You know that sinking feeling you get when you walk into an empty subway car and start wondering why there’s no one else there? You may experience something similar when a server asks if you know “how the menu works.” Because it means that server is probably about to tell you that all the plates are fun-sized, and you should order at least one for every syllable in your name.
Sure, small plates are great for when you aren’t super hungry, or you want to feel like Pac-Man and eat a bunch of little things - but they tend to get pricey, and it can be frustrating when a dish is so tiny that your body doesn’t actually recognize it as food. So the next time you just want one or two things that aren’t the size of something a five-year-old would try to feed a squirrel, get your own plate of food (or share some more substantial ones) at one of these spots.
At Peter Luger, the closest thing to a small plate is the bacon you can order by the slice. And even that bacon is about 10 times thicker than what you’ll find on your Saturday morning BEC. You come to this classic Williamsburg steakhouse to eat large amounts of excellent meat, and the best thing you can do for yourself here is order a big porterhouse to share with all the people who were intelligent enough to come with you.
You know how at 7-Eleven, you can pour your own Slurpee that’s half cherry and half blue raspberry? You can do something sort of similar here. This Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen has a menu option called “Pick & Mix” involving half portions of two different entrees (with a side of rice) for $20, and it’s more than enough food for one person. So if you want to try a variety of things without going someplace where the plates are the size of Snapple caps, this spot is ideal. Get the pork stew and the beef short rib.
Emilio’s Ballato is an old-school Italian spot in Soho with white tablecloths and photos of celebrities on the walls, and it’s been around since before it became popular to construct menus out of things that take you four bites to finish. If you order the (excellent) chicken parm or tagliatelle bolognese, you won’t need anything else - but you should still get a side of meatballs. Just be aware that this place doesn’t take reservations, and that you might see someone you follow on Spotify here.
Lowerline isn’t complicated. It’s a Prospect Heights restaurant serving New Orleans-inspired food, and it’s a great place to eat a sandwich, a bowl of gumbo, or some crawfish etouffee. Get a shrimp po’ boy or the muffaletta with parmesan and prosciutto, or go for the gumbo/po’ boy combination if you need some variety. There isn’t much space inside - just a small bar and a couple of tables - so stop by with one other person for a quick weeknight meal that’ll make you want to move across the street.
Holy Ground is a cross between a barbecue spot and a steakhouse, all in a speakeasy-like space in Tribeca. And while you’ll most likely be sharing here, it’s the kind of place where you just need a couple of dishes for the entire table (and everyone can leave full). One of those dishes should be the beef rib that will remind you of the fact that cows are actually pretty enormous, and another one should be the smoked chicken. Bring a few people, sit in a big leather booth, and get a side of crispy potatoes, too.
When you’re tired of going to restaurants and trying to guess the socially acceptable number of dishes to order, go to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong and get one of the combos. The beef one comes with a few different cuts like short rib and ribeye, as well as a bunch of sides. This Korean barbecue place is a great spot for a fun group dinner, especially if it’s your birthday and you really want a server to come over to your table and wave around a big sparkler. Just be aware that it gets ridiculously busy, and they only take reservations for groups of six or more.
Beebe’s is sort of like the Gap or the Toyota Camry of restaurants. It’s not super exciting, but it’s perfectly nice, and it should make you happy. You can stop by for dinner and get something like a pizza with sausage and hot honey, a solid bowl of pasta, or a burger that tastes like a better version of what you’d find at your favorite fast food spot. This place is in the bottom of a boutique hotel on a fairly quiet street in LIC, and it’s a useful spot to know about in the neighborhood.
When you go to Bunna Cafe, you order “the feast.” It comes with a bunch of different dishes (like collard greens and lentil stew) on a big piece of injera, and you can get it for one, two, or three people. This is some of our favorite Ethiopian food in the city, and it’s all vegetarian. So bring a vegetarian friend. Or come with date when you’re going out in Bushwick and you don’t want to have an awkward moment when neither of you can decide what to order.
99 Favor Taste is all-you-can-eat, so for $22.99, you get unlimited ingredients like beef, lamb, fish balls, and various vegetables to throw into the hot pot in the middle of your table. There’s also a barbecue option if you feel like grilling, plus a little station where you can design your dipping sauce like it’s an edible Build-A-Bear. There are a few different locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, and they’re all great for groups. As a bonus, feel free to bring your own wine - it’s BYOB.
At Gazala’s, you’ll eat a lot of different things, but that’s mostly because you’ll look at a friend’s plate and say something along the lines of, “Are you going to finish that?” Hopefully you have generous friends. This UWS spot is perfect for group dinners, it’s about as casual as a living room, and the Middle Eastern food is very good. Get a mezze platter with a bunch of dips and fried appetizers for the table, then just pick a big dish that you won’t mind sharing a few bites of.
When you order a bunch of small plates, the prices can add up until you suddenly notice you’re spending the equivalent of several dentist appointments on a meal that doesn’t even make you full. Instead of risking this, go to Lovely Day. This place serves some solid Thai food, and you can easily spend less than $20 per person. It’s a great spot to grab a quick dinner before heading to a bar on Lower East Side where you’ll spend all the money you just saved.
The Smile has been around since 2009, and you might sometimes forget that it exists, but it’s great for a lot of different scenarios. Bring your parents. Or stop by when you need a place to grab food with a few coworkers, and you don’t want anyone to say, “Should we just split a bunch of things?” The food in this attractive Nolita basement is Mediterranean, the dishes aren’t insanely expensive, and everyone at your table will wind up eating their own plate of salmon, chicken, or pasta.
Your roommate wants to check out a new place where the food comes on custom-made ceramic plates that were originally designed for dolls, but you want to eat a portion of food that won’t make you zone out for the next hour while thinking about which pizza place to stop by on your way home. Go to Chavela’s. This neighborhood spot in Prospect Heights is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in the city, and you can get some excellent tacos, enchiladas, or a “Plato Don,” which comes with your choice of meat and several other things like rice, beans, and tortillas.
You’re going out with a group, and you need a fun place where you won’t have to get into a fight about who ate the most of what when the check arrives. Sally Roots can solve this problem. This Caribbean restaurant in Bushwick has frozen drinks and a tropical-themed dining room, and a single plate of food is all you’ll need per person. The burger is solid, but we especially like the pork with mojo and the bowl of oxtail over rice and peas.
As the name suggests, you shouldn’t leave this place without eating Peking duck. One duck should feed three people, and costs $60. You won’t need too much more food than that, so get some dumplings for the table and add the seafood triple delight with scallops, shrimp, and fish if you’re especially hungry. Try this spot for a birthday party or dinner with a big group of friends when you’ve used guilt and flattery to get everyone to hang out on the same night. Be sure to take advantage of the BYOB policy, too.
You probably have a go-to spot where you can show up and get a solid meal that doesn’t cost more than $25. And you’ve probably been to that place so many times that you could build a scale model of the dining room from memory. Stop being predictable, and go to Pilar Cuban Eatery every once in a while instead. This Bed-Stuy spot serves big plates of pernil, rotisserie chicken, and ropa vieja, with sides like plantains and mashed potatoes. It’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal, and it also works well for a Friday night dinner that might involve several rounds of daiquiris.