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 11/2018: Blanca, Lucali, Peter Luger, St. Anselm, Cocoron, Wildair, Llama Inn, Tanoreen
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.
Sitting at the bar at L’Artusi is one of the greatest two-person dinner moves you can make. If you walk in and are willing to wait, you can usually secure a spot in under an hour, which you should spend waiting at the front with a glass of wine from the excellent list. Once you sit, eat several bowls of pasta and finish with olive oil cake. Then congratulate yourself for knowing how to live right.
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).
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.
Whether you’ve lived in New York City for two weeks or you just visited once for two days, you already know about Roberta’s. But hidden behind that world-famous pizza place is a secret called Blanca - a 12-seat tasting menu restaurant that feels like nothing else in this city. Every single one of the 19 courses has something incredible about it, but this place’s magic has just as much to do with all the other details. Like the chef who also hand-selects the playlist every night, and the wine and beer pairing that will likely introduce you to 10 things you’ve never tried before. If you enjoy surprises, you will love Blanca. And if you don’t, then you haven’t experienced these kinds of surprises before.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $24), 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.
Many NYC restaurants serve incredible pizza and pasta. But there’s only one NYC restaurant that serves incredible pizza and pasta, offers a long list of wines by the half-bottle, and pours those wines into the lightest and best wine glasses of all time. That restaurant is Pasquale Jones, and all of those details are the reasons why we keep coming back again and again. Well, them and the clam pizza.
When you came to this city, what were you looking for? Fame, fortune, or maybe just a f*ck ton of fun? Llama Inn is where we’ll send you when you need more of that last one in your life. This Williamsburg spot isn’t quite a drug-fueled rave in a warehouse - but it is a Peruvian restaurant that’s perfect for a truly fun group dinner. You’ll eat ceviche, skewers, and stir fry, in an incredibly-designed space, while drinking the kind of cocktails you have three of before realizing your night has taken a turn. This is why you came to Llama Inn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honestly, we could have done a Greatest Hits list that only included legendary New York Italian restaurants, but that’s not the exercise here. This is about picking out the places we’d send you to before all the others, and Il Buco is that for Italian in this town. The room, once an antique store, is dark and inviting, and below the restaurant is a wine cellar that Edgar Allen Poe used to hang out in. And if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you. Do you even write poetry?
Gramercy Tavern is well known for being one of the best fine dining destinations in New York City, and we’re not here to dispute that. But we will say that we enjoy eating in the bar area far more than we do a full sit down tasting menu in the main dining room. In this part of the restaurant, they don’t take reservations, you order a la carte, and the service and food is just as good as what you get from the main event. It’s also one of the best rooms in the whole city.
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.
Marlow & Sons is arguably the restaurant that started Williamsburg (it was an English colony previous to their opening), but history isn’t enough for us to put an establishment on this list. Marlow & Sons makes it because it’s one of our favorite places for a few drinks, a dozen oysters, and nightly-changing food that’s still some of the most interesting in the borough, even decades after opening. The brick chicken is a menu staple and should be ordered, but you really can’t go wrong.
The Infatuation was built on the idea that, when picking a restaurant, the sum of all of its parts is more important than any one thing about it. The exception to this rule is Cosme. It’s an excellent restaurant all-around, with a cool, clubby-but-not-in-a-lame-way feel. But you’re really here for one reason: the whole duck served carnitas-style. Sitting around a table with friends (because you’ll need friends to finish it) stuffing bits of duck into hot homemade tortillas is one of the NYC eating experiences you need to have at least once.
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.
It’s 2:30am, you’re a little bit drunk, a lot hungry, and looking for something other than a slice from Joe’s. What do you do? Head for the most legendary late night eating this (or any) city has to offer. Blue Ribbon stays open until 4am and it started out back in 1992 as the place where all of the chefs in town would visit for a proper meal after their shifts ended. These days it’s a place where all of the best New Yorkers come when their night has ended - the ones who appreciate a nice bottle of wine and some bone marrow before climbing into bed just before dawn.