Yes, good food exists in NYC. But it is difficult to find and still harder to secure a seat. And there’s too many guides recommending too many restaurants (we are one of them). After three years of internalizing the restaurant scene in NYC, we finally think we figured it out. Restaurants in this list, which vary from pizzerias to 3-star establishments, create an emotional response with the diner. They vary greatly by cuisine, location and poshness. They are generally expensive, as NYC tends to be, though some are very expensive. We leave thinking that it’s a really complicated dining scene with many more undiscovered restaurants. But we’ve decided to go to print.
The “best” restaurant in New York City is Chef’s Table Brooklyn Fare. That’s a fairly safe to proclaim, by elimination. We have it on our list as the only stand-out 3-Michelin-Star restaurant. The others fail to inspire.
Slightly below is Momofuku Ko, which like Chef's table, moved to a bigger restaurant, presumably so it can start turning a profit (since there is apparently nothing as loss-making as charging diners hundreds of dollars for a tasting menu). Ko has a lot in common with Chef's Table. One is Asian with French influences and and the other one is French with Asian influences. They both use a good amount of uni (the Asian foie gras) and arrange food in sushi form. Add Jean George, Saison and Benu to this style of fine dining.
New York cuisine has one exceptionalism that is the thin crust pizza. The pizza in New York City is better than that of Italy, and everywhere else in the world. The New York pizza is thin and simple, an offspring of the famed Neapolitan variety, which itself lacks the crispiness of the New York variety. It is certainly better than the Chicago variety, which is more like what the average American might eat. Pizza is far from pretentious. Slices can be found for a dollar, from neighborhood shops, and they are often excellent. The best pizza is not found in an Italian restaurant, which tends to make them to be pudgier and soggier. The best pizza restaurants also have the best drinks - Roberta’s has an excellent natural wine list and Marta’s has an extensive Italian wine and champagne list. Both are usually good places to walk into without a reservation. The best delivery in New York, is not surprisingly, pizza. We put Marta, Roberta’s and Lucali on the list.
New York also efficiently executes other important cuisines. For sushi, there is no shortage of good restaurants. We chose Tanoshi, which has a traditional feel and is one of the best BYOB restaurants in the city. Bohemian (a referral only restaurant) rounds out the Japanese list.
Successful restaurants flock to New York City. The best Dimsum is Tim Ho Wan, which is an offshoot of the cheap 1-Michelin star Hong Kong restaurant, famous for its baked pork buns. The best Southeast Asian food, the only exceptional restaurant is Pok Pok (now closed), an offshoot of a Portland restaurant that plays folksy Vietnamese music and is famous for its Som drinking vinegars. One of the best places in the West Village to drink and eat snacks late is Buvette, a Parisian offshoot.
Chinese food is notably lacking. There is no adequate example of Xiao Long Bao or Hainan Chicken. Redfarm is a good Chinese restaurants made by non-Chinese people. On our list we also include Guan Fu, a traditional Szechuan restaurant in Flushing.
Italian restaurants are rampant but generally fail to impress. Our favourite by far is Carbone, which has the atmosphere of a Sopranos drama and serves big portions for expensive prices.
Some general purpose restaurants that we love are Gramercy Tavern (a tasting menu in the dining room and a la carte in the bar room, great wine/beer/cider list, new American cuisine), Upland (a la carte new American cuisine with a good wine list), Contra (the least expensive 6 course tasting menu in the city, excellent natural wine selection) and its offshoot Wildair (a non-tasting menu, non-reservation version of Contra), Saint Anselm (a grilled meat heavy restaurant with good drinks list in Brooklyn). These are all restaurants that are not easy to get reservations for, or will not take reservations, making eating well a difficult task. Going for lunches on the weekends is usually a safer bet. Raoul’s amazing burger is easy to get then. Carbone is easier to book for lunch.
For all the restaurants in NYC, it is hard to be emotional about too many of them. It’s easier to be emotional about restaurants in Paris or Tokyo, and select restaurants in much smaller cities. New York restaurants, as a class, often fail to rise above the profit motive, the glitzy scene, and the instagramability. In short there are too many diners chasing too few coveted seats. All the while the unwanted seats (the majority) go out of business. All of this makes the wealth of good food in the city exceedingly difficult to enjoy. We hope this guide makes it easier.