Editor’s choice: 16 go-to NYC restaurants from our local expert

Teddy Wolff for Kru
Several plates of food on a wooden table at NYC Thai restaurant Kru

Falling in love with New York City has to do with its food. Eating snails for the first time at an Upper East Side French staple after saving up money in college; slurping oysters with friends over brunch at a seafood favorite; and going back in for consecutive helpings of tingly Chungking chicken—only to realize it’s just a tiny fraction of the diversity of cuisines in the city.

Eating out in New York will keep inspiring, if you know where to look. I say this with the confidence of years spent as a food reporter and editor at places like Eater and now OpenTable. 

The result of these experiences is a collection of restaurants that I can recommend as my go-tos. These 16 places are a mix of everyday spots and special-occasion bangers that remind you how thrilling dining out here can be. 

Kru (Williamsburg)

A Thai curry dish wrapped in banana leaves at NYC restaurant Kru
For when you have a hankering for Thai spicy, Kru has some of the best in the city. Photo credit: Teddy Wolff

When only fiery Thai food will do—Thai spicy, not American spicy (former Fish Cheeks chef Ohm Suansilphong leads the kitchen, so it tracks)—bring a group of friends to feast at this Williamsburg hotspot. The beef tongue curry and the green curry with Wagyu steak always deliver, but there’s plenty to balance the heat, too, like savory bites of caramelized coconut sugar atop fresh fruit with chicken or pork. 

Mission Ceviche (Upper East Side)

Sour-spicy ceviche and frothy pisco sours are just some of the Peruvian standouts at Mission Ceviche. | Photo credit: Mission Ceviche

Bowls of sour-spicy ceviche and frothy pisco sours (a South American brandy cocktail) are definition Peruvian food, and Mission Ceviche makes epic versions of both. Plus, you can make a whole meal out of them here with the ceviche experience (four kinds to choose from with sides). Don’t not order one of the pisco cocktails—my favorite has the mellow sweetness of the purple corn drink chicha morada. 

Nasrin’s Kitchen (Midtown)

Eating at Nasrin’s Kitchen genuinely feels like you’re in the living room of owner Nasrin Rejali. | Photo credit: Tanay Warerkar

A restaurant this homey in Midtown is basically a unicorn; chef and owner Nasrin Rejali legit makes you feel like you’re in her living room. You’ll see her son Arta Kasra walking through the second-floor restaurant checking on diners throughout their meal. At the end, you might spot Rejali and her daughter come out from the kitchen to thank you for stopping by, too. The food only reinforces this family feeling: Generous plates of Persian chicken and rice that are all best shared. 

Jalao (Washington Heights)

It’s rare to see Dominican food in the upscale way it is presented at Jalao in Washington Heights. | Photo credit: Jalao

Sit-down Dominican restaurants are relatively rare in the city, but rarer still is the way chef Noemi Guzman honors her homeland at Jalao. Her presentation skills are next-level: Crispy goat croquettes in a stylish ceramic bowl filled with beans, a whole-fried head of fish on a wooden tray with tons of dips, and more—these modern, inventive takes on traditional Dominican recipes are long overdue in our city. 

Melba’s (Harlem)

Two crispy spring rolls cut in half placed on a spicy orange sauce with some greens at NYC restaurant Melba’s
Yes, the fried chicken at Melba’s is rightfully one of the best in town, but you’ll want to get an order of these spring rolls when you’re there next. Photo credit: Uber Eats

Getting a meal here is the chance to experience, hands down, some of the friendliest service in the city—you may even get lucky enough to get a hug from legendary chef and owner Melba Wilson. If that’s not enough, remember that Melba’s also does one of the best riffs on fried chicken and (eggnog) waffles. On second and third visits, veer off script a little and go for the fried catfish or the crispy spring rolls.

Alligator Pear (Midtown)

You don’t need to worry about eating near Penn Station anymore, just head to Alligator Pear. | Photo credit: Hannah Zimmerman with bitesizedstudios

Eating near Penn Station is way more exciting now thanks to this buzzy spot. First, the hanging plants and the balconies overlooking the dining room really make it feel like you’re stepping into NOLA’s French Quarter. Second, you’ll forget about espresso martinis once you have the Cafe Olè Olè with cold brew from Café du Monde mixed in. Finally, dishes like the crispiest Brussels sprouts and savory cheesy beignets will remind you that you never have to depend on fast casual in the area again. 

Cafe D’Alsace (Upper East Side)

The assorted sausages are a winner at this Alsatian restaurant on the Upper East Side. | Photo credit: Cafe D’Alsace

This isn’t your usual fancy-pants French restaurant; it’s the kind of Parisian bistro you might accidentally stumble on that doesn’t make it to all the best-of lists, but still knocks your socks off. Better yet, it does Alsatian food, a mix of German and French flavors hard to find elsewhere in the city. The thin-crust, pizza-like tarte flambée aux Munster is a winner, and so are assorted sausages with Dijon and sauerkraut—not to mention an enviable German beer selection.

Little Ruby’s Cafe (West Village)

 Brunch still rules at Australian cafe Little Ruby’s. | Photo credit: Melissa Hom

There’s brunch, and then there’s Little Ruby’s, which makes you feel like brunch is still cool even though everyone around you might be saying otherwise. That’s because it full-on embraces the freshest food and coffee that’s made Australian cafe culture a global phenomenon. Settle in with a spicy pork, egg, and chili jam sandwich; a flat white; and a good book for an afternoon well spent. 

Casa Ora (Williamsburg)

Venezuelan food is severely underrepresented in New York, but Casa Ora is doing it proud. | Photo credit: Casa Ora

Casa Ora has been proudly flying the flag for Venezuelan food in a city where food from the country is still woefully underrepresented. Mother-son duo Isbelis and Ivo Diaz have created a dazzling special-occasion spot full of rattan lights, gold-framed artwork, and skylights. When you’re here, make sure you celebrate with a cocktail (they also do massive cocktail fountains that serve 10 to 12 if you’re a big group) and hearty braised short ribs with arepas.

Hawksmoor NYC (Flatiron) 

Hawksmoor is an excellent reminder that chain restaurants can still feel very of-a-place (all but one other location are in the UK). The high-ceilinged NYC location stands out in a city with some of the world’s best steakhouses, and that’s no small feat. For one, the steaks are cooked on charcoal (instead of broilers) for a smoky finish. And the desserts are bonkers good—don’t skip the sticky toffee pudding—like the kind you’d rush off to order after a Bake Off episode. 

Mesiba (Williamsburg)

The best way to enjoy Mesiba to its fullest is by bringing a group. | Photo credit: Mesiba

Mesiba is proof that hotel restaurants officially have destination status. This jaw-dropping showpiece at the Moxy Williamsburg wows with shareable plates that you can only do justice to with a group. Once your eyes adjust to the gorgeous oval mirrors, marble tables, and leather banquettes, dive into bright plates of fluke crudo, head-on prawns in creamy risotto, and save room for the warm and crispy knafeh.

HUPO (Long Island City)

Fiery Sichuan peppercorns feature in many of the dishes at HUPO. | Credit: HUPO

The warm and tingly heat from Sichuan peppercorns is in a league of its own, and if this is your jam, you’ll find lots of it at this cozy Long Island City restaurant. Mapo tofu might feel like the obvious choice, but HUPO does a killer version along with the Chungking chicken. Scoop up bits of the crispy fried chiles (they’re not as spicy as you think) in it and have it all with steamed rice. 

GupShup (Gramercy)

GupShup makes one of the best butter chickens in the city, and that alone is worth a visit. | Photo credit: Katrine Moite

The menu keeps changing at this inventive Indian restaurant, but it hasn’t lost an ounce of the fun it burst onto the scene with in 2018. You’ll still find playful drinks like the Ayurvedic Jackass with ginger beer, vodka, and turmeric and unusual dishes like jackfruit tacos (think pulled pork texture) in the flakiest Malabar parottas. You might also run into one of GupShup’s long-time regulars: Jimmy Fallon.

The Mermaid Inn (Chelsea)

Going out for seafood can often leave a dent in your wallet, but that’s never really been true of The Mermaid Inn in its more-than-20 years of existence ($12 happy hour cocktails, a ginormous seafood platter for $79, you get the gist). That, plus the fact that this versatile place is just as great for date night as it is for a casual weeknight dinner will make you a regular after one visit. 

Indian Accent (Midtown)

Few places give Indian food the tasting-menu format the way Indian Accent does. | Photo credit: Indian Accent NYC

Indian food doesn’t normally get the tasting-menu treatment. Not only is Indian Accent doing that, but it might also be one of the most exciting tasting-menu restaurants in town. Three or four elegantly plated courses (there’s even a brunch tasting menu) like pork dumplings in broth with crispy black rice, smoked eggplant mash with goat cheese mousse, and mushroom kebabs with shaved black truffles will make you feel like you’re on a Chef’s Table episode.

Ponty Bistro (Harlem)

You’ll probably find chef Cisse Elhadji walking through his charming restaurant chatting up diners about his French West African cooking. That personal touch makes dishes like Senegalese braised chicken yassa; garlicky, buttery snails; and spicy mussels feel extra special. The warmer months are a particularly nice time to visit, so you can post up outside along the lively, spacious sidewalk.

Tanay Warerkar is a content marketing manager at OpenTable, where he oversees features content and stays on top of the hottest trends and developments in the restaurant industry. He brings years of experience as a food editor and reporter having worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, Eater, and the New York Daily News, to name a few.

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