Hospitality visionary Will Guidara’s 10 go-to New York City restaurants

Photo credit: Will Guidara
Restaurateur Will Guidara

Hospitality and Will Guidara are synonymous. The Unreasonable Hospitality author and OpenTable advisory board member built his career on crafting a signature style of over-the-top, surprise-and-delight hospitality that drove Eleven Madison Park to the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017.

He’s since left EMP to spread his trademark hospitality to more restaurants and even other industries. When he’s not busy upping industry standards, here’s where he loves to eat in his hometown of New York City.

OpenTable Advisory Board members are compensated for their time and expertise, but all the restaurant selections are their own.

Shun Lee Palace (Upper East Side)

Shun Lee Palace has been an NYC all-star since 1971, pioneering a style of Chinese fine dining that has spread across cuisines since then. Today, the institution still serves up moo shu chicken, spare ribs, and other beloved classics.

Why Will loves it: “I remember the owner of Shun Lee Palace came into EMP early days. He must have had an amazing meal, because within a few days, he sent down family meal for our entire team. And so after that, I went to Shun Lee Palace for the first time. It’s one of the most delicious ways to step back in time and always reminds me of a moment where someone just showed some pretty incredible hospitality to every single person on my team. The orange beef at Shun Lee Palace is amazing.”

Hawksmoor NYC (Gramercy)

Hawksmoor NYC is a new-school steakhouse known for prime cuts of meat and a killer cheeseburger. | Credit: Hawksmoor NYC

Top-notch charcoal-grilled beef and a stunning dining room distinguish this popular new-school steakhouse imported from England.

Why Will loves it: “Some audacity—these British guys came to New York to open a steakhouse, and they knocked the cover off the ball. They restored this beautiful architectural gem, and they did it with incredible responsibility, because the room is just spectacular. The beef-fat fries are delicious. And their sourdough and cultured butter—I love the idea that a restaurant brought really, really good butter into a steakhouse environment, which normally doesn’t go hand in hand.”

Craft (Gramercy)

Farm-fresh American fare is done exceptionally well at award-winning Craft. | Credit: Craft

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s greenmarket-driven American fine-dining restaurant has racked up awards since 2001—including a James Beard Award and three stars from The New York Times.

Why Will loves it: “Craft is my favorite date-night spot. Whenever my wife and I want to go and just have an hour and a half of just the two of us reconnecting, that is our go-to spot. We sit at the corner of the bar and order roast chicken, arugula salad, pomme purée, and hen of the woods mushrooms with a nice bottle of Burgundy. There are few places that are as consistently magical and transportive and delicious as that meal in those two seats at that restaurant.”

Zou Zou’s (Chelsea)

The shareable Middle Eastern hits at Zou Zou’s include fried dumplings with spiced beef. | Credit: Noah Fecks

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food gets a large, colorful home in Manhattan West at Zou Zou’s, full of red banquettes, hanging plants, and a lively bar.

Why Will loves it: “There are few greater pleasures than walking over the High Line and sitting down with a group of people and losing yourself in community and conversation over their delicious food. The Moroccan fried chicken for two is so good. The number of delicious things that require people literally and metaphorically reaching into the middle of the table—it brings me so much pride that it’s run by so many people I used to work with at The NoMad.”

The Dutch (SoHo)

Andrew Carmellini—the award-winning chef behind spots like Locanda Verde and Lafayette—brings his expert touch to American comfort food such as fried chicken and a cheddar-topped burger in a chic SoHo space.

Why Will loves it: “The Dutch is [Andrew] Carmellini opening a great, humble, simple restaurant, but doing what he always does—doing simple well is so incredibly hard. It’s one of those restaurants that no matter who you go with, everyone will have something they’re very excited to eat. He created this little escape right in the middle of the Village that is always so freaking good and reliable and reminds me of the New York I came up in.”

Bad Roman (Columbus Circle)

Inside Bad Roman in NYC, with orange-hued banquettes and wavy details
The 250-seat dining room at Bad Roman in Columbus Circle features animal sculptures, hanging plants, and orange banquettes. | Credit: Christian Harder

Maximalism and Italian American food meet at Bad Roman, resulting in over-the-top dishes like cheesy raviolo-crowned filet mignon in a luxurious, gilded space.

Why Will loves it: “Michael Stillman was an intern for me when I worked at Tabla way back in the day. If you want a big night out and you want to eat food you’ll still be craving in the morning, Bad Roman crushes it. You walk in there and it’s all of the over-the-top ridiculousness that sometimes Italian American restaurants want to be and are not very often. Subtlety is such a beautiful thing, but sometimes it’s nice to not be subtle at all.”

Lil’ Frankie’s (East Village)

East Village Italian kingmaker Frank Prisinzano opened Lil’ Frankie’s in 2002 and has been serving up homey Italian classics to the neighborhood ever since.

Why Will loves it: “When you know you just want some simple beautiful Italian food, Lil’ Frankies is just so good. They have this rigatoni with meatballs, and it’s just amazing. There’s something about the simple pleasures and a little Italian restaurant in the East Village that so consistently pumps out awesome food, and when you go there no one cares who you are, but they take care of everyone.”

Grand Central Oyster Bar (Midtown East)

A New York institution since 1913, Grand Central Oyster Bar’s seafood-focused menu and pitch-perfect martinis are made all the better by the grand, iconic space.

Why Will loves it: “I love how New York is always changing. There’s this great quote by Ed Koch: ‘New York is the city where the future comes to rehearse.’ But what makes New York New York is that some things will always stay the same—introducing the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Sometimes you just need to be reminded that New York is and has always been awesome, and some of the greatest parts of the city are those that never change.”

Indian Accent (Hell’s Kitchen)

Indian Accent stands out for its exquisite tasting menu. | Credit: Indian Accent

With locations in New Delhi and Mumbai, Indian Accent spotlights the most inventive in Indian cuisine via a special-occasion-worthy tasting menu.

Why Will loves it: “Tabla was my first real restaurant job in New York City under the late chef Floyd Cardoz. One of the things that was so amazing about Tabla was that it showed New York that Indian food can be refined and beautiful and thoughtful. Indian Accent is carrying that torch. I can’t even quote a dish because they change the menu all the time, but every single bite of food there seriously puts the world on pause. Everything goes into slow motion for a second.”

Emmy Squared (Williamsburg, Midtown West, East Village, Upper East Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Park Slope)

This Williamsburg-born mini-chain is beloved for its casual Detroit-style pizzas and burgers.

Why Will loves it: “I love going to Joe’s Pizza and getting a slice, but, man, the pepperoni square at Emmy Squared is one of life’s great pleasures. That burger on a pretzel bun, ugh, it’s good. Pizza, burgers—all of these simple foods that I love so much, they do every one of them a little differently. When you crave Emmy Squared, nothing else will do.”

Stefanie Tuder has built her career on creating guides to the best restaurants and telling the most fascinating stories about the food industry. She’s worked at Eater, Cosmopolitan, Good Morning America, Food Network Magazine, and more, and she now leads editorial content at OpenTable.

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