New York is packed with distinct and overlapping communities that define the area’s signature diversity. Restaurants are extensions of these vibrant micro-worlds. Whether it’s a MICHELIN-starred destination or a stall dishing up hyper-regional fare, you could eat out here everyday and never go back to the same spot. But there are some places essential to their locales that diners find themselves returning to, time and time again.
An American Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side wins hearts for its family-style Sichuan plates. In Chelsea, a revered local chef steers a greenmarket-driven Italian spot. Since 1990, sumptuous Greek seafood has dominated the menu at an Astoria mainstay.
In a city that brims with transplants, these restaurants offer tastes of home. Read on for 18 neighborhood spots across New York City, fiercely loved by locals.
Alta Calidad (Prospect Heights)
This Prospect Heights restaurant’s name translates to “high quality” in Spanish. Fortunately, the restaurant lives up to the lofty title with an all-day Mexican menu that’s innovative yet faithful to the country’s food traditions—with a dash of Brooklynized ingenuity. A touch of honey in the queso fundido turns the savory cheese dish into a sweet and salty medley; fish tacos are roasted instead of fried and topped with mango salsa, pistachio mole, and crispy shallots. This balance between new and old earned Alta Calidad (and chef Akhtar Nawab) a spot on the MICHELIN Bib Gourmand list, as well as a loyal local following.
Stone Park Cafe (Park Slope)
Stone Park Cafe has claimed a corner of 3rd Street and Fifth Avenue in Park Slope since 2004. The laidback spot churns out the type of American bistro fare that feels comforting at any time of day. The menu changes frequently enough to warrant repeat visits—but ask any local, and they’ll share that the real draw here is brunch, a mix of reliable favorites such as short rib hash and more inventive dishes including fried fish cakes with poached eggs and caper hollandaise.
Greenpoint favorite Glasserie gained national attention for modern twists on Mediterranean cooking after opening in 2013. Housed in an old glass factory just a block from the waterfront, it was part of the first wave of ambitious openings in the neighborhood as restaurateurs began pushing north from Williamsburg. Nearly 10 years later, Glasserie has gracefully transitioned from buzzy new restaurant to neighborhood standby. Locals know a single meal could start with a straightforward order of silky labneh spread and grilled bread, followed by an unexpected and non-traditional dish, such as tuna confit tagine. Visit for weekend brunch or nightly dinner.
Bunna Cafe (Bushwick)
Since debuting in 2011, Bunna Cafe has become a Brooklyn destination for exceptional, plant-based Ethiopian fare. Vegan meals are served communally, drawing regulars who favor family-style dining. All the dishes are served atop injera, a flatbread made from barley flour and teff. The bread is a tasty vehicle to scoop up entrees such as shiro (yellow split peas with tomato), gomen (steamed collard greens), keysir salata (a cold roasted beet salad), and more.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge (East Village)
Holiday Cocktail Lounge combines the bartending chops of a serious cocktail lounge with the vibe and food of a very fun dive bar. It’s an irresistible combination that makes it a favorite among locals and off-duty restaurant staffers alike. Grab a basket of the ultra-crispy buffalo wings or the restaurant’s hand-cut fries, then decide whether you’d like to wash it down with a classic cocktail like a Singapore Sling or a light beer—though the bartender will likely suggest that the answer is to order both.
Dhaba (Murray Hill)
In a part of town filled with Indian restaurants, Dhaba stands out for the scale of its menu and the quality of its food, including ample vegetarian options. Focusing on dishes from northern and northwestern India, the extensive menu contains plenty of street food favorites. Don’t miss pav bhaji, a Mumbai roadside mainstay that consists of buttery rolls stuffed with vegetables in a spiced tomato sauce. Signature cocktails are fruit-forward, and can help cut the heat of popular British-style curries, including vindaloo and jalfrezi.
Ivan Ramen (Lower East Side)
Residents of the Lower East Side are in an enviable position: Their neighborhood ramen spot also happens to be run by chef Ivan Orkin, whose noodle smarts landed him acclaim in both Japan and the United States, along with a feature on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Most ramen shops specialize in one style, but Ivan Ramen showcases Orkin’s encyclopedic knowledge of the dish, offering six different broth options and broth-less mazemen. Brave regulars swear by the spicy red chile ramen, a bowl of vibrantly colored broth that gives you a hint as to how many chiles went into its creation.
If the name “Portale” rings a bell, it’s because the restaurant’s namesake chef, Alfred Portale, helmed the fine-dining destination Gotham Restaurant for almost 40 years. Now, Portale is bringing his precise, excellent cooking to Chelsea through the restaurant’s contemporary Italian menu. Featuring a greenmarket-driven selection that includes fresh pastas and grilled meats, diners can expect regional preparations including bolognese bianco, a version of the meat sauce that eschews tomatoes, served over housemade shell-shaped pasta. It’s a place for low-key special occasions that feel true to the neighborhood.
Fonda (Chelsea and Park Slope)
Chef Roberto Santibañez serves up contemporary Mexican food at both locations of his Fonda restaurant, where his Mexico City roots inform the menus. Diners return to Fonda for the hand-pressed, fresh tortillas and made-to-order guacamole, along with an extensive menu that includes enchiladas, taquitos, and specialties such as the birria de borrego, a slow-braised lamb shank in guajillo broth.
Fonda Park Slope
La Sirène (SoHo & Upper West Side)
New York’s French fare renaissance is in full swing, with well-funded, massive brasserie-inspired dining rooms opening across the city. La Sirène is the antithesis of this trend: a small neighborhood bistro that opened in the midst of the 2008 recession and against all odds, managed to expand and open a second location on the Upper West Side. In the winter, order the Toulouse-style cassoulet, a stew of white beans, duck confit, bacon, and pork sausage that comes with the warning, “This is a very rich dish which was served to warriors defending their village! Don’t take it if you can’t bear it.”
La Sirène SoHo
La Sirène Upper West Side
The Waverly Inn (West Village)
Owned by former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief turned hospitality icon Graydon Carter, The Waverly Inn spent most of the early 2000s serving as a semi-private clubhouse for luminaries of the media, art, and fashion industries. Though it’s much more accessible these days to the neighborhood, the atmosphere that drew people in remains: The Waverly Inn is a cozy, intimate restaurant housed in an 1800s townhouse that feels both a part of the West Village and representative of it. The restaurant is full of dramatic spaces, from the low-lit, welcoming downstairs dining room to the airy, ivy-walled garden. Tavern classics such as fresh oysters, a reliable burger, a variety of pastas, and hefty mains make it the type of restaurant that fits the bill any night of the week.
Danji (Hell’s Kitchen)
This Hell’s Kitchen Korean spot is a favorite among neighborhood residents and savvy theatergoers, serving up small plates that range from the playful to the traditional. All showcase chef Hooni Kim’s training at iconic fine-dining restaurants such as Daniel and Masa. For instance, the kimchi poutine finds common ground between Canadian bar food and Korean ingredients, smothering french fries in kimchi, cheesy corn, bacon, and sour cream, while the large plates section features a soy-poached black cod with spicy daikon radish.
Afghan Kebab House (Upper East Side)
Upper East Siders in the know head to Afghan Kebab House for value and quality. Here, diners have the opportunity to try kabuli palau, a pilaf considered by many to be the national dish of Afghanistan. This hard-to-find entree features basmati rice studded with caramelized onions, carrots, raisins, and topped with pieces of tender lamb and is typically served to mark special occasions.
Atlas Kitchen (Upper West Side)
Far from your standard Americanized Chinese restaurant, Atlas Kitchen quickly won the hearts of Upper West Siders with its large menu of regional Chinese dishes, particularly appealing to homesick Columbia University students. Groups and families fill the large tables, dining on everything from whole steamed fish heads covered in red chiles to Sichuan-style sautéed pig trotters, all served to share.
Floridita (Washington Heights)
Sandwich lovers trek to Floridita for its stellar Cubano, a pressed Cuban sandwich that layers roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. However, locals especially love the Cuban/Dominican restaurant for its 24-hour service: get a plate of mashed plantains, salami, and fried cheese for breakfast, or the signature grilled ribeye steak for dinner.
New World Mall Food Court (Flushing)
A caveat: this list mostly defines local favorites as quaint, small neighborhood spots. New World Mall Food court is the opposite; a 20 plus-stall food court in the basement of a mall that offers a one-stop-shop to experience a small cross section of the multitude of cuisines available in Flushing. From hand-pulled noodles at Zheng Zhou to the spice-laden dry pot (a type of stir fry with meat and vegetables) at Tian Fu, the food court here is a local favorite precisely because of the endless variety that feeds families running errands, teenagers hanging out, and food tourists at the same time. All stalls offer takeout, and some even offer frozen dumplings and other goodies to stock up on as souvenirs.
Akrotiri Grill (Astoria)
Akrotiri opened in 2018, which makes it a relative newcomer by the standards of a neighborhood that’s been heavily Greek since the 1960s. But it was warmly welcomed by area residents for its deft handling of seafood. That expertise is evident in both the restaurant’s simple, whole-grilled fish and more complex dishes such as htapodi, a starter of charcoal-grilled octopus served over black-eyed pea relish and fire-roasted red peppers. Don’t miss the wine list—the focus is on Greek wines, making it one of the few places in the city to try grapes such as moschofilero and assyrtiko.
Da’ Franco & Tony’s Ristorante (Bronx)
Stretchy eating pants are practically mandatory when sitting down at this old-school red sauce restaurant. The Italian American fare is hearty and wholly homemade, gathering plenty of nonnas and nonnos on their days off from cooking, and younger diners with a hankering for the classics. Come hungry for minestrone soup, shrimp cocktail, homemade gnocchi in ragu, several types of parm, and much, much more. Eating through the prolific menu could be a years-long pursuit—a project neighbors are all too eager to take on.
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
Marion Brewer contributed to this guide.
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