“You can’t be all things to all people” is something you’re told if you ever take a business class or start researching how to make your brilliant app idea a reality. But unlike your succulent-sharing service, all of these restaurants are actually good for all human beings, and all situations. The spots on this list (along with the rest of the places noted with this tag) are the kinds of places where you can bring anyone - cool younger people, cool older people, un-cool people, picky people, dates, groups - and know you’ve made a choice that will please. Pat yourself on the back for making the first good decision of your night.
Use it for a date at the bar with someone you really, really like. Or reserve a corner booth for your Mom, siblings, and Dad who thinks he can out-sommelier the sommelier (he can’t). Or take a few out-of-towners who are about to have their minds blown by the fact that not all NYC Italian food is red sauce and checkered tablecloths. No matter the situation, L’Artusi is about as close as you get to a perfect restaurant, and that’s why it’s also perfect for just about any person. Sit down for a meal here and for at least two hours nothing bad can happen to you.
Lilia is important because it proved that a big, beautiful restaurant designed for grown-ups (the kind you’d expect to find in Manhattan) could exist in Brooklyn. Another reason? It’s important without feeling important - there’s nothing stuffy or pretentious or overly fancy about it. It’s just a place where you know you’re going to stuff your face with pasta and wine and Negronis, and feel excellent while doing so.
While one of our Dads was in town recently, he texted to report on his latest discovery: “Just stumbled into the most amazing little hidden gem of a place. U have to go!! It’s called Rubirosa.” (To which we responded that if he didn’t download our app we would disown him.) But what Dad did get right is exactly why Rubirosa is so awesome - it looks like a quaint as hell Mom-and-Pop joint, but it runs like a well-oiled machine. A well-oiled machine of pizza and pasta, that also happens to serve a full gluten-free menu. You have to breathe another kind of air not to love Rubirosa.
If New York City is the Westminster Dog Show, and New York City restaurants are the dogs, then Upland is the best-in-show, all-around prizewinner. (Probably a golden retriever.) In all aspects - food (California-inspired, with lots of vegetables and pasta), setting, drinks, service - Upland is universally appealing. Even more so than a golden retriever.
Some situations make it tricky to find the perfect restaurant: meeting in-laws, going on a first date, telling your girlfriend you lead a secret double life playing World of Warcraft. But other situations are straight-up clusterf*cks: like when you need a place to meet your three college friends, and their parents, above 14th Street but below 32nd, where you can get a last-minute reservation, and there’s something on the menu for both the mom who only eats white things and the friend who’s only eating vegetables right now. Covina is that restaurant. And it happens to be a really great one.
Everyone needs a back-pocket spot you can count on when your group of three people for dinner turns into eight, or you’re planning a last-minute birthday party for 18, or you just need an affordable place to eat some pasta in the middle of winter where you know they won’t have to stand outside in the cold for an hour waiting. In all of these situations, and in most others, Lil Frankie’s should be in your back pocket. The place is neither too cool nor uncool - it’s just a great place to eat affordable Italian food, where you can pretty much always get a table. Yes, even if you’re a party of 18.
You could probably find things to dislike about Barbuto. Maybe you don’t like seeing celebrities out in the wild. Maybe you hate the feeling of the fresh breeze on your skin when you’re eating. But if you can manage to deal with both of those factors, you’ll find that Barbuto doesn’t just serve some of the better pasta, roast chicken, and kale salad in NYC - it’s also one of the city’s most enjoyable places to eat. When it’s warm outside, they put up the garage doors and the entire place turns into the kind of indoor/outdoor dinner party you imagine you’ll host when you’re retired and live in Napa. No one wouldn’t want to be at that party.
Meadowsweet is the reason we invented a term: The Feel Good Factor. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and Meadowsweet is full of it. It’s also full of very good, crowd-pleasing food. Meadowsweet is a place you turn to when you might not have control over what your crazy mother is going to say to your less crazy future mother-in-law, so you need the rest of your night to go as smoothly as possible.
Quality Eats is a steakhouse that’s pretending not to be a steakhouse. Their playlist is great, there’s hamachi crudo on the menu, there’s an excellent cocktail list, and the overall vibe is one that could get you laid - but not in an over-the-top way. On the people-pleasing spectrum, this restaurant covers everyone from your client who calls himself a “meat and potatoes guy” to a third date who you’re actually kind of serious about to a 16-year-old who only cares about the photo she’s going to take for her Instagram (definitely the ice cream with the birthday cake croutons).
When The Ribbon opened, you could hear the people of the Upper West Side cheering all the way down in FiDi. That might have been in our heads, but The Ribbon is easily the most crowd-pleasing spot in a part of town that desperately needed it. The menu (like the restaurant itself) is giant, and they serve all the classics with enough of a twist to make the food stand out. Beyond that, it’s a good place to bring kids, or to watch football during the day at the bar, or to visit with a big group, or even to reserve a private room (with an excellent round table). But The Ribbon isn’t just useful - it’s also just a really fun place to hang out.
When in doubt, we go to Lighthouse. “In doubt” could mean needing anything from a place for a casual dinner with a few friends when we’re trying to be relatively healthy, to a place to house a burger by ourselves at the bar, to a place to bring parents who can’t hear for sh*t. We've been in each of these situations, and every time, we’ve turned to Lighthouse. It’s a simple spot, with a setting that’s much more neighborhood hang than destination restaurant - but sometimes (lots of times), that’s exactly what you need.
You might think of yourself as too cool for The Smith (and you might be), but that doesn’t change the fact that you could probably bring Kristen Stewart here and even she might enjoy herself. Sure, the food isn’t going to blow your mind - but it is going to be perfect for your aunt in town from a place where arugula seems exotic, or that high school friend reunion with people you haven’t seen in eight years, or even a first date with someone you met on the Internet 12 hours ago. Think of The Smith as your blank slate - it’s never going to offend anyone, and it’ll be more than okay with just about everyone.