Encompassing not only southern European countries but also those in Northern Africa, including Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, and the thousands of islands in between―the Mediterranean offers incomparable fish, produce and meat as well as extraordinary diversity in serving them.
These nine Mediterranean restaurants in New York are deemed exceptional by our inspectors. Ranging from family-style to elegant, they’re fit to accommodate a variety of reasons to dine out, seaside-style, in the the Big Apple.
What Our Inspectors Say: “With a name that means 'village' in Portuguese, Aldea strives to recreate a sunny, coastal clime via those bleached wood accents and blue seats scattered throughout its narrow space. The first-floor open kitchen adds a sense of liveliness to the room, while the second floor is quieter and more intimate for a date. Both fill with stylish couples and groups who appear to delight in a petisco or two before beginning their meals. This menu is best enjoyed as a four- or seven-course prix-fixe grounded in the tastes and traditions of Portugal as well as the Iberian peninsula. However, Chef George Mendes continues to find inspiration from afar, as evident in dishes integrating the flavors of shiso, kombu and Meyer lemon. Every item tastes bright and good, as it appears beautiful yet sensible and never fussy on your plate. The outstanding sauce of lemon, garlic and pimentón that bathes the shrimp alhinho is an example of the flawless balance that this talented kitchen is able to strike time and again. Still, the most clever plate of the night may just be the duck breast, cooked a la plancha and coupled with quince, pear and shaved black truffle for a bit of earthiness and whole lot of luxury.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “If you’re lucky enough to call One John Street home, this area gem could very well serve as your personal kitchen—thanks to its location at the base of this residential building. The rest of us can simply dream about living on the water as we take in the magnificent views from the restaurant’s soaring windows. Celestine comes from a team of top restaurateurs who have some of Brooklyn's biggest hits under their belts. The small plates menu spotlights dishes from the Eastern Mediterranean (a less talked about collection of countries from Greece to North Africa); and fragrant spice blends season every item. Kabocha squash skordalia, for instance, veers away from tradition with successful results, while short rib manti are the ultimate in comfort food.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “It’s still a fresh face on the SoHo dining scene, but King boasts a rare coziness that restaurants can take ages to acquire. The popular bar area leads to an intimate rear dining space lined with blonde wood mirrors. Chef/owners Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt met while working at London's esteemed River Café, then banded together with Annie Shi to open King. The talented kitchen brings a deft touch to their brief, daily-changing menu, pulled straight from the greenmarket. A tangle of warm green and wax beans are tossed with torn mint, nutty parmesan and exquisite extra virgin olive oil. Flaky halibut is seasoned with restraint, then cooked to succulent perfection and plated with fresh-from-the-market wilted spinach and zucchini trifolati.”
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What Our Inspectors Say: “Still popular with theatergoers and neighborhood newcomers after many years, this spot is chef Daniel Boulud's ode to Mediterranean cuisine—from Morocco to Italy to Turkey and back again. Packed and lively, the dining room is airy with vaulted ceilings, natural lighting and long striped banquettes. A semi-open kitchen allows a glimpse into the creation of deftly prepared delicacies. The menu here is light yet dense with bright flavor, from the crudo du jour (perhaps cubes of hamachi with gently braised cauliflower, pignoli, white raisins and herbs) to a Sicilian sardine escabeche swirled with olive oil, white raisins and pine nuts. Huge morsels of chicken tagine with couscous, wilted greens and preserved lemons make a hearty dish.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “Burrowed inside the Henry Hall Hotel in Hudson Yards, Legacy Records is hip personified—down to every last detail. Its art deco interior is defined by gold-accented trim, tile floors and burgundy leather-topped tables. Zalto glasses grace each of these tables indicating that wine is serious business here—the sommelier was recently crowned the best in the world. Cocktails are smartly divided into styles, namely light beginning, weightier middle or stout nightcap. Winning drinks aside, dishes are remarkable and treated with great care. Pigeon with prosciutto is grilled for that perfect char; handmade pasta with beet and ricotta has a pop of color plus an explosion of flavor; and duck, aged for two weeks and glazed with spices and honey, is revelatory.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “The full name of this delightful retreat is 'Merakia Greek Mountain Thief Spithouse Steak,' but the moniker isn’t the only memorable thing about it. To start with, the ample space is quite the looker, featuring a glinting open kitchen, cushy steel-blue velvet booths and massive arches overhead. Of course, then there's the equally impressive cooking—don't miss the 'spit + sigs' (labeled 'dancing with the lamb'), which is a spectacular plate of off-the-spit lamb. Other signatures may include a starter of ripe tomatoes paired with cool little triangles of feta, tailed by tender and slow-cooked octopus. Grilled lamb chops from the 'American Meat' section, coupled with roasted lemon potatoes, will transport you to the Med and back, minus the jet lag.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “Tucked next to the steely skeleton of the Williamsburg Bridge, Meadowsweet cuts a stylish industrial figure with its glass-fronted façade, whitewashed brick walls and original mosaic-tiled floors. Leather banquettes line the wall, and pendant bulbs illuminate one of several beautiful oil paintings of a meadow. Inside, the restaurant jumps with Williamsburg’s finest—along with more than a few bridge-hoppers from Manhattan and beyond. And that’s on a slow night. The fuss is quite merited. Despite ample competition in this section of town, chef/owner Polo Dobkin and wife, Stephanie Lempert, manage to elevate the kitchen’s dishes into next-level territory, and they do so in a lovely, urbane setting with loads of charm and friendly service. The inventive American menu gets a lift from Mediterranean accents: fried artichokes served with a tangle of bitter-spicy arugula in a creamy vinaigrette are positively addictive. Crisped black bass with a parsley root velouté sings with a side of green apple cabbage, which is flecked with chunks of smoky bacon. There's an impressive list of cocktails and wine; not to mention a globetrotting beer selection ranging from Austrian lagers to Japanese ales.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “Two Italians in one: the front room is the more animated and relaxed, with a counter bar and a menu of snacks and sharing plates; in the larger and somewhat rustically decorated dining room at the back you’ll find more ambitious cooking and a team of enthusiastic servers. Here chef/co-owner Jared Sippel's menu is divided into: Stuzzichini; Per la Tavola; Pasta; Secondi and Contorni. The influences are pan-Italian with the occasional foray over the border into France. Start by sharing some of their freshly sliced Prosciutto di San Daniele. Follow this up with homemade pastas, like pappardelle with snail ragout, which are a welcome departure from the usual. Mains like rabbit with apricot and speck show that this kitchen knows its way around an animal.”
What Our Inspectors Say: “The stars must have aligned to bring chef Justin Smillie, restaurateur Stephen Starr and design firm Roman and Williams together to form this bright spot along Park Avenue South. Everything seems to click at Upland—the design is urbane and cozy, with vintage floors as well as glowing jars of preserved lemons and backlit wine bottles lining the walls. Earthy and bountiful, it’s the ideal backdrop for Smillie’s Mediterranean-influenced dishes. A meal from this kitchen might reveal sprouted fava bean falafel paired with a tahini- garlic- and cashew-sauce; or estrella, star-shaped tubular pasta with chicken livers and herbs. Yuzu soufflé with calamansi curd makes for a crowning finish. Traveling to Miami? A South Beach outpost has crowds swooning.”
Hero image courtesy of Boulud Sud/Facebook.