For anyone wondering which sit-down restaurants are currently hot in New York City right this second, you have arrived at the right figurative Internet place. What does “hot” mean, you ask? Well it’s safe to say that we put on relatively cute outfits to dine at each restaurant below (possibly even eye makeup and our “good deodorant”). A night out at one of these places - whether it’s for a casual catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night - feels overwhelmingly of the current moment. Many of them are brand spanking new, but we’ve also listed a couple of spots doing something noteworthy for the first time (like switching from tasting menu to a la carte, or setting up seating in the street).
And, as always, we wouldn’t be recommending any of these restaurants simply for having a memorable scene. We’ve been to each and every spot and loved the food they serve - so you can plan your dinner confidently.
Outerspace is a Bushwick concert venue turned backyard restaurant where you should host at least one big group meal outside this summer. But we’re not just saying that because of the picnic tables, cocktail pitchers, or psychedelic pop playlist. The main draw here is a mashup dinner series with Vietnamese pop-up Ha’s Đặc Biệt and Cambodian pop-up Kreung that’s running all summer long. Standout dishes like a minty herb salad topped with roasted peanuts and a half roasted chicken covered in lemongrass-chili juice had us sending impulsive “you need to try this” texts in the middle of dinner. And smaller plates like the tender pork satay served with buttery roti from A&A and grilled corn on the cob made us consider starting a conga line around the plant-filled patio. Whatever you do, pair your fresh summer feast with a pandan gimlet on a Saturday night and then take your crew around the corner to Honey’s to keep the party going.
After being closed for in-person service since the start of the pandemic, Contra on the Lower East Side recently reopened with an a la carte menu that changes almost daily. Meaning, for the first time ever, Contra’s menu is designed both for a couple willing to order all 10 dishes and happily spend over $200, as well as someone who had a terrible week and wants two or three dishes they’ve never eaten before (like skate wing with curried sour cherries). Whatever your approach to ordering, Contra’s food will be cooked so expertly that your knife will sit dormant next to your plate the whole night, probably sad not to be invited to the party. A boudin noir, for example, cuts like butter. The blood sausage is flavored by ume vinegar and shiso, and topped with a wine-soaked onion that makes the whole thing taste like chopped liver and onions dressed up to go clubbing. For all those who want special-occasion food without being locked into a precious tasting menu, Contra is exactly where you want to be.
Most of us are not traveling to France just yet - but in the meantime, you should try to eat at Fradei. This tiny spot (there are a handful of tables inside, with a few more tables on the sidewalk and patio) serves an $80, regularly changing five-course menu that is kept secret until the dishes arrive to your table. Beyond drinks, there are no options when ordering, and the food is seasonal, with an emphasis on local ingredients. The chefs are both American, but met while working in France, and you can feel and taste that influence in the dishes. A few highlights from a recent dinner included an incredible play on sour cream and onion chips, white asparagus with spruce, pistachio, and egg yolks, steak tartare with togarashi, and broiled cucumbers blanketed in a delicate sheet of lard. Add to all that a perfect dining room playlist and a wine selection you’ll want to explore, and this is one of the best places to have a date night in Brooklyn right now.
Francie is the new buttoned-up Williamsburg restaurant you should visit when you want to feel cool and have no problem casually spending about $100 on dinner. The glitzy brasserie is located in a converted limestone bank building on Broadway right down the street from Peter Luger and Diner, and it’s full of waiters in white blazers carrying platters of dry-aged duck on beds of purple flowers. But surprisingly, it’s not that stuffy. We would advise dropping in on a weeknight for a martini and some upscale bar snacks like a spongy soufflé cake topped with caviar and seaweed butter before getting on with your life. That said, Francie is perfect for a special night out involving dishes like a whole roasted duck with crispy skin or lobster ravioli. And whether you’re sitting in a big booth or a two-top table in the center of the dining room, you’ll have a nice view of the chefs who appear very cool and calm in the kitchen.
The Portuguese-inspired seafood at Cervo’s has always been exciting (at least to anyone who considers liking mollusks as an inherent personality trait). But the combination of sunshine, restriction loosening, and the new outdoor set-up at this recently-reopened Lower East Side restaurant is the real reason everyone we’ve ever stalked on the internet is eating here. Cervo’s has recreated their iconic yellow tile bar smack in the middle of the now blocked-off Canal Street. Apparently, this area is affectionately known as “The Tub,” and eating there feels like being cast as an extra in a movie about Dimes Square (gorgeous light bouncing off the yellow tiles, small sunglasses, martinis, and all). Unless you show up before they open at 5:30, you’re going to have to wait at least an hour for The Tub, since there are no reservations to be had and indoor dining isn’t yet an option. Trust us, Cervo’s steamed-to-order clams, perfectly-pink lamb burger, and asparagus topped with zingy horseradish and mussels escabeche make eating here well worth your time.
There are tons of new places to drink natural wine in this city, but Winona’s is our top pick for a few reasons. First, the wine bar doubles as an all-day restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner options every day. Second, this airy and light wood-covered room on the Williamsburg/Bed-Stuy border hosts weekly pop-ups and community events like gumbo nights with Chef Kia Damon and dinners by Ediciones every Sunday and Monday night. And finally, getting drinks and snacks after sunset at Winona’s feels like being at a dinner party filled with stylish strangers and natural wine options from small producers across the world.
If you’re looking for something great and new uptown, prioritize this casual Korean spot on Amsterdam Avenue and 90th Street where chicken dominates the entire menu. Chick Chick’s Korean play on Nashville Hot Chicken is crunchier than it is fiery, and we could write an entire review of this twice-fried, chili-dusted poultry production with pickles and creamy white sauce. But Chick Chick’s allure extends much further than one sandwich. From an unexpectedly light kale caesar salad to soy-pepper wings, and a beautifully-cooked kimchi fried rice with chicken sausage and rich egg yolk, order chicken in all its forms here. The set-up feels just a step-up from a fast-casual restaurant (and there’s no alcohol), making Chick Chick a perfect place to pick up some takeout for your kids or an excellent meal with a friend for around $20.
In 2018, a 19-year-old Californian opened a tasting menu restaurant called Gem on the Lower East Side. You were locked into one of two nightly seatings for an aggressively vegetable-forward, 12-15-course tasting menu priced at $155. That was cool. It really was. Even back then, the chef, Flynn McGarry, made you feel like you were dining in the future, but also in his living room. He put hyper-seasonal vegetables on display without forsaking meat entirely, all in a flower- and art-bombed space that feels more like a fun hang than a restaurant. But now, in 2021, you can experience all of that without committing to a tasting menu. The a la carte options change almost daily, depending on the farmer’s market, and each and every dish will blow you away. Some standouts from a recent meal included emerald green ramp tortellini in broth, lamb and oyster tartare with fried capers, and an entirely vegetarian schnitzel made with cabbage and maitake mushrooms. We left excited for vegetables, meat, and for what the future of dining out could look like.
The Tyger is from the people behind Chinese Tuxedo, and like that Chinatown party restaurant, this broadly Asian spot in Soho has big booths filled with groups drinking colorful cocktails in a more colorful dining room. But unlike its sibling spot, the food at The Tyger will blow you away. From Phnom Penh fried chicken with lime and white pepper dipping sauce, to spicy curry loaded with crispy confit duck, and a not-quite-liquid, not-quite-solid coffee egg tart, everything on the menu is absolutely excellent. Bring a group, sit at a table near the retractable floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to Centre Street, and order as much of the menu as you can, colorful cocktails included.
We could all be a little happier if we applied this Mexican restaurant’s maximalist approach to our own lives. Why make a habañero mango cocktail without torching a thick sprig of rosemary in it first? Why paint a patio muted pastel pink when a shade called “hot pink” exists? If there’s a vat of earthy mole negro in the kitchen, why not pour a pint of it onto a plate with chicken enchiladas or tender short rib? The portions of Oaxacan specialties at this new Astoria spot are massive, and the mole and Patrón flow like tap water. This fun new restaurant would be especially great for a group of friends reuniting with a bang, or a date where splitting some gooey chori queso with warm corn tortillas is in the cards.
This Japanese restaurant in Chinatown - located in the home of former scene-y spots like Lalito and karaoke bar Winnie’s - focuses on Hokkaido specialties that go nicely with shochu sour cocktails, natural wine, and a kind-of-wild night with a small group of people you love. Build your meal around Dr. Clark’s thinly-sliced, marinated lamb jingisukan, which is grilled tableside and served with a mixture of crunchy marinated onions and bean sprouts. We’d recommend supplementing the lamb with fresh seafood, like some chewy squid stuffed with uni-laced rice and a bowl of kaisen featuring assorted salmon and tuna sashimi, roe, cucumber, radish, uni, and steamed egg. Part of Dr. Clark’s charm is that you get to eat beneath a sparkling disco ball on Bayard Street, and spot someone who possibly starred on an HBO show in 2012.