor seating only, at either mustard yellow leather banquette-lined tables or compact sushi bar.
Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant.
Rangoon (Crown Heights)
One of the city’s best spots for Burmese food almost didn’t open through a combination of delays compounded by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (more on that here). But fans of Burmese cuisine and the newly converted are relieved that the creativity and grit of owners Myo Moe and Daniel Bendjy have kept the restaurant afloat, serving a small menu of reimagined Burmese dishes that include the seasonally available tea leaf fried rice and tamarind-laced fish curry.
Dining at the restaurant: Rangoon recently opened its doors for indoor dining for the first time since the restaurant opened. Outdoor dining is also available in the custom-built, covered, and heated structure, which was designed to resemble a Burmese temple.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through Rangoon’s website.
River Cafe (DUMBO)
When owner Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe opened The River Café in 1977, DUMBO was a desolate neighborhood, full of underutilized waterfront warehouses, but he saw potential in the sweeping views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. In many ways, the restaurant has always been ahead of its time, with chefs—among them, over the years: Larry Forgione, Charlie Palmer, and David Burke—basing fine-dining menus off locally sourced and foraged ingredients. As the neighborhood has grown around it, the MICHELIN-starred restaurant has kept up, remaining a destination for elegant dishes such as pan-roasted venison served over soft chestnut polenta, dressed with ruby port natural jus.
Dining at the restaurant: The River Café is currently open for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout.
Fonda (Chelsea, Park Slope)
Chef and owner Roberto Santibañez, who hails from Mexico City and trained at Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, serves up a crowd-pleasing mix of familiar and lesser-seen dishes alongside tasty margaritas at both of Fonda’s locations. Crunchy cheesy appetizers such as queso fundido, flautas, and taquitos are perfect for sharing (and kid-friendly, too). Pescatarians will appreciate picks like ceviche or crab croquettes served with a trio of sauces: avocado serrano, pickled jalapeño mayo, and habanero roasted tomato. For something lighter, there’s a strong salad selection—starring ingredients such as jicama, watermelon, and apple—and hearty sharable entrees with a strong Oaxacan bent, spanning various regional Mexican cuisines.
Dining at the restaurant: Whether you’re chowing down at Fonda in Park Slope or its Chelsea outpost, the interiors are cozy, colorful, and unfussy while the vibe is warm and lowkey—all of which makes this a great neighborhood gem in both neighborhoods.
Takeout: Takeout is available via phone; delivery is available online via third-party sites.
Fonda – Chelsea
Fonda – Park Slope
Casa Ora (East Williamsburg)
At this MICHELIN-recognized East Williamsburg spot, the creative Venezuelan menu comes courtesy of chef Isbelis Diaz, while the unique cocktails are devised by her son, Ivo Diaz, a former mixologist at The Nomad and Eleven Madison Park. Creative dishes include appetizers like beef tongue with honey pickled onion, tamarind, sweet plantain, cassava, and cilantro dust and entrees such as charcoal-seared octopus paella. Don’t miss whimsical drinks like the Purple Banana, made with tequila, dry vermouth, blue pea tea, sweet plantain, lemon, and egg white. In addition to celebrating their homeland’s cuisine, the mother-son duo is committed to supporting Venezuela by donating a portion of Casa Ora’s revenue to families forced to seek asylum from the country due to insufficient access to food, clean water, and government protection.
Dining at the restaurant: Casa Ora is open for indoor dining. Be sure to check out Venezuelan images by Emmy-nominated photographer Carlos Beltran on the walls (they can be taken home in postcard form, too).
Takeout: The restaurant accepts takeout orders via phone; delivery is available directly through Casa Ora’s website.
Faun (Prospect Heights)
Enjoy creative Italian-leaning fare in a charming, leafy setting at Prospect Heights’s Faun. Here, the seasonally driven menu, created by Vinegar Hill House alum Brian Leth, rotates often, showcasing richer fare such as chicken liver crostini or lobster, kombu, and gruyere spaghetti. Rest assured there are lighter options, too, like winter citrus salad with passion fruit vinaigrette and a grilled cabbage and radish-based twist on the Caesar salad. You can’t go wrong whether seated indoors or outdoors at Faun. At the former, there’s a handsome lengthy bar and cozy interiors. And when you’re craving a magical alfresco setting, Faun delivers, thanks to its lush garden patio.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are available at Faun.
Takeout: For takeout and delivery, call the restaurant directly.
Aunts et Uncles (Flatbush)
Creative flavorful Caribbean classics and comfort food—that just so happen to be vegan—are dished up at Aunts et Uncles, an all-day cafe-restaurant from husband-and-wife team and first-time restaurateurs, Michael and Nicole Nicholas. The menu showcases Caribbean staples such as vegan Jamaican beef patties and a bake and saltfish that substitutes hearts of palm for fish. Aunts et Uncles opened in 2020, garnering a rave New York Times review in 2021, yet its origin story stretches back to 2016 when the couple first began whipping up vegan iterations of beloved Caribbean food at home. The labor of love was well worth it, quickly becoming a buzzing gathering spot for the local community.
Dining at the restaurant: Aunts et Uncles has both indoor and outdoor seating, in the form of sidewalk cafe tables. The plant-filled space is also a lifestyle store in the front, with books and clothes for sale.
Takeout: Takeout is available via phone; delivery orders can be made directly through the restaurant’s website.
Mario’s Arthur Ave (Little Italy)
Owned by the Migliucci family for five generations, Mario’s is a deeply personal restaurant. The interior is decorated with Italian landscapes painted by a distant relative, and until his passing in April, diners could expect to be greeted by patriarch Joseph Migliucci when they arrived. Which explains why for more than 100 years, neighbors and regulars from all over the tri-state area have flocked to the restaurant for hearty portions of Italian classics such as chicken parmigiana and homemade lasagna. Now in the care of Migliucci’s daughter, Regina, very little has changed except for one menu dish: the restaurant’s pizza, long a well-known, off menu-item, has finally found its place in print.
Dining at the restaurant: Mario’s recently reopened for indoor dining and also has outdoor seating available under heated tents.
Takeout: The restaurant’s menu is available for takeout by calling Mario’s directly.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.