A dinner rolls around - maybe it’s a last minute group dinner, maybe it’s near Columbus Circle, maybe someone is bringing a small child or a difficult eater. Someone’s going to recommend The Smith. And you’re going to say, “Well... isn’t there something else?”
We don’t have anything against The Smith, per se, other than its ubiquity - there are four locations in Manhattan, each one bigger than the last, and those OpenTable reservations are always there for the taking, which means someone’s inevitably going to recommend it. Like Westville, it’s another one of those places that, when suggested in our Text Rex service, almost always results in a reply of, “Yeah, I’m looking for something like The Smith, but not actually The Smith.”
In those cases, here’s where to go.
You tried to get into Upland, and failed immediately. It’s OK - remember, success in life is all about perseverance. You’ll get that 8pm for 4 people someday. Anyway, naturally someone has probably pointed out that there’s now an outpost of The Smith in Nomad (of course there is), and you could all just go there. But before you wind up eating your sorrows away in the form of a skillet of mac and cheese (it could be worse), consider trying Covina. It’s essentially Upland-lite: nice pizzas and pastas and salads and vegetables and roast chicken and so on, in a very pleasant space.
Will Belcampo change your worldview or make you a significantly happier person? Don’t be silly. This place is for when you need to eat a burger with someone you’re only kind of close with - like an uncle or a former babysitter who wants to see what sort of person you’ve become. Consider this The Smith of Hudson Yards, and know that the burgers here are actually pretty good (and the kale salad isn’t bad either). The space is nice and comfortable in a generic-mall-restaurant kind of way, and it has plenty of small tables and a couple of big booths.
What’s the Smith of Long Island City? That would be Beebe’s, a hotel restaurant on a relatively quiet street where you can find that boring holy trinity of burger/pasta/kale salad. All of these things are actually pretty solid at Beebe’s (especially the burger), and unlike The Smith, this place serves some great pizza. Which brings us to another point. Why doesn’t The Smith serve pizza?
If we had to guess, we’d say this restaurant came about when the people behind the Blue Ribbon empire had a conversation that went something like this:
“Yeah, so we should probably open our own version of The Smith, don’t you think?”
“I agree. Where should we do it?”
“Maybe the Upper West Side?”
“K. Sounds good.”
The Queensboro doesn’t have a motto, but if it did, it could be something like “Salad and chicken? We have that.” This Jackson Heights spot serves pizza, pasta, various vegetables, as well as some entrees like steak and a burger. Exciting? Not so much. Useful? Very. As an added bonus, the big space has potted plants and leather booths. Try it for brunch, when there will most likely be a ton of babies running around.
There’s a group dinner, it’s less than a week away, and members of the party have varying needs. One person’s gluten-free, while another is carb-loading for an upcoming marathon, and there’s a general sentiment about keeping costs reasonable while still getting drunk. “Should we just get a big table at The Smith in the East Village? That’ll probably be easy since Alison has to meet Sean in Soho later?” Well, Alison, what if you just have dinner at Galli in Soho? Sean will be so close by. The food here ranges from a totally solid kale salad to chicken parm with spaghetti, and a whole lot in between. And it’s always lively, without being out of control expensive either.
What’s that? The group dinner is now a brunch? Do it at Vic’s. We still aren’t wild about it here during dinner time, but it’s a convenient daytime move, especially considering you can make reservations for a large party. Most brunch items cost less than $20, and with its wood floors and white brick walls, it looks like a loft apartment you’d probably like to own.
You know that meme with two identical versions of Spiderman pointing at one another? Well, The Smith is one Spiderman, and Parker & Quinn is the other. The difference is, The Smith just feels like a hotel restaurant, but Parker & Quinn actually is one. It’s in the bottom of the Refinery Hotel in Midtown, it’s open all day, and it looks very similar to The Smith (tiled floors, big bar, etc.). So if you recently swore to some friends that you’d stop going to The Smith, but you’re having a hard time following through, come here. It’s nearly identical.
If The Smith had a cooler older sibling it would look something like this Greenpoint spot. Bernie’s is pretty much a tavern, but it isn’t the sort of tavern where you only drink cheap beer and avoid all food that isn’t fries or onion rings. Here, you can sit in a big booth, eat an excellent burger, and drink a martini with a couple of friends. Entrees cost pretty much the same as they do at The Smith (in the $17-$20 range), and much like The Smith, this place serves steak, salmon, and chicken paillard. Bernie’s just happens to do all these things a little bit better.
Loring Place is pretty much a version of The Smith that grew up a little bit, got a job, and moved to the West Village. The food here is similarly American and wide-ranging (pizza, chicken, broccoli salad, etc), but everything is a little better and a little more expensive than what you find at The Smith. If you’re having somewhat a special occasion brunch or dinner and have to please a lot of different people, this is a good option. Just try to get a reservation in advance.
Imagine an alternate universe in which The Smith never expanded and just remained a single location in the East Village. It would probably feel pretty similar to Walter Foods. This is a neighborhood spot in Williamsburg where you can eat a caesar salad, some deviled eggs, and a plate of fried chicken. It’s straightforward food done very well, and - while the setup is pretty similar - this place is several times more charming than The Smith. Also, there’s a second location (called Walter’s) in Fort Greene. So maybe this is the next Smith.
You need to get a nice dinner in Chelsea with a couple of people who want very different things. Go to Empire Diner. It’s in a renovated dining car, and the big menu has everything from mac and cheese and pigs in a blanket to a kale salad and several types of fish. The food won’t blow you away, but no one will be offended or upset, and at least one person will comment on how good-looking this place is. And if that doesn’t sound like The Smith, we don’t know what does.
At surface level, Bar Primi and The Smith don’t actually have a ton in common. Sure, they both serve pasta, but Bar Primi is more of a straightforward Italian restaurant, and it’s a little bit cooler than The Smith. If you’re looking for someone to date, for example, you could probably find a decent candidate here. But both The Smith and Bar Primi are attractive, relatively casual places where you can easily get a reservation and get some crowd-pleasing food with a big group. Everyone can get their own entree for around $20, and no one will get mad at you for planning a dinner here.