New York City’s mom-and-pop restaurants are vital to its soul, and it’s these independent places that led to fame for chefs like Ivan Orkin, Melba Wilson, and Roberto Santibañez.
In a city that’s spoiled for choice with locally owned restaurants, some overtake the pack. These are the spots we go to when making dinner feels like a drag, where we meet up with neighbors for drinks and laughs, and where our server knows what we want before we even sit down.
There’s a Harlem neighborhood staple that’s famous for its knockout chicken and waffles, an easygoing Mexican faithful where locals eat in sweats, and one especially family-friendly Cobble Hill steakhouse. Read on for a guide to 14 neighborhood restaurants that New Yorkers fiercely love.
Gus’s Chop House (Carroll Gardens)
Gus’s is the kind of does-it-all place that’s just as great for an all-out celebration as it is for a weeknight dinner. That’s because chef and owner Chris McDade’s (Popina) menu has plenty of sophisticated steakhouse faves like lamb loin, wedge salad with leeks, and more. But the laid-back vibe, complete with black leather banquettes and spaced-out tables, makes this an inviting Carroll Gardens mainstay—it’s why families with babies always feel comfortable eating here, too.
Afghan Kebab House (Upper East Side)
New York has several solid Afghan restaurants, but Upper East Siders know to head to Afghan Kebab House for chef Izmir Rouzyi’s next-level kebabs and pilaus. The restaurant has more than half a dozen versions of the rice dish—arguably Afghanistan’s most famous delicacy. Consider getting an order with tender lamb or baby okra, and pair it with sizzling charcoal-grilled shrimp kebabs. Hot tip: BYOB is encouraged.
Atlas Kitchen (Upper West Side)
The Upper West Side has one of the strongest Sichuanese food scenes in the city, but Atlas wins the most local hearts for its especially massive menu. Homesick Columbia University students and families pack the place for Kaiyuan Li’s cooking, which also includes dishes from his home region, Hunan. The move here is ordering everything to share—whole-steamed fish heads covered in red chiles, Sichuan-style sautéed pig trotters, and more—so you can do justice to all the regional Chinese hits.
Fonda (Chelsea, Park Slope, and Tribeca)
Even though this Mexican star expanded to new locations since opening in Park Slope in 2009, one thing remains the same: chef and owner Roberto Santibañez’s focus on running an unpretentious spot where locals feel comfortable dining in sweats. They can’t get enough of the rich Oaxacan mole, queso fundido with chorizo, and lamb birria—and the best part is knowing that lingering comfortably over a meal here is welcome.
Bhatti Indian Grill (Murray Hill)
Manhattan’s South Asian community knows that Bhatti is a one-stop-shop for rich North Indian specialties like creamy dal and buttery kebabs. Silky smooth galouti kebabs, based on gold-standard versions from Tunde Mian in Lucknow, India, are the main attractions on chef Gaurav Anand’s (Moti Mahal Delux, Awadh) menu. Plus, Bhatti has a serious natural wine collection, busting the myth that only certain reds pair well with Indian food.
Melba Wilson cooked at her aunt’s renowned Harlem soul-food restaurant Sylvia’s before opening her namesake spot in 2005. Wilson makes frequent appearances in the dining room, giving out hugs and walking through to check on how everyone’s doing. Plus, her top-notch cooking, including her TV-famous chicken and eggnog waffles has famous fans like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Ivan Ramen (Lower East Side)
Lower East Siders have serious bragging rights: Their neighborhood ramen spot is run by Chef’s Table star Ivan Orkin, whose noodle knowledge is just as respected in Japan. Most ramen shops only do one style, but Orkin goes all out with six different broths and a broth-less mazemen. Regulars swear by the red chile ramen—a spicy, vibrant bowl of thin rye noodles, tender pork chashu, and smashed soft-boiled egg.
Mista Oh (Flatiron)
Mistah Oh made a name for itself thanks to all the family firepower behind it. Mista, Mia, Holly, and Suby Oh, who all come from Busan, South Korea, make up the team of relatives at this fuss-free Flatiron gem. The homey vibe and Korean classics like galbijjim (braised short ribs), bibimbap, sundobu (soft tofu stew), and more are ideal for a relaxed meal with family or friends.
Rice x Beans (Hell’s Kitchen)
NYC’s Brazilians know they can get a taste of home at Rice x Beans, an unassuming restaurant by chef and owner Carlos Roberto Inácio. Inácio recreates the dishes he grew up eating in Minas Gerais, Brazil, at the cozy Hell’s Kitchen spot, including cheesy pão de queijo and feijoada, or pork and black bean stew. But as the restaurant’s name suggests, nothing hits the spot like a plate of beans and rice, and that’s exactly what many New Yorkers keep coming back for.
Little Ruby’s Cafe (West Village)
Few NYC spots have perfected farm-fresh Australian food the way Thomas Lim and Tim Sykes’s Little Ruby’s Cafe has since it opened its first Nolita outpost in 2002. It now has three other locations, including a new West Village edition that’s the first to take reservations, and they all make excellent brunch spots. Make sure to get the breakfast burrito overflowing with scrambled eggs, chorizo, and tater tots, and wash it all down with a—what else?—flat white.
Sorsó (Union Square)
For a rare escape by Union Square, make your way to Sorsó, a charming Italian wine bar. Sorsó —owned by famed photographer and entrepreneur Marcho Vacchi— is where locals come to unwind over prosecco, tuna crudo, and slow-cooked octopus with sundried tomatoes. Between 4 pm and 6 pm, you can score a glass of wine and bruschetta for $15, making it one of the best pre-dinner deals in the neighborhood.
Oda House (Upper East Side and Sheepshead Bay)
Even before khachapuri became a viral hit, Oda House was where locals broke bread together—literally—over the cheesy egg-topped Georgian dish. The original East Village location is now closed, but chef and owner Maia Acquaviva still pulls in plenty of old-timers to its Upper East Side and Sheepshead Bay locations. It’s because Oda House cranks out nearly 12 kinds of khachapuri and juicy khinkali (dumplings), to name just a few—and has a Georgian wine list that’s one of the best in the city.
Blue Sea Taverna (Astoria)
This Astoria mainstay was called Akrotiri Grill when it first opened in 2018, but recently renamed itself so that owner Chris Kouvaros could go all in on Greek seafood. That means dishes like htapodi (charcoal-grilled octopus) and lavraki (whole-grilled branzino) get their main-character moments, along with excellent new additions including tender-crisp seared scallops with creamy linguine.
Da’ Franco & Tony’s Ristorante (Pelham Bay)
Wear your stretchiest pants when you come to this old-school red-sauce joint by brothers Frank and Tony Hasanramaj. The Italian American food here is as hearty as it comes and draws an eclectic mix of nonnas, nonnos, and younger diners. Come extra-hungry for minestrone soup, homemade gnocchi in ragu, several types of parm, and much, much more.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.
Tanay Warerkar is OpenTable’s NYC writer and a content marketing manager.
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk