Sometimes, dinner with your parents is a special occasion - an excuse to go somewhere nice where you wouldn’t typically just take yourself. But chances are you’re not looking for a Big Deal dinner every single time you all go out. When you just need a low-key restaurant with great food (that’s still quiet enough for you to chat, catch up, and argue about your haircut in peace), here are 20 crowd-pleasing spots to consider. Most of them have entrees in the $10-$20 range, and relaxed dining rooms where you can just walk in.
In your family, healthy food is just called “food.” And as much as that might have disappointed your childhood friends, you’re used to it. The good news is that everyone (including said childhood friends, if you happened to keep in touch) should enjoy dinner at Lighthouse. The seasonally-focused food at this Williamsburg spot is not only generally healthy, but also really good. Plus, the average price of an entree is around $18.
There are plenty of reasons why you might find yourselves on the Upper East Side. Maybe your family is visiting your new walkup - or maybe they’re on a tour of Mary Tyler Moore-related landmarks across the US, and want to visit her former apartment. Whatever the occasion, if you’re in the area and need a low-maintenance option, try Up Thai. The food here is reliably good (we especially like the larb and tamarind duck), and the space has lanterns and plants hanging from the ceiling, kind of like it’s always set up for a climactic movie scene.
If your family is requesting a “Classic New York experience,” but would prefer that it not be incredibly expensive or difficult to organize, J.G. Melon is a good option. This place has served one of the best burgers in the city for decades, so that’s what you’re here to eat - and you’ll want to make sure you get some cottage fries as well.
To show your parents that you’ve taken all their life lessons about sharing to heart, suggest this Japanese restaurant in Nomad. The specialty here is yakitori (with lots of skewer options, most of which are around $4), but you’ll also find a large binder full of other options ranging from sushi and rice bowls to fried chicken and ramen. Get a wide variety of things to split, and know that everything should come out of the kitchen incredibly quickly.
Knowing about Zizi Limona is kind of like having a car in high school - it will make your life easier (a topic you still debate with your mom). The portions are big, and while the shawarma with chicken, lamb, and a mountain of hummus is more than enough food for one person, we recommend sharing that along with a few small plates, like the crunchy falafel over curry yogurt. Plus, you’ll be served by genuinely friendly staff who’ll make you comfortable no matter how much you order or how long your family wants to hang out talking about which Godfather movie is the best.
This is the first Manhattan location of a famous Staten Island pizza place that makes excellent cracker-thin pies, plus some good pastas and sides. It only moved into this space relatively recently, but it feels like it could have been here for a few decades, and for an East Village spot, it’s generally pretty calm on weeknights. Whatever else you order, get a vodka pie for the table.
Tanoreen kind of looks like the suburban restaurants you may have spent a lot of time in growing up. It has big circular wooden tables, a few decorative lanterns on the wall, and spaces where you could conceivably have a bowling league banquet. The difference is that here, you’ll also find some of the best Middle Eastern food in the whole city. Order a giant portion of creamy hummus and a few platters of meat and rice, and you should get out for around $25 per person.
This old-school French bistro in the West Village is somehow still BYOB (despite having been open forever and the booming business of, well, drinking). It’s hard to tell what decade it currently is in here (in a charming way), and as a bonus, this is definitely the kind of place where everyone can order their own $20-ish entree without having to share anything. Just in case those sharing lessons actually didn’t work so well after all.
If you’re looking for a place near Penn Station that doesn’t feel like it’s anywhere near Penn Station at all, go to Farida - a laid-back Central Asian restaurant with excellent food and a TV playing Uzbek music videos in the corner. The menu is extremely meat-heavy, so it’s not the best place for vegetarians, but as long as that’s not an obstacle, you can take full advantage of the fact that almost every dish is under $15.
Your parents want to get dinner near your new apartment in Greenpoint, and they’re also wondering when you’re finally going to quit that job you’ve been complaining about for the last three years. If you’re going to have to explain yourself, at least do it at Anella - a neighborhood spot with reliably good Mediterranean/American food. Get some pasta (like the rigatoni) or the skirt steak.
Unless you live in or constantly walk around Hell’s Kitchen, it’s possible you’ve never heard of Kashkaval Garden on 9th Ave. Which explains why this Mediterranean small plates restaurant stays relatively quiet - quiet enough, at least, that you shouldn’t have to repeat anything embarrassing more than once. Ask to be seated in the back garden (which is covered and technically indoors), and definitely get some fondue - they have five kinds and three different sizes.
Virginia’s is on a quiet block pretty far east in the East Village, and it’s a good middle ground between a casual dinner and something a little bit nicer. It would be a mistake to eat here without ordering the burger, even just as an appetizer to split - it’s that good. Otherwise, expect classic American dishes like roast chicken and a pumpkin ravioli with sage, all of which are in the $20 range.
Every night before dinner, your parents asked you to name something you were grateful for. As a moody preteen, you were very annoyed by this and usually said, “Gameboy, I guess.” But it’s actually made you a more thoughtful person overall (according to your therapist). Now, you’re grateful for restaurants that feel casual but serve great food that’s not overpriced. Like this Indian spot in LIC where you’ll be eating things like goat biryani with a layer of dough baked on top. We’d just suggest making a reservation ahead of time.
The pizzas at this UWS spot have thin, crispy crusts with toppings like clam and crumbled sausage, and they’re the perfect size for when you want to eat a full 360 degrees of pie by yourself. Each costs around $20 - but during Happy Hour (from 5-7pm), a few are $12, and there are discounted drinks and small plates as well. If you want to take advantage of this, get here on the early side, since seats fill up quickly. Your parents think you finish work at 5pm anyway.
Al Di La is one of our absolute favorite neighborhood Italian restaurants, and it has a near 100% success rate with just about everyone, including parents. Not only is it exactly the kind of quiet, charming place that people think is on every corner in NYC, but the food really is excellent. We like the spaghetti vongole and the tagliatelle al ragu, both of which are $19 - and the fact that the restaurant has a separate wine bar where you can wait for your table.
There are a few reasons we consider this LIC restaurant one of our Greatest Hits. There’s the always-great Mexican food, the warm, relaxed atmosphere, and the tres leches cake you have to order for dessert (despite your sister being “off sugar”). Make a reservation, then share some crab tostadas, fish tacos, enchiladas, and mole. Plus that cake, obviously.
This one isn’t necessarily worth traveling for, but if you have a reason to be hanging around Midtown, it’s a good casual option. Since Natsumi is on West 50th Street, it’s a little less casual than most neighborhood sushi places you’ll find elsewhere in the city (it looks kind of like a luxury airport lounge), but the rolls are still almost all under $10, and it stays pretty quiet. If you really need to be in Midtown and don’t want a big-deal dinner, this is a good choice.
Even if your family is from Louisiana or close to it, they’ll probably still be impressed by the New Orleans-style food at Lowerline in Prospect Heights (and they were barely even impressed by your latest promotion). Everything here is good, and the menu ranges from oysters to a $16 half-po’boy/cup-of-gumbo special and a $15 muffaletta made with shaved parmesan. Just keep in mind that Lowerline can only fit about 10 people at a time, and they don’t accept reservations. So either get there early or prepare to have a drink at Washington Commons or The Bearded Lady down the street.
Aside from serving delicious, not-too-expensive Chinese food, Han Dynasty on the UWS is pretty reliable for getting a table. So if, hypothetically, you totally forgot to plan something until 30 minutes ago, it’s a great idea. Unlike the East Village Han Dynasty, this location also takes reservations. Just make sure you order the wontons in chili oil and some dan dan noodles to start.
You could go to Ops on a weekend, but it’s also perfectly good for a Tuesday or Wednesday night when your family is around and wants some great pizza that isn’t from a place they’ve seen on TV. Just be sure to bring more than one other family member, and order the square pie. You should also get some antipasti and a glass of wine. They open a bunch of different bottles every night, so chat with your waiter about what you like and they’ll let you try different options.