You’d think one Greatest Hits list would do - but brunch is whole different situation. These restaurants turn regular people into morning people, and make morning people say "I told you so." They aren’t necessarily the highest-rated places on our site, but they’re our all-time favorites for brunch. And if you live in NYC, you should hit all of these spots at least once. So pick one, and go with a few friends the next time you decide to not spend your whole weekend within a 10-foot radius of your bed. You might face a little wait at any one of these places, but at least you’ll know it’s worth it.
Added 12/2018: Olmsted, Chez Ma Tante, Mekelburg’s, Upland, Veselka, Okonomi, abcV, Jing Fong, MeMe’s Diner
Sadelle’s is owned by the same people behind Carbone and Dirty French, and, like those spots, it’s essentially live theater. The waiters wear bowties, the salmon carvers wear lab coats, and every time someone brings out a stack of hot bagels, everyone shouts, “Hot bagels.” You feel kind of bad for them, but it’s fun. There’s a good energy here, and, more importantly, the food is great. Get a tower of smoked fish, some French toast, and maybe even a bagel grilled cheese. It’s definitely more expensive than your average bagel spot, but you’re also getting a show.
We once heard someone make the argument that brunch is just a rotation of the same food on different tables. We paused, looked at that person with what was probably obvious disappointment, and then took them to brunch at Olmsted. This Prospect Heights spot makes inventive seasonal dishes - which means that instead of eggs, French toast, and mimosas, their menu has duck two ways on a maple flatbread, BEC egg rolls, and latkes with trout roe. The only other thing you need to know is that you’re probably going to want to make a reservation.
You might be familiar with Diner as that place that’s located inside an old dining car, or a place that serves one of the best burgers in the city, or the place that’s basically responsible for Williamsburg becoming a restaurant destination. And while all of those things are true, you should also know Diner as a place for a next-level brunch. They serve things like pancakes, smoked salmon, and breakfast sandwiches with melty Swiss, housemade sausage, and maple syrup. And don’t worry, the burger’s here too.
It’s rare that we’ll travel to eat pancakes, but the ones at Chez Ma Tante in Greenpoint are an exception. They’ve got more char than your average flapjack because they’re fried in a skillet, and they’re also not overly sweet. If you’re not a pancake person, there are still plenty of great options for you here, like a gravlax dish and a tortilla espanola that tastes like a cake and an egg had a love child. But you should still get some pancakes for the table, and prepare to be converted.
In the time before Russ & Daughters Cafe, you got a bagel at the original appetizing shop and ate it on a bench on Allen Street, or maybe you went up to Barney Greengrass. But now you can sit and eat a sturgeon omelette or an excellent bagel sandwich and, on top of it all, this place is extremely photogenic. Not that we especially care about such things, but at least you can take a good-looking picture and show all your friends that you’re doing better than they are. Which is pretty impressive for a place that’s been around, in one form or another, for over 100 years.
Roberta’s is a pain in the butt to go to for dinner, because there’s always a wait. We aren’t saying it’s slow at brunch, but it’s a little more manageable, and if you get there on the earlier side you should be fine. Obviously, you’ll be getting pizza here (it’s some of the best in the whole city), but you can always supplement with eggs or the burger.
Mekelburg’s is first and foremost a specialty grocery store. But much like a mullet or a stretch limo, the real party here happens in the back (where you can sit once you order your food). They make some of our favorite sandwiches in NYC, including ones with and without eggs, but they also have things like chocolate babka French toast a la mode and baked potatoes with caviar or slab bacon on top. When it’s warm, make sure to bring your brunch outside to their patio, because eating The Mek-Muffin sandwich on a picnic table in the sun is one of the better ways to start your morning.
And now for something completely different. Okonomi’s brunch is one of the most interesting and memorable eating experiences you can have without committing identity fraud or boarding a plane. Because it’s just one tiny room on a residential street in Williamsburg serving an excellent Japanese breakfast set. This set comes with a few courses, including soup, rice with a soft-boiled egg, vegetables, and a daily-changing fish. Which means that you really only have one choice to make: which weekend you’re waking up early to get brunch here (it’s walk-in only, and if you don’t show up right at 9am, you can expect a significant wait).
Upland is perfect for a meal with just about anyone, from your parents to your friends to your friends’ babies. It can be hard to get in here for dinner, but brunch reservations are surprisingly achievable, and the big, always-busy but still quiet dining room is an excellent place to spend a few hours of your Saturday or Sunday. The hardest part of brunch at Upland is deciding what to order (we usually end up narrowing it down to the burger and the pancakes, but there’s no need to choose - just get both). The good news is that you pretty much can’t go wrong.
Since it’s open 24/7, some people exclusively reserve this Ukrainian diner in the East Village for 3am pancakes. But it’s just as classic and unpretentious during the daytime. Veselka’s large menu has everything from Ukrainian specialty foods like pierogies and borscht to standard diner fare, and many of the breakfast entrees come with juice and coffee. Just expect to find a crowd of people waiting outside.
Come to abcV for a vegetarian brunch that even the non-vegetarians in your life will get genuinely excited about. You’ll want to make a reservation, but if you can get one, you’re in for everything from chia bowls and rice dishes to almond pancakes and dosas with cheddar, eggs, and mint. Also important to know: abcV is open for breakfast every day of the week starting at 8am. So you should use it the next time you need a place to meet a client or anyone who happens to hate eggs (there are a lot of vegan options).
At dinner, Estela is a tiny, excellent restaurant where you’ll eat trendy food and sit next to people who can pull off pants that look like garbage bags. At brunch, the garbage-bag pants will still be present, but you’ll get to eat one of the greatest breakfast sandwiches in New York City - eggs, pancetta, and avocado on sweet, flaky poppyseed bread. Estela also takes reservations, which makes it a great choice for a special occasion brunch. It’s a little pricier than your every-weekend spot, but pretty affordable compared to what you’d pay to eat here at night.
If you want to eat some brunch in a backyard with at least two to three living plants and more species of bird than pigeon, you pretty much have to go to Brooklyn. Try Vinegar Hill House. The menu isn’t huge, but you don’t always need 30 things to choose from at brunch, and you can at least be confident that they do their few things very well. Get an apple sourdough pancake and shrimp and grits, and try your very best to sit out back.
Hands down, Cafe Habana is one of the best brunch values in the city. For about $13, you can get an egg dish that you’ll think about for the rest of your day. Try the huevos rancheros, the huevos a la Mexicana, or, if you’re one of those people who eats dessert for breakfast, get the French toast. And don’t forget the corn. There’s always a fun atmosphere in here, and if you make it before 11am, there shouldn’t be much of a wait. This should be your go-to casual brunch in the Soho/Nolita area.
Jing Fong is an essential NYC dim sum brunch experience. You need to take an escalator to get to the gigantic Chinatown dining room (it’s truly huge, with space for 800 people), and at brunch, you can expect carts rolling around and lots of groups at big round tables. Bring some friends or your family, and order more pork buns than you think you’ll need (they’ll all get eaten).
There’s a street named after Sylvia, which should tell you something about the status of this place. It’s a Harlem staple, and it’s somewhere you have to check off on your quest to eat the best soul food in NYC. Go ahead and stop by for brunch. They have chicken and waffles, but they also do a great fried catfish, and the macaroni and cheese should definitely be part of your balanced breakfast. It might be a little touristy nowadays (probably more so during the Sunday gospel brunch), but there are plenty of seats, so you should be able to claim a few.
It’s not that Tom’s has food you’ve never eaten before. That’s just not what diners do. But you feel good here. Tom’s has been open since the 1930s, and there’s still a sense of hospitality. Come for brunch on the weekends, and they might even hand you some free snacks while you wait. Once you get seated, you can hang out in a booth and eat some pancakes while you pretend you’re in Back to the Future (the first one, where Marty invents the skateboard and plagiarizes Chuck Berry).
La Bonbonniere gets better every year. Not because the food gets any better - but because it becomes less likely. It isn’t trendy, it doesn’t have a celebrity chef, and if you try to Instagram the food it’ll just look like you had breakfast at a diner. Which, you know, you did. You come here to eat some eggs and pancakes while you stare at the photos of the celebrity patrons on the walls. You might even see a live one when you go. This is the West Village, after all.
MeMe’s Diner is kind of like the Brooklyn version of La Bonbonniere, but with a 2018 update. Which means they serve upgrades to diner classics, and it’s designed to look a little bit retro (rather than, you know, actually being old). This is one of our favorite restaurants in Prospect Heights, especially if you lean into the fact that you’re going to order a dutch baby and then a piece of cake for dessert at 11am.
Barney Greengrass is an old-school New York brunch experience, and it’s where you go to eat a plate of smoked fish in a setting that’s about as casual (and unpretentious) as a diner. Get the sturgeon and/or smoked salmon, and there should probably be some bagels and eggs in the mix as well. Just know that it’s cash only and it can get pricey. So drain your bank account before you come, just to be safe.
Cookshop is a Chelsea go-to. It’s big, there’s outdoor seating, and the menu is solid across the board. Also, the employees are nice, which is especially appreciated when you’re equal parts tired and hungover, and your sibling’s new girlfriend/boyfriend wants to grab brunch on a Sunday morning to “get to know you better.” They also take reservations, if you don’t want to risk a wait, and there are some good kind-of-healthy options.
Krupa Grocery is the ideal neighborhood restaurant for pretty much any meal, but especially so at brunch, when you can take advantage of the back patio and eat their insanely good breakfast gnocchi and lemon ricotta pancakes - two items that make it into our NYC Brunch Hall Of Fame. This place is very family-friendly, by which we mean that the back patio sometimes becomes a playground. But you’re in Park Slope, so that shouldn’t surprise you.
Esme may be the most under-the-radar spot on this list, and that’s exactly why it’s one of our favorite places to eat pancakes in NYC. Also, the pancakes are excellent, and the back patio is great. When people ask us for a low-key place to get a very good brunch in Brooklyn, we always steer them here. It might be in Greenpoint, but otherwise, it couldn’t be more different from the mob scene that is brunch at Five Leaves.
You will never not encounter a wait at Cafe Mogador (despite the fact that it’s been around since 1983). And if you’re the kind of person who would rather eat your own hair than wait an hour and a half for brunch, Mogador isn’t for you. That said, if you’re willing to wait, you will be rewarded. Not just with good Mediterranean food, but - in the case of the Williamsburg location - with a highly charming, greenhouse-like setting (and excellent people-watching/hat-judging potential). Go for the Middle Eastern dishes, and get a bunch of mezzes for the table to split.