You’re finally dating someone you could see yourself eventually sharing an Amazon Prime account with, and everything’s going well until one day you discover something you never saw coming: this person doesn’t like cheese. They’re not allergic - they just really hate the taste. They might even be afraid of it. While you privately wonder if this red flag is too ominous to be ignored, you’re determined to persevere and see if it’s still possible to enjoy meals, and therefore life, together.
In case you’ve found yourself in a similar situation - or you don’t like cheese yourself, or are actually lactose intolerant - here are 26 restaurants, ranging from a trendy Tribeca French place to a classic New York City deli, where you won’t even notice the elephant in the room (that’s made of cheese).
Shuko is one of New York’s best places for omakase sushi, which automatically makes it an excellent destination for anyone avoiding cheese. It’s also one of our all-around favorite special occasion spots in the city. So when you’re ready to celebrate the fact that the cheese-hater in your life was recently promoted (ideally to a very high-paying job, since dinner here starts at $180 per person), come here for a celebration you’ll still be talking about five years from now.
U-Gu is a further step down on the sushi ladder in terms of price, but still a great place to eat raw fish - and over the course of a meal here, it won’t be hard to briefly forget cheese exists. Order the nine-piece combo or a sashimi platter, then go home and watch a show about house-hunting in Australia for the fourth night this week.
As long as you eat seafood, you’ll be happy at Abuqir in Astoria. Just follow these instructions: arrive, approach the fish counter, pick out whichever former ocean inhabitant(s) you’d like to have for dinner, and then decide how you’d like your fish to be cooked. We like to get grilled and fried shrimp, plus a whole fish cooked “Egyptian-style.” Get some baba ghanoush to start, too.
This Thai/Filipino place on the LES is a good spot to kick off a night of partying with someone who denies the culinary supremacy of cheese. The music will be loud, the dark front dining room will be full of people sharing sisig, papaya salad, and baby back ribs, and you can order as many cocktails as it takes to forget that you’ll never be able to host a fondue night without seriously hurting your cheese-fearing friend’s feelings.
A vegan restaurant is an easy choice when you’re avoiding cheese, particularly if you can’t consume it because of an allergy. This Williamsburg spot does vegan takes on comfort food (so you’ll find things like Caribbean jerk tofu and BBQ cauliflower wings), and the menu should appeal to just about anyone.
This Japanese small-plates spot does serve a sushi roll topped with cheese, but otherwise, you should be good with most things on the enormous menu - from the wide yakitori selection to the ramen, sashimi, soba, and fried rice. Try to make a reservation, but if you can’t, the wait shouldn’t be too bad (it’s a big, airy space with tables on two floors, plus some seats right in front of the yakitori grill). Then order a bunch of shareable things, all of which will come to your table incredibly quickly, and show your dining companions that you don’t hate eating, you just hate eating moldy milk.
Jeepney is a great place for a Friday night dinner with someone you can really be yourself around, no matter what that person thinks about cheese. Why? Because you’re not going to want to waste time politely asking, “So, how’s everything been going?” when you can be drinking cocktails, chatting with the friendly servers, and sharing things like pork shoulder stew with beef blood, fried rice with baby crab fat and Spam, and the chori burger (made with a mix of beef and longganisa sausage meat). Count on still being full (and maybe a little drunk) at breakfast tomorrow.
Like a toddler clothing boutique or a dermatologist’s office, Flora Bar is a great place to spend a lot of money on the Upper East Side. Because it’s located in the bottom of the Met Breuer, eating dinner here feels a little bit like you snuck into the museum after-hours, and it’s a universal rule of life that things that happen after-hours are impressive. Get one (or many) of the raw bar offerings, then try the lobster dumplings or other entrees like tilefish, tuna, or duck.
This Ethiopian spot between Park Slope and Gowanus has lots of meat-free options in addition to dishes like steak and tuna tartare, so it’s another place that’s ideal if you have dietary restrictions and aren’t just avoiding cheese for reasons of the heart. Everything is shareable, so this is also a good bet for a date or double date.
This one’s for the out-of-towner who hates cheese. Actually, it’s for the out-of-towner who hates cheese, is willing to drop $22 on a pastrami sandwich, and is also relatively organized, because if you lose the ticket they give you when you walk in here, you’re f*cked.
For a casual meal with one or more people who don’t like cheese but do at least tolerate noise, this neon-lit Taiwanese spot on St. Marks works well. It’s on the inexpensive side for a trendy East Village spot - the shareable stir-fry and rice dishes mostly hover around $15 - but keep in mind that you’ll probably want a fried chicken sandwich all to yourself.
It’s hard to eat cheese when you’re busy eating oysters, and it’s easy to eat oysters during the Mermaid Inn’s Happy Hour (every day from 5-7pm), when they’re only $1.25 each. Round out your meal with some of the reliable - but less cost-effective - fish entrees, like grilled salmon, fish tacos, or a lobster roll.
Tanoreen serves some of our favorite Middle Eastern food in New York, and it’s worth a trip to Bay Ridge for the creamy hummus, lamb kafta, and stuffed cabbage. Your cheese preferences will be largely irrelevant here, although keep in mind that a few things do have feta.
You know what’s great when you’re still up at 2am on a Saturday and you probably drank a few too many tequila sodas? Pizza. You know what you probably don’t like if you hate cheese? Pizza. So come to this K-Town spot for non-pizza things like bibimbap, bulgogi, and tofu stew (it stays open especially late on the weekends).
Yes, this is a fancy vegetarian restaurant in a furniture store where we once saw a $30,000 quartz cluster on display. That said, it actually feels pretty relaxed. Menu highlights include the roasted head of cauliflower and the green chickpea hummus, and while not everything is cheese-free, you’ll still have plenty of options (including juices and “vibration” drinks that are more expensive than some cocktails, but still less expensive than that quartz).
The closest thing to cheese you’ll find on the menu at Kopitiam is French toast with condensed milk, which is something you should absolutely order as long as your avoidance doesn’t extend to all milk-based products. This counter-service spot on the Lower East Side is open all day, so if you’re not in the mood for breakfast, try other things like the pan mee soup, sweet chicken wings, and fried chicken in pandan leaves.
This is a French restaurant, and legend tells us that French people like to eat cheese. But you can have a fantastic meal here without it (although if you’re avoiding dairy altogether, you might have more trouble). The duck frites is a signature dish, and if you’re willing to go big, this place has one of the best lobster dishes we’ve eaten in New York City.
We’re not saying you’re going to be able to eat all the best dishes at this upscale Italian spot in Tribeca if you hate cheese, but you will still be able to have an enjoyable meal here. Start with some steak tartare, then try the pork chop entree or the chicken for two. This is perfect for a kind-of-fancy dinner with some family members in town for the weekend, or clients you’re trying to impress.
This is another great option for fans of non-cheese-based Italian food. Hearth’s menu is most easily navigated when you’re sharing with several other people (if there are just two of you, it gets expensive fast). So come with a small group, or maybe bring your parents, and get a whole chicken or a bunch of small plates like anchovies and chicken liver paté. It’s all kind-of-healthy without feeling so “clean” that it has no taste, and any cheese-lovers at your table can share a pasta or two.
The most important thing you’ll be consuming at Ruffian is wine. That’s not to say the food, which changes all the time, isn’t good - it is, especially considering it’s all made by one person standing behind the bar. But this is a wine bar first and foremost, with more than 250 (mostly natural) options for you to explore while you eat things like red lentil hummus or curried carrots and forget that “wine and cheese” was ever even a thing.
One of our favorite new restaurants of 2018 is also an excellent place to continue pursuing your cheese-free lifestyle. In part because you can come here and eat “pizza” that has no cheese of any kind (it’s made of rice paper and topped with things like egg and pork, or mung bean spread and vegetables). You’ll want the pho with fatty brisket, too, and the fried daikon rice cake omelette.
You share everything with this person, except the block of cheddar in the fridge. So you should also share the seafood stew from this Korean spot. There’s not really a wrong way to order here, but you’ll also want one of the big, round bulgogi beef patties and some of the rice cakes with squash.
For light and spicy Chinese dishes like egg crepe dumplings and shredded Le Shan chicken in chili oil, we’re fans of both Hao Noodles in the city. This location is the original, and it’s a good place for a walk-in weeknight meal or a casual-ish weekend date night (as long as you don’t mind the fact that you might end up at a communal table).
Cheese-haters who love uni will be happy at SakaMai, because pretty much anyone who likes uni will be happy at SakaMai. It also helps if you like eggs, because you definitely want to order the “egg on egg on egg” to start (it’s uni plus scrambled eggs and caviar, served in a sea urchin shell). Get the uni mazemen (with ramen noodles, bone marrow, and bottarga) too, and add a handroll and some steak or sashimi if you feel like momentarily pretending your diet consists solely of luxury foods.
In a world where the L Train’s long-planned vacation can be abruptly cancelled, and Spiderman gets remade roughly every five months, it’s hard to feel sure of anything. But one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that steak is not cheese. Which is good news, because steak is mostly what you’ll be eating at Peter Luger. Get some thick-cut house bacon, too, and finish with an ice cream sundae, the gigantic chocolate coins they drop on your table at the end of your meal, or both.