As is the case every year, a lot of restaurants opened in 2015. We ate in many of them, including a Times Square steakhouse that caters to middle-aged hedge fund managers on the prowl, and an awful “roadside cafe” on the side of the road… in the middle of Little Italy.
But we also ate a lot of meals that were memorable for the right reasons – and the restaurants they took place in are the ones we’re ranking for your pleasure here. Among them are Indian restaurants and vegan restaurants and Korean restaurants (two, and there could easily have been a third), and also burgers and fish tacos and ramen. There’s no pizza or sushi, if anyone’s looking for a trend story or a talking point for Christmas dinner.
Ultimately, 2015 was a good year for eating in New York City, at least if you made it to these places. And if you haven’t, time to make a 2016 resolution.
Many of the restaurants listed here are what we’d call indie hits – little places that, even with smaller budgets, are putting out Oscar-worthy food. That’s not The Clocktower. The Clocktower is the year’s blockbuster hit, except it doesn’t suck. The vaguely British restaurant on the second floor of The Edition Hotel overlooking Madison Square Park goes big on the production value, big on the service, and big on the food. It’s not the underdog of the bunch, but we all like a big explosion now and again.
Over the past decade, several restaurants have taken a “modern” spin on Korean food, most famously Momofuku, just a few blocks over from Oiji. But Oiji is doing its own thing, and it’s doing it in a more composed and serious manner. That “thing” involves an intricate-looking beef tartare, an incredibly good fried chicken dish, and very sweet potato chips for dessert. That’s what we call innovation.
The bagel and smoked salmon, an essential New York food group, doesn’t need much improving. But that’s not what Sadelle’s is really about anyway. This place is about $20 French toast so good we don’t even balk at the price, and it’s about a guy who yells “hot bagels” every time there are hot bagels. By the way, when that salmon does come out, it’s on a tower. Making Jewish appetizing sexy seemed like a ridiculous concept, but now that we’re here, there’s no going back.
When we first had dinner at Her Name Is Han, it felt like discovering MGMT in 2007. What we mean to say is that it felt like we’d struck gold, and immediately couldn’t wait to bring all of our friends back to this spot just a block off Koreatown’s main drag. The food is “homestyle” Korean, which means everything from spicy pork to rice cakes to a big bubbling seafood stew, all served in a space that looks like it could be both a movie set and a library. Order some homemade soju and settle in to your new favorite restaurant in the 30s.
The concept of Seamore’s is simple: take freshly caught seafood, let people consume that seafood in a few different ways of varying healthiness, and let them do it in a bright, attractive space. We never thought we’d be so excited about eating a grilled fish over salad in Nolita, but here we are.
That said, if you are going to eat a veggie burger, make it at By CHLOE. This vegan fast-casual spot on Macdougal is changing the game, and the constant lines around the block are a clear sign that reasonably priced, tasty, non-meat food that you can eat in your workout clothes is what the people want. They’re expanding in a big way next year, and honestly, there’s probably going to be one of these in every mall in America by the end of the decade. Get your Hot Topic t-shirt, then grab your veggie burger, and welcome to the future.
Houseman is what we like to call an adult restaurant. Not an old person’s restaurant. But an adult restaurant. If Houseman were a person, it would own some beautiful sweaters. It would have two well-behaved and well-dressed children. Houseman would own a cool cabin upstate. What does this mean, considering Houseman is not a human, but actually a restaurant on the far west side of Soho? It means they cook great food, driven by what’s in season rather than what’s on Instagram, in an understated but beautifully designed space. This is the neighborhood restaurant you want in your neighborhood. Also, their burger – two thin patties, topped with cheese and caramelized onions, on a potato bun – is one of the new greats.
On an almost hourly basis, we get asked: “What’s a restaurant downtown where I can grab a drink and some great food with a friend? Also, we’re meeting in an hour, and we don’t want to wait.” That restaurant is Dante. Dante is the old Caffe Dante on Macdougal Street, reinvented by some Australians as a bar/restaurant serving great cocktails and food. The menu is eclectic, but works whether you just want to grab a snack or a full dinner. Get some burrata or prosciutto and figs while you sip on a Negroni (they have a whole menu of them), or go for the ingenious creation that is “Vongole Soup,” which could best be described as a blend of spaghetti vongole and ramen.
La Contenta gets our vote for best new general under-the-radar hangout. There’s a good chance you haven’t heard much about this Lower East Side Mexican spot, and that’s because it’s a true neighborhood hang. Come for cocktails and tacos, stay for the conversation you’ll probably get into with the bartender.
A big thing happened in the Meatpacking District this year, and it did not involve sparklers coming out of a bottle of Dom Perignon. In fact, quite the opposite. Santina marked an important sea change in the Meatpacking District, giving us a restaurant that isn’t full of people wearing Armani Exchange. The food is good, the room is cool, and this neighborhood might be headed in the right direction.
A lot of the new restaurants this year are all about being “light,” whether that means small plates or fish or vegan food. Not the case at Virginia’s. Over in the far east East Village, Virginia’s is serving duck rillettes and risotto and an absolutely incredible burger. Next time you need to blow off some steam and not worry about what your cholesterol is probably going to look like in a few years, you need to do it at Virginia’s.
Wildair is the sibling restaurant attached to Contra, a restaurant we like very much. This new spot is a wine bar focused on small plates, and devoid of much of the adventurous technicality on display next door. It might not have the highest rating on this list, but it earned its spot here for being something that NYC doesn’t have much of: A fun wine bar with great food that feels like a night in Paris. That said, the food isn’t for everyone. Leave your picky-eating, White Zinfandel drinking friend behind.