Walk across Central Park South on a Saturday morning, and you will find two things. One, the smell of horse sh*t. Two, a line of probably 50 people waiting to get into Sarabeth’s for the pleasure of eating $20 worth of eggs benedict.
But it’s not just tourists led astray by lazy hotel concierges – you’ll find insane brunch lines every weekend all over the city. Just walk by Clinton Street Baking Company on the Lower East Side or Egg in Wiliamsburg. Yes, those pancakes and those shrimp and grits are good, but so was your sense of dignity at one point.
No judgment if you want to stand in line, but for the times when you want a good meal during the day on a weekend without having to huddle on the sidewalk for an hour, here are some great restaurants to turn to. Being crystal ball-less, we can’t promise you’ll get seated right away, but we can say the waits will likely not be memorably long.
If we had to make a list of the best pancakes in NYC, the ones at Chez Ma Tante would be somewhere near the top. They come slightly charred with an extra-rich butter, and they justify a trip to this place all on their own. Although you should also know that pretty much all the food is good here. Despite the name, this isn’t a French place, and they do things like falafel, a hot dog, and an egg sandwich at brunch. The space itself is plain but nice, and it’s on a low-key residential street by the water in Greenpoint, so it’s still pretty under-the-radar.
Let’s say you stayed out late, then woke up at noon and remembered you were supposed to get brunch with a person that you used to live with in college. Just go to Vic’s. The Noho location is easy to get to, the food is solid, and the atmosphere is just a little more upscale than Westville. The food is Italian, which means pizza, pasta, eggs, and ricotta pancakes, and the dining room is nice and big, so feel free to bring a group.
Rabbithole is a homey spot on Bedford Ave, and it’s just far enough from the L train that it doesn’t get swamped with people looking to get brunch in the borough they’ve come to know through the works of Biggie Smalls and Lena Dunham. The space is quaint and kind of old-timey, with some antique-looking tables and exposed brick walls, and there’s a great backyard where you can eat in the summertime. As for the food, it’s pretty no-nonsense. Potatoes, eggs, French toast - you know the deal. Come with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile, and eat in the garden out back.
When you need to meet someone downtown, but your head hurts and you don’t want to be surrounded by tourists or bachelorette gatherings, try Epistrophy. You won’t have to wait forever for a table, and it’s mostly just a nice little Nolita cafe where you can hang out, talk to someone, and eat a vaguely healthy brunch thing like zucchini fritters with an egg.
If Lafayette weren’t so big, it would be a lot harder to get into. Fortunately, it’s about the size of your average Cheesecake Factory, and there’s a lot of outdoor seating. Think of it as a less touristy version of Balthazar. It’s good spot for something a little more grown-up, although you could probably have a few mimosas and shout in your friend’s face and not get kicked out. The food is French stuff like scrambled eggs in puff pastry and a croque madame, and, while it’s on the pricier side, the high ceilings, big booths, and laid-back atmosphere mostly make up for this.
Lighthouse continues to be one of our go-to spots for brunch and dinner in Williamsburg. It’s casual and relatively affordable, the space is roomy and comfortable, and you can be as healthy as you please. If you want to stop by at brunch and eat a burger, great. Or if you want a “Big Salad” or some shakshuka, you can have that as well.
Veselka has been around for over 50 years, so it’s safe to say that it’s no longer “hot.” It’s also safe to say it’s an NYC staple, and exactly the sort of diner you want in your neighborhood. It’s open 24-hours, they serve breakfast all day, and the dining room is light-filled and spacious. We like it as a late-night option, but it works just as well at brunch when you can roll in and get latkes or an omelet. In addition to your typical diner stuff, there are also a bunch of Ukrainian specialties like stuffed cabbage and goulash.
Walter Foods is a classic American restaurant in Williamsburg that serves as a go-to neighborhood spot for a good burger and oysters. At brunch they serve your standard omelets and pancakes, but they also have some more substantial things like steak and eggs and fried chicken. So if you have a hangover, or you haven’t eaten in a while come here. It’ll be lively for brunch, but you shouldn’t have to wait too long, and there’s a great backyard for when it’s nice out.
Need a good restaurant plan last-minute? Bar Primi is an old reliable. It’s a comfortable, upscale-but-not-fancy space, and there’s plenty of sidewalk seating when it’s nice out. They also serve some great brunch specials like breakfast spaghetti and pomodoro baked eggs.
Thanks to its shellfish and cocktails-heavy menu, John Dory probably isn’t your first thought for brunch, but we’d urge you to reconsider – it’s definitely a better option than the packed-but-not-that-great Breslin on the other side of The Ace Hotel. Get the Carte de Musica (a super thin cracker topped with butter, chili, and bottarga), some oysters, and a lobster roll or lobster scramble.
A low-key Middle Eastern option on a quiet block of Macdougal that seems to go overlooked. Chill out over some shakshuka when the rest of packed weekend Soho is giving you a panic attack.
Al Di La serves some of the best pasta in New York, but few people seem to know it’s open for lunch. Many of the best pastas are available, as are some Italian brunch specials. Get on it.
A British gastropub on the Upper East Side that’s a great choice for brunch when you don’t want to deal with brunch people. You might have to deal with some Premiere League soccer fans, but they’re quite nice. Unless you’re a fan of a rival team. Then you’re f*cked.