Best-of Guides New York

Iconic New York Restaurants

10 Restaurants
In New York’s dining scene there is an expression: you’re not paying for the meal; you’re paying for the seat—meaning at certain restaurants it’s as much about the atmosphere and the vibe as the dish in front of you. So, what gives certain restaurants that je ne sais quoi? Ideally it’s a combination of things: the crowd (in New York, real estate comes at premium so it’s not rare to find yourself jostling elbows with a table full of A-listers); the room (soft, buttery lighting, a buzzy soundtrack); the service (the wait staff really do know what’s special on the menu); and of course the food, whether it’s a perfect bowl of cacio e pepe or an expertly grilled ribeye. Some of the city’s most storied places are intimate neighborhood spots; others are old-school institutions. See all of the spots that made the list below.
Updated on 19 June 2024
Emilio's Ballato
55 E. Houston St., 10012 New York
$$$ · Italian-American

This unassuming Houston St. standard is an unsung hero, even if many walk past Emilio’s gold- and red-etched window and write it off as some run-of-the-mill red-sauce joint. Step inside the narrow, weathered space, where owner Emilio Vitolo and son, Anthony, offer each guest a personal welcome and a genuine Italian-American experience.

Inspector notes: "The menu is filled with pasta classics like Roman cacio e pepe, tossed with sharp pecorino and freshly ground black pepper. Signature specialties include pollo Emilio, a delicately breaded chicken cutlet draped in lemon-caper sauce; and clams oreganata speckled with garlicky breadcrumbs."

47 E. Houston St., 10012 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

This boisterous SoHo alcove is an ideal place to convene with friends over exquisite nibbles and quenching cocktails. The talented chef behind this operation, Ignacio Mattos, is unfaltering and impressively consistent in his creative renditions of such bold and iconic dishes as ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and Pecorino Sardo. The menu also offers an array of shareable plates that changes regularly, but if you spot that delightful risotto special, jump on it.

Inspector notes: "Dinner might kick off with perfect, sashimi-grade tuna accompanied by woodsy black trumpet mushrooms or dramatically plated fried arroz negro scattered with tender squid and hazelnut-studded romesco."

1 Central Park West, 10023 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

The longevity of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship is due to many factors—a sumptuous setting, a discreet aura and superior French cuisine.  
Dishes showcase everything from attention to detail and impeccable products to thoughtful garnishes and nuanced flavors. The omnivore menu is appealingly versatile thanks to contemporary accents and classic techniques.

Inspector notes: "A supple day-boat scallop over crispy "sushi" rice a light opener, while roasted cauliflower tea is delicate, warm and frothy with a pop of citrus from Santa Teresa lemons."

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle, 10019 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

An experience at Thomas Keller’s Per Se is one to be savored, recounted and remembered. Despite stellar views and a clever design allowing each table a view, your attention won’t stray from the plate. Such is the appeal of the place.

Inspector notes: There are two menus, one of which is vegetarian and may highlight a playful twist on borscht, with red beet agnolotti and crème fraîche. Both menus end in a grand dessert finale, like seasonal confections as well as such classics as a cappuccino semifreddo served with brioche donuts."

70 Pine St., 10005 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

Saga is the crown of 70 Pine Street, a landmark tower that rises over 60 stories. The space is unique and features an open-air balcony where an aperitif can be enjoyed alongside the stunning views. The elegant dining rooms are set with furnishings upholstered in peach and emerald velvet, green marble tables and carved stone accents.

Inspector notes: "Caviar and foie gras are on tap, as is seafood with laksa sauce or a dry-aged duck influenced by the chef's Moroccan background that comes complete with griddled flatbread, whipped yogurt flavored with preserved lemon, carrot hummus and harissa."

275 Mulberry St., 10012 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

There is perfection in the details at Torrisi, where waiters are crisply dressed in dinner jackets and tables are draped in pressed linens, but the buzzy warmth is as charming as the good looks. Nestled inside the landmark Puck Building, this highly imaginative restaurant expertly balances the creative and the familiar.

Inspector notes: "The team caters to excited diners who feast on items like the escarole and endive salad and chicken stracciatella soup with textbook chicken broth, fluffy egg and savory meatballs."

Via Carota
51 Grove St., 10014 New York
$$ · Italian

Occasionally, predictability can be a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to rave-worthy Italian cooking. Via Carota is not so much robotically perfect as it is pleasing—in fact it’s the kind of place where dishes can (and should) be piled on. Italian style and artistry combine in this homey space that features bare wood farm tables, sideboards and whitewashed brick.

Inspector notes: "A luscious (and unmissable) risotto cacio e pepe arrives loaded with pecorino and fresh pepper. For dessert, the simple-sounding flourless chocolate cake is downright excellent."

4 Charles Prime Rib
4 Charles St., 10014 New York
$$$$ · Steakhouse

Brendan Sodikoff's destination makes the case that NY should be home to more Chicago influencers. This spot may be named for its street address, but the intimate size and modest exterior make it a charming hideaway. The staff merely enhance this special vibe, by ensuring the comfort of each diner with engaging banter.

Inspector notes: "The menu showcases a sense of depth by going beyond the eponymous dish, which is coincidentally served in three different ways. Others are firmly footed classics, served alongside creamed spinach, roasted garlic, and butter-laden mashed potatoes."

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal St., 10012 New York
$$$ · American

While this circa 1937 watering hole has been restored, nothing here changes and that is its beauty. It is the quintessential New York City tavern and is still decked out with dark wood, checkerboard tiled floors, red banquettes and those caricature-lined walls. Like the throwback ambience, this menu reveres tradition and reads classic gastropub with dishes such as grilled oysters with pancetta in a Fresno chili butter; and a lusciously grilled beef filet dressed with a classic sauce au poivre.

Inspector notes: "Pommes aligot, whipped into submission and loaded with garlic, butter and cheddar curds, is a crowd-pleaser, not unlike the bittersweet chocolate soufflé."

28 Liberty St., 10005 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

Great views and good food rarely go hand in hand, but this stylish spot breaks that trend. Set in an iconic skyscraper and set some 60 floors up with Manhattan laid out before you, these views truly do not disappoint. Chef Justin Bogle and his team have injected new life into the kitchen with global ingredients and ambitiously creative compositions that make excellent use of seasonal ingredients.

Inspector notes: "Oysters Manhatta with uni and Champagne sabayon is a luxurious start, while the skin-on, seared, dry-aged duck with persimmon, endive and a side of white Japanese sweet potato puree is a standout."

Hero image: Evan Sung