The Best Restaurants In Nolita
All the buzzy spots that are worth the hassle and a few great places where you can grab a table anytime.
Nolita is one of the busier areas of NYC. Formerly an extension of Little Italy, the neighborhood is now full of boutiques that sell limited-edition sneakers and $70 candles that smell like rain, and most restaurants in the area are packed every night. Before you commit to a two-hour wait, use this guide to find your best options. They include a few of the top restaurants in the city, as well as some useful spots for when you just want a good, quick meal.
The Least Annoying Restaurants In Nolita
Thai Diner works for just about any scenario. Come here on a weeknight for crab fried rice, bring some out-of-towners for an impressive group meal, or stop by for brunch and eat Thai tea babka french toast. No matter what, you’ll enjoy some fantastic food—and you’ll also have to wait for your table. Reservations at Thai Diner are always tough to snag, but just swing by and put your name in with the host. You’re going to have to kill at least an hour before you get seated, but if you’re going to wait for a restaurant in the neighborhood, it should be this one.
Estela was the first restaurant from the team behind Lodi, Altro Paradiso, and Corner Bar, and it’s still the best of the bunch. If you’re looking for a nice little place where you can share interesting small plates by candlelight, book a table. Bring a date, bring your mom, or bring someone who gets excited about things like a perfect endive salad and ricotta dumplings with pecorino. The snug space up a small staircase on Houston Street isn’t too formal or stuffy, and tables aren’t tough to come by as long as you book a few weeks in advance.
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photo credit: Kate Previte
Torrisi Bar & Restaurant
Torrisi Bar & Restaurant is from the people behind Carbone. The two restaurants definitely share some DNA (impressive design, servers in tuxedos, general pageantry, etc.), but Torrisi is bigger and more interesting. Located in the historic Puck Building, this place has velvet banquettes, sky-high ceilings, and an open kitchen that provides some live theater. The menu is mostly Italian, but a handful of dishes draw inspiration from the surrounding neighborhood—chicken livers with Manischewitz, for example, and a pastrami-spiced short rib. If you can’t get a reservation (you probably can’t), try the walk-in-only bar area.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
If you walk around Nolita and ask a bunch of strangers what their favorite restaurant is, about a third of them will say Rubirosa. And that’s not a bad answer. Rubirosa is an NYC classic, known for its thin-crust pies and bustling dining room that’s about the width of a subway car. If you need a place for a casual birthday or an impressive group dinner, this restaurant should be near the top of your list. Reservations are scarce, but walk-ins are accepted, and that’s usually how we eat here. Just be aware that the host will probably tell you to come back in two or three hours (which is better than Lucali, but still). Once you get seated, order both a vodka and a tie dye pie.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Zooba is a party. But unlike most parties, we’re all invited to this one. The space feels like a miniature warehouse where you could throw a rave, with LED signs on the ceiling and colorful posters pasted on the walls, but this isn’t where you come to dance or get some new numbers. Zooba is a counter-service spot selling Egyptian street food, and it’s your best option for a quick lunch in Nolita. Try the koshari with lentils, rice, and macaroni, or get a flatbread stuffed with roumy cheese and a juicy beef patty.
photo credit: Wan Wan
Wan Wan is from the team behind Wayla, a Thai spot on the LES that you’ve probably heard about. Like Wayla, this Nolita restaurant serves impressive Thai food, although the menu is centered around Phuket-style dishes with Chinese influence. Bring a small group, and share some small plates like the frisée salad with tempura scallops and marinated spare ribs that fall apart as soon as you look at them. The main dining room is dark and casual, with brick walls and pink banquettes, and there’s a loungy space in the basement where you can also book a table.
photo credit: Kimika
Also from the Wayla team, Kimika is a trendy restaurant in the bottom of the Nolitan Hotel where you can sit on a long banquette and eat the Italian-Japanese mashup food known as itameshi. It’s a unique place, and the menu is full of dishes that you won’t see elsewhere. Try the eggplant katsu with caponata or the uni spaghetti with multiple kinds of roe, and be sure to get a light, crispy pizzette with wonton-like crust. We're fans of the one with onion jam and prosciutto.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
You go to Pasquale Jones for two things: wine and pizza. This Italian restaurant also serves pasta, small plates, and a few proteins cooked in a wood-burning oven—but don’t get distracted. The pizzas are puffy and chewy, with an appropriate amount of char, and the wine list always has interesting options made with Italian varietals that you’ve probably never heard of. (You will, however, pay around $20 per glass.) It’s no longer difficult to get a table here, but the dining room—with its soft lighting and brown leather banquettes—is as charming as ever. Take advantage.
In the NBA, there’s an award called Sixth Man of the Year. It’s given to the best backup player, essentially, and it's exactly the sort of accolade this spot on Mott Street deserves. Emporio isn’t one of the absolute best Italian restaurants in NYC, but the food is above average, the space is fun, and it’s never too hard to get a table. The dining room feels kind of like a party in a rustic farmhouse, with a few big skylights and a low-key EDM soundtrack, and most dishes clock in under $30. Skip the pasta, and try a thin-crust pizza instead. We like the one with honey, spicy sausage, and ribbons of pecorino.
So many restaurants in Nolita are pricey, underwhelming, and impossible to get into—but Café Habana is none of those things. Open since 1998, this little Cuban-Mexican restaurant looks like a retro diner, with chrome-legged chairs and a soundtrack that bounces between salsa and old-school Diddy (Puff Daddy, technically). You can easily get out of here for under $30 per person, and the food always gets the job done. Try the crispy Cubano, the tostones with guacamole, or the roasted pork with rice and beans. A frozen margarita is optional, but highly recommended.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Lovely Day isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is. And we really respect them for that. The food at this casual spot, which has a 1950s luncheonette feel, isn’t especially interesting or noteworthy, but it also isn’t trying to be. Most things cost less than $20, and the Thai-leaning menu has everything from ka’rage-style fried chicken and steak with mashed potatoes to pad thai and green curry. If you don’t want to spend a reckless amount of money on dinner, pop in and eat some noodles. You don’t need a reservation, although there tends to be a wait on the weekend.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
If you’re walking along Houston Street at the northern edge of Nolita and you see a line of people on the sidewalk, it’s probably for Emilio’s Ballato. This red sauce spot has been around since 1956 (although the current owner took over in 1992), and it’s one of the few hyped-up restaurants in the neighborhood that’s truly earned its reputation. Come by to eat veal parm and clam linguine in a room that looks several hundred years old, with a few chandeliers and photos of celebrities blanketing the walls. Emilio’s Ballato doesn’t take reservations, and that’s why you’ll see a line. Go ahead and get in that line.
The Musket Room
Musket Room feels like Hudson Valley fan fiction. It’s a cozy spot with Edison bulbs and weathered wood floors, and it’s the perfect place to eat roast chicken while you catch up with a friend who still has a physical subscription to The New Yorker. That roast chicken—served over a few slices of toast that soak up all the juices—is fantastic, and you can also get things like creamy jamón croquettes and salmon with daikon and dashi butter. The food is reliably delicious, and the space is about as calm and pleasant as a dinner party in the suburbs.