As New Yorkers embrace an ever-changing new normal, special occasions feel even more necessary to celebrate. Milestone anniversaries, birthdays, vaccinations, a successful week of nonstop video calls, or simply making it to Friday: all are reasons to toast right now.
In Prospect Heights, a farm-to-table favorite offers intimate outdoor cabins for marking special occasions. A covered backyard at a paella bar in Chelsea makes a charming setting for long-anticipated group gatherings. If you’d rather be indoors for your celebration, settle into a quilted banquette at a comfort food icon in Harlem.
Across New York City’s boroughs and neighborhoods, these are the places to bring in an infinite variety of occasions—so book your table at one of these 20 top restaurants now.
Red Rooster Harlem (Harlem)
Red Rooster is James Beard Award winner Marcus Samuelsson’s love letter to Harlem, serving up thoughtful comfort food alongside a soundtrack of funk and soul music. The restaurant’s ties to the community run deeper than just location—during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Samuelsson transformed the space into a community food hub for those in need. Diners have the option of sitting in the restaurant’s cozy quilted banquettes indoors or heading outdoors to the plant-lined, umbrella-covered patio. No matter the setting, you can’t go wrong marking a special day with the restaurant’s signature dishes of fried yardbird, mac and greens, and cornbread.
Sistina (Upper East Side)
In a stately townhouse near Central Park and the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile, Sistina is the ideal stop on a dreamy date itinerary. Sistina’s indoor “garden” consists of a light-filled glass enclosure to shield diners from the elements while still allowing breeze and sunlight to filter in. You’re as likely to see chef and owner Giuseppe Bruno preparing food as you are to see him greeting diners and pouring wine. His menu focuses on simple Italian dishes including pasta, meat, and seafood. Regulars love the spaghetti Trapanese, a unique dish that combines five types of crushed nuts in tomato sauce with pecorino romano.
Aquavit (Midtown East)
With three stars from The New York Times, two MICHELIN stars, and a history that stretches back to 1987, Aquavit is one of the top dining rooms in the city—and an ideal place to mark an exceptional event. In recent years, the Scandinavian restaurant has become more accessible, expanding to include lunch, plus à la carte and tasting menu options for dinner. Across all its menus, you’ll find fine-dining accents on classic Nordic ingredients such as matjes herring with rye, potato, and priest cheese. Reservations open on the first of the month and tend to fill up quickly, though bar tables for two can be easier to book.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (Hell’s Kitchen)
One of the most sought-after seats in Manhattan is at chef César Ramirez’s 44-seat restaurant. Two years after opening in 2009, Chef’s Table became the first restaurant in New York City to receive three MICHELIN stars outside of Manhattan. The lauded establishment has since relocated from Brooklyn to Hell’s Kitchen, but the Japanese cuisine made with French techniques remains. The 12- to 14-course, seafood-focused tasting menu unfurls over approximately two hours. Dishes feature premium ingredients: beluga caviar, black truffle, wagyu beef, and abalone. It all adds up to a fine-dining experience worthy of very special occasions. Note that vegetarians cannot be accommodated; nor can those with seafood allergies.
Russian Tea Room – NYC (Midtown West)
To dine at the Russian Tea Room means sitting in the red leather banquettes that have hosted celebrities, musicians, and several movie scenes. Since 1927, it’s been the see-and-be-seen haunt for afternoon tea, pre-show dinners, and post-show drinks. While the restaurant serves brunch, lunch, and dinner, the quintessential experience is afternoon tea. To make it extra celebratory, opt for a bottle of Champagne alongside the finger sandwiches and blinis.
Indian Accent (Midtown West)
Indian Accent’s chef Manish Mehrotra is one of Delhi’s most sought-after chefs, known for his imaginative takes on traditional Indian dishes, such as sweet pickle ribs with sun-dried mango and stuffed kulcha (flatbread) with pastrami and mustard. The expansive tasting menu here provides a choose-your-own-adventure experience of any three or four courses plus an accompaniment. Indian Accent is a great place to toast over a festive spread that feels more playful than other Midtown fine-dining counterparts. Don’t skip the ghee-roasted lamb— there’s a reason it’s been on the menu since the restaurant’s 2016 opening.
Socarrat Paella Bar (Various Locations)
Paella is the ultimate group dish, making it ideal for lively gatherings. With over seven varieties of the communal Spanish rice classic on its menu, Socarrat, with locations across NYC, pleases seafood lovers and vegetarians. Round out the meal with a few classic tapas such as croquettes and a pitcher of sangria. Socarrat’s Midtown location is the largest by far, with two floors of seating plus a handful of sidewalk tables that evoke Spain’s vibrant outdoor dining culture.
Kosaka (West Village)
An unassuming door in the West Village leads to one of the city’s best omakase menus. Chef Yoshihiko Kousaka’s attention to detail and meticulous ingredient sourcing earned the restaurant a MICHELIN star, making the $225 price tag one of the city’s best values for a spectacular dinner. If you’re feeling extra fancy, ask to add the Hokkaido uni platter ($80) to taste two different varieties of this Japanese delicacy. This intimate sushi spot treats you to a front-row seat to chef Kousaka’s artistic preparations.
When you want to pretend you’re celebrating in Paris, head to Lafayette. Chef Andrew Carmellini is known for creating vibrant restaurants like sibling properties The Dutch and Bar Primi, and this bustling bistro is no different. Celebrate a birthday or anniversary with time-honored classics escargots Lyonnaise, French onion soup, and moules frites—all ripe for an expert pairing from the all-French wine list. The greenery-filled sidewalk seating is expansive, as is the marble- and tile-lined dining room. Either option provides a lovely setting to share a grand fromage platter to round out an excellent, decadent meal.
Zou Zou’s (Hudson Yards)
Adored for its theatrical platings and presentations of contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine, Zou Zou’s stands out. It’s a massive, vibrant restaurant, perfect for celebrations. Bring a group to share the homemade dips and breads, then dig into the whole-roasted lamb leg shaved tableside. There’s also fresh fish, huge salads, and spectacular desserts—the show-stopping knafeh itself is worth celebrating. Chez Zou, the restaurant’s second-story cocktail bar, is a great place to gather for a drink before or after your reservation.
Brooklyn Winery (Williamsburg)
There’s a reason the Brooklyn Winery is a go-to date night spot. Visiting one of the city’s few top-to-bottom winemaking operations allows for more of an educational experience than a typical evening at a wine bar. Get a mini lesson through various wine flights, such as the “Same Grape Three Ways” option that showcases Chardonnay in three different styles. Staffers will gladly talk you through the wines and make recommendations for pairings from the small plates menu. The winery extended its bar operations to a streetside “wine garden” complete with decorative barrels and plenty of greenery.
The Mermaid Inn (Various locations)
Nothing says “today is not an ordinary day” like sitting down to a tower of fresh oysters, clams, shrimp cocktail, tuna crudo, and salmon tartare. With locations across Manhattan, The Mermaid Inn specializes in top-of-the-line seafood, serving classic preparations such as a stellar lobster roll alongside creative riffs like lobster knuckles soaked in garlic butter and parsley “escargot style.” Take in the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam Avenue from the restaurant’s robust sidewalk seats, or go inside for a perch in the warmly lit dining room. No matter where you sit, ask the knowledgeable staff for a quick crash course on the day’s oyster varieties.
The Mermaid Inn Uptown (Upper West Side)
The Mermaid Inn East Village (East Village)
The Mermaid Inn – Chelsea (Chelsea)
Honey Badger (Prospect Heights)
A self-proclaimed “wild-to-table” restaurant, Honey Badger is hard to categorize. It can often feel like an experimental art gallery where the medium is food. The creativity of owners Junayd Juman and Fjölla Sheholli shines through every aspect of the restaurant. The secret menu changes daily, so no two dishes are exactly alike and often feature ingredients procured through the owner’s network of foragers up and down the East Coast. The food is artfully plated, and even the tiles in the dining room were handmade by the owners. For a day-long art experience with visitors or friends, tack on a visit to the Brooklyn Museum on your way to the restaurant.
River Café (DUMBO)
Before DUMBO was a gleaming hub of shops, scenic parkland, and rooftop bars, there was the River Café. Though it first made its home under the Brooklyn Bridge in 1977, the MICHELIN-starred restaurant is anything but out of place. In fact, it has always been ahead of its time, sourcing farm-to-table ingredients long before that was the norm, launching the careers of celebrity chefs such as David Burke and Charlie Palmer along the way. And with its unparalleled views of the Manhattan skyline, it’s also been home to more engagements, weddings, and business dinners than anyone could count. Book a table in the River Cafe’s elegant waterside dining room up to 30 days in advance. The prix fixe menu includes swanky, seasonal dishes such as lavender spice-crusted duck breast with cherry gastrique.
Casa Ora (East Williamsburg)
When you’re celebrating in East Williamsburg or the surrounding neighborhoods, turn to Casa Ora. This Venezuelan American restaurant was started by alums of notable Manhattan establishments The NoMad Hotel, Eleven Madison Park, and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, bringing the same high standards of service to their labor of love. The menu changes constantly to highlight Venezuelan flavors in unexpected ways. Choose from dishes such as monkfish wrapped in sweet plantain with Guayanés cheese or braised short ribs with a sauce made from papelón, a block of raw cane sugar that serves as a base for many Venezuelan dishes.
Ruta Oaxaca – Astoria (Astoria)
There’s no shortage of standout Mexican food to be found in Queens. What makes Ruta Oaxaca unique is its culinary focus on Oaxaca. The southwestern region is widely regarded as the gastronomic capital of Mexico and is known for its varieties of mole. Ruta Oaxaca highlights several of them: verde, a green mole made with pumpkin seeds; coloradito, a brown mole made with mashed ripe plantains; and Oaxaca, a savory-sweet mole with spices and dark chocolate. The ribs istemenas—slow-cooked baby back ribs with a guava chipotle glaze, cherry tomatoes, and fennel salad—is a showstopper. For something truly special, order the grilled pescado or chipotle-marinated shrimp costenos, served with pineapple salsa. Bonus: if it’s your birthday, dessert is on the house.
Pastavino (Stapleton Heights)
With sweeping views of the New York harbor, fresh pasta made daily, and an Italian wine list with more than 100 bottles, Pastavino has all the trappings of an impressive special occasion spot. While the menu seems familiar at first glance, a second look reveals unexpected details such as crumbled crackers topping the baked clams, or cauliflower taking the place of meat in a ragu. Reservations are available in the dining room, which is set up to take full advantage of the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows and prime water views. For diners looking for an outdoor table, choose to dine on the restaurant’s patio facing a scenic waterfront park.
Cote NYC (Chelsea)
Meat lovers will feel like celebrating as soon as the sweet scents of sizzling USDA steaks inside this luxe Korean spot hit their noses. Cote is known for its jovial ambiance and its MICHELIN-starred dishes. The sleek restaurant, with marble tables featuring cooktops to prepare your Butcher’s Feast (a chef’s selection of appetizers, sliced meats, banchan, and dessert) makes for a chic outing. You and a group or dining companion can share everything from wedge salads drenched in sesame dressing to a side of wagyu beef fried rice, making the bill super easy to split. Private, cabana-style dining rooms with tableside grilling are available outdoors. Parties of seven or more are requested to make a group reservation for the best service and meal possible. After dinner, check out the restaurant’s subterranean bar, Undercote, to keep the party going with tropical cocktails and top-notch wines.
Kyma – Flatiron (Flatiron)
Channeling a slice of Santorini, this dim-lit, all-white Greek restaurant recreates an Aegean getaway, just off the subway. Portions are large, festive, and shareable, with options such as a seafood tower with lobster and crab, a platter stacked high with eggplant and zucchini chips, whole fish shipped in from Greece, and much more. If celebrations mean feeling satiated, this is the spot for you. A DJ on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays gets the party started after 8:30 pm, and the last Sunday of every month brings a popular party brunch with live music all afternoon.
Thai Diner (Nolita)
An establishment unlike any other in the city, Thai Diner combines New Yorkers’ enthusiasm for all-day dining with a passion for bold and experimental flavors. The corner restaurant is almost always bustling with folks at the glass-tiled bar. Sounds of Thai music bounce off woven bamboo walls and the scent of disco fries, smothered in Massaman curry, travels through the dining room. The menu is classic Thai, with local accents evident throughout in the Thai tea-soaked babka French toast for breakfast and oysters on the half shell with tom yum cocktail sauce. Reservations are accepted, but walk-ins are welcome.
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
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