Known as international trendsetters and tastemakers, New York City’s over 50,000 restaurants work tirelessly to deliver experimental and over-the-top experiences.
Yet some places tower high above the crowd, much like the city’s signature skyscrapers. A French- and Chinese-inspired fine-dining spot in the West Village bravely changes the prix-fixe game. A Caribbean haunt in Brooklyn offers a drive-through option—ever so rare in this urban sprawl. A Murray Hill izakaya sources fish from its own farm in Japan, then offers diners a crash course on breaking down bluefin tuna.
These New York City spots stand out for reshaping the dining world. Read on for a list of eight of the city’s most cutting-edge restaurants to book right now.
Honey Badger (Prospect Lefferts Gardens)
Honey Badger brings the wilderness to Brooklyn, placing foraged ingredients at the front and center of its ever-changing tasting menu. Everything served at this one-of-a-kind spot, whether it’s smoked cod liver with acorn crackers, periwinkle soup, or Long Island scallops with deer tallow, is sourced by owners Fjölla Sheholli and Junayd Juman (or their friends). Honey Badger’s team is also on a quest to eliminate the distance between a dish’s maker and its server: Before digging into your plate (or skull, or shell—it depends), expect an informative monologue, delivered by whoever crafted your meal.
Bonnie’s opened to a rocky start in late 2021: the corner side restaurant had no gas (plus, the omicron variant of Covid-19 was rampant), spurring chef Calvin Eng to create a “McBonnie’s” menu, riffing on fast-food favorites with a Cantonese twist. The pop-up’s demand set the stage for a groundbreaking Cantonese American spot. Eng makes waves for flipping the script on monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that typically gets a bad rap. At Bonnie’s, MSG features in fan favorites such as whole rainbow trout and an especially umami-forward martini; other inventive crowd pleasers include fuyu cacio e pepe, a fermented bean curd-rich version of the Roman pasta dish, and wontons e brodo (a tortellini soup-inspired creation).
A neighborhood restaurant is often presumed to be an unremarkable, middle-of-the-road affair. But this welcoming Tribeca spot is anything but ordinary. Chambers’s market-focused menu is intentionally concise to accommodate a small kitchen staff and top-notch ingredients. Operating hours are limited to five dinner services a week so every employee works the same shift and can strive for work-life balance, an often impossible concept in the relentless restaurant industry. (To account for team absences, every employee is cross-trained.) Chambers’s expertly curated wine list, filled with over 1,000 bottles, includes options imported via sailboat for peak sustainability. Takeout isn’t an option here: Chambers is all about being present, reducing your carbon imprint, and enjoying a down-to-earth meal of comforting roast chicken, followed by cheese and crackers or coffee cake.
Contento (East Harlem)
Since opening in 2021, this Peruvian restaurant has racked up a slew of accolades from The New York Times and Esquire, among others. Contento takes inclusivity to new heights, particularly when it comes to creating a space for those with disabilities. Dining room tables are spaced wide enough for wheelchairs to comfortably pass through (a rarity in cramped Manhattan), a QR code on the menu assists diners with visual impairments with an audible option, and the bathroom is super accessible. COVID precautions are also taken extra seriously to protect the most vulnerable, and adaptive flatware is provided to anyone who needs it. The result is a highly respectful and relaxed environment, suited for feasting on an expansive selection of small and large plates, ranging from octopus in black chimichurri with chilled almond and cauliflower gazpacho. Soon, Contento will launch the Solera Project, a series of efforts, such as job training initiatives and nutrition programs, designed to give back to the restaurant’s East Harlem community.
Les Trois Chevaux (West Village)
Creating an epic second act to follow a beloved Manhattan restaurant is a major challenge. But chef Angie Mar, who comes from a family of forward-looking gourmands—her aunt, Ruby Chow, pioneered Chinese cuisine in Seattle—embraced the feat. After closing The Beatrice Inn (the luxe steakhouse that put the chef-owner on the map) in 2020, Mar was eager to blend her Chinese heritage and French culinary prowess. At Les Trois Chevaux, the menu is truly her own. The result is a prix-fixe offering with an upgraded omakase option—Mar is on a quest to apply the seasonal, multi-course treatment, typically associated with Japanese cuisine, to her own menu. Diners share their preferences and Mar surprises and delights. No ingredient repeats itself throughout a tasting at Les Trois Chevaux. Ingenious plates have included scallop-creme stuffed dover sole and duck with sakura blossoms and green lentils.
Crave Fishbar (Midtown, Upper West Side)
Diners at Crave’s Midtown and Upper West Side locations are likely drawn to its renowned oyster platters, sustainable seafood specials (such as local fluke nigiri), and sizable gluten-free menu. But a meal at this unconventional spot is also about uplifting the surrounding community. Known as New York’s first sustainable seafood restaurant since opening in 2012, Crave Fishbar focuses on giving back in many ways. The charitable restaurant has donated over 2.8 million oyster shells as a result of a partnership with the Billion Oyster Project, restoring local aquaculture. Crave’s community impact doesn’t end there; its other longstanding partnerships include fundraising for Bike MS, the largest fundraising cycling series in the world (dedicated to changing the world for those with multiple sclerosis) and working with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a non-profit that redistributes excess meals to those battling food insecurity.
Wokuni (Murray Hill)
Most diners haven’t witnessed whole tuna become sashimi, but Wokuni is trying to change that. Known as a true sea-to-table experience, the restaurant offers diners a rare education: bluefin tuna, caught in the restaurant’s own farm in Hirado, Japan, is broken down in the dining room by chefs on the third Tuesday of every month. Rare cuts are then auctioned off; diners can also take advantage of half-off bluefin tuna from the restaurant’s fish market. Sustainability and transparency lies at the heart of Wokuni’s mission—all the seafood sold at the restaurant and in the adjacent market is traceable to its origins. The restaurant’s omakase experience offers yet another opportunity to engage with the seasonal food presented to them, and learn more about Japanese cuisine from seasoned experts.
Bamboo Walk (Flatbush)
As one of the only spots of its kind in Flatbush, Bamboo Walk is a stylish restaurant beloved for its top-notch goat curry and jerk chicken. But it serves more than just stellar Caribbean fare. Weekly themed gatherings, such as Latin Night, Creole Night, and a lively gospel brunch on Sundays, are sincere efforts to connect with the surrounding community—aka Little Caribbean. On the food front, expect elegantly plated staples from Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica, such as cod fritters and braised oxtail, in the plant-covered dining room (a semi-formal dress code is requested). For those who’d rather keep things casual, takeout, plus a drive-through window—a rarity in New York City—is available. Bamboo Walk is also one of the few restaurants in the area that automatically adds a 20 percent gratuity to all checks, ensuring its staff is tipped fairly.
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk
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