Welcome to The Infatuation’s New York City Greatest Hits List.
Obviously you’re familiar with the concept of a “greatest hits” album, but to be clear, this is not just a list of our highest-rated spots. This guide is a carefully-selected collection of the places we think every New Yorker should try at least once - and the restaurants you should prioritize if you’re new to town.
Just like you wouldn’t introduce someone to The Eagles without starting with “Hotel California,” or to The Steve Miller band by playing them that one song they didn’t put on a greatest hits album, we wouldn’t send someone to a new NYC hotspot without sending them to one of these restaurants first. You shouldn’t either.
If you are looking for what’s new, check out our Hit List, a guide to the brand new, recently-opened restaurants worth your time.
Added 12/2019: Via Carota, Chef’s Table At Brooklyn Fare, Hometown Bar-B-Que, Charlie Bird, Frankel’s, 4 Charles Prime Rib, Four Horsemen, Kiki’s, Ayada
In this town, vodka sauce pizza is a thing, and Rubirosa, as far as we’re concerned, is the only place to have it. We’d be happy to eat this thin-crust delicacy next to a dumpster every day for the rest of our lives, but it just so happens that the atmosphere inside this restaurant is excellent, and the rest of the menu (straightforward, Italian-American comfort food) is too. The wait for a table will be long, but that’s only because everyone else in the city agrees with us. It’ll be worth it.
In NYC, it’s always good to have a backup restaurant - a place you can keep in your back pocket if your first intention doesn’t work out. Lil Frankie’s is kind of just like Rubirosa. You’ll have similar experiences at Il Buco and L’Artusi. Emily isn’t all that far off from Speedy Romeo. But there is no backup restaurant for Uncle Boons. This is a tiny underground clubhouse serving some of the best Thai food we’ve ever eaten (and a giant coconut sundae that is the stuff of legends).
Dinner at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare will be one of the best meals of your life. And we don’t mean that in the same way we tell friends their baby is the cutest we’ve ever seen. The seafood-focused tasting menu at this chef’s counter in a Hell’s Kitchen grocery store is packed with luxury ingredients - like A5 wagyu, foie gras wrapped in jamon iberico, and sea urchin topped with fresh truffle. All 15 courses are deluxe enough to make a pharaoh blush, and all 15 have sauces and preparations that leave you with distinct memories. Dinner here is incredibly expensive, but if you’re going to spend several hundred dollars on one New York City tasting menu, it should be this one.
If you want to eat here, you either have to line up outside an hour before they open, or stop by, put your name in, and (best case scenario) wait two or three hours. That all might sound like it couldn’t possibly be worth it, but it is. Because Lucali has the best pizza in the city. You’ll want to spend all night in the little candlelit dining room, and after waiting so long for your table, you probably deserve to. Bring cash, and your alcoholic beverage of choice (it’s BYOB).
People love to say that NYC has terrible Mexican food. It’s like pointing out a supermodel’s snaggle tooth - it makes all the other cities feel better about themselves. The problem is, it’s mostly true. Mexican food is not our strong point, and if you’re here for the first time, you should most definitely not seek out a burrito. That said, Casa Enrique is not only our best Mexican restaurant, it’s one of our best restaurants in general. This Long Island City establishment has been a favorite of the neighborhood for years, but the smart people in other boroughs also know it’s worth crossing a bridge for. You should too.
Via Carota doesn’t take reservations, and this is both a gift and a curse. On the plus side, it means you can go any night of the week - but it also means you’ll inevitably have to wait an hour or three before you get seated. Why the long wait times? Via Carota serves delicious Italian food. They make our favorite cacio e pepe in the city, a chopped steak that’s better than the vast majority of non-chopped steaks, and roughly 30 other things that deserve to be on your table. If you haven’t been yet, clear your schedule for a night this week, then stop by and put your name in with the server who looks most likely to seat you in less than two hours. Or just come for lunch.
When the frontman of LCD Soundsystem opened The Four Horsemen in 2015, he was the most exciting thing about it. Now, almost five years in, that detail almost feels irrelevant. We mean that in a good way. This Williamsburg spot has become our favorite place to drink wine in Brooklyn while eating food that has absolutely nothing to do with “wine bar food.” Whether you’re at The Four Horsemen for a celebratory steak dinner, their highly-underrated set weekend lunch, or just wine and funky cheese, you’ll inevitably want to linger here until they kick you out (then make plans to come back tomorrow). The menus change constantly, so you always have another reason to check back in on this tiny spot making some of the best dishes in the borough.
There might be “better” sushi places in New York - more refined spots where you won’t be sitting next to a rich teenager from Long Island who’s wearing a gold Rolex and downing toro hand rolls by the dozen. But Sushi Seki has always been something of a death row meal for us. Open until 2:30am and serving perfect pieces of fish topped with everything from sauteed tomato to tofu sauce in a hole-in-the-wall space on the Upper East Side, Seki is the New York sushi experience you never get tired of. A few non-negotiables: sit at the bar, and finish with a spicy scallop hand roll.
Carbone is probably the best Off-Broadway show in New York City. Opened back in 2013, this place is a perfect reproduction/exaggeration of the great American red sauce Italian restaurant. The food is incredible - from spicy rigatoni to veal parm to table-side caesar salad, and the whole experience feels like being on the set of a big budget movie that Chazz Palminteri should be in. Speaking of big budgets, bring a suitcase full of money with you. The Carbone experience doesn’t come cheap.
People always ask us, “Hey, what’s a fun place to get dinner with friends downtown where we won’t have to spend a ton of money?” There is no better answer than Kiki’s - a Greek spot where you can drink carafes of house wine, talk at concert volume levels, and eat delicious grilled octopus, cheesy saganaki, and charred lamb chops for around $15 per person. Come when you’re feeling hot after a haircut, sh*tty after a long week, or ready to party on a Wednesday. It’s so exemplary of the “fun affordable” category that we devoted an entire guide for places to go when you’ve been to Kiki’s too many times. Or you could just keep coming back to Kiki’s - we also support that.
If NYC restaurants could win SAG Awards, Ayada would win Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble Cast. From drunken noodles and pad thai that will ruin all others, to raw shrimp with chili and lime, to a crispy catfish salad that looks like a loofah and tastes like the Big Bang of flavors, Ayada has range. Get a big group, locate the nearest E, F, M, R, or 7 stop, and head to Elmhurst for Thai food that will make you realize that actually, NYC has incredible Thai food.
It doesn’t matter whether the question comes from Upper West Siders or tourists from LA - when we get asked where to have an outstanding dinner in Brooklyn, nine times out of 10 we’re going to say Lilia. Brooklyn has plenty of places that would qualify, but it doesn’t have any other places like Lilia: an enormous, modern Italian restaurant where you could bring anyone from a date to your parents and have no doubt in your mind that they’d love it. Because they will.
When you walk into Charlie Bird in Soho, good music is always playing, great wine is always flowing, and everyone seems to be having an excellent time. The menu of raw bar items, salads, pastas, roast chicken, and the like may read a bit like other Italian/new American spots, but the execution here outpaces the competition. Top that off with some of the best service around, and you’ll easily understand why Charlie Bird is unquestionably a Greatest Hit, and a standard bearer for casual but special downtown restaurants.
Steakhouses are usually reserved for certain occasions. Like retirement dinners, bachelor parties, and taking out that one client who doesn’t hide his hatred for green food. St. Anselm is the steakhouse that changes all of that. This is a casual place where you don’t need a special occasion to eat some of the best red meat in the city. They’re famous for their butcher’s steak (which is $28), but if you do happen to be celebrating something, you can also throw down on an Ax Handle. Bring out-of-towners here, and watch their entire idea of a steakhouse shatter right in front of you.
There are some foods that every visitor or person new to the city hears they “have” to try: bagels, a slice of pizza, maybe a pastrami sandwich or a particular burger. Soba from a cash-only place downtown is not usually on that list. But when we send all of our visitors and newcomers to Cocoron, it invariably ends up feeling like we just had the best possible experience introducing a significant other to our families. Now, those people send us messages in all caps every time they’re back in town, asking when we can get together again to eat ridiculously good soba and tofu that changes minds about tofu. The staff is friendly, the space is warm, and the mera mera dip soba belongs in a museum.
Hometown Bar-B-Que could sell its brisket out of the back of rusty Ford Econoline on the edge of a gradually eroding cliff, and we’d still go out of our way to get it. Fortunately, this place doesn’t operate out of a van - it’s in a big barn-like space in Red Hook. The only drawback of Hometown is that you typically have to wait in an hour-long line, but that just gives you time to figure out your order and claim a table. Once you make it to the counter, get the brisket, a few kinds of ribs, and a lamb banh mi. And if you’re currently wondering if you really need to get a banh mi at a barbecue place, the answer is yes, you absolutely do.
Smoked fish is to NYC as sample stations are to Costco. We’d make due without, but it just wouldn’t feel right. And of all the legendary Jewish delis here, Frankel’s in Greenpoint is where we feel most at home. The shelves are stocked with sparkling grape juice and babka, the sandwiches are outstanding, and the word “sturgeon” is painted in such elegant cursive on the wall that you’ll consider naming your daughter after it. You’ll find us here most weekends, eating both the pastrami, egg, and cheese, as well as the classic nova sandwich on an everything bagel. No matter how far you live from Greenpoint, Frankel’s is worthy of your time on the G, L, or 7 train.
4 Charles will make you feel cooler than you actually are. Even if you already wear a badass leather jacket while riding your electric skateboard to work, nothing tops drinking a martini in a red leather booth at this intimate West Village steakhouse. Get the fantastic burger as an appetizer for the table, and then watch as a server in white gloves pours jus over thick prime rib. You’ll probably have to stay out past your bedtime to get a table here, but isn’t that kind of cool too?
There are some restaurants (including many on this list) it feels like everyone knows about - they’re the Leonardo DiCaprios. But think of Her Name Is Han as the Alicia Vikander of New York restaurants: at first, you might say, “Who?” but once you look her up, you’re like, “Oh right, she’s incredible.” This casual but cool Korean restaurant on 31st Street makes absolutely amazing food, and every single person we’ve sent here has texted us something to the effect of, “Holy sh*t” after eating here.
A couple years back, we came up with the term The Cool New Stuff™, to describe the food served at a certain kind of restaurant. These places tend to do “interesting” small plates involving semi-obscure ingredients, plated attractively on artisan-made plates, to crowds of people who take their taste in podcasts and midcentury modern furniture very seriously. Some, if not most of these places, are fun to try once or twice, but you also won’t be surprised if they’re closed by early 2020. Wildair does check all those boxes, but it feels like a place that’ll be around for years. If you’re looking to eat stuff that’s interesting and also genuinely excellent, and you also want to wear sneakers to dinner, get yourself to Wildair.
This iconic Williamsburg steakhouse has been around since 1887, and from the sawdust on the floor to the old-school waiters who refer to melted butter as “vitamins,” the experience here is unlike any other steakhouse (or restaurant) in NYC. What makes it particularly remarkable is the crowd - you’ll see everyone from tourists on their first New York trip to regulars who have been coming here for decades. The only thing everyone has in common is the fact that they were somehow able to get a reservation.
No matter where you’re coming from or how weird that thing you saw on the R train earlier was, you won’t regret going to Bay Ridge to eat at Tanoreen. You’re here to eat some of the best Middle Eastern food in NYC, in a relaxed space that feels like a family-run restaurant in a small town (like maybe Nazareth, where both Jesus and the chef grew up). Bring a group of people who want to share excellent ground lamb kafta and very creamy hummus, and don’t be surprised if you lie in bed later wishing you were still here.
In a city saturated with great Italian food, it’s almost impossible for an Italian restaurant to prove it’s something special. But over in Park Slope, Al Di La’s been at it since long before Manhattanites realized Brooklyn existed. This place isn’t fronted by a celebrity chef, nor is it trendy. It is simple, rustic Italian cooking at its very best, and one of the most charming environments you can eat in.
It’s the million dollar (or at least $3) question: what makes an ideal New York slice joint? First, the slice has to be perfect. And second, it has to be there for you when you need it. Joe’s checks both boxes. The slices are everything a New York slice should be: hot, salty, crispy, chewy, always consistent, and a little bit greasy. Open until 4am every night, Joe’s is the answer when someone asks you where to find the best slice of pizza in this town. It’s always the answer.
The original Minetta Tavern opened in 1937, and though the current iteration only opened in 2009, you do get that “old New York” feeling here. The steaks and famous burger are very, very good (and expensive), but you’re really coming here to feel something. And that’s what makes something a Greatest Hit. The $152 côte de boeuf with bone marrow is worth ordering at least once in your life, but you’ll also be extremely happy with the Black Label burger.